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Rolling On

Last year I said goodbye to Jym, because he kept trying to kill me.

Jym wasn’t a vicious ex or an abusive family member. ‘Jym’ was the name of my first car.

I’d gotten Jym from my older sister Jane, who had received the car from someone else. As you might expect of a third-hand car, Jym had a few problems. I didn’t care about the fading, dusty blue paint job, the scuffs on the bonnet, or the loud ticking sound the indicator made, like a bomb about to explode. Some cars give a self-assured, patient wink when you flick the indicator on. Not Jym. Jym would blink frantically, as though screaming as he approached a corner: ‘LEFT! GET OUT OF MY WAY – I’M GOING LEFT!’.

Anyway, none of those things mattered terribly to me. I didn’t even care much about the fact that sometimes Jym broke down. I learnt that most strangers are willing to lend a hand, or a phone, if you’re stranded. And, on the plus side, I learnt how to use jumper leads.

What bothered me was the busted sound-system.

I sing all the time. That’s what my family does, and I never realised it was unusual until a few years ago. I thought most people used music to make sense of their lives, and listed off ‘Top 5’ songs for every occasion like the guys in High Fidelity. Turns out that’s not true.

While driving I’d sing by myself sometimes, although it’s hard to head-bang when you haven’t got drums, bass or guitars to get your groove on to. But I knew it wasn’t Jym’s fault that he’d been a little damaged before me. And I was grateful to have Jym around because – when his battery didn’t die – he kept me mobile.

Then the incidents started.

I was driving a friend home once – with the windows down since it was a scorcher, and Jym’s air con was tired and had decided that warm air was better than hot, and easier to produce than cold. The smell of burning rubber hit me, and Jym shuddered and jerked.

Something was very wrong. Jym bounced like one of those kids’ rides in shopping centres, shrieking at me to stop. I pulled over, to find that one of the front tyres had eroded. In its place hung a mess of black, rounded strips: a half-chewed, burned-to-charcoal donut. If I’d kept driving, what was left would have shredded and we would’ve crashed.

I bought a new tyre and had it fitted, but that was just the beginning. Once, I was driving towards a set of traffic lights when the amber turned to red. I tried to slow; nothing happened.

The car in front of me pulled to a smart halt.

I stepped on the brakes, fear rising in my chest. No result.

Swerving into the next lane, I missed the car in front and ran the red. There was a loud beep – obviously someone thought I was being a hooligan – but I didn’t know what to do or how to stop. I didn’t even know where I was driving anymore; I’d just left familiar roads behind.

Thank goodness the stretch before me was empty. I steered to keep Jym on the road, remembering vividly that scene from Superman where one of the lesser villains yells at Lex Luthor for cutting her car brakes. She had climbed into the car ready to pretend she needed a superhero’s help, but Lex had wanted her panic to be real. He was willing to put her in danger to reach his enemy.

I didn’t want to live in a movie, and I was pretty sure Superman wouldn’t swoop out of the sky to save me if I came upon traffic.

Jym lost speed as the road climbed a hill and I tried to keep calm. Soon I could pull over and let him glide to a complete stop. Then I’d work out where I was, and phone for help.

But when we reached the top of the hill, I saw the road continue down, down, down. I stomped on the brakes; my foot hit the floor but it made no difference.

Should’ve yanked the hand-brake, but I didn’t. Jym tumbled down the slope, picking up speed again, and I saw a series of hills ahead, like a grassy river, rising and falling, cut through the middle with a strip of black.

Following a rollercoaster of accelerating and slowing, I eventually steered onto the side of a lonely street and came to a stop. Miraculously, I didn’t hit anyone or anything.

Mum and Dad helped me get Jym checked out. I bought new brake pads, but in the wake of this experience I regarded Jym with suspicion.

And I was right to, because the brakes gave out, again.

And again.

I remembered the days when Jym’s battery went flat. Although being stuck in a carpark wasn’t the best, I’d learnt that a car that won’t start is a problem, but a car that won’t stop…

That’s dangerous.

I needed to move on. I’d tried to make things work with Jym; I’d tried to fix him, but I needed a clean break. So I started looking around. Made a few enquiries.

‘I think I know what to look for now,’ I told Mum.

‘Great, honey. It’s all a learning curve.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I want a radio!’

‘And brakes.’

Oh yes. Brakes.

There were a few obstacles to buying a new car. Apart from music and brakes, I wanted something small, cheap to run, and, ridiculous as this might sound, I wanted a car with personality. So many cars are boring. White is too commonplace. Black is too sophisticated, and I don’t do sophisticated. Silver tries too hard to look sleek. I actually went to check out a silver car. Sat in the driver’s seat and tried to imagine that this was my car. I felt like I’d instantly aged a decade and had acquired an office job I hated. That car might have appeared ‘professional’, but it felt like no fun at all.

Jym was fun. Before he’d betrayed me, he’d had personality. Actually, even after he’d betrayed me, he had personality.

Letting go of Jym felt like saying goodbye to a particular time of my life. I had a lot of memories tied up in that car: driving in a Padmé costume, with Jane riding shotgun on our way to the Star Wars premiere; going to uni sport club practices; travelling to Brissy to see my little sister Alice.

So keep me, Jym said. Keep driving me, but, just so you know, “You say stop, and I say go, go, go…”.

Remember what I said about my family and music? Well, we really must be an obsessed bunch, because my car quoted The Beatles at me.

I told Jym he had a death-wish and he sang, Beep, beep, beep, beep, yeah!, which I believe is from Drive My Car. I told Jym to quit making the lyrics to some of my favourite songs creepy, and then cut the conversation off.

In a few short weeks, I found a new second-hand car. One that was well-maintained, shiny, and pretty damn safe. I gave Jym back to Jane, and warned her not to drive him.

‘You could maybe get some money for the parts.’

‘I might get him fixed.’

‘Good luck,’ I said. ‘That car’s cursed.’

My new car’s name is Rei. She’s smooth without being self-involved. Pale blue. She’d like to have a sunnier disposition but, you know what they say, you can’t have everything.

She has a working sound-system, which means that I can sing and dance while driving. The real challenge is to work your upper body while car-dancing, because it’s hard (not impossible, but hard) to do leg moves.

Rei also has an air-con that pumps out cold air on request, a quiet set of flashing indicator lights, and very good brakes. In the six months I’ve owned her, she’s never broken down. We’ve visited old and new places, and she hasn’t tried to kill me.


Jym and me