All torque and no action

I am listening to a Bob Marley song with the chorus, “If I had the wings of a dove … I would fly, fly away” and it occurred to me that this is the problem with people who smoke too much weed. They don’t always think things through.

If Bob had had the wings of a dove, he would presumably still have had his own body. People in Kingston would have known it was Bob Marley rather than, say, a pigeon, landing on their roof. It would’ve been awkward for everyone. Anyway, he’d probably have flown straight to Miami.

Then I started thinking, which doesn’t happen all that often these days. What if, right now, the wings of a dove sprouted on my back? A big-ass dove, obviously. What would I do? Since it’s nearly 6pm, I’d probably fly to the bottle store. But how would I get the beers home? Even if I had saddle-bags, would I be able to fly with the extra weight? More importantly, would they serve a man who landed in the parking lot and walked in fluttering and folding his giant dove wings? People don’t like that sort of thing in Ballito. They get edgy.

It’s one of the reasons Jesus won’t come back. Not that he’d go straight to the bottle store in Ballito. Or even have wings. He might, though, what with being an angel and all. If he is an angel. Anyway, this isn’t about Jesus. Funny thing, reggae. It’s like a gateway genre to religion. All that singing about peace, love and ganja.

The wing thing struck me more than it might otherwise have done as I am knee-deep in the ugly process of revising my transportation arrangements and all options are under consideration. My Corolla was recently stolen, leaving me with a Land Rover that has served me well during the times it hasn’t. I will be sad to see it go, but I would be sadder to see it stay.

Land Rovers come into their own during times of war, but I can’t wait around until Julius Malema becomes the next Jonas Savimbi or Afonso Dhlakama. And I don’t go off-road enough to justify keeping it. Well, I do, but hardly ever intentionally.

I generally develop long-term relationships with my cars, as I do with my women. I don’t dump them when the paint fades or their mileage gets too high. I also hold onto cars for longer than I should.

Before the Landy and the Corolla, I went out with a red Hyundai for nearly 15 years. We only broke up when a garage in Fish Hoek murdered her through gross incompetence. Their accomplices at the Retail Motor Industry never even sent flowers. Dirty rotten scoundrels.

So I’ve been looking around online. There are millions of cars for sale on the Internet. It’s like a massive electronic traffic jam stretching for thousands of gigabytes. Porn sites are way easier to navigate. Or so I hear.

A friend in Cape Town suggested I narrow it down to a year and model. I told her I couldn’t even narrow it down to a make. Her silence suggested I was somehow deficient in the masculinity department.

I am attracted to cars more by their colour than anything else. Women, less so. I saw a silver one in a second-hand lot this week that I quite liked. Car, not woman. If there are silver women out there, please let me know at once.

I walked past the lot en route to hitchhiking home after dropping off the Land Rover for its regular 50km service. There wasn’t a salesman in sight. I tried the doors and considered breaking a window. He appeared as I was about to leave, all scaly and yellow of eye, wearing a cheap suit and a mouthful of lies.

The car was a Suzuki Grand Vitara. In the arcane universe of 4x4s, the Land Rover is the supreme antichrist – loved and hated in equal measure. Anything after that is an improvement.

I asked if I could take it for a test drive. He seemed reluctant, wanting to know if I was sure I wanted a 4×4. Of course I wasn’t sure. I don’t even understand cars, but I could hardly tell him that. Men get uncomfortable around other men who think the window-squirting thingy is where the brake fluid goes. I once joined a mechanic peering into the bonnet of the Hyundai and, feeling the need to say something, I said, “Maybe it’s the BRT. You should totally check it out.” He nodded slowly, too proud to admit he didn’t know what I was talking about. Good thing, too, because I was referring to the Big Round Thing.

Look, as far as inventions go, the car isn’t bad. It’s right up there with the six-pack. But when a fossil fuel-guzzling noxious gas-emitting metal beast weighing one and a half tons comes snorting past in the fast lane with nobody inside but a 58kg blonde on her way to her dealer, it seems ridiculous. How can she afford the car and coke on top of it? Divorce settlement, I expect. Failed marriages are killing our planet.

Anyway. The Suzuki caught my eye because it had roof racks and I had surfboards. I will spend R90 000 on a car because it has a pair of R2 500 racks on it. This doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with me.

He went and fetched the keys and came back shaking his head sadly, saying he hoped it would start. After a bit of encouragement, it did. I told him I’d be back shortly but he seemed to think I wanted company. I said I preferred to drive alone but he was having none of it. Suit yourself, I said, and raced through the gears and the streets shouting and laughing and hooting at people who inflamed my passions.

He didn’t say much during the drive, which seemed out of character for a salesman. I began testing stuff while doing around 140km/h. Electric windows, wipers, air con, radio, handbrake, cigarette lighter. Ten seconds later, the lighter shot out onto the floor. I reached down to pick it up and put my index finger into it to see if it was working. I screamed and veered into oncoming traffic. My mood quickly soured, as did his.

He began pointing out defects in the car and I returned to the lot. Sucking my finger, I said I might come back. His face said I shouldn’t bother. My face said he’d better hope I didn’t.

Later, after being discharged from the burns unit, I asked my 4 600 Facebook friends for advice. Not being real friends, they had little to offer apart from suggestions that would make my life immeasurably worse. I hope they all burn in hell. One asked if I needed a 4×4 to go overland. No, of course not. I need one that can go to Madagascar via the Indian Ocean. Moron.

The web is awash in cars and women who look as if they’ve been in accidents and hastily restored and it’s important to keep your wits about you if you want to avoid mixing them up. The terminology is bleeding across boundaries.

Here’s a direct quote. “This affordable pre-loved SUV is ready and waiting to be adopted by its new family!” Then this from a dating site, “I’m a girl who loves to run but needs some solid revving to get her motor racing!” It’s deeply confusing.

You wouldn’t think so to look at me, but I’m also pre-loved.

I cannot even begin to imagine what manner of morally bankrupt copywriting warlock came up with the idea to anthropomorphize second-hand cars. Pre-loved? Adopted? This is merchandising fuckery of the first order.

The idea is that we’ll start feeling sorry for the stock, as if they’re living in some sort of shelter for abused cars. Ah, shame. Look at that one with its sad face. It deserves a second chance at life. At love. What the hell, I’ll take it. I’ll take them all.

You want to give a home to something really deserving that’s pre-loved or maybe not even? Go to the SPCA.

Then I clicked on the wrong car and a Ferrari F123 Berlinetta appeared in 0.9 seconds. It was in Umhlanga. At R7.7 million I had to double-check this wasn’t just another of Pam Golding’s weekend specials. It wasn’t. It was definitely a car. I might’ve bought it if it hadn’t been red. Red paint fades. Well, it did on my Hyundai. No reason to think a Ferrari would be any different.

Some of my so-called “friends” suggested I get a Subaru Forester. Alright then. Sounds like forests, which are apparently good things. And Subaru sounds like it might be a Pokemon, which is less of a good thing. There was one in Pietermaritzburg. A Subaru, not a Pokemon. It had roof racks. I wanted it right away.

The salesman called me five seconds after I sent the email. He told me he was standing right next to the vehicle, looking at it as we spoke. Touching it, even. Was he worried I’d think he was lying? That it was, in fact, being driven around Narnia by the White Witch?

There was an uncomfortable silence. I sensed he needed me to ask him something. Not wanting to disappoint, I asked how fast it could go. He whistled and said I wouldn’t believe it if he had to tell me. I said tell me anyway. He said something about nought to a hundred in whatever. I don’t care if it takes twenty minutes to get to a hundred. I want to know what it can do on a dead straight road with my foot flat for two or three hours. That’s the only way to know how fast a car can go.

And don’t talk to me about torque. Torque is cheap. Or horsepower. If I cared about that sort of thing, I’d buy a horse.

I wouldn’t have to go through any of this if I had the wings of a dove.

Ben and his Hyundai




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