Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Adrian's Car

Adrian jumped into the car and threw his work bag onto the passenger seat. Thank god he was back once again in his faithful car with its familiar clunk of the door shutting tight and nice ergonomic controls ready at hand. Each of Adrian’s movements of a leg or an arm would nudge up against some familiar control button. The steering wheel or foot lever would give him an instant feeling of support and a kind of benevolence from a car that had at first seemed alien and mechanical for he had never much liked power tools or fiddled much with Mechano kits, it had never been his area of fascination.

had owned the vehicle now for over five years and his body had an imprint of itself on the foam cushioned driver seat. The brake pads showed the faded tread warn down by the constant prodding of his size eleven shoes. There were subtle indentations on the steering wheel showing a history of near accidents and scrapes with some idiot or other along the road, signs of his physical integration with the apparatus, of time inside a car travelling from one point to another, in between places, a space that he alone owned. He was protected from the rough gritty road by the thick impact resistant layers of metal and hardened glass. He’d seen those crash tests on the television where the front panel crushed into the dummy from different angles, the metal framework folding inwards as if welded by a nuclear blast, the crowd whistling with delight. It gave the tough car surface the impression of being vulnerable, as if it too was subject to forces like the test drivers that dismantled and fixed them. Adrian had often fantasised about pressing his face down on an inflated airbag in the event of a crash. If an unexpected pedestrian were to fling their soft fleshy body against the wind shield, causing him to flatten the brakes, the large blow up air bag would explode on the dash board, a sign that the car was taking control of the situation, had seen the danger and was reacting. His face flying into it and then from sudden panic would come relaxation, the car accompanying with some calming music, to sooth him down.

The release of stress when entering the car after a nullifying days work had become so great that on odd occasions he had found himself turning into his garden drive without any recollection of the journey that had gone before him, such was the anaesthetic brought about by his sense of freedom and ease of movement inside the car. Having achieved his destination and heaved himself out of the car, once again the gravity pressed upon him and the transfer from car door to house was like a short lunar rescue mission floating from one pod to another, with him impatiently fumbling with the keys to permit entrance into the temperature controlled isolation tank that he called his home, shoe-ankle hooking the wooded rim of the front door, hands digging keys out of his front pocket and shouldering his way through into the house as he never would have dared when entering the college. Once inside, having sealed the door to the wind, he would usually fall down flat on the sofa and try to start a dream the would block out any work related thoughts from entering his mind, to fend off a headache.

Had he remembered the M3 and A287 motorways or had he gotten so numbingly used to the same old roads that his body no longer sought to ask his mind about turnings or junction stops, thoughtlessly following a narrow pre-programmed route etched onto his skull by the constant re-treading of the same area.
He was surprised to find that his anxieties about himself and his own precarious existence, carried over now to the road vehicle that he had parked now outside under the trees; running about, scaring off the wood pigeons that took pot shots at the black shiny paintwork. In the warmth of his central heating he would always remain aware, at some level of consciousness, of the Volkswagen standing out there in the rain, wind and hail. The horizontal line of the lower rim nearest the ground, he thought, was slightly slanted towards the front wheel. Sometimes he saw it and it bothered him and at other times he attempted to deny these thoughts and tell himself that it was a sportier look, but he didn't want a sportier look? Lying down on the tarmac of the car park every angle of the car seemed off kilter, he was sure the engine sounded sound wrong as well, peering down the exhaust for any obstruction. Could the previous owner have been too hard on the brakes perhaps or maybe it was the result of an accident, a head on collision expertly covered up by the garage that sold it too him resulting in a reduced font suspension? To Adrian there was a mystery to the past ownership history. On the papers certain dates were blurred and this made him question whether the car had had a disreputable past life with the previous owners; could its identity be marred by a long and sordid history? Could Adrian ever find satisfying answers: he thought probably not? "The car is OK, it is fine. I no longer need to worry about the thing, not at all."

The cars wheels were very large for the car, fixed on supposedly when manufactured at the garage. Were they just another attempt by the garage to lift the car further from the ground? Somebody had mentioned this when he had a puncture once and had sent it into local garage “You’ve got big wheels!” which frightened Adrian into thinking that he had bought a defective cartoon like car and he started to imagine that the mechanics were in fact sniggering inside the garage at his obvious naivety and incompetence at falling for an obvious sales mans trick. Maybe he driving around a trick car?

Every time he went to work and back he seemed to get more used to the comforts of the cars interior, the soft architecture moulding itself around him, the umbilical of the gear lever and the sensitive foot peddles connecting him to a smooth roaring engine. Adrian did feel uneasy about this because the freedoms it offered were ones that he found himself reluctant to free himself from. All it had started with was the simple need to cover the distance from home to work and had now extended to his own personal need for a cradle of support that the cold, unfeeling, mechanical device waiting for him outside, unaffected by wind, rain or cold, now seemed to provide. He would walk out there in all weathers in order to maintain it, checking again upon the dip of the front towards the wheels, always seeing if it was any worse now that before. Maybe it was his own fualt, it was his own braking that was doing it? Had he shut the windows properly? How could the car resist such downpours of rain without leakage somewhere? Did temperature changes really not affect it? He couldn't help feeling that the caar was vulnerable in some way, as he bent down on his knees to inspect its dirty underbelly, the fog of rain protecting him from the twitching curtains inside houses across the road.

Now that the car had become a near virtual extension of Adrian’s own body it gave him an extra layer of protection to the outside world, rushing past him at sixty miles an hour. No longer had he to think about navigating a tricky corner or stopping at the red lights as these things just happened intuitively and effortlessly while he wondered at the magnificent sunset on the horizon or in fascination at free ranging pigs snuffling in the grass.

His driving instructor would have been proud of him. Using the mirrors as just extensions of his eyes, giving him extra senses and once the doors were closed the sleek bodywork would mould itself around him giving him extended abilities. He became ten feet long and five feet wide with a travelling speed on average of eighty miles per hour, a monster gliding through the toboggan run of valley roads, working the gliding motion of his car through the minefield of bumps and pot holes along the winding route.

He had found that using the car now instead of the pedal bike that he used to use, although now he got to work a lot quicker and in far more comfort, he had begun to gain some weight, more weight in fact than he had ever put on in his life so far. Nothing too dangerous but he had increasingly gained weight over the past months and getting out of the car and in again was become a strain on his legs. The very point where he stepped in or out he had to rely on the one leg to lever himself up, not helped by the fact that, being 6 ft. 5 inches tall the seat needed to be set at its lowest point and even then he had to duck his head under the top of the windscreen and peer through the side window to look up at traffic lights and high buildings. Sitting in the car he was almost at ground level and heaving himself up from a resting position after a long journey put enormous strain on his knees, especially when he had to put one leg out first onto the gravel, taking his whole weight on it. He now felt a constant ache in the joint of this knee cap and was meaning to drive into the local health centre as soon as he had time for a check up.

Maybe he wasn’t meant to drive a car, his body just wasn't made for it. He did not fit into the regular size of person that all cars were modelled upon. Like shoes, shirts and trousers he would have to look around for a special garage with customised cars for tall people.

Often he marvelled at having a car at all? Suddenly he was able to stroll down luxuriously through the wide lanes, passing the unfortunate ones on the narrow side paths. He now parked in special zones, using all the acres of conveniences that were laid on especially for vehicle owners. Looking at his life as a whole it might seem as though he had advanced from simple walking to biking, then to car driving; what evolutionary state of living had he arrived at? Being able to jump into his luxury toy and drive around in it all day. Perhaps cars, lorries, jeeps, caravans, etc. were supposed to take away the tinge of drudgery from work life, to lead people into a false sense of control and prosperity. Perhaps this was the 'progress' that people spoke of.

Got a job? Then you can afford to buy a car to roll around in all day, why walk? Only a quarter of your wages is going to go on its upkeep and fuel consumption. Get into that car that extends your presence on earth by at least five feet by eight feet. You need no longer trespass upon the roadways of the privileged class, wander around disorientated in petrol stations, ride your cycle dangerously down highways, peer vacantly down from flyovers at miles of dotted concrete. You can belong to the exciting driving class that zooms past. You are now allowed to weave your way between the poles and find you way around the maze on your super charged four-wheeler; only of course you have to pay a road charge first and take part in the depletion of the earths natural recourses, contribute to pollution that causes cancer at increasing rates, its a lot of responsibility. Once out there though in the sea of concrete where there was no turning back, just a lot of strange people in cars of their own, knowing their way around and beeping you if you ride over a line or take too long at a junction.

He had remembered his mother and father and what they did inside cars but neither of them were very good, sidling up embankments and regularly scraping parked cars with abandon. He watched other drivers punch the air or turn to talk to their passengers, pointing at him in the dark shadows and reflections of their windows, imagining them swearing, waiting anxiously for him to get out of the way or speed up. He imagined the terrible deadlines and emergencies that troubled these fraught individuals as they reflected in his rear view mirror.

As often happens a friend or relative would need a lift and he would let his door open and watch to see if they slammed it or not. To Adrian, if they slammed or did not slam, this was the question. If they slammed they appeared no to have the proper respect that using somebody elses car demanded. Adrian would have to drive with his eyes strained to the back seat to see if they were buggering up the automatic windows or scuffing the carpet with their dirty feet. He smiled when a pleasant passenger clicked the rear locks into place with gentle respect, his anxiety relieved. If he found that he had a hostile crowd in the back there, slamming the back doors constantly, Adrian would have to twist his body away from his control position and give them firm guidance in a kind of laughing, jocular, it doesn’t really matter, kind of way, but he wouldn’t mind if they didn’t, type of thing.

Adrian did not have a house that he actually owned himself but rented one like everybody else he knew. Adrian had had little experience personally of the effects of serious ownership. He had always rented, never having enough money in the past to afford anything big. And the fear of being tied down was a menace that followed him around everywhere. Maybe now was the time, he thought, to settle. A bit more money now than he was used to. Maybe fate was imploring him to buy, to step onto the consumerist conveyer belt.

Him, the first time buyer, at Thirty three years of age - shock horror, “You mean you’ve never driven before?.” A heresy some would say. It was almost like Adrian was not a complete person without this signpost of maturity, without a car! "Surely he can’t be in control of his life! How does he get about? On two legs, what century is he from, surely this is the convenience age, isn't it?" The life saving kit of House, Wife, Kids and car are there to stop people being victimised by the shocked hand to mouth people who are always around every corner. Those closest to home stand first in line of course; Mothers, fathers, brothers, uncles, and all the rest; Adrian could visualise them all lining up with sarcastic swipes at hand. Adrian had just bought a car simply to get to work as his house was quite a distance away from college. He was able to rent at quite a good rate as it turned out which more than made up for the cost of petrol.

Adrian turned the key and the automatic ignition kicked in. Automation, car, it was like driving a dodgem. Foot down and off you go. All you needed was a long pole sticking out of the back with a flag on the end. Adrian could even move it when his feet were off the pedals.
He was disappointed that even with all these new fangled novelties included in car riding, that the fun was always weighed up against certain horrors on the road from which he could not avert his eyes. Deer, countless rabbits and badgers crushed onto the side of the road. Sometimes they hung around in the middle and Adrian had to swerve to avoid bumping his vulnerable front suspension over them. It was like the animals had been travelling at sixty miles an hour and had skidded suddenly, taking off half of their underside, squashing the intestines into a raw flat burger across the tarmac. A Badger was still there on the return journey, staring into the road with its red wine soaked fur sunken into the mud.

It was almost too large a thing for him to handle, the new world was too complex. He was used to a confined set of familiar parameters where his life ticked along without any intrusions.

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