Since I was a child, I have always pined for a ‘flash’ car. Growing up with cars that had names such as ‘rust bucket’, ‘time bomb’ and ‘cat killer’, the thought of one day owning a car that was not shame-inducing was a lifelong goal.
In the wealthy dairy community where I grew up, being dropped off at school in a car that shuddered when driven over 70kph was not much fun. It didn’t matter that our father would drop us off a kilometre down the road: the car doors would shriek like a pterodactyl, not only alerting the entire community that we had arrived, but that we were also ashamed of the delivery method.
My mother would laugh when we spoke of our dismay. She found our misery hilarious and told us not to be such snobs. The last thing anyone could have accused a Harpur girl of was being a snob, yet we guiltily stifled our embarrassment and thought of those less fortunate, if those people existed. We dreamed for the day when we would own a car with electric windows. I didn’t care if we had to push the car to school, as long as when we arrived we could casually roll down our windows without rupturing a bicep.
Of course, the horror induced by the crap cars of our childhood was nothing compared to the absolute mortification during the self-conscious teenage years. It is no accident that I became extremely fit, opting to walk 9km (barefoot, in the snow) over getting a ride from my giggling mother in the car that made sounds like a drive-by shooting.
As time went on and those hideous teenage years faded, so did my desire to earn respect through a vehicle. My first car, a 20-year-old Corolla, was my temple to I‑don’t‑care-about-this-kind-of-material-crap-anymore. Each scrape and ding was trophied, a testament to my lack of snobbery. The constant battle with rust just meant I had to make sure I got my Warrant of Fitness late at night when the mechanic was tired, hungry and couldn’t see properly. Of course, the time did come when the rust around the windscreen of the car was so evident that even a mechanic with no eyes, who hadn’t slept for ten years, and who had been given a dozen cheap beers as hush-money, couldn’t let it slip.
Many years later, I now find myself in a ‘flash’ car, complete with windscreen wipers, a functioning boot and electric windows. I wish I could go back in time and tell eight-year-old Sarah that one day her dream of being in a not-shit car would come true. She would have wept with joy. As for 30-year-old Sarah? She still harbours the long-ingrained fear of being perceived as a snob, or even worse, a ‘rich bastard’.
As I drive in this shiny, rust-free machine, I feel like a fraud. A fraud! It is all very dramatic, really. I see the glint in the eye of the parking warden as I lock my car. He has no sympathy for anyone who can afford a vehicle with central locking and roadworthy tyres. I’m basically an aristocrat now. One second late, and he will gleefully accessorise my crack-free windscreen and mould-free wiper-blades with a parking ticket.
The ability to be pitied is a powerful thing. I renounced this power the day I became the owner of a roadworthy car. But my eight-year old self wouldn’t care one bit.