“No, no, no, NO, NO!”

I clenched both fists then shook the steering wheel. Click, click, click. I turned the key but still no healthy vroom.   

A ruddy-faced man, who had the cheery, somewhat dopey look of a puppy, came over to my window from the gas pump next to me. I struggled with the window—even it didn’t work very well. The middle third of the way it got iffy, and it simply refused to go all the way up if the car was going over sixty kilometers. Something about the vibration of the car frame—I don’t know, this car just had problems. Shitty car problems.

“You need help mate?” He queried once I negotiated the window down.

Yes, I needed help. I needed a new van.

I had tried the usual routes of car rentals, but the representatives very coolly told me they were out of rental cars and even if I wanted to rent one, scoff, it was probably out of my price range. I was glum. The Tasmanian mountain ranges were so tantalizingly close, but for all practical purposes they could have been in Alaska.

Stuck in Hobart in a hostel—trying to boil my eggs on a temperamental stove in a ridiculously outsized pot—I stared at my fellow hostel mates whose beady little eyes reflected the glare of their phones and decided a) I wanted to collect every single electronic device and cram it into a blender, and b) I needed to get out.

So I turned to the “other companies,” ending up at Wicked, a company that rents vans in which you wouldn’t be surprised to find a couple of used syringes and a booklet on how not to overdose on cocaine.  I’m not sure who the target rental market is for one of these vans, but they’re aiming low—real low.

The vans don’t look “nice” in any proper sense of the word, but in their own way they are really cool. Wicked covers them in graffiti and scrawls some of the most profane things on the back. I wonder sometimes if they’re not breaking some law with this stuff:

“Your life sucks if your girlfriend doesn’t.”
“Anything can be a dildo if you’re brave enough.”

… They get worse after that.

My tail message was one of the good ones—“Sometimes good things fall apart so good things can fall together”—although, in a sick way, I wouldn’t have minded one of the really awful ones just to shock people behind me.

“Martha, did you see what that van had on the back?”

“I certainly did. The state of things these days…” Martha shakes her head. “Yet you know this profane and heathen generation will get their just reward. Just another reason I keep telling you The Good Lord’s about to come back.”

“Amen.”

Oh, to be a part of the profane and heathen generation about to usher in The Good Lord’s return. I couldn’t wait. It was like wearing the costume of a pirate on Halloween when the nearest to a pirate-y thing you’ve ever done in real life is to take two handfuls of after-dinner mints at Olive Garden when the waitress wasn’t looking.

But I was rueing my ways now. I tried the key again—click, click, click.

“Yeah I’d love some help, man.”

“Sounds like your starter’s gone, yeah, the engine starter mate,” the man nodded knowingly and paused, thinking. “Right, so we’re going to do a rolling start. You know what that is? No? We pull you along and you pop the clutch quick. She’ll jolt and kick and then hopefully start going.”

“Okay…” I said slowly.

“I can do it for you if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said, inferring from my hesitation that I was, in fact, hopeless.

“Thank you,” I said with a hint of desperation.

He began rooting around in the back of his truck to find a rope to tow me to the back of the gas station, where we would try this rolling start. I couldn’t help but notice that time was slipping away, not to mention the fact that this “rolling start” definitely sounds like something you would try in Mozambique or Bolivia, where the nearest mechanic is two countries and several war-zones over.

To add to my exasperation, this wasn’t the first time this archaic piece of Japanese engineering kaputzed. The first time I was in the “bush” (the Aussie term for anything vaguely tree-ish that isn’t a city) next to a hiking trail about two hours from any sort of town or person. I was the only one for the whole night until the Hobart Walking Club rolled up and offered to give my engine a jump.  

That would have been fine… if the jump had worked. It didn’t. I requisitioned one of the hikers’ phones to hail RACV (the roadside assistance company in Tasmania) while the gentleman who loaned it dawdled around the lot, waiting to catch up with the other trampers. As I was connected from person to person, put on hold, picked up, then transferred again, I wondered absentmindedly if this would be the end of my solo trip around Tassy, which had begun less than twenty-four hours before.

‘What’s the vehicle model?’ I dunno. It’s a Mitsubishi. ‘You don’t know the model?’ There’s nothing on the back. ‘Well I need to know the model.’ I don’t know the model. ‘Sigh. Where are you located?’ Hartz mountain. ‘What? Where’s that?’ Tasmania. ‘Tasmania?! Let me transfer you…’

‘Yes. Hello? What color is the vehicle?’ Many colors. ‘Does the vehicle have two keys? ‘Cause if so, one probably opens the door and the other’s for the ignition.’ Just one key. No you idiot; I think I would have tried both keys if I had two. For the love of God, just send someone out. Now is not the bloody time to chat.

The pressure of using someone else’s phone and the fact that I had barely driven two hours in the van before it broke started to tell. Eventually they sent a man out, a gritty redneck who hopped out of his tow truck and sauntered to me.

“You couldn’t have gotten farther out, mate,” he said and extended his hand. I took it, immediately liking the guy despite how disgruntled I was.

He took a lap around the vehicle, got in the driver’s seat, and tried the key. The van roared to life… as if nothing had been wrong, as if it were just born, as if it were doing it just to spite me. I stared at the van in silence.

“Bet you feel like a dick now,” he grinned, “Don’t ya?”

He drove off after filling out some paperwork, kindly putting down the issue as a dead battery so he and I didn’t look like complete morons.

I had had no trouble since then. The van seemed to have kicked everything out of its system and pepped along well enough—until now, of course, when I had stopped for some gas (which it sucked up like a little greedy hog) and found it no longer wanted to bring me anywhere.

One thing I knew—I was in no mood to run up the stream of RACV customer representatives again. I would rather set the van on fire, tell Wicked to go… do unmentionable things to themselves, and walk.

The Aussie looked up from tying his truck to the bumper of my van and gave a thumbs-up. He jumped in his car and slowly pulled me to the back of the petrol station. I stepped out of the driver’s seat, and he slung himself in, tried the key… vroooooom!

Piece of shit van.

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