Jed Novick: Is life in the fast lane over?

“Get your motor runnin’, Head out on the highway, Looking for adventure in whatever comes our way…” The open road, the wind in your hair… Is life in the fast lane over for Jed Novick? 

“We could make turn it into something interesting” said My Fine Wife. “You know, an objet”. Pause. “Maybe a plant pot. Apparently when the Berlin Wall fell, they sold off Trabants to garden centres, cut off the roofs and filled them with soil. We could do that” she said rather too brightly.

I looked at my stationary soft-top. “We wouldn’t even have to cut off the roof”.  

We’re looking at my very fine Mercedes CLK 200. It’s, of course,  the “Avantgarde” model which isn’t to say it’s experimental, radical, or unorthodox nor is it characterised by aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability (thank you Wikipedia) but it is very lovely. It’s metallic blue with contrasting light leather interior, a top of the range digital sound system. Electric everything. It’s also not well. Really not well. OK, it’s dead. The car is dead. 

“That’ll be your timing chain then”, said the nice garage bloke. “You’ll need to take it to the Mercedes garage. It’s a specialist job.”

He looked at me and we both knew. No one goes to the Mercedes garage. If you can afford to go to the Mercedes garage you can afford to have a car that doesn’t need to go to the Mercedes garage. God knows why there even is a Mercedes garage or even what happens there. 

“You’ll have to take it away”, said the nice garage bloke. “It can’t stay here”. 

There’s something I find unutterably sad about all this. The Mercedes. It was my car. It was everything that “practical” wasn’t. A boy car. A soft top that did about three to the gallon – and that wasn’t great even in the days when we had gallons. It was a soft top and come on, we get about three days of sunshine here. I used to keep a faux fur coat in the boot because as soon as the sun came out, the roof was down. And as anyone who’s been in one of these things, as soon as you take down the roof you let in the cold.“ Cold schmold. It was cool. 

“Roadrunner, roadrunner, 

Going faster miles an hour, 

With the radio on

I’m in love with Massachusetts

And the neon when it’s cold outside

And the highway when it’s late at night

Got the radio on

I’m like the roadrunner”

Jonathan Richman’s not ever going to be writing a song about a Nissan Leaf. Chris Martin might. 

My Fine Wife feels no sorrow really. Her favourite words are “the planet” and a car that moves from one petrol station to the next, it’s not her idea of fun. I can see her point. Having a car, it almost feels a little last century. We live in the centre of town. We walk everywhere and if even we got cabs everywhere… we could get cabs every day and it still wouldn’t cover the cost of insuring the Merc. Then there’s petrol, nearly £1.50 a litre and rising. And, as My Fine Wife reminds me, the planet. Simon Kofe, that Polynesian politician who gave a speech about the impact of climate change standing in the sea, is probably up to his waist by now.   

So, yes. I can see her point, but what a joyless, soulless, heartless, miserable point. Have you ever had sugar-free cake? Where’s the joy? Cars are extraordinary, iconic, beautiful. American Graffiti. Alvis. Bristol. Triumph. 

My first car was a Morris 1100 my father bought off Mr Trupp, who lived next door and sold cars on the side. I’ve no idea what he did on the other side. Who cares? Increasingly I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember the day Truppy – everyone called him Truppy – turned up with the Morris. £100. Deal. 

It had clearly been owned by some boy racer type because – and Truppy made a deal about this – it had two Webber carbs. No, me neither, but it went. Really, it went. We could beat almost anything off the lights. But then it stopped, got to about 30mph and stopped. Lost interest. Remembered it was a Morris 100. “Perfect, you’ll never break the speed limit” Truppy probably said. 

The other thing, the thing he didn’t mention, was that while there was a handbrake, it wasn’t actually attached to the floor of the car. You pulled it up, it just came up. The handbrake, the plate it was bolted to, some mechanism thing and… And we lived on quite a steep hill and, well that’s how my dark green Morris 1100 came to have a white boot. Do they even have breaker’s yards now? 

You think about your cars and they’re like photo albums, each one a rush of memory, each one with more stories than miles. But that was then and this is now. And now is different. Now is “the planet”. 

Maybe it’s time to just accept that the future’s now and proper cars aren’t now. Maybe everything else is a little bit King Canute. 

But you know… A couple of weeks ago I got Covid. What can you do? Just rest up and… Did you know that on Sky Dave Gold or somesuch channel at 4pm every day they’re showing old episodes of The Sweeney. Now the Ford Granada Mk 1, that’s a car.  And as chance would have it, there’s one on the net for £4,750…

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