June 27, 2018

What Ford Lasers & Cat Stevens taught me about turning Each Day into a “Living Spree.”

My first true love brought with it some fierce independence and a lot of amazing adventures.

She was a little, blue Ford Laser hatchback motor car. “Princess”—as she was affectionately dubbed by yours truly—was vintage, from the 80s. Consequently, she only had a radio so we did a lot of easy listening, in particular during treks across Melbourne or adventures up the country highway.

Our favourite and most played musical melodies were those of Cat Stevens, who sang:

“Oh very young
What will you leave us this time?
There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind
And if you want this world to see a better day
Will you carry the words of love with you…?”

Whenever I hear these lyrics, they take me back to that first love, who filled a void in my heart I never knew a little beast could…

It was a milestone birthday when that old, blue Ford Laser entered my life, rolling up the driveway with a large pink bow covering both headlights.
She was secondhand, with her only previous owner being my late Nana Pat. She had been used as a “get about” in regional North Eastern Victoria.

Seeing her again was like a reunion with a lost love.

I was bestowed the gift of Princess’ life after already sharing many common memories and adventures of jaunts to bowls and trips down that country town shopping strip. During those outings as children, we always met Nana’s local friends and she would proudly present us as her grandchildren.

To be honest, while excited at the prospect of having that Laser in my life again, I was slightly overcome by her presence at first. I had spent 20 years of my life as a passenger (both physically and metaphorically) and I understood little of the responsibility involved in owning a motor vehicle. Princess wasn’t a “high-powered” motor vehicle, but a motor vehicle nonetheless.

She was dainty, which was great for zipping around car parks, and many remarked that the most high-powered aspect of her existence was the olden style club lock I used to keep her safe from would-be-robbers at night. Being the youngest in my family and having always been treated as the baby, I was flying blind when it came to the basics of the big, wide world, driving around town and being a responsible adult. Nonetheless, I look back on that day as my own day of reckoning.

The day Princess arrived was my own Independence Day.

From that life-changing moment forward, Princess and I were inseparable. Oh, the adventures we had together! We took road trips, went on picnics, met friends, and she was my getaway vehicle from a few less than savoury elements. Princess outlasted boyfriends…several of them. She was my lifeline, my “phone a friend,” and my shelter from the storms of life.

I never cared for the new Hyundai Excels, or the higher-powered V6 and V8 motor vehicles or utes my friends drove while they laughed and referred to Princess as “Puffing Billy” and “a piece of crap.” She was my partner in crime, and I knew she could hold her own. I cannot even categorically rule out the fact that some of Australia’s “hoon legislation laws” were premised on stopping the idiocy Princess and I embarked on. Who else would think to learn the joys of “doing doughnuts” in the car park of their own workplace on a weekend?

As the pages and chapters of life turned, Princess remained stoic, seldom making trips to dad’s mechanic, which mainly occurred when I forgot to give her oil, and which also brought about the phrase, at least in my immediate circle, “You can’t kill a Ford Laser.” Princess and I eventually moved back from Victoria and found a safe haven: a happy, vibrant new home in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. She sat happily in that driveway for years, making odd trips down Melbourne’s iconic Chapel Street for groceries.

Princess saw me through university, even though my degree took years longer to accomplish than anticipated. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Well over 300,000 kilometers after birth, Princess was held together by temporary fixes and Band-Aid solutions put together by mechanics who kept warning us she was due to pass her expiry date. She’d had a great life, but her ailments were associated with a ripe old age.

One day, my dad put his foot down and declared that Princess was no longer deemed safe. To be fair, her brakes had failed in Melbourne traffic, so this shouldn’t have come as a complete shock. However, the devastation that ensued was immense—I was left distraught.

The day Princess rolled out of my life—on the back of a tow truck no less—I wept: for the adventures, the memories, my youth, and mainly for her. She’d been my best friend and the key to my independence for years. I couldn’t have loved a chunk of metal any more than I did, even if she was a bloody Rolls Royce.

I still think of her often (and always fondly). Particularly, when I hear those old Cat Steven’s lyrics. They are what best summarize my feelings of loss:

“If you want it to last forever,
you know it never will…
And the patches
make the goodbye harder still.”

My love for that little car has never been far from my mind. Since her departure, I’ve owned station wagons, utes, and a brand new, sparkling, luxury Nissan Pathfinder in jet black. Yet none of them were the right fit for me.

My Pathfinder guzzled fuel, was a nightmare to park, and had features I couldn’t get my head around. So when my husband recently required full-time use of that oversized and seriously overvalued vehicle, I had the opportunity to choose a new “get-about.” And to be honest, the last thing I wanted was another over-the-top, environmentally unsound, fuel-guzzling land cruiser that seldom left suburban roads.

I bet you won’t have trouble guessing what rolled down my driveway and into my life—this time round, she’s not an 80s vintage, but she most certainly is a little, blue Ford Laser. She’s my 1997 mint condition Hatchback Princess.

She cost considerably less than that Pathfinder, but the biggest difference appears when I take her for a carefree drive. When I’m with her, it feels like I’m 21 again and embarking on a new adventure with that free feeling of familiarity.

It really is the simple things in life—that love, that familiarity, and that feeling of home and nostalgia—that can’t be bought.

I don’t miss the reversing cameras, the built-in DVD player, or surround sound technology, because let’s face it: you can’t buy happiness or love in the form of leather seats complete with butt warmers.

When I have my young son in the backseat of Princess, he is not preoccupied by gadgets and technology but instead has an opportunity to play “I Spy” just as we did when we were kids in the back of Nana’s car. The innocent play of my childhood lives on and that circle of life continues—minus a hefty price tag.

And it would be remiss of me not to mention that my new Princess still only has a radio. So once again, I’m back to mindful easy listening with Cat Stevens:

“Will you carry the words of love with you
Will you ride, oh, ooh
Oh, very young what will you leave us this time?”

Princess didn’t just teach me about the responsibilities associated with adulthood, motor vehicle ownership, and the freedom that comes with travelling solo on a wide open road. And although I respect her for all of that, she taught me something even more important: real life is not about material possessions or monetary value—true richness is really about a kind of “living spree” you can only get with the freedom of adventure and real-life experience.


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