…Continued from Part 1
I decided to go for a walk down the road to find help.
“Are you fucking mad?” said my girlfriend, quite sensibly.
She was right. This is how people die in the outback… wandering away from the vehicle, where the nearest potable water, phone, McDonalds… may be 500 miles away.
Squinting into the early light, I pointed to what looked like a driveway.
“Ah… bullshit,” said my girlfriend, quite sensibly. The chances of having broken down anywhere near a station (ranch, in American) were slim to none. Some of the outback stations are the size of small European countries.
I went jogging up the road anyway, and… well, fuck! It was a station! Better yet, it was a very small station! I could see the house, less than a kilometer away.
I knocked quietly on the front door, then again a little louder. There was shuffling and confusion before a middle-aged woman appeared, staring past me for my vehicle. She seemed bewildered rather than annoyed, that a bedraggled, dreadlocked young man had materialised from thin air to wake her at 6:00am on a Sunday.
Kindly the woman called for a tow truck and invited me inside for coffee and breakfast, as I would be here for a while. I troubled her for some water and explained that my girlfriend was sitting in the car, and that I valued my life.
With water and news of our rescue, my girlfriend’s mood lifted somewhat. An hour later, help arrived… kind of.
This guy was a nut job. We quietly stood back for a moment, debating whether he was drunk or merely incompetent. Turns out he was both. In absolutely no condition to drive, this idiot was going to attempt to tow another vehicle (with my girlfriend and me in it) over 100 kilometers back to town. His wife was there too, to keep her heavily inebriated husband from falling asleep at the wheel. She was still in her pyjamas.
There was no tow truck. It was just a drunk guy with an angry, pyjama-laden wife, a four-wheel-drive and a length of rope. He secured the two vehicles together, at a length of about 15 feet, then they climbed in, and he drove, like a drunk man who has no idea that another vehicle is tied behind.
He kept swerving, and periodically braked for no apparent reason. This was a problem. The braking system on a 1976 Holden Kingswood, when travelling at 100km/h without a motor, could be accurately described as almost non-existent. Every time this idiot braked, I had a tenth of a second to literally stand on my brake pedal in order to avoid rear-ending him. This in itself was a nerve-wrackingly dangerous exercise because I knew that if I did hit him at speed whilst in this position I would personally connect with the back of his 4WD just after being catapulted through my own windscreen… Then of course he would take off again. The tow-rope pulled violently taut each time, and with it I hoped not only the front half of my car.
We made it home. My girlfriend told me I should have let us hit him when he braked, for which we then could have easily sued him for negligence and a lot more money than my car was worth. She was right actually, but I was exhausted from trying not to have us all killed. I didn’t want to destroy this poor bastard’s life. He was drunk, and would have lost more than his job if I’d made a complaint. It looked like he was having a tough enough time as it was.
I had gigs booked and had to fix old Kermit (the wagon was green). I had a mate in town that could fix anything… outback style. So I went to the pub to find out where he was.
I ordered a beer (as you do) and the owner of the pub, another mate of mine said, “Hey, have a look at this! It just arrived from South Australia!”
He showed me a yellow can of beer. It was called Duff. It wasn’t red like the fictional beer brand from The Simpsons, and it didn’t have The Simpsons’ Duff beer logo, but somehow looked very familiar. I had a can of Duff. It wasn’t bad!
We laughed about the Duff beer and how its makers were probably soon going to hear from some American lawyers. I bought a carton of Duff, found out where my backyard-mechanic friend Ned probably was, and went to find him.
Ned wasn’t hard to track down (nobody is in an outback town) and he was more than happy to bring Kermit back to life. Fixing cars was his hobby, and he was good at it.
I’d never given thought to the words ‘panel beating’, which I came to realise is a very literal term. In central Australia functionality beats aesthetics every time. He maniacally thrashed the front end of Kermit with a heavy iron mallet in one hand and a Duff Beer in the other, casually explaining through the sound of metal on metal that the objective was simply to get the old girl running again (like most old cars, Kermit was female. I mean, how many people do you know who have a car called Harold?). I did once, years earlier have a Corolla named Lola. Lola was a transvestite… different story.
Ned had also removed the irreparably buckled hood and everything else that needed replacing. We grabbed a few more cans of Duff from the fridge and took his truck across town to a junkyard and helped ourselves to a few used parts. A couple of old headlights, a radiator, distributor and an old brown hood cost me about fifty bucks, plus plus the twenty for the beer we drank. By the next afternoon Kermit wasn’t looking too pretty but she was running again.
I drove down to the pub to buy another carton of Duff, this time to keep. I thought it might be a nice conversation piece, and maybe even worth a bit of money later (this was the mid-90s when The Simpsons was still popular and funny). My mate down at the pub had had the same idea. He told me he had only one carton left, and that he was keeping it.
Of course, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation, which owns The Simpsons, did very quickly find out about the rogue South Australian Duff Beer and immediately ordered all remaining stock to be recalled and destroyed. The beer was never seen again. Ned and I had drunk a carton in the back yard that day. These cans of beer were now extremely rare. Not long after, a carton of Duff was sold to an American collector for $13,000. Oh well, easy come…
To add insult to stupidity, Kermit, my buckled old friend only lived another six months. It turned out the punishment laid on by that massive phantom red kangaroo was just too much for the old girl, and in a harmless but very loud explosion that scared the hell out of me she threw a piston early one morning in northern New South Wales.
I was about 1,000 kilometers from home. Almost broke, and with gigs to get to in Queensland, it was entirely fortunate that my father was nearby at the time. He came with wise counsel, a cheque book, and together, we traded Kermit for a 1972 Ford hearse. My girlfriend was livid when I arrived home two days later (whole different story).
By a freakish coincidence my dad saw Kermit parked in Sydney, a year later, with Tasmanian plates. She was still alive! Hopefully for long. Aussies appreciate old cars.