Cars, Cheap Motels, and traveling the great brown land of OZ.

From the movie “Cars”

Sally: Forty years ago, that interstate down there didn’t exist.

Lightning McQueen: Really?

Sally: Yeah. Back then, cars came across the country a whole different way.

Lightning McQueen: How do you mean?

Sally: Well, the road didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.

– “CARS”  (2006 PIXAR movie)

I was due to be born on Christmas Eve, 1979. I arrived two weeks later on January 7, 1980 at Box Hill Hospital. And through a stroke of luck, our family was featured in the local paper as part of the “New Arrivals” section. When it came time to go home for the first time, I was taken in a brand new Holden motorcar.

It was December 1979, with the help of a family loan, my parents bought their first, and last, new car. It was a yellow Holden Gemini, and had just won Car of the Year. The yellow was for increased visibility and safety for the “baby on board”. In my hometown, that car became very well known because of its unique colour. In fact, people we hadn’t met would say, “Oh! You’re the person that drives that yellow car!” It was kind of embarrassing.

By the time I was seven, I had moved house five times, and interstate twice. The manufacturing genius of 1979 was my only “stability”. The only vaguely interesting thing about moving were the great variety of cheap motels we used to stay in. These one-room, one-bathroom wonders always had kind of intriguing quality about them. Would the room smell as much as last time? Would the bed sag in the middle, or be rock-hard? What kind of vomit would they serve as food? Mostly we would end up having “fish and chips”, but they were the really swish places! During all this thirty-dollor-a-night fun, sleeping was often not a part of the itinerary, what with Dad snoring, and the highway only meters away. Still this was better then the time Dad decided it would be cheaper to stop and sleep in the car.

Another detour of fun and relief (mainly relief) was the gas/petrol station. These oasis’s in the endless sea of brown dirt provided three essentials; a toilet (albeit broken and unflushed), gas/petrol for the road ahead, and the chance to stretch. These places would try and cash in on this and would turn themselves into mini-tourist attractions, of the “Big THING” variety, such as the Big Banana, the Big Pineapple, the Big Merino (sheep), the Big Prawn, and anything else you could think of. A great chance to take a picture and eat a not inexpensive meal of “fat drowned in gravy”.

In between the cheap motels and the “dog on the tucker [lunch] box” type attractions was the actual traveling. Which was often accompanied by my old friend boredom. Travel games and counting types of cars, cows, trees, rolls of hay and endless bottles of beer did not help. But it wasn’t always so boring. They was the time the car broke down about half an hour out of the town of Hay. We were forced to stay in the local pub, which was a big eye-opener for my little Minister’s Son eyes. Unfortunately I passed on the opportunity of land ownership, (six dollars an acre, it might even be worth eight by now!). Then there was the time a large truck sent a small stone in our direction, smashing the front windscreen. That was a very cold and windy journey.

As you may not know, I am only two generations off the farm, and I still have relative who are actual farmers. So, considering relatives are generally the cheapest accommodation of all, we tried to stay with as many of them, as often as possible. And my relatives are everywhere. One of these free bed and breakfast’s existed just outside of Lockhart, a very small town, an hour away from Wagga Wagga – Australia’s largest inland “city”. On this farm were two houses built for three generations of Smith’s, and a lot of sheep. In one house was my Great Aunt Lil, not the nicest person in the world, and her crazy husband, and in the other house was my cousin Natasha. Great Aunt Lil liked to play favorites, Natasha would receive a grand meal of boiled potatoes, while the rest of us would starve. After all, there were “only enough potatoes for Natasha”.

The hot dust and sheep droppings haven’t infected me with a love of the country life, it has given me an understanding of life and death that many others don’t have. Natasha named a lamb after me once. Here is the story of his life; his balls were cut off so that he wouldn’t develop into a Ram, then promptly became the evening meal of Lamb Chops and Roast. I found it quite shocking at the time, perhaps this is the reason I tried vegetarianism for a while. Although, I have to say that lambs are far from soft and cuddly creatures, they are extremely strong (try feeding one milk) and boney little things.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t so dull after all. And in this age of air-travel, increasingly unique. Perhaps in this fast food age, we are missing out on the little quirks of life, the little detours that make nice stories. The in-flight movie doesn’t really hold up against all this.


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