I’m behind the wheel of a BMW 135i Sport Coupe and if that doesn’t mean much to you, picture me on a Formula One track and it’s kind of the same thing.
Fred, the owner of the Beemer with motorsport capabilities, is sitting in the passenger seat. He’s chilling there without even a smidgen of worry that I’m driving his responsive set of wheels. Even when the flat tire warning light comes on, he casually injects the suggestion to pull over into his enthusiastic banter about the cold beers he plans to demolish.
I haven’t seen Fred in years but he hasn’t changed since high school. Living in constant anticipation of the next fun thing he gets to do keeps the spring in his step and his friends at arms reach. He’s vibrant and wild. I’m calm and collected. We’ve never really had a lot in common, aside from different levels of attraction towards my friends, if you know what I mean.
He gets out of the stopped car and inspects each tire. But none of the fancy pants tires are showing any sign of wear, so without a suspicious wheel we decide to power on at a lazy 120km/hour.
*10 minutes later*
Da-dum da-dum da-dum da-dum.
“There’s the flat tire the car was talkin’ about,” says Fred.
Fred and I are on a road just outside Mendooran in NSW, a small town about 302 people strong. We’re around 180km from home, 120km from where we need to be and 100% “shit out of luck” when we discover there’s no spare in the car.
With two swags, a carton of beer, our bags, a guitar and a case of wine for the birthday girl we’re en route to see, I assume we have no choice but to call someone we know to come and save us. It is dusk, after all, and the sun will be going down very soon…
Apparently I’ve been living in the city too long because Fred thinks it’s perfectly all right to drive into a complete stranger’s driveway and ask if we can leave the car there.
Really? Just go to someone’s house we don’t know? And ask them to keep an eye on our automobile?
About four small dogs run out of the yard barking and growling and carrying on, and they’re followed by the middle-aged matriarch of the property. Needless to say, I’m totally unsurprised when Fred starts yarning with her like she’s an old friend from Woodstock. I stand to the side smiling like a pork chop.
A-six-pack-of-beer-given-to-her-as-a-gesture-of-appreciation later, and we’re sitting across the road from the local pub with our thumbs wiggling at passing cars. With Fred’s dreadlocks, and my lack of footwear after having just blown a plug to put the icing on the cake, we look like a couple of hippy musicians looking for a ride to our commune.
Fred has absolutely no shame in calling out to anyone and everyone he sees coming in and out of the pub, asking if they feel like driving us an hour and a half out of town. Each time I shrink smaller with embarrassment.
When he decides to go into the pub to shout the same query over the bar, he leaves me in charge of trying to flag down cars. Alone. Oh, God.
Every time a car comes into view my stomach rolls into itself and I hope it will turn before it reaches me. Sometimes they do but other times, they don’t. I try to stay strong; to do something to make Fred and his outgoingness proud. Here comes a car. My thumb is standing tall and confident, my eyes fierce. But when the driver reaches a point close enough to make eye contact back with me, my thumb flops like a limp penis, my stamina totally collapses and I’m forced to look at the ground and casually kick the dirt as if that’s what I feel like doing right now.
Eventually Fred returns. “Any luck?” He asks.
“No cars came,” I lied.
“Don’t worry, I found someone.”
He’s done it!
“Let’s go,” he says prioritising picking up the beers.
Next thing I know I’m now sitting in the backseat of the strangers vehicle with Fred. The driver is a nice man who lives across the road from the pub, and in the passenger seat sits his 10-year-old son. We try to converse but we’re sitting about a kilometre behind them because we’re in a sedan, and they’re blasting 1990s pop hits from the local radio station, so I can’t really hear.
The guitar is propped between Fred and I, and when he puts it on his lap and moves closer to me I wonder what the hell he is up to. It’s dark now, and with no street lights to line the country roads, the only illumination is the blue haze from the speedometer, and the kid’s gaming tablet in the front.
Fred squeezes my knee in a way I find very inappropriate considering the total lack of chemistry we’ve always had. Never, not once. Not even our science classes in 2001.
“Fred, please don’t do that, it’s weird” I say politely.
“You don’t like it?” He whispers, with a childish grin. “Come on Jessie,” he is now tapping the guitar, which draws my attention to the flat surface of the guitar.
Peering in the darkness I make out two neat lines of some sort of white substance and he passes me a note.
Now I’m questioning the authenticity of this confidence he has had all day.