Life and Living

the freedom of the open road

In my eternal quest for understanding how life works, and what it all means, I’m never disappointed by the freedom of the open road. On my own in my car.  It’s here that I start to feel an unlocking of the original essence of myself, whatever that may be, no solid conclusions though here, sorry. But on my own, just me, with no other title – not wife, daughter, sister, or mother – I feel almost invincible and closer to my purest self.

For much of the time that I’ve been clocking up the mileage in my nearly fourteen- year- old trusty Toyota, I’ve been ferrying passengers. Mostly my own offspring, but also the various furry children so with the combination of the scratches from school shoes’ buckles, and sharp claws my car seats were truly shredded. It only occurred to me how unsightly they were when I recently fetched some family members from out of town, and I noticed when they got into my car how they subtly rearranged themselves around the exposed sponge, and in between the dog hair and sea sand. I knew it was time.

So, I’ve had them replaced recently and with a new set of car tires (also hopelessly overdue), I left the city a few days ago and headed up the east coast to see my parents.  

Exercising severe self -restraint, I persuaded myself to bypass my favourite Peregrine farmstall in Elgin without stopping for coffee and push on to Caledon. There I filled up with diesel and bid Luciano the petrol attendant a marvelous day, querying whether the reason for his name was his mother’s appreciation of opera or not.  

‘No, she just likes Italians, he countered.

‘Ah, me too! So long Luciano!’

I could feel my Seattle coffee kick in and my invincibility increasing.

Not much later, after leaning over to sneak cellphone photos of the beautiful tranquility of the farm fields through the passenger window on the left, my music blaring and my empty coffee cup resting beside my steering wheel, I noticed a number of lights flashing on my dashboard: the fuel filter, my engine light and the anti- skid thingy. Oh hell.

This had happened before, and I wasn’t too stressed. Probably some water in the diesel or something. I changed the radio station for more clarity, flipped my indicator and proceeded to overtake a stream of cars, gearing down to fourth and heading up the hill, my foot flat on the accelerator.

But after a bit, the speedometer started dropping steadily from 140km down, down, down until I was doing about 80kms and had veered off onto the yellow line to let those cars whizz past me on my right!  I could increase my speed a little on the downs, but the ups were just  not happening.

After a few unsuccessful uphill climbs, I limped into Swellendam to find a garage, lest I get stuck on the road completely. First, I phoned AA to check if any their trucks they were close enough to rescue me, if need be, but then Michael, another friendly petrol attendant directed me to a mechanic around the corner.

‘Yis I love this car,’ I told the friendly mechanic as he bent forward into the engine and fiddled with this and that. ‘You know how far it’s travelled? I’ve just passed 350 000 kilometers!

‘Ah well that’s nothing. I had a Fortuner come in last week that was over 720 000’.

I marveled at that and thanked him for being so efficient in getting my car sorted.    

It was less than an hour, that my fuel filter was replaced, and I was heading towards Heidelberg.

And so there I was, chatting to my car and telling her I loved her, and how great she was, while tapping on the steering wheel and singing loudly to ‘Doctor, Doctor, Beat’ (glorious Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine) on the radio, reminiscing about varsity parties and the freedom we felt of who we could become.

But again, the two dashboard lights came on and even with my foot flat on the accelerator, my speed would not increase. It was obviously not just the fuel filter.  

I pulled in at Heidelberg and phoned the mechanic who had just worked on my car. He told me that it was more than likely an auto-electrical problem but assured me that I wouldn’t be stranded and need to merely continue to George and take it in there.

I got to George and took it to another mechanic a day or two later, in between my visits to my parents and sister where I temporarily lost my own identity to become a sister and daughter. We took it for a test run on the highway and the same lights came on at speed but he assured me too that I would make it home and would need to take in for a longer period to service properly. I still need to do that.  

But this is not a story of car troubles.

It’s a little story of how we can assume a different identity when we do things on our own.  And how we sometimes need to be alone with our thoughts, driving on the open road with the music blaring and the songs we need to hear with no one telling us to turn them down or change channels or close the window because it’s blowing on them or open because the dogs like to feel the breeze and stick their heads out.     

 My journey home a few days later was unstressed. I kept watching for the lights to glare at me on the dashboard but thankfully they never did.

And I can’t remember feeling so alive as I did then, buoyed by the music, watching the dull greens and browns and oranges of the encroaching autumn rise and fall beside me, to be so free on that open road. I had left  behind my sister and parents who are frail and aging ( and obviously worry constantly about ) and was driving home to be a wife and mother.

Something about this single, solitary status I was dwelling in for those few hours in between home and away made me feel amazing. Every now and then I shazamed the tracks I wanted to keep, holding my phone close to the jazz of car radio and smiling in agreement with the presenter who went on about the value of music and song: about how music can open up your imagination, free your mind and transport you anywhere you want to go. Backwards in your life to a memory you want to relive or forwards to everywhere or anywhere you can dream of.

However, music is only part of the journey. The silence does that too.

There on my own on the open road behind the wheel I often feel this sense of this is truly me. I am me. It’s as if I almost belong to no-one in those moments and yet am safe and whole in the comfort that they are out there still. And belong to me. For now.

Life in a liminal space for a while.


‘Til next time

(PS :Procrastination post! Back to my book)  

8 thoughts on “the freedom of the open road”

  1. I also loved reading this !!! Great writing. Loved how you put your finger on the overwhelming sense of freedom that one has in the car alone – and is identity-less. I feel exactly that when I have the opportunity to take a long trip alone!!! Liberating indeed. Thanks for posting. xxx

  2. Parallel (-ish) lives! Sixteen year old Ford; 350 000km; Been on the road mostly alone for 13 months now. Occasionally joined by an adult kid for fun; Hoping for no red dashboard lights (other than the permanently-on airbag one), but know that they’ll come sooner or later! My road songs: Pink Martini’s Splendor in the Grass; Tuba Skinny’s Maple Leaf Rag.
    Enjoy! and Thanks!

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