Last Wednesday night, I was driving down the A1, a little way past Worksop on a routine trip back to London when I felt my engine was losing power. To lose power on a road with no hard shoulder was a less than attractive prospect, so when I saw a lay-by up ahead of me, I stopped. It seemed to make sense to do so while I still had some choice over where. It would be better to stop in a lay-by than a hundred yards past one and unable to do anything about it. Coming to a rather abrupt halt, between two lorries, I stopped the engine for a few seconds, hoping to simply restart it and crack on.
But when I turned the key the second time, the engine did not start. It made that noise that engines make that sounds like an eighty-five year old with emphysema coughing their guts out. But it did not start. And at that moment, I knew that I was not going to London tonight. It was just gone 10pm when I rang the AA, which made it a little concerning when they said it could be midnight before they arrived. I was stranded on a rather unattractive stretch of the A1 with no street lighting, and it would be dark in ten minutes.
Isn’t this how most horror movies start?
It may be unmanly to do so, but if I’m honest I was slightly scared. I was miles from anywhere and had no means of escape should a burly trucker decide he wanted to either rob me or rape me.
The last words my father had said to me before I left the house were, “Check oil!” But I hadn’t. I had put it off. I had thought, “I’ll do it when I get there.” So now I was sitting there wishing I had checked the oil and hoping that when the AA man arrived and diagnosed the problem, it was not that the engine had seized because there was no oil in the car.
Two hours later, still alive and slightly falling asleep, I unclenched by bottom when a set of headlights blasted into my wing mirror with the familiar logo of the AA on the bonnet. And luckily for me, the diagnosis was nothing to do with oil. As it turned out, I had blown my head gasket because of a previously existing problem that VW had not fixed. But whether or not, it meant a tow.
In the past when I’ve been towed home by the RAC, they always send a subcontracted pick-up truck to get you, which means another 45 minutes wait. The AA on the other hand, have something I can only describe as half a transformer in the back of their vans. And after about ten minutes of whirring (so a little slower than a transformer), the van turns into a pickup truck.
Being driven home in the AA van was an unusual experience. For 11 years, amongst my various groups of friends, I have always been the designated driver. And that’s not something that has anything to do with alcohol. It’s probably got more to do with a fear and mistrust of young drivers that were not myself. So for the last eleven years, more-or-less the only seat I have ever occupied in a car is the driver’s seat. And whenever on long journeys, my passenger would always fall asleep. And I never understood why. Until now. I was now falling asleep.
While I was falling asleep, I was thinking. I hate it when something goes wrong with my car. Apart from the inconvenience, one of the biggest reasons why is that I have no idea what to do about it. Unlike the stereotypical Asian lad, I don’t know the first thing about cars.
Whether all Asian lads know about cars or simply pretend to know about cars, I don’t know either. But I don’t even know enough to pretend that I know everything.
It was time I figured this out. It was time I learned. It was time I grew up. Even at the age of 31 and less than 12 months to my wedding day, I still had no idea how to fix a car. How could I possibly be even thinking of bringing children into the world if I am still not able to independently take care of myself?
Now cars, like computers, is one of those subjects that when you post on Facebook about it, everybody has an opinion. Everybody is an expert on cars. And when it comes to getting a car repaired, everybody seems to have a ‘man’. And everybody, I’m sure with the best of intentions, offers to call their ‘man’.
“Shall I put you in touch with my man?” they say.
And everybody seemingly thinks that their ‘man’ is the best ‘man’. And if you even mention some other person’s ‘man’, you’ll receive a shaking head accompanied by a response, in a tone filled with woe, of, “Ohhhhh. I wouldn’t take it there.”
I myself do not have my own ‘man’. And this I believe is one of the reasons that I’m not a true adult yet.
But my dad, like every true grown up, has a ‘man’, which as decreed in the protocol, he offers to put me in touch with.
So as my dad asked me whether he should ask his ‘man’ and I’m umming and aahhing because what I really want to say is, I’m sure, not what he wants to hear, I know that if I make a mistake I’ll never hear the end of it.
When the job is done and he asks me, “Where did you take it?” and “How much did you pay?” if it’s a penny more than his ‘man’ would have charged – which it will be, because wherever you take it, and whatever you pay for it, a Gujarati Dad can always do better – I will get the standard Gujarati Dad response in Dolby 5.1 surround sound and 4k cinemascope!
“You paid how much? Why did you pay so much? My ‘man’ would have done it for half that price.” Ruffled eyebrows. Shaking head.
So I don’t know what I’ll do yet. I just think I should fix the problem myself. Maybe then I’m one step closer to accepting myself as an adult.