I never set out to steal a car.
I’ve always been very good. I was taught to be a Good Girl. Polite, accommodating and the right side of sweet. But when I went back into the mechanic’s workshop and saw the keys still lying there, I only had a flicker of a second thought before my hand was reaching for them …
Maybe it was the zippy little car that had enchanted me and woken up my sleeping maiden who suddenly remembered her first car, twenty-five years prior; spritely, small, speedy; my ticket to freedom. Unlike the trusty family tank who had been lugging and lulling our kids and animals about for aeons.
The large, safe, white people mover that was supposed to have been serviced months before but now had the offer of a super special service for $150. Both my husband and I had known, it was a bad idea to buy the coupon from the guy at the front door but we were sick of being ripped off by the dealership where we’d bought the tank and this basic service, for a hot deal price, would do the job until somewhere down the track when we had more funds and time to find a different mechanic.
When I took the tank in with the voucher, I was clear, crystal clear, “I don’t have any more to spend on the car than the $150 I’ve already paid,” I said. “So, PLEASE, don’t call me up in an hour saying it needs this doing or that doing because it’s not going to happen, I just don’t have the money.” The cock-sure, blue overalled, dark-haired man, flashed me a half smile and passed me the keys to Zippy, the loan car.
I pulled away and delighted in my new prancer. We raced about, she and I. But not for long. The phone interrupted our short-lived affair. It was the mechanic with a list of faults that the tank would absolutely, without fail, need tending to immediately.
“No,” I said. “I thought I explained. I don’t have an extra $1000 to do all that. Can you just do the oil change and the other things on the list?”
“Oh no, Love, can’t do that. This needs to be looked at now. The car’s up on the hoist and I’m ready to go.”
“Why can’t you just do what it says on the voucher?”
“You don’t understand, Love. I can’t do all that until I’ve done this other work first.”
“Don’t do any of it.” Goodbye Zippy. “I’ll come and get the car now.”
“But the car’s up on the hoist.”
“Well can you get it down?”
“I’m on my way now.”
He sighed loudly and hung up.
“What do you mean you can’t give me my $150 back?”
“It’s a different company that does the vouchers.”
Was this guy smirking? He had a smear of oil above his left eyebrow that was definitely smirking.
I tried fruitlessly, helplessly, to get my money refunded but he was cocksure in his castle of engines and oil. And I knew nothing, apparently. The door to door voucher guy had taken the money and it was a separate deal, done and dusted outside the workshop, so there was absolutely no way he was going to give me a cent.
I did not like him.
“Give me the voucher back then.” I folded my arms and stood up straighter.
He sighed again, loudly, and rustled through the papers on the counter.
“Ring this number,” he prodded the back of it and swaggered off.
I slammed the door of the tank and chugged away, pulling over a couple of minutes later to dial the mobile number on the back of the voucher. There was a strange automated voice that spat irrelevant numbers at me. I squeezed the phone, feeling my gut inflame, and re-punched the numbers onto the screen. The same computerised voice, signalling zero accountability. Fury writhed inside, desperate to get out. I stormed back along the street to the workshop.
There was Zippy, still parked outside. The mechanic was nowhere to be seen, up those stairs maybe. I looked for a bell on the counter. The keys, still there where I’d left them.
They twinkled, beckoning.
I snatched them up. I would show him.
Zippy whinnied as I zoomed away. My mind raced. My heart thudded. I was laughing a little wildly. Manically. Maniac-ally. Where would I go? The tank flashed momentarily in my peripheral vision, as we sped by. Was I really doing this? Was I actually doing this?
I needed a plan.
Think! My heart was still racing.
I cut someone up and they sounded their horn. I sounded mine back. Don’t mess with me mister! Zippy’s beep could do with more volume.
Think! I kept checking my rear view mirror.
I would go home and park up in our tiny driveway and lock the gates. But I didn’t want him coming to my house. And what about the tank?
I needed a place to hide the loan car and get my own vehicle out of his street. The shopping centre appeared up ahead, magically. The car park! I turned in and took a ticket. I would hide Zippy in the multi-storey car park and he could spend days looking for her. I wouldn’t even tell him I’d taken her.
I half ran, half walked the twenty minutes back to the tank. Every cell alive with the exhilaration. What if he was waiting for me? I turned into the street. The tank was parked half way down, his workshop right at the end. I was sprinting now. He wasn’t there. I jumped in and pulled away. The bulky, plodding tonne not registering that its pedal was to the mettle.
When I got to the main road, I decided to call him. He needed to know that I wasn’t a silly, helpless woman who he could rip off. I knew how to stand up for myself, even if this was the first time.
“I just want my $150 back,” I said, when he picked up. My voice was slow and deep. My gansta voice was collected.
“I rang that number and it’s a fake. I want you to give me my money back.”
“I’m not gonna give you your money back. I already explained.”
“Well I’ll give you your car back when you give me my money back.”
Still gangsta. Slow, measured. “I’ll give you your car back when you give me my money.” I heard him stride over to the window.
“Wha?” His voice was higher now, more nasal than cock-sure. “What have you done with my car?”
“Like I said, when you give me my money back, I’ll tell you where your car is.” I couldn’t believe how calm I sounded. My heart was beating again, wildly but my voice sounded so sure. Cock-sure.
“You can’t do that! You can’t…Wha…Where’s my fuckin’ car?”
“I just want my money back”. Cool, calm and collected.
“You’ve STOLEN my car! You can’t do that. You’ve TAKEN my car.”
“You’ve taken my money.”
“I’m gonna ring the police, right now.” He was spluttering.
We went back and forth repeating ourselves, him getting louder and a bit squeakier. Then he hung up, his last words being ‘the police’.
I went cold. The police.
I pulled over. Was he right? Had I actually stolen his car? He had stolen my money so they equalled each other out, didn’t they? I got my phone and looked for the nearest police station. Better safe than sorry. I would go and ask them.
Good job I got flustered and lost my ability to follow Google Maps. After driving in circles for too long, I pulled over and called them which meant I didn’t have to eyeball the police officer when he told me I was indeed a car thief.
‘We’ve got him on the other line and he’s not very happy,’ the policeman said in a neutral tone.
‘But he’s stolen my money! That’s why I took his car. He needs to give me my money back.’
‘That’s a civil matter, madam. We don’t address civil matters. Stealing a car is a criminal matter. You need to get the car back to him immediately. Can you hear him shouting down the other phone? You’ve got half an hour to return the car.’
My gangsta had fled, leaving a dry mouth and sweaty palms. I returned to the multi-storey and parked beside Zippy. Then drove slowly, in a measured way, back to the workshop. The loan car feeling tinny and small. I parked up in the street and summoned every ounce of willpower to walk back inside. Mercifully, the mechanic was deep in conversation with a customer at the other end of the workshop. I saw him look over as I dumped the keys on the counter. For a moment we glared at each other. Then, just briefly, just maybe, he smiled. I hot footed it out of there, forcing my nose in the air, breaking into the biggest broadest smile as I swept along the street, back to the shopping centre.
Four years on, that moment still makes me smile. The walk back to my car, feeling like I’d walked on the wild side (for me) and made good use of my fury. The fury that was older than that day. It was all the times my little self had needed to stand up but hadn’t, couldn’t. Had needed to claim my aggression and direct it but instead had buried it. Talking to friends, they too have stories, often to do with cars too. The quieter ones who are broaching mid-life and needing to learn the skill of representing themselves. Breaking the law isn’t ideal, neither is blowing up in someone’s face (another common story) but taking the lid off and letting out some steam comes highly recommended. Especially if no arrests are made and no-one gets hurt. Something about middle age, the bio-chemistry, the re-wiring that this chapter calls forth is refreshing and uplifting. It’s not all bad.
And if you’re wondering about the $150 … we persuaded the credit card company to claim it back from the voucher card issuer … unacceptable provision of services. Not sure what they’d say about the fabulous provision of ‘gangsta’ the mechanic got served. Not sure what he’d say either but I’m sure I saw the flicker of a smile.