If life really is a highway, make sure you’re driving the right car

By Shepparton News

In her weekly column, Sandy Lloyd is on the road.

I am babysitting a friend’s car.

It’s having a lovely holiday in my garage, while its owner is off doing the grey nomad thing in northern Australia. (At one point, we were about as far away from each other as we could get on eastern mainland Australia — she on Cape York, me at Barwon Heads.)

I take her car out for a little trip every now and then, just to keep everything going. Getting used to driving a different vehicle got me thinking about the family ‘fleet’ and the cars I have known.

When I say ‘fleet’, I don’t mean an eight-car garage with a vehicle for each day of the week and one for holidays.

I mean like many families, cars get handed on from one person to the next until the last owner — in my family’s case, usually the youngest brother — is stuck with being its final resting place.

That was when we siblings were younger, of course — these days there’s less swapping and more borrowing when a particular type of vehicle is needed for a particular task.

And now we have another generation in the equation, so the fleet shuffle has started again.

Driving my friend’s Commodore made me realise I’ve never owned a ‘normal’, four-door, pop-the-trunk sedan.

My vehicles have all been of the hatchback, lie-the-back-seat-down variety to maximise space for stuff.

The collection has been punctuated at either end by neat little hatchbacks (my beloved first car, a Honda Civic, and my current practical SUV, a Mitsubishi ASX).

In between were the three workhorses that did all the heavy lifting, from ski trips and camping to Queensland holidays and school runs — two station wagons and a Nissan Patrol. (The latter also doubled as a News work car during the 1993 floods.)

The main brute force of the bunch was provided by station wagon number two, a Ford Falcon. That’s a big car and I could fit a lot of stuff in there. Kids, bikes, guinea pig hutches, boogie boards, school bags, furniture — and the entire contents of a residential college room at uni for child number one.

I have also put a full-length mattress in it and slept in the back on a couple of camping trips when tent space was at a premium.

It was a BIG car.

My car choice over the years has reflected what was available at the time and my needs at the time. I’ve never worried about make or model or gadgets (all I needed was airconditioning and — depending on the era — a radio/cassette/CD/Bluetooth).

For me, it wasn’t about the car, but what I did in that car — the places it went and the people it carried. The memories it collected on its travels.

Like the glorious freedom of my first car, when life was carefree and full of open-road possibilities. It’s when you know you’re an adult, when you turn the key in the ignition of your first car.

Or the serious station wagon number one, the Mitsubishi Magna that carried child seats and prams and nappy bags and Wiggles CDs and precious little bodies.

Or the car my kids will remember as the ‘family car’ – that big Ford that reliably carried us up the Newell Hwy to the Sunshine Coast every summer, packed to the brim with beach holiday essentials. The two-day trip with the night’s stopover in Narrabri, via just about every McDonald’s on the long run north.

Then there’s the ASX, which my kids learned to drive in. Those endless sessions to get the logbook hours up, trying not to slam on an imaginary brake or have too many sharp intakes of breath as the learners wobbled their way towards their Ps.

(You always remember the car you learned to drive in. For me, it was a diesel Peugeot 504, which sounded like a tractor and shook while it idled at the lights. And don’t forget the tricky clutch.)

Now the ASX is the car that knows the road to Melbourne off by heart, from so many trips to see the kids at university — providing food and comfort, and to fill and empty college rooms at the start and end of each year.

Hopefully it’s also the car that will carry me to plenty more beach holidays, north and south.

Have I reached my ‘last’ car yet?

I hope not — I’m still waiting for my Jetsons flying car. Aren’t you?

I am listening to...

My Spotify Road Trip playlist. There’s nothing I like better when I hit the highway than having favourite songs belting out of the car’s speakers, which I sing along to at the top of my voice.

No-one can hear me, so no-one cares if I’m in tune or I fudge some of the words.

It’s 6.5 hours of car karaoke — hit the shuffle button and away I go. From golden oldies to some new faves, I’ll be singing them as I head down the GV Hwy to Melbourne (again) or wherever else the road takes me.

Another driving-singing pastime is working my way through a musical, from overture to finale. Very satisfying.

I am surrounded by...

Yellow. That most spring-like of colours has sprung up everywhere I look.

From the sublime — wattle along the river banks, blindingly-bright canola patchworking across the countryside and broom blooming along the highway; to the naughty — oxalis and capeweed taking over those same river banks.

Although I must confess to a weak spot for capeweed — I did love making daisy chains from it as a child. But it is a pest weed.

And oxalis — well, it’s just a monster. I suspect one day it will take over the planet, like the red weed the Martians brought with them in War of the Worlds.

I am watching...

The British series of MasterChef: The Professionals on the SBS Food channel.

It’s a much leaner and less glitzy version of the franchise, with greater focus on the skills of the contestants, rather than on their personalities.

The young professional chefs all take it very seriously, seeing it as an enormous career opportunity.

I especially enjoy the skills tests, which often involve dishes and techniques that seem quite odd to the Aussie viewer — I’ve seen them pluck a woodcock (some sort of game bird — there are lots of them on this show) and cook whelks and winkles (funny little shellfish).

I am drinking...

A coffee ‘freeze’ from Grafali’s in the campus centre at Monash University in Clayton.

I love a good coffee frappe/chiller/freeze/smoothie — whatever the name, the important thing is the right blend of real coffee, lots of ice and either milk or ice-cream.

But skip the cream on top. It’s a slushy for grown-ups. As the weather warms up, so does my yearning for these refreshing drinks.

Grafali’s does one of the best (it also makes an awesome hot chocolate using real melted chocolate) and I joined the student queue to get one for the drive home after visiting my son at uni this week.