When I was but 20 years old and in my second year at university, I inherited my mom’s old car, a white VW Jetta. This car had replaced my mother’s classy but temperamental cream Merc with its pink milkshake stain on the ceiling courtesy of my younger brother. By the time I was handed the keys it was more than 10 years old.
The Jetta had done countless school runs and trips to the grocery store, its cavernous boot filled with shopping bags and school books and hockey sticks and wet swimming towels. It had taken us on holiday to the farm or down to the seaside, my brother or I sitting up front with my mom because she was no taxi driver, the other left to dream in the backseat. I had learnt to drive in the Jetta and had more or less managed the parallel parking manoeuvers required of new drivers in my licensing test. My brother had learnt to drive in the Jetta too, and he and his high school friends had gone jaunting around the city late at night.
In my third year at university my housemate and I crammed all our possessions into the car – I have yet to see a car boot as big and spacious as this one – and drove the 10 hours to our campus across the country. I drove that route many more times, the Jetta packed to the hilt with the trappings of student life.
I drove to many other places too. Despite its low height and character as a city car, the Jetta has taken me everywhere. I have road tripped around South Africa and driven dirt roads and mountain passes. I have been alone in expansive spaces with the Jetta, its whirring engine the only sound.
I’ve had a few flat tires, but, since a condition of me taking ownership of the car was that I show my dad that I can change a tire and jump start the engine, these were not problematic situations. Once, on an empty farm track, the petrol pump started leaking, billowing smoke out from under the hood. A passing farmer took a look and declared it fixable at his farm nearby, but suggested that if I saw flames coming from my engine, I should grab my stuff and run. I didn’t need to run.
I’ve been driving this beast for 10 years now and it’s showing some wear and tear. Each recent repair has been preceded by a sticky situation, a few tears and a phone call to my dad, sometimes from across the country. But it’s always come right in the end, and I’ve driven on and driven home.
I’ve gotten used to the various rattles and shakes, louder and more numerous this last while. But a year after promising my parents that I would trade in the Jetta for a newer, more reliable (meaning safer and less liable to fall apart around me) vehicle, I have had my last drive in my four-wheeled adventurer. The Jetta has been sold and will now take a new owner, another family, a different set of friends to school and the shops, on holiday and down roads not yet explored.
I’ve had the privilege of being able to set off at a moments notice, in my own time and own way. I’ve had the keys to my freedom and am grateful for all the stories the Jetta and I have created together.
In its place is a zippy two-seater bakkie, a small, speedy and hardy model with brakes that work very well and an even bigger compartment for loading up adventure gear. Already I feel the pull of the open road, for there is little that beats cruising along a highway, wind whipping through the open windows and that perfect song providing the soundtrack to that perfect feeling of limitless freedom. Adventure awaits!