“The Victorian SES received more than 700 calls for help overnight, after wild weather lashed the state. Melbourne was thrown into chaos late yesterday, when flash floods swept through parts of the city. More than 100 sets of traffic lights were knocked out, while around 20,000 homes lost power. SES crews worked into the night dealing with flooding and fallen trees.”
- Sunrise, Channel 7, 12th February 2010.
I went to the bank today.
I didn’t have to. I really didn’t. I’m a weird one sometimes.
I had a day off work, an afternoon off, and my desk was full of stuff, full of piles of things to do.
I sat there and looked out of my window at the pending storm. I was in boxer shorts. The oppressive high had been sitting over Melbourne in an unusual way, trying to break for nearly two days. It’d been a hot February, muggier than usual. The rain started to hit the next door’s roof in fat drops.
I sat and looked, knowing that there was no end of paperwork to be done. And that there was the logical order for doing them.
Or there was the fun way.
It’s a game my mind plays with me. There is the clever thing to do, the right thing, the smart thing. I can go through my piles of jobs, clearing my desk, feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of it all.
Or I can get caught up in something else. Far more fun.
* * * * *
I flick through piles, listening to the deep rumble outside. I get up and walk to the back door, only to shut it again, still too hot. I look up at the thick coffee-grey sky outside.
I walk back into the study and sit again. I look through papers strewn from days of piling, eagerly awaiting this moment. I throw a couple of pages in the bin.
And then I see it. Two cheques.
My conscious doesn’t know it. It doesn’t see it for what it is. But somewhere, deeper, I hear the faint call.
It’s the call to adventure.
The cheques have been there for weeks. Insurance cheques. Reality is that they should sit there for weeks more. There’s absolutely no hurry to do anything about them.
But at this moment, right now, in this sticky seat, looking at the disorder all around, there is absolutely nothing more important than getting these things cashed.
I tell myself that it is going to be months – probably years – before I’ll next have a chance to get to a bank. One is made out for $134.95, the other for $396. They have to be cashed today. They just have to.
I grab my keys, and my wallet, checking my watch. The bank closes in thirteen minutes. It’s just up on Swan Street. The rain is falling hard now, good, proper rain, a fully-fledged storm. It spews out from above, the sky spilling over, two days of pent up emotion, now crying down. In buckets. We haven’t seen a storm like this in Melbourne for weeks, if not months.
A perfect day to cash a cheque.
I stand at my doorway, looking beyond the balcony. I still have a choice. I can choose to stay and watch, presently, peacefully. Or I can enter it. My subconscious already says “yes”.
I hesitate for a second, rationalising some more, before checking the rain radar on my phone. It shows that we in the epicentre of the storm; it’s white centre is surrounded by red, orange, yellow, green then blue. It’s the deepest it ever gets. And it’s happening right this minute. The pressure is palpable, like a massive cloud purge, the water vomiting down right now. And the need for me to be in it is equally primal. I grab an umbrella, and after thonging up and throwing on a T-shirt and shorts, I’m out there.
And I’m in it.
I run through the yard to the gate. The umbrella has to bend at an angle to get through. Plops of rain wet the legs of my shorts as my feet splash through puddles, and the cheques remain tucked under my left wing. I hop through the growing stream and to my car, overcome by the inevitable feeling of superiority that comes with having an umbrella. I try to dispel this emotion, knowing the deeper it brews, the more likely it is that a gust of wind will turn it inside out.
I wade through six inches of water, at path’s edge, filling the guttering full. It threatens to sweep off a thong, and again, I feel chuffed at my choice of footware. I jump into the car, closing the door ajar, and managing to fold my umbrella through the crack.
I survey the damage. Wet feet to shins, spotted shorts, otherwise good.
* * * * *
I start the car and head towards Swan Street. Within moments, the windshield is fogged and my visibility is gone. I open a crack in the window and turn my car fan up to full. It whines informally and ineffectively. I euthanase it.
I turn the corner and head right onto Swan. I pass under the train bridge – whump whump, whump whump – the water percussing its beat on my bonnet, interrupted by the train lines overhead.
I drive like I’ve got glaucoma. By this stage, I’m just trying to keep the other car’s highbeams to my right. The windshield is closed in, and through it, I search for the bank’s mid-blue light. I spot it, to my left, not far ahead. I double park outside; at this moment, there is not a single traffic cop working in all of Melbourne. The door opens like a can, the tinny sounds of the rain-slapped world outside leaping in. I manoeuvre my umbrella, and step outside, closing the door as I do.
There on the footpath, I spot a Polynesian woman, cloaked in a plastic bag. She eyes my umbrella enviously. I try to not look smug, as I walk towards the kerb, repeating the wading exercise of five minutes earlier. Only this time, the water is up to my knees. The river runs heavy towards the storm drain, and this time I have to pinch my toes hard, to not lose my thongs. I wade and leap, a last little hop, onto the path.
Surveillance: I’m wet, but compared to Ms Polynesia, I’m cruising. I’m a best case scenario right now.
I look through the glass door, only to see a bank clerk on the other side. Her windows are nearly as fogged as mine, the air con already off. She gives me a little shrug of her shoulders, showing her gappy front-tooth space as she does. You could floss it with a coin.
My face contorts involuntarily, as the Polynesian woman grins.
Gappy mouths her apologies, as she points animatedly at her watch. Behind her, a slick lad stands at the counter, smugly flicking through wads of cash. He licks a finger as he lets out a chuckle. He reminds me of me, five minutes ago. His karma umbrella is definitely up for an inversion on the way home.
And then I see it: “Opening times – 9.30am until 4pm”. Not 4.30pm. Four.
I absorb this information, shielded by my curved lid. For some reason I had it in my head that it was 5pm on Fridays and 4.30pm every other day. I keep forgetting that banks run like Daylight Spending schools. What was I thinking?
I turn. This time, I step into a river. A thong comes loose, or threatens to, and I lean down to stop it. The cheques dip in the tide, along with my T-shirt sleeve, and the umbrella splays forward, uncovering my back. I feel the drops fall from its crest, directly down my crack.
I straighten up, saving the move, not quite falling off the high wire, and wade back in again. I peek back and see the Polynesian lady grinning widely. I stop myself from looking at Gappy or Slick Boy.
I make it across the river, almost ending at the tram tracks in the centre. Dimmey’s, on the other side, has a growing moat, swimming up against her legs. I spy a set of headlights coming my way as I walk to my car door, plopping through the pond. As it passes, the wheels shoot a dirty spray of water at me, like ten super soakers all at once.
Instinctively, I move my umbrella down, covering my guts, hit by the shrapnel of warfare. Only to be rained down on from above. As I move it back to cover my head, another car comes past. And then repeat. Four or five more times.
I fumble for my keys, plonking my hand in a cup of water – my pocket. I fish for the beeper, trying to open the car. Two more cars drive by, throwing buckets of water at me, shells from above, the river at my feet.
I open the door of the car, sit quickly, and shut the door as much as I can. Then I wrestle with my umbrella, sticking out like a surrender flag, my door ajar.
You don’t often think about the physics of a car driving in water. Or, let me rephrase. I don’t often think about driving my car in water. Because I don’t do it, if I can avoid it. Unless there is an urgent cheque to deposit, that is.
When you do, paraplaning over the water surface, it feels freeing. Sure, we’ve all splashed through water, but to slide through a deep bit of water for anything more than a few feet feels dangerously liberating and slightly out of control. As you do this, your wheels displace the water sideways. But, because you are travelling forward, the water actually shoots up from the wheels, not at right angles, but at a forward angle. At about the exact angle – should a door be five centimetres ajar – that it would make it through, spraying the entire dash, the stereo, the steering wheel and the front window. Perfectly.
I just learnt this.
Twice. And then once more.
I gasp, shocked and bewildered by science. With three sets of car wheels, the entire river outside – the whole lot – has been deposited on my dashboard. I mean, it’s really very, very impressive.
As I wrestle to close my umbrella, two more cars come past, emptying even more over the insides of my car. And then again.
I wrestle some more, three rivers dripping onto my legs below. Finally I tear a limb free, an umbrella arm breaking as it comes through the door. I dump the injured implement on the passenger seat, wetting it for uniformity. I look out at the Polynesian woman, who, by now, is bent forward with laughter. She actually slaps her knee.
I fumble the keys before starting the car. It’s a beautiful old thing, this car, twenty-two years old. Yet – despite convention in a car of this vintage – I can’t find a single faded towel to wipe things down. As I drive off, and around the corner, I clip the edge of the guttering, leaving Polynesian lady, Gappy and Slick Boy in my dust. Well, mud, really.
I swerve up a side street, and the drops coalesce to stars, a hazy fog in my windscreen sky, making visibility impossible. Two decades of steering wheel grime turn to steering wheel slime under my fingers, black paint marking my hands. I attempt to turn left, and then left, almost hitting the middle of the roundabout, unable to let go of the steering wheel.
I turn the fan on high again, which blows me with litres more of water, the entire lot that was deposited into the airvents just one minute ago. For interest, each of these holds a bit over a jug. I blink it away, avoid more high beams, try to stay on the road, and make the turns. It’s like playing space invaders with cataracts and sunglasses while squinting.
The whump whump, whump whump has crescendoed on the way back – now harump harump, harump harump. My wiper rubbers threaten to come free, trying their hardest at high speed, only aided by the fact that it is faster than its arthritic arms care to go. I feel the tires slip. I hit a bump and more water comes out of the vents. The car gains grip again. Lucky I’m doing twenty.
I turn right into my street, and into my spot. As I stop, the water drips down my arms and legs into pools. I realise the cheques are still stuck in my pit. I grab at the umbrella, stupidly, as if it will now make a difference. My black painted fingers stick to the door handle as I pull, letting me out into the storm once again.
I close the door, lock it, and head over the road for my front gate. I angle the umbrella once more, again pooling all of the water that it has collected in it’s broken sprig yet again, and once more down my crack. I play at the gate with my submerged keys, wrestle the gate open, and find shelter. Once inside, I strip off naked, flicking my shorts across the slate with a kick. I turn and stand on the front mat, dripping, looking at the world outside.
Exactly where I should have stayed.
If I was smart.
* * * * *
I sometimes think I should get a new car. But then something like this happens and I’m not so sure. Had this been a brand new car, then the humour of the situation may not have been immediately evident. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t have had to deal with steering wheel slime. Yet, I could have ruined a perfectly good stereo. But, at least the demister would have worked. That is, if it hadn’t had its modern electricals destroyed by the drenching water, setting me back thousands.
I’m fond of my old car. It’s got character. Which is what you say when you’re short of modern features. And the winner, the clincher, the greatest invention of the modern car, is the alarm that goes off when you leave the lights on.
Something my old car neglected to tell me. Until two days later.
It’s time to get a new car.