The Monash Tollway used to be the Monash Freeway and before that it was the South Eastern Freeway and before that it was the South Eastern Arterial Road. But it has always been known colloquially as the South Eastern Carpark. If your car is automatic, you don’t actually need an accelerator pedal at all to drive on it in peak hour. You just select ‘Drive’ and your car will idle all the way to the city and all you need to do is to occasionally touch the brake to avoid hitting the 260 km/h-capable Lexus in front of you travelling at an average 7 km/h. Most of the work performed in city offices is actually done in cars on the way in and out of town. Because you don’t have to do a whole lot of driving at 7 km/h. You just have to be there; like a lighthouse keeper, without the vertigo or the stairs.
We were on the way out of town on the Monash about ten in the morning, a Friday, heading to the beach house for an extended long weekend. We took the new turn-off that originally just said ‘Cranbourne’ until about six months later when the two vital words ‘Mornington’ and ‘Peninsula’ were added because thousands of Peninsula-bound motorists were ending up in Berwick or Warragul or a cow paddock near Korumburra and wondering where the HELL someone had moved the Mornington Peninsula to. Who gets to decide what words go on freeway signs? And who gave them a job?
I don’t know. We were about seven kilometres south of Dandenong, near Lynbrook, which is an old aboriginal word meaning Thousands of Acres of Brand New Supposedly Environmentally-Friendly Houses None of Which Have Eaves or Verandahs But Do Have Huge Glass Walls and Enormous Open Plan Interiors that Cost a Fortune to Heat and Cool.
Just at the top of a rise, the car made a very small noise. It was an almost imperceptible sound, like a baby sighing or a summer breeze caressing a newly opened Hibiscus flower.
Then the almost imperceptible noise stopped and the engine stopped with it. All I could hear were the tyres rumbling along the road and the sound of T. saying ‘Do you think we’ll make it to that Shell service station?’ which was some three or four hundred metres away which is not a very long way in decimal currency but is forever when your engine has stopped and your car is coasting along without power.
Incredibly, the car came to a gentle, sedate, possibly even regal, stop twenty-five metres inside the service station right there on the apron next to the shop, in the shade.
The RACV guy was there in ten minutes. He got under the back of the car and eliminated fuel pump because it ticked and then he thought it was the ignition switch until I put the car in ‘Drive’ and the engine died again so he eliminated that and that’s when we called the tow truck. The RACV guy very kindly drove me back to Dandenong – the part of it where all the car rental places are – and I got the last available car in Australia, it being Friday. Someone had cancelled on a Hyundai Accent, and after signing seventeen insurance disclaimers and promising not to drive to Darwin in reverse, or through any swollen rivers in flood or off any cliffs, I was soon back at Shell where we transferred the luggage, waved the Volvo goodbye on the back of a tray truck, said Thank You to the ladies in the service station who had shown great hospitality to T. and William, who had been very patient, and were on our way.
We sat down to lunch outside the Blairgowrie café at one o’clock under a brightly shining sun. It was nice. I was hungry. Then we went over the road to the beach and William practically ran into the water, which is amazing because he can’t even walk yet.