I love motor vehicles and I do not mind if they are old. As a matter of fact, old vehicles of a certain pedigree are very absorbing.
So some of the vehicles might look
old and rattling, but in actual fact they are mechanically sound.
There are many reasons people like old cars.
The first one is that though they miss out on the technology, they are really well made.
Many of them were manufactured when
engineers, not accountants, called the shots about the products going into the market.
So they are durable, reliable, and have a
common sense efficiency about them.
As a man who drives a 22-year-old car, I know that for every year that a car is driven, the likelihood of catastrophic failure increases.
(By the way my lady friend Linda, I thought bursting out laughing in the traffic on Uhuru Highway after seeing me in my smoking junk, was not very comradely. There is nothing wrong with
being poor, and not all your classmates can afford a spanking almost-new Mercedes).
But there are some perks in acquiring an older car.
They are also cheap.
You can buy a 1990 Mercedes 126 (that is the 3,000cc S class) for as little as Sh200,000.
Another Sh200,000 will fix it, clean it up, and paint it to a delightful finish.
And you will have a tank of a car, a bit
heavy,balanced, composed, massively powerful with the savage kick-down of a sports car.
The problem with old cars is that they are, well, old.
If you have a lot of money and are very
passionate, you can do predictive maintenance, that is replace things before they fail.
But the average old car driver lives with the subtle dread that something old will give at the wrong time,and has a lifetime love affair with a mechanic who ensures that the old car doesn’t fall apart into nuts and bolts while cruising in our highways.
He will be attacking the African bush, possibly in a machine that gets very hot inside, his children, trying to cross their legs at the knee like daddy, toasting each other with apple juice and saying, “hit me up” (apparently like daddy),all dressed up in “jungle clothes” (dungarees and Woolworths straw hats) and fighting a losing battle with boredom and the crushing onrush of
So the man will be driving along with the calm air of Ernest Hemingway lounging in a tent somewhere in Africa with some pride of lions trying to claw out some lunch from inside the tent.
But his body will be knotted with alertness.
Every now and then he will crack open his window to listen to that old differential,wondering if he lost the rear one, could he drive on the front one by engaging the four wheel?
And his nose will be twitching like a rat’s,
looking for the smell of diesel, which would mean that the leak in his primer pump was getting worse.
For the women in the house (some of them male), the primer is the device that sucks fuel from the tank and supplies it to the engine.
If there is a bit of air in the fuel system, such as when a car runs out of fuel, diesel engines have to be primed, that is pumped by hand.
Sometimes you have to suck the fuel into the pump with your mouth, which is inadvisable for mama’s pretty boys and city wimps.
However, I can confirm that a head that has been hardened by whisky&soda over the years is unaffected by diesel.
If you have a leak in your pump, then your car, if you stop to take pictures, will not start.
You will prime and prime and prime, and suck copious amounts of diesel, but your junk will not start.
You will drain your battery and the hyenas will laugh and roll in the dust, knowing that dinner is sweating itself into a reasonable state of doneness.
It may not be the most accurate of descriptions of an old car owner,but it does suggest that a little bit of DIY comes
in handy and that the whole business is
characterised by lots of pleasure and the ever present risk of serious pain.
My trusted mechanic is a man who
talks like an FM radio talk show host — chap chap.
But when he crawls out of the belly of a rusty car smeared with oil from head to toe, he inspires confidence in a manner that only an experienced magician can.
His skills aside, our long association is based on his ability to save my cash.
If Jack assures me that stuffing a wad of
chewing gum into a hole in the hottest part of the engine will block a leak and save me Sh500 like a dream, I nod like a professor and say, “Carry on!”
The man is so clever that he always makes me feel like a fool. I, however, never take offence that Jack, who never stepped inside anyone’s engineering class, is intimately familiar with these metallic bits and pieces that I, a graduate, have not the faintest clue
You see, most times, my life depends
As usual, he looks the old junk over,
cranks the engine, listens with an
experienced ear and makes his diagnosis.
Until that point, I did not know that
Wheel hub bearings are found in a car.
The last I had heard of those things is when we were riding my uncle Lumberto’s rusty bike in the village.
Anyway, three hours later, Im on my way.
But just when Im navigating the end of
the dual Waiyaki Way, I see a police road
I’m not bothered in the least
The car is now purring like a bird, barring
one or two rattles in places Jack had
assured me had nothing to do with the
mobility of a car.
Plus at four and a half years of age, my tyres are still reasonably new.
The officer strolls around the car while
tapping her baton menacingly in the palm of her hand before stopping beside the driver’s open window. “Driving licence?” I oblige with the cutest smile you have ever seen.
I know my licence is as clean as
She looks at it, hands it back and says,
“Open the boot.” I feel a cold shiver run down my spine. I know she isn’t too interested in whether that boot is packed with explosives and firearms but whether I own a ‘triangle’ to warn other motorists
in case of an accident.
The truth of that matter is that I don’t.
How I wriggle out of that one without breaking the law or getting booked is a story I reserve for my dimpled granddaughter, if I ever get so blessed to live long enough to tell her this epic drama.
Off I go.
But when Im in the middle of nowhere, a
certain good Samaritan motorist at the back alerts me of trouble.
“Puncture,” I say, smiling triumphantly at my newly acquired brilliance to diagnose serious mechanical problems such as this punctured wheel like Jack does back at his Garage .
Problem is that after I have yanked out the torn tyre, I reach into the boot to retrieve the spare wheel, only to find it flat like the my bank account after the saved loot walked out to fund my old car development projects.
Here is the thing; mechanics are like girls; you always think the next one will make you happier.
I don’t want you taking that in the wrong context, but you always imagine that when you get a new girlfriend she won’t go through your phone or call you
insensitive when you drift off to dream of winning a jackpot in local lotto lottery as she talks about something you completely don’t care about, or is boring.
Oh, she will! And she will cry. She will
nag and start fights that don’t make any sense.
She will say things like, “I really wish you took time to understand who I am,instead of reacting the way you do.”
And you will laugh because it sounds so insane that she manages to make you
sound so flippant and inconsiderate.
Such good fun to listen to her constant nagging about things you consider to be non issues.
There’s no winning this fight, gentlemen.
You can’t even call in reinforcement from your boy buddies.
Anyway, back to my mechanic,Jack.
My regular one.
The main mechanic.
Brother Jack,as he likes to be called, because he’s born-again and always tells me stuff like, “stay blessed!” even when I’m so mad at him and I want to shout, “I don’t bloody want your blessings, I want
those bushes fixed once and for all, Brother!”
Brother Jack never loses his cool.
He remains cool as a frozen cucumber.
He smiles all the time.
He’s always carrying a religious newspaper.
When he brings back my car after a session, he retrieves all these receipts from his pocket to account for what was spent.
And when I open the boot, I always find all the parts he changed, ugly metallic parts and I tell him, “Brother, it’s OK, don’t put those parts in the car, I don’t need to see them.”
But does he listen to me? No!
He just wants me to stay blessed,that’s all he says after my irritated tone lecture.
And I’m all for blessings, by the way.
Blessings never hurt anyone.
But I also like to have the crankshaft fixed and I want to know that when I turn my car in a corner I won’t fly off the seat and into a roadside shop.
I mean, I don’t ask for much. I’m a man with simple needs.
I’ve had him for close to as long as I have
driven. I think a decade now. And I like him. I like Brother, I do. He is cool and honest and he’s a man of God.
So late last year(which is just a few days ago,actually) I was moaning
about Brother Jack in a bar about tons of used parts stacked in my boot, and this friend of mine tells me what all good friends say, “why don’t you try
my mech? He is a good guy, I have had him for many years, call him, you will love him!”
So I call him.
Let’s call him The Guy Who Isn’t Brother,like Brother Jack.
No, we need a shorter name.
Let’s call him Sammy.
He came with his hat in his hand,gravely made declarations about how he is an
honest man and how he never takes anybody’s money until the job is done and the client is satisfied and how he understands cars.
It felt like a first date, when we just lie about how good we are, how sensitive we are, how considerate and competent we are and how we were hurt by the last girl.
Everybody is an angel on the first date.
Or a saint, basically.
So I decide to be a man about it and make a Solomonic decision; I decide not to cut Brother loose but try out this guy; like a side thing,a hidden affair on the side. You know what I mean? You of course do,if you have been a man long enough since the last time you were a lanky boy!
If it works, I keep him, if it doesn’t, I cut him loose and go back to Brother Jack.
Brother Jack needn’t know that I’ve been tempted,and willingly strayed from his brotherly love.
What Brother Jack doesn’t know won’t kill Brother Jack.
Sammy turned out to be a douchebag.
A garage thug.
Thuggery is good, this is the city after all, what I don’t like is that his thuggery also comes with incompetence.
He kept telling me to change parts and I kept transferring hefty sums to him through the famous MPESA mobile money transfer, and when the
car came back after two days, the sounds were back and I would send it back and the cycle would repeat as I bled money through my eyeballs.
He never brought my car back on time and when he brought it back my fuel was spent and the car smelled of mushrooms or timber and I didn’t know whether my car was being used to transport illegal Chinese immigrants to start their roadside merchandise kiosks in Kenya .
I just didn’t know.
Eventually I woke up and smelled the coffee.
I realised that relationship wasn’t going anywhere!
He was taking me for a ride.
There was no future in this illicit affair.
I wanted someone who would love my
car as unconditionally as theirs.
Someone who wanted me to stay blessed.
So with my tail between my legs, I called Brother Jack up and made some small excuses about being so busy. Would he come pick up my car?
He did and like a cheated on girlfriend, he knew immediately that someone else had touched it.
They always know,girls and them mechanics, when someone else has been there, even if they don’t say anything,just pouting silently.
They just know.
But since he is a man who walks in path of righteousness and forgiveness lives in his heart, he didn’t say one word.
He folded his religious newspaper and got cracking.
And I remain blessed,now that I’m back in Brother Jack’s loving arms,bloodied nose an all.
The grass isn’t greener on the
other side. Keep your faithful mechanic.