(By OYUNGA PALA) In life, there are two kinds of men; those who drive cars and those who drive vehicles. Believe me, this is not some bar rhetoric. There happens to be massive differences between cars and vehicles. Anyone who still calls his car the jalopy is a designate vehicle owner. Any car that is older than your teenage kids is a vehicle.
The reason I am such a proud VO (vehicle owner) is because like all VOs my car is fully paid for. No pending loans or long drawn out financial arrangements because vehicles, unlike cars aren’t that expensive. To drive a vehicle, you require intuitive skills that can only be picked up the hard way, through experience. Your standard vehicle has at least, the following items either missing or malfunctioning – an ornamental handbrake, brakes that have to be pumped, bald tyres, stiff clutch, cranky ignition switch, wobbly wipers, missing side mirror, meek horn, jammed windows, a slot where the stolen radio used to sit, and cabin lights so dim you might as well buy a flash light. To drive a vehicle requires the mobilisation of all faculties physical and mental both conscious and unconscious. The motor responses called upon from the steering wheel and foot pedals will have you exercising muscles you never imagined existed.
Borrow a car from a friend and all you have to know is how to deactivate the alarm and nitty-gritty like, “The GPS works fine”. Borrow a vehicle and the list of instructions starts with a warning. Do not wind down the window on the passenger side. Ignore the sound counsel and you will soon find out that either the window winders are missing or the damn thing will simply refuse to wind up again. Before you borrow a vehicle, the VO (vehicle owner) will run you through a long winding list of Dos and Don’ts.
DO NOT rely on the fuel gauge. Sometimes it gets to the red spot and you are still good for 1 km, sometimes it actually means its empty. Resort to elementary mathematics or common sense and you will be forced to do the long walk to the petrol station.
Do NOT remove the jerrican and the fuel funnel. Petrol attendants would be suspicious of your motives if you showed up with a 2L Coke bottle. Petrol has other uses in Kenya.
DO leave the car on gear, even when the handbrake is engaged unless you want to find it down the street neatly tucked into the front of a brand new Mercedes Benz.
DO NOT bother opening the left passenger door – it won’t open. Politely ask your date to get in through the driver’s side and it is a chance to be gentleman by always holding out the door.
DO rely on your wit, imagination and resourcefulness to stop the car when you forget to pump the brakes. It is important to allow pumping distance between you and the next vehicle.
DO NOT take your foot completely off the accelerator or the car will switch off but you jumpstart it on just about any gear with momentum.
All VOs are on first name terms with the traffic police. I am not in any way suggesting that VOs are all ex-cons. More to do with the fact that they are flagged down so regularly at police-manned roadblocks you might as well apply for a PSV ( Police Sacco Vehicle) license. A cop sees a vehicle approaching from a mile away and his right hand shoots up by reflex. This is just how traffic police are programmed to respond to what would be legally referred to as “unroadworthy vehicle”. Both the vehicle and the police know, they do not have look too hard to find a fault so you pay the spot fine and promise to fix the problem, ‘when you get money’.
Vehicles are always malfunctioning because the average vehicle is way past its prime and average vehicle owner is never able to afford a full service. It will rev up every morning without a fuss then suddenly on the one morning you are running late, it goes dead. It is for this reason that VOs are blown away in amazement when they encounter a vehicle that does a full month without a single problem cropping up. Vehicles are legendary for their ability to disappoint and usually just after a trip to the garage.
A man and his car can be easily parted, but a man and his vehicle are one.
All vehicles come loaded with power steering (you need powerful forearms to steer), outdoor air conditioning, childproof locks (doors open only from outside), a pre-1990 license plate that acts as a theft deterrent, take-a wild-guess speedometers, the option of one functioning indicator (take your pick, left or right), OBS-one wheel braking system and a one week trouble-free warranty.
All VOs have encountered these 3 types of mechanics. The first mechanic is the retrenched ex-CMC, DT-Dobie, Marshalls guy running his own independent show. He was trained as a mechanic and he generates invoices. He will always correctly diagnose the problem inform you that the spare parts are available at the cost of three months house rent. The second kind is the self taught, jack-of –all mechanic who never saw a problem he could not fix. They are generally gifted and quite intuitive but always multi tasking, barking instructions to a team of spanner boys that they never focus on a problem at hand. You spend so much time together he will inevitably become a family friend. The third kind doesn’t have a clue what’s causing the problem even after you tell them. These are mostly opportunistic mechanics who lurk around highways waiting for vehicles to break down and chance to make a quick score. The standards tools of trade are a spanner and screw driver. To cover up his ignorance, he will dismantle your entire
engine and create a new problem, which he will vehemently insist, is of greater concern than your current predicament.
Girls love cars. Vehicles however, they approach with extreme caution. All vehicles come with a standard disclaimer, “The owner shall not take responsibility for any mishaps that might ruin an otherwise perfect romantic evening”, written in fine print across the dashboard. Funny nobody ever notices it. All VOs give their vehicles pet names they have move swings. Sometimes, they do not move for no clear reason and it is at that point that you come to address the car by it pet name. For example, after the president doing his rounds keeps you stuck in a jam for a good hour and when the roads finally open, the vehicle stalls. That’s when you plead for reprieve by saying, “ Come on pleaseee! (insert pet name), not today, not here” as car owners behind you lean on their horns.
A man and his car can be easily parted, but a man and his vehicle are one. No more different than the holy union, together, for better or worse, in sickness and in health until engine seizure do us part. Every weekend vehicle owners flock to garages littered with shells and idle spanner-juggling mechanics. They will read all the major papers as they day dream of driving their vehicles for an entire week without uttering the words, “I thought I had this fixed?” All VOs have separate versions of how close they are to perfection. They will bore you to numbness with statements like, “The engine is perfect,” and when a few minutes later the car stalls, they hastily add, “I just need to change the points and the car will be as good as new”.
If you ever noticed, car owners are the typically the single occupant driving. Vehicles owners tend to more socialist minded. If can fuel, you can drive. You may also notice vehicles are always loaded with passengers. Experience has taught us that many hands make light pushing. Every VO understands the importance of vantage parking, just in case the inevitable happens. Good Samaritans never bother to help vehicle owners for two reasons. Firstly, it will take not less than ten attempts to get the vehicle started and after each failed attempt the VOs will utter the assuring words, “Wanaume! Twende kazi”. Secondly, when the vehicle finally spurts to life, the VOs then step on the gas with relief and disappear into the horizon without a backward glance. This is a very distressing experience for an out of breath Good Samaritan hoping to pocket a loose shilling.
All VOs have mastered commando-style vehicle fire evacuation techniques that would be the envy of any Hollywood stunt man. I remember my first fire incident like it was yesterday. There were four of us in a ‘74’ VolksWagen Beetle; Tony, a fellow VO, Ochuki and Gitonga (would be car owners) herein referred to as the skeptics. The vehicle was behaving funny and the skeptics voiced their fears, which we allayed. But all was not well and next thing; the Beetle was engulfed in a cloud of smoke. Tony located the source, asked everyone to vacate the vehicle and calmly dislodged the flaming back seat and the fire was stumped out in a kill-the-roach by the road side. We then threw smoking but extinguished back seat onto the roof of the car to let cool off. The seat was worn and the naked wires at the bottom connected with the battery leads wires setting spark that lit up the highly flammable cushion stuffing. A few minutes later, when we replaced the back seat, the skeptics would refuse to resume their positions cit
ing a sudden need to exercise their limbs.
If more young men starting driving vehicles before they bought cars on loan, it would teach them three important relationship lessons in life.
Live within your means.
Make time for maintenance and the run will be smooth.
Believe me, you can win a girl’s heart even when your car is in need of a new floor job. Ref: Obama.
If you drive a vehicle, honk.
For more articles from Oyunga Pala, check out his blog HERE