Creative Nonfiction

Button Mashing: At 200km/h

18 April 2016

There’s nothing exciting about being involved in car accidents. For the most part, they’re pretty boring. I’m always hoping for more of a spectacle. Something operatic. Like those two cars that burst into flames, drag racing over the West Gate Bridge recently.

But it’s always anti-climactic. I just end up sitting inside a KFC somewhere, waiting for the RACV. Watching the seagulls pick at chicken bones in the car park. The last time a tow truck picked me up, the driver started describing motorcycle accidents to me in a really detailed way. About how their bodies are constantly sliced in half by the new road barriers between Ballarat and Ballan. I stared out the window feeling let down.

Why is real life never like Need for Speed? Or Burnout?  

The only noteworthy incident I can remember happened after a cute blonde broke up with a friend of mine. In his grieving, he’d decided to take a bunch of ecstasy, load us into his WRX and plough us all into a telephone pole. Even that was kind of monotonous. Waiting out in the cold for the police. The tears. The long lectures. Court. Car breathalyzers.

His car was finished. Something about the engine. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about cars. Mechanics always resent the fact that I can’t open my bonnet. When I took my car to one the other day he looked at me and my little Peugeot with contempt. He said that it needed to be put down. That it was dangerous. That one day the brakes were simply going to fail and that I was going to crash.

I’ve been driving it around anyway.

I don’t know anything about cars but I love driving them. I love the smell of petrol. Giving people the finger. Making a really nice move in traffic then glancing at my reflection in the rearview mirror like I’ve just edged out Schumacher.

When people tell me that Australia lacks an inherent culture – something defining – I tell them to look at car culture. I tell them that that’s what we should have on our flag if we ever become a republic. A big fucking exhaust pipe. The design we have now just doesn’t cut it. It’s too ubiquitous. I was playing Mario Kart the other day and started firing red shells at an Australian thinking they were kiwi (racers each have little flags denoting their country of origin).

It’s funny how such a simple design mechanic can trigger all this underlying bigotry. In real life, everyone else is your enemy on the road. Fuck everyone in a very vague, indiscriminate, confusing kind of way. This was my journey – a sometimes-metaphysical journey – that was being obstructed.

But throw flags into a videogame as you’re banging over Rainbow Road and suddenly the race is populated with Nazis, rednecks and communists. You make sure to save your shells when you’re tailgating an Aussie and not to trigger your lightning when they’re parachuting.

Podium finishes for all Australians.

I like Mario Kart. Who doesn’t? It’s light and psychedelic. But it lacks a raison d’etre. What’s at stake? Are we still saving Princess Peach? Most of the time, I have to manufacture my own kind of drama. I was playing it on the Nintendo 64 at Bartronica the other night. We were racing around Luigi’s Circuit when I told the guy next to me that I went down on his mum in Bangkok.

He nearly hit me.

That’s why Midnight Club was so great. The game made you feel like you were part of an underground network of street racers. Your rival-cum-mentor Moses would guide you through Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo looking for pink slips. Simply flash your headlights at another driver and turn up the volume: Sweet seduction in a magazine / Endless pleasure in a limousine / In the back shakes a tambourine / Nicotine from a silver screen.

There were no stars, bombs or bananas. Just long, tree-lined boulevards and clusters of dead pedestrians in your rearview mirror. The only mushrooms we were burning were hallucinogens after the race.

I could never beat the “world champion street racer”, Savo. That bare-chested prick with the eye patch. I remember watching dusk set over those grey buildings at 214 km/h and crashing every damn time. I’m still scanning the streets for retribution.

Who knows.

Maybe I’ll find it in you?

If a dirty red ’96 Peugeot flashes its headlights at you on Punt Road, turn up the radio.


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