Uki. Wednesday, 8.15am
The Kombi is parked outside the old Uki buttery, next to the park, its side door open. It’s an older model, with rust breaking out on its blue skin, like acne on a teenager. It stands out in the sea of Subarus and Nissans glinting around it.
My heart skips a beat at seeing the old Kombi.
Kombis are a part of our cultural history. Remember when those nasty Libyans used a Kombi to shoot at Doc and Marty in Back to the Future? Remember how they had trouble starting it?
Remember the colourful 1963 splitscreen Kombi in Barn Nue Dae? Or the yellow Kombi in Little Miss Sunshine? (It had a broken clutch as I recall. But Kombis have never been about masterful engineering; they are a lifestyle choice.)
A wisp of blue smoke idles its way out from the Kombi’s interior darkness before being whisked away by a spring zephyr to ride the morning warmth up Wollumbin’s flank.
Two small children, one pantless, run about in the park. Next to the Kombi’s open door, a woman, dreadlocked and shawled, throws a plastic bucket of water onto the grass. Washing done, I guess.
She smiles at the kids, who are chasing each other and screaming, and throws the bucket back into the Kombi bowels.
Kombis were called hippie vans. You could raise a family – and a crop – in a Kombi. And is there anything more impressive than 30 Kombis driving into Nimbin as part of MardiGrass’ Kombi Konvoy? (The impressive part is that so many actually make it from Lismore without breaking down.)
Kombis are the symbol of hope – hope of a better world; hope of actually getting there. Or, at least, they were.
I remember driving a Kombi into Nimbin decades ago, a hairball of hippies bouncing on a mattress in the back, singing along to Exodus blasting from a cassette player gaffer-taped to where a dash would normally be. The Kombi rocked in the wind as I prepared for a right turn at the bottom of the hill.
Kombi turning was not something to be taken lightly, given the brick-like aerodynamics. With the wind from astern as I neared the Stony Chute intersection, it was more like a jibe than a turn. Tricky. Liberal use of the anchor was an essential part of sailing a Kombi.
Kombis gave us another way of living. Of freedom. They chugged us to self-discovery.
Its little sister the Beetle was the people’s car, putting the carton of beer and picnic basket before the engine. Its little brother Porsche was every boy’s wet dream. Long live Volkswagen. King of cars. The new-age on four wheels (except when cornering).
But now, as John Lennon said, the dream is over.
Volkswagen knowingly cheated on American and European emissions testing, its latest diesel models adding toxic nitrogen oxides and deadly diesel particulates to an already tainted atmosphere in a cynical deceit to gain better fuel consumption. Oh dear.
We, the people, have been betrayed yet again. What is left of the dreams of a generation? Has software and profit won out over style and leaking sumps? Has the people’s car contributed to a polluted planet?
What can I say? The dream is over.
Maybe it’s over for all fossil-fuelled engines. Maybe a new age will rise from the ashes of V-dub dreaming.
Volkswagen is now a concept by which we measure our pain.
I don’t believe in Audi.
I don’t believe in Golf.
I don’t belive in Skoda.
I believe in me, Tesla and me; that’s reality.