Coolangatta. Sunday, 9am
Is there anything more beautiful than a 1962 Holden EK Special Station Wagon? Especially when it’s painted the pale blue of a perfect day and its chrome is so polished I am momentarily blinded as I negotiate my Subaru through crowded Coolangatta.
No, there isn’t.
Except maybe for an autumn sunset viewed through a wineglass from my verandah. Or the spiced monsoonal wind on your face as you crest an Asian hill on a little motorcycle. Or walking with your love.
The EK is just one car among the very many old cars lining the streets as part of the annual Coolangatta celebration of old things. (Well, oldish – 50s and 60s.) My first car was an EK. I bought it a pink fluffy dash mat, a tie-down fibreglass aerial – very cool, even though my EK didn’t have a radio – and a glow-in-the-dark skeleton to hang from the rearview mirror. (As it turned out, investing in brake pads would have been a better option.)
I tell this to my driving companion. She says, ‘Wow, how could you afford a vintage car?’
Oh dear. Obviously, it wasn’t vintage when I bought it. It was 12 years old, same age as the Subaru we’re in now. Oh dear. Old.
I stop at a pedestrian crossing where a clump of people waits for the ‘walk’ signal. There’s a gaggle of Gold Coast ladies with gold jewellery, white three-quarter pants and diamante sandals. There are ageing rockers with rockabilly haircuts and tight jeans stretched under loose paunches. There are pretty girls with hair piled high and bright lipstick. There are huge women with tattoos on their arms and phones on their ears. There are beefy blokes in football shirts pushing oversized prams and yelling at excited kids holding helium balloons.
All at once the mob moves, pouring out across the road like spilt oil, refracting all colours. Left behind is a couple. And old couple. They’re not rushing. She is bent over a walking frame which she negotiates slowly over the gutter. He is ramrod straight and holds her arm. He stares into the traffic daring it to move as she shuffles, and he limps, onto the road. His mouth is set firm and his eyes are steely. For a moment our eyes meet.
It’s hard to contemplate growing old. From the outside it looks pretty grim. What must it be like to have a future shrunk so small you cannot fit your big dreams in it anymore? We park our dreams in the future and so avoid having to make them real. Our dreams give us hope on days when the great heartache of living overwhelms us. They shelter us from the reality that, despite the nice cars, pretty girls and perfect blue-sky days, it’ll all be over soon.
In that moment of eye contact, I see a man who is free from those dreams. So, while he still lives in a world of knee pain and difficult gutters, he rises above it on the warm wind of love and sees the beginning and the ending of all things. Liberated from hope, he is fearless.
As the couple reaches the centre of the road, the ‘don’t walk’ sign flashes red. She looks up at him, worried. He looks back at her, those steely eyes melting into glowing softness; that grim mouth curving into a smile. He doesn’t hurry her.
This bloke reminds me of a man I know. He’s turning 93. He also lives in love and has fearless eyes. He shows me how to live. He’s the husband of my mother and I love him.
Happy birthday, Des.