On Monday morning as I was driving down to Kuantan, I noticed that I was being tailgated by a Vanette. At the Meraga traffic lights, I glanced up through my rearview mirror to check out the menace on my tail, but he seemed to be avoiding eye contact by fiddling with his cellphone. Loathing being tailgated, as the lights turned green, I floored the pedal, losing all traffic behind me in apparent warpspeed and was soon alone on the road to Kemaman. Hardly two minutes from the smoking takeoff, my cellphone rang with a number I did not recognise. I switched to speaker phone.
"Encik!! You kah yang mahu jual Toyota SEG tu? I tadi follow belakang encik nak buat call tanya pasal kereta encik. Wah, dia punya pickup laju semacam encik!"
I nearly laughed out loud in the car. I had no idea that the way I drove could turn into a living advertisment for the car.
An A4 prinout with 'FOR SALE' and my telephone number hung on my rear screen and for two days there was silence. Every time I landed from offshore flying I would look through my cellphone for missed calls or texts, but naught was there for my excitement or endeavour. After 72 hours, the printout escaped my mind, just like living next to a railway station makes you forget the sound of passing trains. Or so the story goes. That is, until I got the phone call on my way to Kuantan on a test drive mission of my next car.
I remember when I first signed my name off to her in 1997. I had looked at a number of fashionable 1992 Toyota Corolla SEGs, with one champagne gold luvly sitting just 3 grand out of my reach being sold by a very stubborn corporal pressing his price, who knew I had fallen in love with it. So there I was seated in the air-conditioned bank, haggling for a loan the officers were not generous enough to give in 4 percent per annum 1997.
Then a chap from Toyota Labuan walks in, recognisable from his corporate track-pit shirt, asking loudly if anyone wanted a Toyota SE for 36 grand, and I lunged at him, drooling like a rabid bulldog. All the loan arrangements were suddenly feasible and at the end of the day I took her home. The polyethelyne wraps were still on the seats and pillars after 5 years, with 11 000 km on the clock. After a 4 year stint in Labuan as a copilot, I paid up the duties at customs and took her back with me when I got posted to old KL Base as an aircraft Captain in 2001.
This has been one amazing machine. She never quit. The kids have grown up in her, taken long road trips safely year after year to Butterworth, Kuantan and just about everywhere I was stationed for more than two weeks on Search and Rescue standby. In 2003 she started smoking through her rings. I shopped around for an immediate rectification job and chanced upon a 20-valve Silvertop half cut. The swap was well done in Sungai Besi, quickly followed by exhaust kits and legalising the whole thing at the Road Transport Department.
Then she served with exhilarating performance and reliability through my second posting back to Labuan as the Executive Officer of No 5 Squadron. The return of LA 619 to her old home town was a small joke amongst the air force officers, but then they are always looking for a laugh and if it can be in a friend's face, all the better.
I got Brenda the Vios in 2010, June. It was about time that I sought something with reliability and all the safety bells and whistles, as she was the one shuttling to and fro with our precious cargo, while I was the soon-to-be retired ex Major with an unyielding mid-life crisis ever ready to prove my mettle on the road. Then when I started work in Kota Kinabalu, I took the old SE to KK. She drew all my personal effects to the apartment at Waikiki, through blinding rain and twisty bends pasts landslides and what have you, holding steady at whatever the road threw at her.
In that old home town of mine, my old classmates began to see smoking take-offs from traffic lights. Harry never said a word, but Veramani, who drives like an instrument rated pilot on the road, feared for my life and his if I ever were to land a seat in a sports car. Nay, I said, this IS a sports car, with an Uncle's raiment.
She followed me down to Kerteh when I sought employment as an offshore pilot. Here she stood, four months later after my second exile away from my family, to greet them as they arrived in Kuala Terengganu airport from Labuan. The kids shrieked in delight when they saw her old familiar fascia, calling out in endearment to her, "Hello LA car!!!"
She has been a good, good carriage, so much like Joey.
However, with a family whose luggage mass grows geometrically alongside their linear progression in body weight, it has dawned on me that I need a stronger drivetrain. I have found one, and it is with reluctance that I part with my war horse.
She will soon belong to another.
I will miss her.