Our next challenge in our road trip to Sydney in the Charger were car repairs. Car parts in the outback were not so available, and in the middle of summer, the group were feeling the heat and they were hungry.
Waiting for the Alternator
Mitch’s hopes turned to practicalities as the morning dragged on while we waited for another elusive item, the alternator. I figured that the alternator must be hiding in the same place that the roadhouse in Dubbo must be.
By the time my watch read 8am, us four who were not mechanics, once more headed down the main road to the town centre in search of a “deli” as we in South Australia call corner shops, or a supermarket of some description.
We found a supermarket come snack bar, and treated ourselves to a meat pie, chips and Famers Union iced coffee. Just the sort of food one has for breakfast after a grueling sleepless night. Mitch, appreciative of my mechanic brother’s efforts, brought him back the same fare as we had eaten.
Rick was leaning against the side of his precious Charger, still waiting for the elusive alternator.
A heated discussion ensued amongst the fellows. Mitch put forward that we could be using daylight to drive to Sydney.
Rick refuted that suggestion with, ‘Do you want to sleep in the car again?’
Jack began to raise his hand, but Mitch cut in. ‘No, you’re right, Rick.’
Rick went onto explain that the problem with faulty alternators is that they affect the battery. He described how in the short but slow drive to Dubbo, he drove the car in a lower gear to get the most out of the failing battery.
And so, we waited, sitting in what little shade the garage’s carpark afforded, waiting for the alternator to arrive.
Early afternoon, the sun’s heat beating down on us, Jack, Mitch, Cordelia and I again walked down to the main street for some lunch. Upon our return with stale ham sandwiches to share, Rick was hunched over under the Charger’s open bonnet.
I put my hands together in a half-hearted clap. ‘Hooray! The cavalry has arrived!’
‘No,’ Mitch had to be correct, ‘it’s the alternator.’
‘I had an idea how to repair the existing one,’ Rick said.
‘Hooray! Rick has worked out how to fix the alternator,’ I laughed.
‘You have a strange sense of humour,’ Cordelia said. ‘No wonder you find it hard to make friends, Lee-Anne.’
‘Praise the Lord!’ I raised my hands. ‘My brother can fix…’
‘Don’t make it worse,’ Cordelia said.
Perhaps she’s right, I thought, then took my sandwich pack, split from the “social police” before drifting over to Rick, to watch him as he operated on the car. Strange thing was, Mitch made a speedy dash away from Cordelia and followed me.
‘Hey, Rick,’ Mitch asked while hovering over his shoulder, ‘how long till you’re finished?’
Rick grunted in reply and swore.
I stepped back, knowing all too well not to crowd my brother when he was concentrating. Obviously, Mitch was not as aware. He leaned over Rick, blocking the sunlight from the engine. Rick poked out his tongue as he tackled a stubborn bolt.
Mitch stuck by Rick’s elbow. ‘Is that all you have to do?’
Where’s the social police now? Oh, there she is, staring at her sandwich and grimacing. She looked like a chipmunk.
I smiled observing Rick as he gritted his teeth and muttered expletives. Mitch seemed totally unaware that his attention wasn’t helping.
‘Bu#@%er!’ Rick cried.
A ping and a clunk, and the spanner dropped into the engine of no return.
‘What happened?’ Mitch asked all innocent.
Rick narrowed his eyes at his friend. ‘What do you think?’
‘Did you drop the spanner?’
‘Yes. And now I’m going to have fun getting it out.’
Mitch rubbed his hands together. ‘Can I help?’ Mitch loved to help.
A grin slowly formed on Rick’s face. ‘I think you can, Mitch.’
Mitch was dancing on the spot in anticipation. ‘How?’
‘See the engine?’
Mitch nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘I want you to find the spanner and pick it out for me.’ Rick wiped his sweaty brow. ‘This is hot and thirsty work and I need a drink and some lunch.’
‘Okay,’ Mitch said while studying the engine, ‘I can do that.’
In the shade of a scraggly bush by a low stone wall, I handed Rick a quarter of sandwich and bottle of Fanta. My brother and I sat on the wall and watched Mitch hunt for the spanner. Rick munched on his ham and relish sandwich, unperturbed by the dryness of bread and ham tasting too salty. He washed down some of the fizzy drink and then said, ‘Well, I better go and rescue Mitch.’
The sun travelled westwards, and shadows lengthened as the “quick” job took several hours to complete.
Just before the sun set, Rick rubbed his grease-covered hands on an old cloth and declared the vehicle ready for action. He hoped the battery would give us no trouble.
Once again, we piled in the car and Rick turned the ignition.
Then a roar.
The Charger puttered and shook as the engine turned over and the beast began to move out of the garage carpark.
We entered the main street, passing the store which had provided our breakfast and lunch. Closed for the night. Jack gazed at the store and sighed.
As if reading his mind and everyone else’s, Rick said, ‘We’ll need to drive for an hour or so before we stop.’
Mitch put on a brave face. ‘We’ll find a roadhouse sometime later tonight to have tea.’
We watched Dubbo’s Shell service station come roadhouse flit past as we left the town.
Sitting in the front passenger seat next to my brother who was driving, I pulled out the RAA strip map and flicked through the pages. Locating the one with Dubbo, I scanned the last few pages and calculated the distance and time to reach our destination.
‘According to the strip map, it will take us about six hours to reach Sydney,’ I said.
‘So,’ Mitch from the back replied, ‘we shall make it in time for the conference.’
‘Where, exactly is the conference?’ Jack asked.
‘Randwick Racecourse, if I remember correctly,’ Mitch said.
‘Where’s that?’ I asked.
‘Beats me,’ Rick said.
‘Do we have a map of Sydney?’ Mitch said with an edge to his voice.
Rick shrugged and planted his foot on the accelerator. The Charger roared to the highway’s maximum speed of 110 km/ph.
‘I guess we’ll have to…’ Mitch began.
Cordelia who seemed to be quieter than her usual demur self (I guess she had no social mores to report on), clutched her stomach and whispered, ‘I don’t feel very well, I need to find a hospital.’
Slowing the car, Rick sighed and shook his head. ‘I guess we better go back to Dubbo.’
Tyres crunched on the gravel before he swung the car in an arc performing a seamless U-turn and headed back towards the twinkling lights of Dubbo.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2023
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