The Greatest Luxury
To an 18-year-old today, the greatest luxury is the latest iPhone and a fast Wi-Fi connection. In 1980, it was a car. A car was the ultimate means to freedom. A vehicle to break away from home, where in my case the air still smelled like the Brussels sprouts of the fifties.Despite being the greatest luxury, owning and driving a car in those days was not expensive. Fuel was cheap (the oil crisis hadn’t kicked in yet), the Periodical Technical Inspection did not exist and paid parking was rare. A third- or fourth-hand vehicle only cost a few hundred guilders.
My first Icon of Liberty was a 1970 gold-coloured Vauxhall Viva station wagon. Even though this car was, like most English cars, notorious for its oil and fuel consumption, unreliability and rust-sensitivity, I felt like a king driving it. In spite of the fact that I didn’t have a driver’s license.
Nowadays, any ten-year-old car will pass any safety test without any trouble. Back in the seventies, most English cars were built to last no longer than five years and maybe 100.000 kilometres. My Viva had done 173.000 when I got it. To turn my golden Vauxhall into an even bigger statement, I put a massive ‘Nuclear energy? No thanks!’ sticker on the bonnet and drove it to the anti-nukes demonstration in Amsterdam on November 21st, 1981. I took along four of my mates who were keen to join me in my greatest luxury and my homegrown weed, as well as my political points of view. Other than the smell of an Amsterdam coffeeshop during tourist season and a funny squeak in the rear suspension, the Viva carried us safely to the capital. History would show that our demonstration was, in a way, successful. The same did not apply to the journey home. Long after midnight and close to our hometown in the east of the Netherlands, we got stopped at a police checkpoint. One officer gestured for me to open my window and asked me to blow into a breathalyser while the other one walked around the car with his flashlight. My mates were petrified. Since I had only used my homegrown that day, I passed the alcohol test gloriously. Then the other officer said: ‘are you aware of the spark trace coming from underneath your car?’ I stepped out and looked at what he was pointing at. Apparently, the gearbox support was completely rusted through and hung loosely under the car, touching the road surface.
‘It surely has its best years behind it,’ the officer resumed, ‘therefore I think it is necessary that you leave the vehicle here so that we can have it taken to the junkyard where it belongs’. We had no other option than to walk the last four miles home. Two weeks later my doorbell rang. It was one of the police officers. He handed me fifty guilders. ‘This is what your car yielded at the junkyard,’ he said. ‘But,’ he continued, ‘I realized I never asked for your driver’s license the other week’. ‘I don’t have one,’ I stuttered. ‘Then use the money for your first driving lesson,’ the officer replied. He turned around and walked away.
My son will turn 18 soon. A long time ago, I promised to pay for his driver's license if he would refrain from smoking tobacco until he was 18. ‘Who cares about driving a car?’ he said when I reminded him about this promise the other week. ‘Soon cars will drive themselves. And where would I park it anyway?’ he continued. ‘How about an iPhone X?’ I asked. ‘Do you mean the new iPhone Xs? Can I get a guitar instead?’ he replied.