Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Readers,

The anxiously awaited Covid tests are beginning to arrive in more significant numbers. Now students and teachers will be able to be tested regularly.

Not so long ago, senior vehicles were subject to receiving an Emissions Test. Thank the Almighty that this barbaric practice has is discontinued. Automobile rights groups advocated for dropping The Emission Test because it discriminated against elderly vehicles. Unlike the Covid vaccines, these dreaded Emission Tests did not contribute to prolonging the lives of our older trucks. Old trucks who failed the test were often pulled off the road and unceremoniously buried in Cohen and Cohen’s scrap piles. Many of them achieved reincarnation as lawn tractors or fry pans in China. Your fridge may once have been a 1986 Ford 150 pickup!

This is a story about my 1996 Chevy pickup and the Emission Test.

Your birthday is usually the last day you can drive your car or truck around without getting a new sticker. I would always go down to Almonte to see Lorry and her dog in that little office tucked in near the Legion on my birthday in July. I admire her license plate collection from all over the world while Lorry wishes me a happy birthday and tells me her story about where she got them all. She never actually visited any of the places on the license plates; her friends gave them to her. The expectation is that she will overlook the fact that you’re a little late or can’t find you’re ownership or driver’s license. We all know who we are around here.

Big Brother closed down Lorry’s little office, and now we have to go to Stittsville where there are no dogs or license plates and bureaucracy rules supreme. No one knows who you are, and humouring your way through paperwork is verboten.

You’ve all heard that every human year is seven dog years. Less frequently, you might have heard that each motor vehicle year is about eight years assuming cars last about 12 years before they return to the scrap metal pile. Occasionally we hear about an ancient dog, person or truck still rattling down life’s pathways, and we admire these individuals and make room for them in our hearts or on our roads. In truck years, my 1996 truck Gloria was 160 years old! She was no spring chicken but still loved to rumble along the highway.

Old trucks driven by older adults are a common sight on country roads. You better not be in a hurry because the driver usually has all the time in the world. When Gloria gets over a hill, she starts going faster. I’m over the hill, and life is passing by more quickly too. Go figure. Gloria, my 1996 Chevy pickup, and I would often be slowing meandering down the road on garbage day, checking the roadside treasures to see if any of them looked like they needed a new home. Good thing we have a barn! The barn is full of future projects such as bikes that need a wheel or vacuum clearers that just need a dohinkey to make them work again. I couldn’t have collected all of these treasures without Gloria. Gloria was an advocate for recycling.

Old trucks and old guys need replacement parts. Gloria needed a new starter motor at about the same time that I needed a new knee. I’d have to fill up her oil about as often as I filled up my pill container. In short, we both needed more maintenance than we used to when we were brand-new. Both of us were starting to creak and blow off a lot of noxious gases. Her radiator leaked a bit, and I noticed that I had to go for a leak more often than before. We both end up in the garage or at the doctor’s more often. We helped each other; I drove her to the garage, and she delivered me to the doctor’s office. I think they call this a symbiotic relationship.

One time I was listening to the cowboy radio station with Gloria as we went down the road. My dog Jake was tied up in the back. The song was so sad. The guy in the song lost his beer, truck, dog, and his girlfriend, all on the same day! We had to pull over and take an emotional break. Gloria never drove the same after that. Somehow while wandering life’s pathways, Gloria developed empathy. She would often have emotional breakdowns by the side of the road. I would try to placate her by giving her a quart of oil or filling up her radiator. I’d wait for her to cool down before coxing her to continue.

I read a Science Fiction book called The Giver, where a country had a farewell party for anyone who turned 70 and then humanely put the senior down as one might put down an elderly dog for her own good. We should be on guard because fiction turned to fact in the automotive world when they introduced The Emissions Test, a discriminating piece of legislation designed to weed out older vehicles that have, as most of us seniors do, problems with gratuitous gas emissions.

Gloria hit a stump while logging in the bush, which cracked her muffler and made her sound Like a Harley Davison, which I much enjoyed. So did she. Gloria still doesn’t like rainy days and insists that I dry her distributor and sparklines with a hairdryer before moving anywhere. Every now and then, she backfires and shocks all the wildlife and sends them stampeding madly off in all directions. We enjoy a chuckle together; this is about as close to hunting as we get.

I checked the tailpipe before leaving for The Emission Test. The coat hanger was still gallantly doing it’d job, and the duct tape hadn’t burned off of the muffler yet. I sadly drove down the road with Gloria, thinking that this might be our last time together.

I don’t believe in the sort of prayer where you ask God for good weather for the picnic or that the ticket you bought will be the winning lottery ticket. A prayer such as” Please let her pass the Emission test, and I’ll start feeding the poor would be most inappropriate.

In my despair, I came pretty close to doing it, though.

OK, I tried it! Wouldn’t you pray for your best friend if her life was on the line?

Sometimes in the movies, you see a plain woman covered in mud, working in the cabbage fields, falling in love, and turning into the most beautiful woman in the world. The same thing happened to Gloria. I think someone should make a movie about her! The rain on the way to the station made her look more radiant than she has ever looked before.

Suddenly, the engine light, which had been glowing red for the past six months, went dim and faded out completely. The Harley Davison sound was muted and became barely audible. The usual shakes disappeared, the radio started up for the first time in months, and Gloria rolled into the station, sounding better and looking more beautiful than she ever had before.

I sat in the emergency waiting room; they don’t let you into the operating room at The Emission Testing Site. I sat there for what felt like 3 hours. However, when I checked my watch, it was only 12 minutes. A sombre-looking guy in a green lab coat came out, caught my eye, and said, “OK, Mr. Van, she’s good to go.”

As Gloria and I edged into the traffic, her red engine light became visible and then shone like a beacon on the dash. At about the same time, the quiet engine worked on exercising her voice until the Harley’s familiar sound returned, proclaiming to the world that she was alive and ready to rock and roll.

There is a lesson in all this somewhere; however, we’re just enjoying the moment. Who knows how much time we still have together? We’re going to make every moment count.