When I first moved to Hobart, I saw the Tasman Bridge lit up at night and I thought I’d made it to the big smoke. The bridge made Hobart look almost impressive at nighttime. Tonight I felt that impressiveness again: tonight I had the city to myself.
When I used to tell people I lost my license they thought I had just misplaced the card somewhere. Having to explain that you’re one of those ‘nasty drink drivers’ is awful; but losing your license and your freedom to movement and independence is worse. In Tasmania we don’t have passenger trains or trams. Public transport means bussing, and it isn’t all that convenient. It means I can’t get into town past 5pm on a weeknight. No more late night visits to friends or cheeky junk food runs.
Growing up in a small town (Launceston, population in 2015 now just over 100,000) MacDonald’s was the only place you could safely place a bet on being open past 11pm. You could even probably bet the only thing open past 7.30pm for most nights - until 24 hour Kmart came to town. And even if you had three servings of mum’s spag bol-plus-milo and ice cream, if a friend told you to meet them at Maccas at 10.30 you could always manage to fill and feast on a thirty-cent cone, small fries or a cheeseburger. The late night trips weren’t solely about eating, but the eating gave tangible purpose to these trips. You met your friends at Macca’s because you could. Trying out your new found freedom was the purpose.
Tonight I was going to return to this magical place of freedom and gluttoned convenience. It was 1.30am in the morning and I’d been legally able to drive for an hour and a half.
I was excited to drive Rich’s car.
When we originally went to check out the car to buy the older man who was trying his darndest to sell it to us told us it was the King of Portugal’s favourite car. Another good omen; its manufacturing date was 1988, the year after Rich’s birth and a year before my birth. What the nice man didn’t tell us was that the car was a lemon and not worth the 1100 Rich ended up paying. After trouble with the shafts at the front and with the handbrake gone we were relying on mostly good luck and a big rock strategically placed behind the back wheel on slight inclinations -when a handbrake is a luxury and not a necessity you know you’ve made it in life.
It was raining and the wind lashed about the car while I tried to figure out which side the windscreen wipers were on. I looked for the back windscreen wiper button before turning around and finding no such wipers on the back window. There was a tape cassette player but music wasn’t needed; the blast from the heater filled the car with sound as well as warmth. The hot air that surrounded me smelt like curried eggs, a smell which reminded me of the sandwiches I used to get from the crappy café in Centrepoint when I’d accidently-on-purpose forget my packed lunch. Yum. The car was cosy and warm. I reversed slowly down the drive way but still managed to bump into our letterbox, only half promising myself I’d let Rich know when I got back and survey for damage.
Scaring the wallabies and bunnies into their bushes by the side of the road I wound my way around the mountain. It was exhilarating being behind the wheel again, and I had to remind myself to drive gently so I could brake for animals. Driving felt almost stupidly convenient as I glided through the two large bends that were the bane of my life every Saturday morning for three months when I worked Saturdays mornings. These mornings I was forced to leave the house at 7.50 to make it to the bus stop by twenty past eight. I won’t have to run through the wet grass again, my heavy docs tiring out my ankles and legs before I even start the day. On these mornings I always spotted a silver hoop earring on the ground. Every week without fail it was still there, unclasped. It was the kind of earrings worn by more confident girls than me and I treated it like a good luck omen on the bitumen. Tonight I felt a momentary pang of sadness that I might not see it again.
I drove on and reached the city. Yellow and red - I learnt in my psychology course that these colours were chosen to incite hunger. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but making the choice to eat was to give my trip purpose.
The woman behind drive-through looked a little bit younger than me but a lot wider. She asked if I could wait at the second window for my meal to save her from walking out to the loading bay five metres from the building. I didn’t blame her; it was probably snowing on the mountain as we spoke. She handed me my receipt. Order 194. I always wondered how the numbers worked. Did that number signify 194 drive-through orders that day? Was it 194 orders through the system since it clocked over to 6pm standard dinner-time? Surely it can’t mean 194 orders since it turned Thursday. The clock on the dashboard told me it was only an hour and a half in to the day. I didn’t ask but paid $17.30 and received the brown package, the fries emitting their familiar salty smell. Instantly ravenous, I’d given up junk food regret long ago.