Posted by: smithdavid | January 13, 2013

Phoenix Rides Again

There is a problem. Dad’s house is about 1km from Gonubie Beach and if I carry the Big Blue Bus (my 9’4″ hire board) that distance I’ll end up with one arm longer than the other and a lopsided gait.

Dad’s new Honda isn’t really an option – he did well to remain silent during the rackless, towel and strap journey that brought the Blue Bus from Nahoon home.

After some discussion of the options, there is silence between Dad and I. It is like we have come the same conclusion simultaneously. In the garage, beside the Honda, a giant sleeps. Phoenix was the last car my grandfather drove and Dad has kept her going ever since. She’s a 1975 LUV pick-up with a big, box-shaped canopy. She doesn’t get out that often because of her age and the fact  that you need wrists of steel to steer her and change gears. But she could use some time on the road.

phoenix - board transporter and up-lifter of spirits...

phoenix – board transporter and up-lifter of spirits…

Dad goes for the keys, I take the Blue Bus to the garage. We unlock the door to the canopy and slide the Bus in. To our surprise (Phoenix has carried any number of bizarre-shaped objects in her time), the board sticks out by a foot or two. But this doesn’t stop us, we tie the door shut with a piece of rope and Phoenix is fit to fly.

When I climb in to the cab to start her up, I see an old intercom lying beneath the cubbyhole. Now I’m right back with the excitement of my twelve-year old self, sitting in the canopy, the engine not even running, calling Dad on the intercom.

I turn the key and give her some petrol. Nothing. I try again and this time she fires and the engine roars. I try to shift her into reverse but she doesn’t slot in. I move her into 4th and then back into reverse and now she is ready. I reverse out the driveway and point her towards the sea.

someone makes a bottom turn at gonubie point...

someone makes a bottom turn at gonubie point…

The dashboard of Phoenix has a speedometer, a manual choke, an indicator lever, a light lever and a windscreen wiper lever. The key sometimes comes out of the ignition while she is still running. The seat is bench style across the cab and there are only safety belts because Dad had them fitted a few years back. But there is something satisfying about driving such a basic vehicle, it’s like a return from automation to instinct.

Now I’m out back at Gonubie Beach, sitting on the Blue Bus, waiting for one last wave. Out in the gray mid-distance I see a line of swell in it’s infancy. It rises as it draws closer, it gains momentum. Then it forms and I paddle and I’m on it as it reaches its prime and begins to break.   It carries me back to the shore and then, all its energy spent, it returns to where it came from.

In the car park I slide the Blue Bus back into Phoenix. I fire Granddad’s last car up and let her take me home.



  1. Dave,

    My mother is lost to me- in an Alzheimer’s facility and no memory of who I am or much else. But I have her car. It’s a beat old Hyundai station wagon, everything I would hate in a car- automatic transmission, weak engine, and a funky smell to the interior. But there’s something about that car. I use it in the winter and garage an old BMW, my summer car. So you see it was her last car- like your granddad’s Phoenix . I don’t ever plan on letting it go.


    • we plan on keeping phoenix till she stops going, tom. it’s so important to remember where one comes from. dave

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