A car story: When two become one
In my family, we believe that we should always save the best for last. That mindset influenced almost everything we did, including how we went about Christmas. Every year, the last gift left lying under the tree was bound to be the biggest and best gift of them all.
My brothers and I would find ourselves gazing longingly at the last remaining present buried beneath the mountains of torn wrapping paper decorating the living room floor - anxiously waiting for one of our names to be called up.
The year was 2019 and that Christmas the last item under the tree had my name on it.
For reasons still unbeknown to most, my family had always called me Chicken. As a child I was the ‘little chicken’, as a teenager I was ‘the grumpy chicken’, and every so often I was the ‘naughty chicken’. This Christmas I was the lucky chicken.
The gift was small, rectangular and felt strangely familiar. I began to unwrap it slowly, not wanting my moment to pass by too fast. I soon gave way to my impatience and ripped it to reveal what lay below. To my horror, sitting in my hands, the biggest gift of this Christmas, the moment I had been waiting for… a box of tampons?
“What kind of sick joke was this?” I thought to myself.
Everyone was giggling at my visible confusion and so I did the only thing I could and joined in on the laughs, despite clearly missing the punch line.
”Open it Chicken!”.
I was a 23 year old woman, I knew what these things looked like. Why was this happening to me? With no alternative, I obliged and peered inside to see a sleek set of black car keys.
My first car.
It was a MINI, and it was waiting for me on the driveway.
After the thank yous had been said and the tears of disbelief had dried, I leaped up and ran outside to inspect my new toy. It was silver, with black stripes, black rims and a giant red bow perched on its head. Oh, and it had a name already - a shiny number plate that read CHIC N.
Once again, I was confronted with conflicting emotions; I was beyond grateful for this gift but my long standing hatred for customised registration plates made me feel guilty for nit picking apart something so perfect. Having a customised plate was always a decision I seriously judged people for making, thinking of them as individuals with really poor taste. Did this now mean my own parents were a part of this crowd?
Two weeks after receiving Chic N, I had to go to BMW to collect some documents. I was excited to use this opportunity to ask our family car dealer if there was any chance I could change my number plate. I put on my best ‘damsel in distress expression’ and expected him to fall into my net and help me. He didn’t. Instead, he said “Paige, your dad spent over 3 months trying to get this for you. He put in so much time and effort”. Shit. It was like he had flipped an emotional UNO reverse card on me and now I felt like the worst daughter in the world.
Okay, I would have to roll with this one and embrace being a chicken in the Chic N.
My car arrived in Cape Town shortly after and a few hesitant trips later, Chic N was taking the roads by storm. She was small and fast and I loved her. I bought new black cat eyed sunglasses and made sure to download every Mac Miller song ever released so that I looked extra cool. I had a new job and a new way to explore my beloved life in the Western Cape.
It was my first year as a working woman and my morning commute was around 20 minutes - my favourite time of the day. I had a playlist called 'Road Works' that got me going regardless of which side of the bed I had woken up on. Those drives were incredibly influential in kickstarting my career on a good note every day. Chic N helped to get me from my bed to my desk, feeling prepared to learn and already fulfilled all by 9am.
Me & Chic N spent most of our time in and around the city. We didn’t venture too far from the mountain because there was never really any need to, other than to visit the occasional friend in Stellenbosch or go for a family lunch out in the winelands. I couldn’t take her on camping trips; she simply wasn’t built for the great outdoors. Her tiny boot could barely fit a single suitcase (let alone a tent) and her low ride chassis made me weary to leave the safety of perfectly tarred roads.
I loved driving her but it wasn’t long before I began to notice a pattern emerging as I pulled up to stop streets or robots. Glancing in my review mirror I could see the people in the cars behind me giggling and mouthing the word “Cha-ick-in”. Many of them even took out their phones to snap a quick photo - no doubt to the continue the laughter back home. This was exactly what I was worried about.
Memorable number plates: a blessing & a curse
One particular morning, I sped through a red robot in what is arguably the city’s biggest intersection. People were hooting viscously and I had to do some serious deep breathing afterwards. The next day, I was driving Chic N down Sea Point Main Road (albeit more cautiously) when a man in a suped-up bakkie pulled up next to me. Towering over us, he rolled down his window, stuck out a fat middle finger and shouted “Hey! I saw you yesterday, did you know you drive like an asshole!”.
My friends and work colleagues soon joined in on the family banter and also began to call me Chicken. How could it be, that two completely different things - a tiny car and a tiny woman - could in some small way share an identity. So it wasn’t long before I got over the comments and stares. I didn’t care what people thought of me, I loved this car, license plate and all.
Chic N really is an extension of myself in many ways. I think cars can do that for many of us. Slowly but surely we begin to merge with our chunk of metal and the more we drive them, the more we seem to become one with them, in some strange way.
The name Chicken has become such a huge part of my identity and personal narrative. Being something that was once just a pet name, to my car’s name, and then into the name most people call me now. Maybe one day I’ll have a business called Chic N? Who knows?
Sure, sometimes we’re forced into conflicting relationships with our cars whether we like them, love them, or not but we can’t argue that they are a vital part of our existence. And it’s not just about what they can do or how they make us look, it's really about how our cars make us feel.
I was extremely fortunate to get Chic N, who made me feel; safe, happy, calm and sometimes, pretty cool.
Regardless of your relationship with your car, there is no denying that these machines are in fact so much more than just vessels that get us from A - B. For me, Chic N was and still is a means of transport and a treasured friend.