My first car was a 1970s Fiat 128. It was bright yellow (‘limone’) and was my pride and joy. It cost me under $2,000 back in 1993 and it remains the coolest car I have ever driven.
I longingly think back to the days of driving around in a little zippy car that was bright and fun. Other Fiat drivers would toot their little horns when they saw me on the road, and I would raise my hand in a friendly wave of vintage-car solidarity.
But it was very basic. There was absolutely nothing fancy about this car. In fact, today, it would struggle to pass a road-worthy check.
I had to keep a little container of spare fuses in the glove box because the electrics were shot. When it rained, the wipers would stop working. (Useful, I know!) As water leaked through the bonnet and onto my shoes, the wiper fuse would blow after sparking dramatically. I became incredibly efficient at reaching over and into the glove box stash for a new fuse, removing the dead one from the fuse box located just under the steering wheel, and replacing it with one that would get my wipers swiping again. All while continuing to drive through the rain, squinting through the water droplets on the windscreen until the wipers sprung back into action and I could see properly again.
Oil needed to be checked daily as it would frequently leak from the engine, and I was terrified of blowing the head gasket if I let the oil tank run dry.
The speedometer read in MPH, so I had used specks of Liquid Paper to mark 60kms and 100kms in a lame endeavour to remain within the speed limit – something that I only did rarely anyway.
I developed enviable muscles in my upper arm steering the little thing because power steering hadn’t been invented when this car was built.
And, of course, it was a manual car, because automatic cars were for wimps who didn’t know how to drive. This idea was beaten into me by my cousins who taught me to drive on the winding Kew Boulevard near home with no instructions other than ‘Don’t brake around corners. And don’t go below 60KPH’. I learnt to drive with the attitude and confidence of a Roman taxi driver.
I grew up being driven around in Fiats and Lancias. Even now, my dad drives an Alfa Romeo. So does my sister. And most of my extended family. These days, when I drive up to family gatherings in my sensible German-made car, they look at me with pity, and then turn away as they continue to look at their stylish reflections in the stylish windows of their stylish Italian cars.
The kidlet has already decided that her first car will be a Fiat Cinquecento in pale blue. I think she is ashamed and embarrassed to be seen in my boring and decidedly uncool silver Merc, preferring a zippy little Italian number so she can legitimately shout obscenities at cars driving too slow on the road while waving her hands at them. (#HerMothersDaughter)
These days, I drive an automatic car that pretty much does everything for me. It alerts and alarms and warns me if there is anything likely to interfere with my driving. It reminds me when it needs servicing, and is easy as easy to drive. Everything is programmed and instinctive, and perfectly set out, in brilliant, efficient, modern and safe German order.
In fact, my car today operates much like the diabetes tech I use: the latest equipment; the most efficient. I was an early adopter of pump therapy, one of the first people to start using CGM here in Australia, and have always liked to have the newest and snazziest BGL meter in the little Marimekko purse in my handbag.
I have no sentimental feelings towards any of my tech – I’m more than happy to ditch whatever I am using as soon as something newer, faster, brighter, smarter comes along.
I can’t for a moment imagine wanting to go back to using diabetes tech from 1970 (was there any diabetes tech in the 1970s?), but the thought of my mid-seventies Fiat makes me swoon. It was also a time before diabetes. Maybe the rose coloured glasses that are firmly placed on my face when thinking about my Fiat, also reflect a time when I didn’t need technology to keep me alive.
The other day, I saw a little yellow Fiat like the first one I owned. They are pretty rare these days and I get incredibly excited when I see one. I was in my car, stopped at a set of lights, and there, in my perfectly aligned, safety-glass rear-view mirror, I saw a flash of yellow. The Fiat pulled up next to me on the passenger side of my car. There in the driver’s seat was a woman about my age. She looked over at me and I smiled.
I flashed back to being 19 years old, driving around Carlton feeling like the coolest kid ever, without a care in the world. I didn’t have to think or worry about diabetes then. I didn’t have to check my BGL before starting the engine. Or make sure I had a supply of hypo foods hidden away. I didn’t have to wonder if I was going low on a long trip and pull over and check my glucose levels to make sure I was safe to keep driving.
In fact, the only thing I had to check before I got in the car was that I looked sharp and cool. Oh and that I had enough fuses in the glovebox for the fifteen-minute drive to Uni!