I turned and there was Ian, a youngish architect, smiling at me. He had set himself up on his parents’ farm and travelled up and down the country district, finding business and was seemingly cushioned against the vagaries of the economy that his city counterparts dread so much. Conducting my business was easy as Ian was naturally friendly to visitors. He did not get too many and that made me very welcome.
‘Be careful when you drive on to Dunkston and into Victoria,’ he warned.
‘I know, Ian, I heard about the plague of locusts on the radio. Unfortunately, I will have to spend a day in town because I have to put my car in for service,’ giving him an accusing look which went unnoticed. Anyhow, I wondered what there was to warn about? They were tiny creatures, weren’t they? What could they do? Plus, the government was constantly announcing that it was spraying the area, obviously killing them off before they started swarming, so if I kept the windows closed and the air conditioning on, they could not get to me. I just had to drive through the swarm in comfort. Easy!
Well, it wasn’t! I was wrong as usual and my hair greyed a bit more than nature intended. But first, I had to get the car serviced. There were two good mechanics and I chose one with the least cars waiting. The workshop was located at the begin of the town and it was unique because it had a life-size mannequin outside, near the road, with a motorised arm waving motorists into its driveway. Obviously, the owner of the petrol station cum repair shop had a sense of humour!
Looking at the dummy, I had noticed that it was also being used as an advertising medium for other things because it had a large sign hanging from its neck, inviting everybody to a play in the town: ‘Rome, sweet Rome’ it said in large letters - obviously a pun directed at the Italian population of the area. Also, the dummy was dressed in a Roman toga and, like in ancient Rome, had a laurel wreath placed on its realistic wig. With its finely detailed face and accurate proportions the mannequin really did look lifelike! To make it attract even more attention, the service station owner had installed a windscreen wiper motor that moved the arm. Waving at passers-by and directing motorists into the driveway was certainly a clever set-up!
Wally, the owner came out, smiling. He knew that another city slicker had been lured into his establishment! ‘You like my dummy, then?’ he started a conversation.
‘It’s incredibly lifelike! It certainly gets a lot of attention,’ I observed admiringly.
Wally nodded proudly ‘Yes, I put a bit of work into it,’ pointing at the arms. ‘I’ve installed a windscreen wiper motor. Actually I put two of them in the dummy and added hinges to the arms.’
I stared at the animated figure.
‘I’ve also installed a loudspeaker and work everything from the console in my office. He pointed to his small office with all the space occupied with paperwork and with spare parts used as paperweights. And sure enough, there was a microphone and some buttons and knobs giving the appearance of a primitive radio station.
‘I have only one problem’ he said.
‘What’s that?’ I could not think of a drawback.
‘Come into my office right now’ His voice had become a whisper like a conspirator’s. Eagerly, I had followed him. He placed himself in front of his microphone, his hands hovering over the knobs and buttons. His expression became grim and determined.
He obviously had forgotten about me, judging from his intensive staring at a van with a family inside. Clearly tourists, they had stopped in front of the dummy, and stared at it, talking to each other excitedly. Then one man had left the van and slowly approached the figure, as if mesmerised.
‘Watch this bastard,’ Wally whispered. ‘They all do that!’
‘Do what?’ I whispered back, feeling like a conspirator, too, only not knowing the plot.
The man stood in front of ‘Nero’ as I had named the Roman mannequin, reached out and tried to shake hands with him. This must harm the mechanism, I thought.
Suddenly, the dummy jerked and boomed at the tourist ‘Let go of me bloody arm! What do you think you are doing?’
The shock was very visible, especially as there was nobody else in the driveway. The man almost jumped out of his skin. Trembling, he sprinted to his van, got into it and drove off with the acceleration of a racing car driver.
‘See that?’ Wally turned to me. ‘They all try to shake hands and it damages the motors inside it.’
‘That’s incredible,’ I could only stammer.
But Wally was made of sterner stuff because I heard him mumble: ‘I hope his drycleaner can keep a secret!’
I had to stay in Dunkston while my new muffler was being installed and I also took advantage of getting a full car service at the same time. Wally was an old-fashioned mechanic who took his work very personally, and whatever he did, he did properly. However, I had some visits to make in the town: to the hospital, the local government authority and flooring contractors, all in walking distance, so not much time was lost.
Upon leaving an architect’s place and walking towards a Government department where more architects were waiting for me, I had passed a large cinema and noticed a sizeable poster advertising a concert by Slim Dusty. It was a pleasant shock because Slim Dusty was one of my heroes of country music. In fact, it had always been my dream to attend one of his concerts and witness this legend perform. His concert was scheduled for the next day! I was reading the poster with excitement when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
‘Hello, Peter! You are back in town.’ It was Terry Stringer, an architect, whose small office I had intended to visit.
‘Hello, Terry.’ I was pleased to see him as he was completely natural with none of the snobbish air I sometimes encounter from city establishments.
‘Yes, I was coming to see you this afternoon, if that’s alright with you? I have some new samples for you and your catalogue needs updating.’
‘Splendid, Peter. Let’s say about 3 pm? That’s it then. I see you are a Slim Dusty fan? Are you going to his concert tomorrow? It will be a great event.’
‘Unfortunately, Terry, I can’t! You know how it is - there is always another town to call on.’
‘I know what you are like, Peter. You are too correct. That’s what’s wrong with you.’
‘W-what do you mean?’
‘Let’s say, if you had a car problem that needed fixing or if you were not feeling very well and had to take a day off - you are entitled to it, aren’t you? Then you would have your chance to see Slim Dusty and nobody would know!’
‘You make it sound so easy, Terry’
‘But it is easy. And don’t forget that after the concert, you can meet the master in the pub and have a yarn with him. You know what Slim is like!’
‘Yes, he is very folksy and,’ I was pulling myself together, ‘I have my car in for repairs and a service today. I tell you what, Terry, if the car is not ready by this evening I shall stay here for another day. But only then.’
‘Please yourself. So I shall see you at 3 o’clock then’. Terry nodded and left me in inner turmoil. I have always been a stickler for correctness. It didn’t not matter how far away from a boss I worked, I always did the correct thing, otherwise I just would not have been able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning. Therefore, I decided to leave it up to God. If my car was still being repaired the next day, then I would have had no other choice and I would see Slim.
Wally, the repairman, smiled when I called on him late afternoon. ‘It’s all ready, Peter. New muffler and full service! The tyres are alright and I have just test driven it.’
‘Thank you, Wally. I am relieved that I have a reliable vehicle again and do not need to feel stranded any more!’
But there was a touch of regret in my voice.