So. You're young and strong and in every direction, there lies before you, the land of opportunity. You drink from the cup of life often, in big gulps and it is good. You meet a girl whom you like more than the others and she feels the same about you. You commit to each other, get married and settle down. You have a steady job, pay the rent and take out insurance. Reality fences off some of the earlier opportunities, your in-laws become family and someone up the street makes a lot more money than you do.
Your beloved, now your spouse, is genetically and biologically programmed to gather pollen, to reproduce and help ascertain the survival of the species. You're in demand, life is still fun, even if you can feel the gentle rubbing of the yoke against your shoulders.
Ten years on and you and your wife answered nature's urge with two beautiful children, primary schoolers by now, who need school fees, sports clothes, riding lessons, skateboards and a cricket bat. Procreating has taken its toll on Mommy. A fuller shape has taken up residence where the thin part of the hourglass used to be, and the spring in her step, amongst other places, no longer has its erstwhile cadence.
Because you're a caring, understanding kind of guy, you want to show that you still love her lots, but now, instead of exciting her, the mere mention of the pollen brush rings the Pavlov's bell of morning sickness and swollen feet, childbirth and breastfeeding, runny nappies and sleepless nights. Your loving skills are no longer in demand, it is your abilities as a provider that matter.
Where the lush landscape of opportunity once rolled all the way out to a distant horizon, it is now dark and you spend your days looking down the drukgang
of doing what everyone else expects of you.
This is why the marketing people, who sell everything from engine oil to ice cream, use bikini clad dollies to sell their products. They know that if they can strum the cholesterol encased string of your own desirability, if they can remind you of the green meadows of opportunity where you once frolicked, you'll buy their product. This is why cars are associated with passionate terms, to make you think you're living the dream if you're driving their product. It works.
One of the wife's friends comes over, she blubs over her third glass of Chardonnay. Her husband had taken to spending lots of time at the local strip club and now she suspects he's having an affair with a younger woman. The missus tut-tut-tuts and when they look at you, you shake your head slowly like the doleful ox that you've become. I mean, what could a man possibly see in a place where pretty girls are nice to you or what could he possibly want with a young woman who laughs at his jokes and wants to gather his pollen. You're a simple man, so you don't understand why, but you feel like shouting “Run Forest, run.” You don't.
You have to drive from Port Elizabeth to George and back to cover the Garden Route Rally and the car you're given is a Polo TDI Sedan. Not a new, shiny, feel good car, this one's done 27,000 km in the media fleet, which is like 75,000 km of normal use. It's been used in road tests where people of varying capability have all had their go at finding this car's limits, each subjecting it to stresses it would probably endure once in a normal lifetime.
The Polo TDI Sedan is not a sexy car. It sells on practicality, not on transient evocation. Unless you have a Massey Ferguson or a combine harvester somewhere in your romantic past, the sound of firing up the engine will not dilate the pupils either, and then you drive it. Everything works, first time. The instruments tell you all you need to know with analogue dials and a crystal clear digital display wedged between the tacho and the speedo.
You leave for George at 05:00. The first part of the trip is boring and you simply follow the long swathe of light that the Polo shines down the damp N2.
You approach the first of the gradients and bends after the Storm's River bridge in the pre-dawn monochrome light. Behind you a jittery set of headlights approach. They catch up and it's not long before a boy racer in his low profiled chariot blasts by, the loud roar of his special exhaust pipe making a statement about its performance over the faint doof doof of his sound system.
There's a long uphill sweep to the right and you can hear from the exhaust note that boy racer has changed down a cog to dip into the peak performance of his rapidly breathing, high-performance engine. The fat low-profile tires and the stiff suspension prove to be a handful on the damp road and his body angle, which would not be out of place on the apex of Eau Rouge, shows that he's enjoying a white knuckle drive.
You have one hand on the wheel. From the instantaneous fuel consumption readout on the digital display and a slight lowering in the place where the backrest pushes against you, you gather that the Polo has passed the ball to the forwards. The beefy torque on tap from the TDI, keeps you going at the touch over the national speed limit that you'd set on the speed control. The sensibly profiled tyres have side walls that can deform enough to allow the rubber to stick to the road without any fuss or squirming. You cruise round the outside of boy racer while listening to the surf and tide report on the radio, effortlessly, safely and without an increase in your adrenaline level. You realise that you'll get to George before boy racer does, that you'll be refreshed, that you'll do so in greater safety and that you'll use less fuel. There is something to be said for Teutonic practicality.
At the start of the rally you pick up a colleague and his friend. The boot is enormous and swallows their luggage and camera bags too. There's ample space in the back and everyone is seated comfortably.
As is often the case on rallies, most of the stages start and end off dirt roads. You're grateful for the Polo's ample ground clearance and suspension travel as it soaks up the undulations and bumps on the dirt roads. The tractability of the diesel also means that you can weave through the stages, forest roads and mountainside tracks without having to wind up and down the gearbox. The narrower tyres give you grip on the dirt as it cuts through the surface rubble instead of sliding around on it. They're also less prone to aquaplane, allowing you to make stress free progress regardless of the surface you're travelling on.
You do all this for two days, over a thousand kilometres and use just over sixty litres of diesel in the process. Despite its traumatic life, the Polo never rattles, there's no wind noise or loose bits. It's as solid as the day it left the showroom floor.
When you get home, the kids and the dogs are happy to see you. The wife, akimbo at the front door, is there to greet you too. When you've unpacked your stuff you sit down at the kitchen table, where mother-in-law is having a glass of wine. The kids are having a giggle-fight as each argues for the right to be the first to tell their adoring granny how the yoghurt ended up on the floor and the dogs yap as your wife puts out their food.
She comes to stand next to you as the cacophony plays out. You put your arm around her waist and she rests her hand on your shoulder. You realise that of all the places on this planet, there is nowhere else you'd rather be. These are your people. There will be potholes, undulations and smooth sailing on the way, but these are the best, the only, people to do it with. This is the real world, the only world really and when you've grown up and you understand these things, you'll see the beauty in a Polo. Just over 2,000 South Africans do so every month.