Sydney, Easter weekend 2021.

There are three things in life that are compulsory to name: your children, your phobias and your car.

My boyfriend Tim and I had already chosen a name for our van before we bought it – Meatloaf.  A big, fat, old, white van. We were trading in the security of full-time employment, permanent residence and a guaranteed toilet, for a life on the road circumnavigating Australia. But, before we could depart on our vanlife journey, we had to purchase a van.

A guitar strikes two hard chords.

DN, DN.

They repeat.

DN, DN.

DN, DN.

Meatloaf was advertised on Facebook Marketplace. He was perfect: white panelled timber lined the interior walls and roof, a full-sized bed in the back that didn’t need to be packed away each day, a pull out dining table with two inbuilt seats, even a kitchen sink! Without hesitation we contacted the owner immediately. The next day we bought two one-way flights from Adelaide to Sydney. Our friends were impressed. Our parents weren’t.

A reckless piano scale progression wails.

We arrived in Sydney and caught a taxi to Balmain. The owner presented us with registration papers, transfer of ownership, a personalised manual on the electrical system that they had installed and a tour of the van. I was comforted by their organisation and kindness as we exchanged cash for keys. The owner and their partner were vegetarians. They had named the van Cookie. I didn’t have the heart to tell them what we had planned.

The sirens are screaming, and the fires are howling,
way down in the valley tonight.

I already had our first song for our maiden voyage lined up. It was an obvious choice. As we pulled away from the kerb in our new abode, the opening chords of Bat out of Hell fired through the vans speakers and reverberated in time with our racing pulses. Did we just impulsively fly to Sydney and buy a van? Yes. How very rock and roll.

Like a bat out of hell, I’ll be gone when the morning comes.
When the night is over, like a bat out of hell,
I’ll be gone, gone, gone.

Our excitement aligned with the rebellious lyrics and feverish tempo. We were soaring over suburbia on a raised cable bridge freeway. Over eager and full of adrenaline we had no idea where we were or how to navigate the dense city thoroughfare. We were lost in the Sydney traffic, but we were home. Getting lost didn’t matter now. We could just pull over and have a nap in the back.

I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram,
on a silver-black phantom bike.

Is this normal? How do people live like this? Travelling over half an hour in Adelaide is an inconvenience, how do people retain their mental faculties with traffic like this?

It was Good Friday and the M31 highway from Sydney was choked with cars escaping the city for the long weekend. Tim eased on and off the clutch from first gear to neutral repeatedly as we glacially glided towards Canberra. We were planning to stay there for the night and stock the van with food and supplies (beer), before continuing to Jindabyne.

Well I know that I’m damned if I never get out,
and maybe I’m damned if I do.
But with every other beat I’ve got left in my heart,
you know I’d rather be damned with you.

We unpacked our groceries and Tim jumped back behind the wheel. The engine groaned. It wouldn’t turn over. He cranked it a few times – nothing. It didn’t sound like a flat battery. It just sounded off. Let me try I offered. No luck.  We stubbornly tried to start the van individually multiple times until we overcame our egos and decided to call road side assistance.

Meatloaf was towed to the closest mechanic, where we spent the weekend sleeping out back waiting for their reopening on Monday.  Two days later we received the diagnosis that Meatloaf was not a Ford Transit, or a lump of ground beef, but a lemon. He needed a full fuel rail, injector pump and engine transplant. The bill was the same price as what we had paid for the van. Meatloaf waved a red hankie on stage, why didn’t we see that red flag?

And the last thing I see is my heart.
Still beating, still beating.
Breaking out of my body and flying away …
like a bat out of hell.

Jim Steinman, the composer behind Bat out of Hell, wanted to write “the ultimate car or motorcycle crash song”. He succeeded.

Stereo Story #677

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Courtney Mason is a writer, civil engineer and turophile living in South Australia on unceded Kaurna land. She is currently travelling around Australia in her van, Meatloaf, in search of the bunyip, free wifi and the perfect pepper pie.