I don’t know if any of you have ever driven off a cliff and lived to tell the tale? Well I did. I wasn’t driving though; it was just the Universe putting four actors in a play, act 1, scene 1 taking place in our favourite dive, “The Cactus”. It was a normal Friday evening in July 1994, Sergio and I were sitting at the bar enjoying a few glasses of Pilsner, listening to “22-Pistepirkko”, a Finnish band who played within these stone walls only a year earlier. Good times. Little did I know that in a few short months I would be on my way to Ireland and little did I know that a couple of hours later I would find myself waist deep in sea water and mud…
The conversation started to get a bit stale at the counter, the usual characters but the same stories and yarns brought a certain sense of Déjà vu, until a guy around our age with the same kind of grunge look made his way towards the bar; confident misdemeanour, elbows on the counter and the right foot on the shiny metal rest bar… Do you even notice them when you go to the pub? They are the most unsung piece of furniture in a boozer, not only do they give you the comfort you thoroughly need after a hard day’s night, but if you use the right footwear, you could look as cool as the guy on the Led Zeppelin album cover “In Through the Out Door”, shooting from the hip while waiting for your beer; remember: right foot, left hip, vice & versa and so forth…
“– Hey guys, how is it goin’?” said the “new face”, his buddy waiting on a nearby table.
“- How’s goin’?” said Sergio.
“- First time here?” I said.
“- Kind of, we do the markets around the region, we decided to stay overnight for tomorrow’s. We are organic vegetable growers.
“- Wow, that’s pretty cool!” said Sergio.
Organic growing was not as common as it is now; it wasn’t new either as our grandparents grew organically, seaweed to fertilize the soil and simple home remedies for the hungry bugs, but as a commercial venture, the concept was quite new. Or so I can recall.
“- Do you want to join us?” said “new face”.
“- Yeah sure, same again?” I drew a circle with my finger over the table to inform the lanky bar tender that we wished to get another round.
We stayed chatting until nearly closing time, and the fatigue started to sink in. I told Sergio that we should think about a way to make it home, ten kilometres away. We would normally get one of our buddies to drop us back, people were good like that there and then, but it was never a guarantee. The last resort would be to ring Sergio’s mother, but that could seriously impact our coolness and sense of freedom.
“- We’ll drop you, we are staying in your area! We’re just parked outside.”
We said our goodbyes to “the crew” and stood in awe in front of an old vintage Mercedes.
“- Wow that’s a pretty cool car!” admired Sergio.
“- Don’t mind the veg, just squeeze at the back”.
The car was packed with wooden crates of courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes. Sergio sat on the right side, the cases of veg in the middle, while I found enough room behind the driver, aka “New Face”. He ignited “The Tank” in all its might and I started to get concerned when he took a turn a bit too fast while still in town, hitting the pavement quite hard, sending the metal hubcap flying on a perfect straight line for about a hundred yards. “New Face” stopped the car to run after his hubcap, Sergio was in stiches… Things started to get unreal and we only had a few beers! “New Face’s” friend was a bit quieter, even though none of them where hellraisers, you could tell who was in the lead. As we drove by the local Irish pub, in the middle of nowhere, he just pointed with his finger at the building, a bold bright green pub, former farmhouse and the talk of the small town since it had opened. The place was called “Le Ballyshannon”, second venture after “Le Donegal”, a few miles up the road. You can have all the money in the world, but you can’t buy craíc (atmosphere, fun in Irish), and this place, like many others, had none.
“- oh look, a green pub!” he said in a monotonous- yet in his own right- excited voice.
That was enough for “New Face” to swerve at the last second to make it to the car park. I admired his spontaneity. Personally, I would have stopped and come back, but hey, who am I to boss people around? We were getting a lift home, and if we could make it back in one piece, that would be totally worth it!
We finished our overly expensive pints of stout and headed for Sergio’s house which “New Face” missed. I wish I hadn’t suggested to keep on going and turn around at the car park of the pier below but I did. This was the place we grew up since we were ten, it had become an almost religious stop before heading to bed, “one last cigarette on the pier”, so many signs I failed to identify.
“- Ok, take it easy now, there is a bit of a bend coming up…” I said anxiously. No reply. “New Face was in his own world, and we were about to join him…
The road went up a steep hill, followed by a sharp turn right around the small bay, before coming to to a stop at the pier. Below was the sea and as I heard “New Face” shouting “shit, shit, shit!”, I realised that he was never going to make the bend and we went flying in a splendid manner over the eight-foot cliff. Slow motion would have been fun to watch, as I only remember being in a giant tumble dryer with floating summer vegetables… Pretty colours.
The car was lying on its right side, one front light still straight, the other – less lucky- was lightning the starry sky above. It is hard to describe what happens in these moments, like dropping your laptop, it takes a little while to reboot. The calm, peace and innocence, like waking up after a night on the town; hang on… I just did that! The windscreen was gone and I realised that I would have to manually open the window in order to extract myself out of the wreck. I felt like an Astronaut who just crash landed in the ocean and the capsule was gently filling up with water. I got out of my sedated state thinking about Sergio; was he ok? All the good times came flashing back but thankfully my buddy was already out, covered with a few seaweeds and smashed tomatoes. He had made his way out from the front of the car, somehow and nervously laughed at the journey our short flight took.
“- All ok?” said “New Face”.
“- Yes, all good…” we all replied.
“- I am going back in!” said “New Face”, soon to be followed by his quiet first mate. Sergio and I observed the weird ballet below as we had made our way back up the cliff. The two guys frantically removed the two registration tags of the old Merc and “Quiet Guy” took the car’s papers and i.d. from the gloves compartment; Sergio’s whispered while laughing:
“- They’ve done that before!”
“- I just think it’s a bit unnecessary, but it’s worth the gawk!” I said while shaking.
We walked back to Sergio’s house for a nightcap, still in shock but high on adrenaline. My arm was bruised and I had a cut on my forehead, I couldn’t stop talking but I was fine. We said our goodbyes and the two lads walked home for the remaining six kilometres to get help from their boss/ father who I am sure would have been delighted to see a part of his stock gone for the Saturday market. In the morning we went with Sergio’s parents – who were remarkably cool about the whole thing- to watch the crash site as they thought our story was a bit hard to believe… Nothing! The tide was well up, the car was gone… Did it really happen? It must have had, as we watched together dozens and dozens of courgettes, aubergines and tomatoes floating in the small dancing waves.
We never saw “New Face” and his friend ever again. It was probably for the best… The moral of the story? Get a taxi, don’t drink and drive, get a life and when things start to go sideways, get a grip!
Keep Well and Eat Happy