Fast Car


One evening RTR Countdown plays the new music video of a song that will quickly gain regular radio airtime. It’s by an African American woman named Tracy Chapman who has short, spiky dreadlocks and it’s called “Fast Car”.

Something about the song strikes a chord with this scrawny pakeha kid from Napier, New Zealand, despite the singer and song appearing so very different to my life at the time.

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me, myself, I got nothing to prove

While Napier is my entire existence in 1988, I realize it is merely a small part of a much bigger planet, but It’s a good starting point. At ten years old my life and the world lie ahead of me.

That’s 10-11 year old me in yellow, middle row, second from the left.

“Fast Car” will continue to develop and deepen each time I hear it over the coming years. Every time I hear it there will be different meaning in it for me.


“You got a fast car
I got a plan to get us outta here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
Won’t have to drive too far
Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living”

I got my first job at Onekawa New World supermarket – a “convenience store” in American parlance – in 1993 for about a year and started earning my own money.

Some time in 1994 I bought my first “Fast Car” – A ’69 (nice!) Ford Anglia, which my Dad helped me paint and get in good running order. The Anglia enabled me to “cross the border” between Napier and Hastings – the Tutaekuri and Ngaruroro river bridges. Owning a car is also a really big step on the way to “adulthood”.

My first car, Circa 1994


“So I remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast it felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I-I had a feeling that I belonged
I-I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone”

OK, my first car was nowhere near “fast”, I didn’t go very far, and I sure as hell never drove drunk, but owning a car did provide mobility – A highly intoxicating drug for any teenager.

Driving back to Napier from Hastings at night the city’s lights are gorgeous – all the house and street lights on Napier Hill (Mataruahou) look like a sparkling, multi-jeweled crown.

While I wouldn’t so much as hold hands with a girl until 1998 (not for lack of trying!), so snuggling-and-driving was out of the question, I DID feel like I belonged at home with my family.

We were a small unit, but we were tight, and we loved each other.

I wanted to be “someone”, too – A journalist with Napier’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, or a radio announcer at Bay City Radio, where I had gotten a taste of airtime as a “Co-Pilot” on their Sunday morning kids’ show.

Maybe one day I might even end up on TV?

I was a panelist on RNZ’s “The Panel” six times between 2018 & 2019.
The briefest of National Radio exposure


See, my old man’s got a problem
He live with the bottle, that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
His body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did

While my Dad wasn’t a drinker and Mum never left us, Dad did have a heart attack around 1997. As I’ve written about before, my parents had me quite late in life and Dad was nearing retirement age not long after I finished school. Not long after the heart attack he ended up taking early retirement. His work and hobbies had always been quite physical and taxing, so it wasn’t too surprising.

We still managed to live happily, never struggling financially despite Dad’s solo income or pension being far less than I would end up earning later in life.

Rather than going to university like so many of my schoolmates, I ended up working back in the same supermarket I had my first job in. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to spend three years of my life and $30-50,000 on a student loan to STILL not know, so working on the checkout and stacking shelves provided a regular, albeit reasonably small, income and kept me closer to my parents who I was now starting to worry about.

(The line about quitting school to look after a sick relative also reminds me of Toby Morris’ exquisite cartoon “On a Plate” that (very rightly) never fails to anger me.)

In December 1995 I landed my dream job as a midnight-to-dawn radio announcer on Saturday nights at Hot 93 in Hastings after doing work experience and an in-house course at the station during my last year of Tamatea High School.

I worked at the supermarket during the day, went home, had dinner and travelled out to the station around 11pm to be on air from midnight until 6am. It was physically and mentally draining. Management decisions hardly helped.

At first we were allowed to talk between every few songs, like normal radio announcers. But a few months in we were told we were only allowed to play music. It defeated the purpose of being a “radio announcer“.

Aside from manually queuing up and playing the preset lists of songs on stacks of the station’s compact discs (things were far from digital in 1995/6) we also had menial tasks like doing the dishes and vacuuming the station offices. You got pretty good at being able to do certain tasks in the three and a half minutes it took for most songs to play, then get back into the studio in time to seamlessly start the next song. I didn’t mind doing the cleaning, as it was the sort of things the youngest/newest staff members just did when they started jobs, and it helped pass the long dark hours.

But after being silenced on air us midnight-till-dawners just became some sort of “manual automation”. Taking off secondary tax it soon didn’t even pay enough to get to Hastings and back every weekend, either.

Not long after I left midway through 1996 the graveyard shift was digitally automated/simulcast and what had been the entry point for regional broadcasters for years ceased to exist.

My dream radio career had lasted six months.

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way”


“You got a fast car
We go cruising, entertain ourselves
You still ain’t got a job
And I work in the market as a checkout girl
I know things will get better
You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted
We’ll move out of the shelter
Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs”

I got a job at Dymocks Booksellers in Napier in 2000. I met my future wife while working there in 2001. She ended up working there part time, too, and would go on to work in the book trade much longer than I did.

Our boss, Jeff, was very good and managed to organize it so we had our “weekends” (usually Wednesday and Thursday from memory) together. We had a fair bit of disposable income and planned to get a flat together at some stage in the near future.

In 2023 the store was bought by new owners, who interviewed us all and asked what our plans / goals were. I said after three years I’d like to move up and become some sort of manager eventually.

The new owners fired all the incumbent staff and took on new employees when they took over.

My wife got immediately head-hunted by a bookshop down the road. She would go back to working at Dymocks until its closure under even newer owners who took over after the owners who fired us failed.

I got a job as an Assistant Manager (the shop had only two staff including myself) at a video game store in the CBD a month after the bookshop let us go. This was “Big Money” in 2023: $10 per hour!

While still living at our respective homes the double income allowed us to regularly go out to the movies, have coffee and dessert on long Hawke’s Bay evenings and go for aimless drives.

We even found a flat with very good landlords who charged below market rates that allowed us to move in together in my childhood suburb of Tamatea!

There’s just something special about sunsets over Tamatea, as the big, golden orb dips below the Poraiti hills..


“You got a fast car
I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I’d always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me’d find it
I got no plans, I ain’t going nowhere
Take your fast car and keep on driving”

In 2004 I was finally able to leave low-paying retail after a decade when I got a job in the same company (and office) as my (now fiancée’s) father and our income more than doubled.

I was only supposed to be for a year to cover maternity leave, but the lady who held my position previously decided not to return and I would remain in the job for the next 20 years – a massive change from what had been a natural three-year cycle in different retail jobs.

It meant job security and stability during some very unstable times in my life.

Between 2004 and 2023 my life was a rollercoaster of:

Not to mention all the interior and exterior crises of regular life, coming to grips with parenthood, and still trying to figure out how to be an adult.

I’ll certainly never be a “deadbeat dad” and have tried to be as involved as I can in our daughter’s life – Going on school trips, coaching her cricket team, doing all I can to ensure she knows she matters, is loved and can do her best.

I’ve sacrificed time, money, and opportunities for my family’s security, but that’s just what you do as a Dad. Right?

Sadly, security is no panacea for the feeling of stagnation when your own life and career goals fail to materialize after years and years of trying to effect change for yourself.

Despite two decades of loyal service and dedication to my job, doing odd hours and going above and beyond, often working solo and still meeting work targets, I still haven’t risen from the position I inherited 20 years ago.

Being unsuccessful in both internal promotions and finding a new career closer to what I actually want to do started to ulcerate some time ago.

I have had so many plans, but I’ve gone nowhere.

But there is still Hope.

Seeing people like Ke Huy Quan and Brendan Fraser win Academy Awards in 2023 showed that good guys with dreams can still get there in middle age, despite decades of feeling redundant or inadequate.

In 2023 Tracy Chapman became the first Black woman to have written a country music number one. She also becomes the first Black woman to win a Country Music Association award for “Fast Car”, 35 years after the song was first released, when Luke Combs’ cover of her song won “Song of the Year”.


“You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way”

Throughout “Fast Car” there is a beat that ticks away like an old analogue clock, and a plinky-plonky acoustic guitar riff that repeats over and over and sounds like water dripping constantly, endlessly.

I can’t and won’t leave my family, as my daughter is the best thing I have. But I can’t keep going without catching a break.

There is a stage where the line “live and die this way” stops being a way of life and becomes an imminent threat.

The snare and high-hat tick away like a clock. The plinky-plonky acoustic guitar riff repeats over and over, like water dripping constantly, endlessly.