The first time I saw one was at a Homes Exhibition.
You know the kind of thing I mean, heaps of stands trying to sell you the latest gadget to improve your home.
That’s why I noticed it, it looked so out-of-place.
From a distance it looked like a fully fitted car cover for a 1976 Volkswagen Kombi.
It was made out of a silver material and it had a series of heavy-duty zips, which were presumably to put it on and take it off without too much trouble.
It completely covered the van with only the tail lights showing.
It seemed like a lot of bother to leave the tail lights exposed; all that extra sewing.
To this day I do not know why it was being displayed at a Homes Exhibition. When I went closer it was obvious that the stand was unattended but there were signs that someone had been there.
The next day I did a bit of research and found out that the company that made them was based in Germany.
I owned a ’76, back in the day, and I loved it, but I did not think there would be much call for a van cover for a vehicle that was nearly forty years old.
I was right, and the company went out of business a few months later.
Now, the mind is a funny thing, and mine is a bit funnier than most and all this thinking about a Kombi made me go looking for one.
I tracked down a beautifully restored van, but I was disappointed when I could not find a double cab like the van of my youth, but what the heck? The van I found was a beauty and it got me thinking that I should track down a cover for her, because she would have to live out in the open.
I made a few enquiries and sure enough, I was able to track down one of those strange shiny, fitted van covers.
It went together without two much trouble and just for the fun of it I asked my wife to zip it up while I was inside.
The cover allowed absolutely no light to penetrate and when I fired up my mobile phone to ask my wife to let me out there was no cell reception.
I yelled really loud and banged on the windows but apparently my wife could not hear a thing even though she was standing right outside.
In the end I got the van rocking and my wife unzipped the cover to see what I was up to!
The whole experience was a little unnerving; there was definitely something unusual going on.
I tried to find someone from the distribution company, but when I did track them down the person I talked to was reluctant, and this only made me more curious.
I rang a few more times and eventually the secretary who took my calls said she would meet me after she finished work for the day.
Progress at last.
Her office was in North Melbourne so it took a long time to get there in peak hour traffic, but the drive in gave me heaps of time to think.
The attractive voice belonged to an equally attractive woman. She was medium height with a big smile and a body that could melt butter on the other side of the room, which was nice, but sightseeing was not why I was here.
I bought her a glass of bubbly at the pub around the corner in Degraves Street. When we got around to the subject of van covers she tensed up.
Apparently there had been a few problems along the way.
The covers were a slow mover and she could not figure out why her boss had taken on the distribution deal. Blind Freddy could see that there was a limited market for them.
She said that the warehouse guys didn’t like to handle them, they made everyone who came in contact with them feel a bit weird.
She remembered hearing a few stories about the bloke who came up with the idea. He was a ‘backyard inventor’ who no one seemed to know much about.
He was a bit paranoid and he really liked his privacy. There was almost nothing about him on the internet and in recent times he had dropped off the grid completely.
After several glasses of rather expensive French bubbly, the ‘butter melting’ secretary let slip the most interesting story of them all.
It seemed that the van cover was supposed to be a prototype and no production versions were intended but the inventor ran into money troubles and had to sell his design.
There is always someone crazy enough to buy anything, as long as you can find that person.
The seductive secretary was barely conscious when I slid her into a taxi. I felt a little strange going through her bag looking for her address, but I couldn’t just leave her there to fend for herself. After all, her intoxication was down to me.
I made a point of eye-balling the taxi driver and telling him that I was going to check and see if she made it home safely.
My investigation had taken a strange turn and I wanted to see how far it would go.
That night I fell asleep with visions of secretive German inventors spinning through my head.
I woke a little earlier than usual; coffee was consumed and my body was subjected to copious amounts of hot water.
I wanted to see what this car cover was capable of.
I was a little reluctant to damage it but I needed to know what it could do.
The material was shiny and slightly padded and my small handyman blow torch didn’t even make it warm.
This was really getting interesting.
I had a large magnet hanging in my shed which I bought at a garage sale in a moment of madness. This sucker had a lot of grunt but it could not penetrate the flimsy material.
My strange friend Pete owned an infra-red heat sensing scanner which he stole from the back of a SWAT truck during a particularly interesting riot.
Pete isn’t playing with a full deck but he comes in handy for stuff like this.
It won’t come as any surprise to find that the scanner, which can usually pick up a human heat signature inside a concrete bunker, did not show any life form inside the Kombi with the cover zipped up. I was the test subject and so was my cat Fluffy and I doubt that she will ever get into a Kombi with me again.
It was dark with a capital D.
I’m a bit slow, but it occurred to me that being inside this van cover probably made a person completely invisible to all man-made technology, and that is probably what its inventor was aiming for.
As they say, ‘hiding in plain sight’.
I imagined a street in Germany with a slightly grubby van cover on a Kombi parked in the street looking anonymous; a crazed German inventor hiding inside, from God knows what. On the other hand, maybe they were after him.
Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you!
The next question was, how long could you hide inside your Kombi? Surely they, whoever ‘they’ were, would get you when you came up for air?
I’ve sat inside a car for a few hours without running out of air but on those occasions it wasn’t cocooned in a thin layer of seemingly impenetrable material; there was a good chance I could suffocate, but I had to find out.
I rolled down a window even though I knew it probably wouldn’t help. The light from my phone was all the light I was game to supply.
A couple of hundred games of Patience later and I was still breathing, and amazingly there was no condensation on the inside of the van.
This made no sense at all.
The water vapour from my breath had to go somewhere.
As soon as I rolled up the window the van started to mist up.
Somehow the van cover allowed moisture to escape and air to penetrate. This really did not make any sense at all.
The uncovered tail lights turned out to be a way to receive a phone signal and the chances of anyone scanning through such a small space were minimal, so I guess the designer had incorporated this to give himself an ‘out’ of sorts.
I’m a quiet sort of bloke, and the chances of someone ‘coming for me’ are slim.
What the hell would they want with me?
But, I must admit that my little grey cells have been working and it seems to me that I could stash a lot of food and water in a Kombi, and I could hide out in there for a long time. The only time I would need to leave would be for major toilet breaks and that could be done in the middle of the night. In the end, it would be a trade-off with how much food I would have to leave out in order to make room for the cash I might decide to steal.
This is going to take a lot of calculating.
Maybe it would be a waste to use this discovery for something as banal as a robbery.
It occurs to me that there are people and objects that need to be successfully hidden for periods of time, and there are probably people who would pay a good price for such a service; which has got to be easier than robbing banks.
But, how does one start such a business?
“Do you have something or someone who you want hidden? We can guarantee that no-one will find it or you. Call 555 5555 if you want to know more. No time wasters or government agencies need apply. No credit cards, only cash. Ring anytime. We never sleep.”
Oh, did I forget to mention that?
Ever since I spent time inside that cover, I don’t need to sleep.
I read a lot; the housework gets done and I play a lot of Angry Birds. It freaked me out a bit at first, but now I love it. It’s very quiet at night with most people sleeping soundly in their beds.
You just never know what is around the corner, and I’ll bet the next time you walk past a car cocooned in a car cover, you are going to wonder.