Volume 12, Issue 21 ~ May 20-26, 2004
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Bay Reflections

My Irresponsible Other Drives an MG
by Vivian I. Zumstein

I have always been a responsible person. Oh, there was that $5 I spent on a Barry Manilow LP when I was in college. My mother thought I should have used it on my education (e.g., paper, typewriter ribbon, pencils). But other than that single lapse, my life has been a consistent string of responsible actions.

So what is a responsible person doing on Route 4 in rush hour traffic test-driving a 1974 MGB convertible? Is this the same woman who owns a Volvo and purchased a minivan based on its quadruple five-star crash rating?

Traveling at 60mph, the MG labors in fourth gear. Instinct compels me to ease the engine stress by slipping the car into fifth gear. None exists.

The car runs well for being almost 30, but I have concerns. Sun exposure has fogged the once-clear plastic rear window, making the rear-view mirror useless. One test of the brakes warns me to leave plenty of extra space between the vehicles in front and to anticipate a sharp pull to the left upon application. The powerful scent of gasoline pervades the interior, despite two open windows. The shoulder belt hangs too slack to be effective. A little scary. Not at all responsible. Not at all me.

More idiosyncrasies surface. Things rattle. The knob vibrates on top of the gear stick, resisting all attempts to tighten it. It’s at no risk of falling off, yet the constant clatter annoys. Wind rushes in through the loose-fitted soft top, though not with sufficient force to evict the gasoline vapors. Makes me wonder how a car like this could have been developed in England, a country so famous for its wet, cold weather. Maybe the soft tops fit better in Britain.

I toy with the idea of taking the top down. It’s a glorious day, visibility would improve drastically and perhaps the gasoline smell would dissipate. Responsibility steps in. What if I can’t figure how to put the top back up? What if there’s an accident and the car flips? There’s no protective roll bar on this baby. Of course, what protection is there in the light metal frame holding the soft top and the thin plastic top itself? Hmm … let’s leave the top up and pretend it affords at least some protection.

After 20 minutes, enough time to get a good feel for the car, I notice something. People are looking at me. More accurately, they are looking at the car. I summon the courage to rest a jaunty elbow out the driver’s window.

A sedan full of high school boys pulls up beside the MG. Several faces turn for a long, appreciative look. I glance over, catching the eye of one boy. He smiles, gives a thumbs up and mouths the word, “Sweet,” before the sedan pulls away. For the hundredth time, I wish the car were painted a classic British racing green rather than the somber brown some color-impaired earlier owner selected.

Emotions run the rollercoaster. Panic and joy become so intertwined they are hard to separate. Scary as the ride feels, I have always wanted an MG. Something about the car is so frivolous, so unexpected, so … not me. Perhaps I have reached an age when I can break with the past; throw a little impulsiveness into life.

One thing’s for sure. My mother won’t give me a hard time. She’s always wanted an MGB convertible herself but could never stop being responsible long enough to buy one. If I can conquer my genetic predisposition long enough to purchase this one, she’ll want to drive it.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 20, 2004 @ 12:47am.