MG Days

The weather here lately has been nothing short of glorious. These are truly our halcyon days here in south Texas and we have to appreciate every scarce, non-humid moment. Soon the pleasant, light breezes that lazily toy with puffy clouds will wilt before the tropical sauna we all know and love (not).

garymgb.jpgIn my college days, I had my own name for this kind of weather. At the time I owned a joy-to-drive MGB convertible and I’d relish every opportunity to drive sans convertible rag top. I called these gorgeous moments “MG Days,” a term that also signaled my intent to blow off classes for the day and cruise around instead. How could one resist? Compared to the oppressive heat typical for Austin, MG Days were cool temperatures combined with light breezes and crystal blue skies, and rightly should have been declared state holidays. Not that I ever needed much in the way of an excuse to skip class, an MG Day was not to be wasted inside. Top down, clutch in, I’m gone. Where didn’t matter, only the doing mattered…which in retrospect was quite Zen like, but I didn’t connect to that at the time.

The MGB in this picture was really my second car, although I was only 18 at the time. My first car was an older, more finicky (translation: had character) 1963 MGB, which cost a whopping $550. As you may remember in a previous post, I’d cut my hair in exchange for Dad’s note co-sign, then paid the note off with summer jobs. I was proud of that first car, despite the fact that not all body parts were the same color. And I didn’t care if it was a little rusty here and there, it had wire wheels! I’ve often wished I had kept that ’63 MGB and restored it somewhere along the way, but I don’t think I even saved its picture. I drove that clunker from a suburb of Chicago down to The University of Texas in Austin that summer of my 18th year. My brother made the trip with me, and although I don’t remember a lot about the trip we did make it despite losing not only first but second gear as well, and nursing the throttle the last few hundred miles to keep the radiator from going dry. I soon traded what remained for a shiny new 1971 MGB, the one in the photo. While it lacked the character of the older one, it did excel in one important area: everything worked! (although in the spirit of all British sports cars it always leaked whenever it rained, even when brand new).

The only close call I ever had driving the ’71 MGB was the night I drove home in the rain after playing a tennis match, with my girlfriend following behind in her car. I went out of a curve a bit too fast and slid dramatically off the highway into the grass and down a short embankment. When the girlfriend finally got down to me she was hysterical, but I was hysterically laughing. While I hadn’t hit anything nor hurt myself, the 100 or so tennis balls I had behind the seats in practice hoppers had simultaneously flew forward when I braked, and during the slide bounced around the interior like ping pong balls. Between the noise and the pounding I received from the tennis balls flying in every direction at once, I couldn’t do anything but laugh. It was then I discovered that women get mad when they think you’re hurt, but you’re not, and you’re laughing about something, but they don’t know what. I would have been better off had I been bleeding instead of giggling. Go figure.

The other fond memory of MG days were the times I’d drive home after dusk down Bee Caves Road. Since I lived about 30 minutes outside of Austin at Lakeway, my drive to school was a delightful chance to work the gears through some hilly and curve-laden roads. About two-thirds of the way home this one particularly long stretch of open road began at a high point and gently dropped to flat run for a little over a mile. With the top down, radio off, and the moon casting a faint light everywhere, I’d switch off all the car lights and cruise using the center line as a guide. I can close my eyes and still remember that distinctive MG engine purr in my ears, the cool, clean night air through my hair, and the dreamy combined sensation of floating and flying. I never did this driving fast, since the rush of sensations under a steady, cruising speed was the pleasure. A natural high if ever I remember one.

I traded that car for something else later that year and many more since, but nothing has had the magic and symbolism of that MGB from my first college year. And while there were many more MG Days, they were never the same without their namesake. In past years I’ve often toyed with the idea of finding a similar-era restored MGB and revisiting that long stretch of road some night when the moon’s full and bright. But what once was a delightfully narrow, two-lane country road in the middle of ranch land is now a six-lane behemoth with subdivisions on both sides. Progress is never aware of the memories it paves over, but I remember…and now you know as well.