Wet Feet

July 25, 2019

Photo Credit: A Photographer

It seems like I never spot an MG Midget (no disrespect to any people of small stature) on the road these days. You know, the tiny open-top convertible from Britain that looked like something a James Bond want-to-be would drive if he couldn’t afford an Aston Martin. When I was a kid I saw them quite often. They were usually a deep maroon, hunter green, sky blue or vivid orange color, and the top was always off.

They weren’t usually in great condition. In fact, my recollection is that many of them needed some work. Most had plenty of dents and scratches, with rust creeping through in the usual places. But it didn’t matter. To me, they were unique and cool. The guys driving them always wore sunglasses and smoked cigarettes. They’re probably French dudes who date models, I’d think.

I knew a guy who drove one. Well, I didn’t really know him — he was the father of a “friend” of mine. I use the term friend loosely, because he was a kid from church, so I kind of had to be nice to him. You know, trying to be Christianly, and all. Regardless, this guy’s dad had a motorcycle, too, doubling-down on the coolness factor in my young eyes. Coming from a family that only drove reliable and economical Japanese sedans, owning a roadster AND a motorcycle seemed like the pinnacle of rebellious bad-assery.

The problem was that that my friend’s old man wore eyeglasses instead of sunglasses, he didn’t smoke, and if he spoke French he never showed it off or bragged about it — something I, as a seventh-grader taking a French class, assumed anyone with the ability would most certainly flaunt. Plus, he was a portly fellow who commonly wore sweaters — really the epitome of uncool in the mind of a middle school kid — thus putting a deep door ding in my theory about MG drivers.

My first car was a 1982 Volkswagen Jetta. Despite being European and a little unique, it completely lacked any female (let alone model) attracting coolness. In retrospect, it was really awful in most regards, but it served its purpose, which was simply to to get me around. Regardless, I loved it. No matter how bad it might have been, I think everyone has some odd fondness for their first car.

Yes, my Jetta certainly had a few problems. The major issue, at least in my teenage mind, was that the stereo totally sucked. All of my friends had awesome stereos that caused permanent hearing loss. If I was expecting a friend to pick me up, I didn’t have to watch, I simply listened. But mine just crackled, gurgled, and spat. It had a cassette player, but it ate tapes better than it played them. It was a total bummer during an era when guitar solos needed to be cranked up.

There were some minor issues as well. For example, the driver’s window wouldn’t roll up or stay up. I had to use both hands to grab about a 1/4″ sliver of exposed glass, pull up carefully as far as I could, put my forearms on the window to hold it, then use my fingers and palms to simultaneously push outward and upward until the window was all the way up. I had some duct tape around the top of the door/window frame (on the inside, of course, to avoid looking trashy), and at this point would press the tape firmly against the window to hold it in place. I’d have to replace the tape every couple of weeks when it would lose its tackiness and the window would start dropping down on its own as I drove. Not a big deal.

The second minor issue was that the car didn’t hold oil. Literally. My oil light was constantly on. I put a quart in every other morning — enough that you could see a tiny drop on the dipstick if the lighting was perfect. This routine went on for about a year. I thought I was being frugal by living with this problem, rather than getting it fixed. However one day I did some math, and accepted the fact that I had spent far too much on oil, so I finally took it to a mechanic. I distinctly remember him looking at me like I was the dumbest kid ever. “I’m surprised the EPA isn’t after you,” he scoffed, pointing a greasy fingernail at the bottom of my hoisted car. It was caked with oil that had been seeping from a myriad of places. I did (and still do) feel truly guilty about being a rolling oil spill. But, as a grown man looking back, I’m mostly just amazed by the German engineering that allowed a car to run for so long with no oil.

The final minor issue worth noting was that there were some holes in the floorboard by the back seat. As a result, when it was raining and I drove through a deep puddle, water would rush in, filling up small indentions that were meant for the rear passengers’ feet. I could never pinpoint where the water was entering, and it was strange how it came in so quickly and easily, yet it took so long to drain out.

Sometimes, on really stormy days, it would fill these feet areas completely. Then, when driving down hill, the water would crest and come rushing into the front of the car. I would go up a hill and it would slosh into the back again. This could go on all day. There was sometimes enough water that it would cause my shoes to become saturated, eventually leading to wet socks and wet feet. Looking back, I realize this was pretty gross, but I always thought my shoes would have been even wetter (and probably muddy) if I had been walking through the rain on these days. And driving was better than walking.

(Side Note: In the winter, the water would often freeze, leaving blocks of ice that could last for weeks or even months.)

My cars today have decent stereos, the windows work, and they don’t seep oil or have large puddles of water inside of them. But their main purpose is still just to safely get me and my family from point A to point B. That’s good enough for me. Somewhere, however, in the back of my mind, where practicality is forbidden to enter, as I sit firmly entrenched in middle age, I think about it. I think about how much fun it would be to fly down the open road, sunglasses on, the wind rushing past me, in a little MG. Maybe one day.

Un jour. Oui, oui.

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