Down the Rabbit Hole Redux: Alice, and I, drive my MINI again by Rob Carver

The White Rabbit I followed once so long ago wasn't white – it was Red with a Black top, a Mk1 1275s at the Bisbee Hillclimb, driven with brio and although not the fastest by just one placing, it was decidedly the most influential on me. As I got nearer to actually driving, I saw that picture in my mind of the Red & Black Mini clearly, as bright as the first time I saw it. Owning a number of Minis over the years, I became most comfortable in a Mini than any other. Driving can be an intensely personal experience if you are in the right kind of car, have the right mindset and are so inclined. Some of us are less so than others, but MINI drivers are generally on the More as opposed to Less side, and that goes for just about anything. I'm no exception – I've strong opinions on most everything, especially Minis and MINIs. I've heard Marque identification described as a kind of Cartesian-rationalist purism, leaving no room for other, possibly lesser vehicles – this is most obvious in the Porsche – Porcupine type of comparison, (something I hope MINI owners never aspire to!). Every so often, something happens that re-defines our relationship with our MINI – that makes you add one more plus – or minus – to the whole equation.

About a month ago, I was blithely motoring along in the early morning, thinking about how much fun my MINI was going to be on the drive to the MINI Vacation in Las Vegas. Only a block or so into my morning drive to work, a young, inattentive driver pulled out from the curb without signaling and hit Brooksie on the passenger side door and rear quarter panel, luckily at low speed. I had been hit before over the years, and even had my 998 Cooper run off the road into a parked car by a hopped-up hit-'n-runner, so the sounds and sickening noises were unfortunately familiar enough to make me furious rather shocked. I screeched to a stop, turned her off, and leaped out, a stream of curses rending the air. I know, bad form and all, but I don't temper the shorn lamb to the wind anymore when it comes to getting hit by bad drivers. They deserve a tongue-lashing, and I'm not shy about giving 'em. Off with his head! I literally had to run after the last guy who did this to me and I was
prepared to sprint this time, too, but the kid just stood there in a kind of shock after getting out of his car. He was unhurt and apologetic, obviously miserable, so I took a deep breath and went thru the ritual of taking down his insurance info after examining Brooksie.

Even though it was a low speed accident, there was still a fair amount of damage to the door and the striker area of the quarter panel. I've been around cars for while, and I knew I was in for at least a couple of weeks of driving a rental car, never a pleasant experience when the bill is dictated by the underwriters. In addition, I now had a minor case of whiplash, which didn't make the next few weeks any easier. I drove my poor, dinged Brooksie to Vegas anyway, had a ton of fun, and then waited with a kind of dread 'til the appointment was finalized for the body shop. Now for the Minus – I wasn't in any big hurry, because I didn't relish the day when I had to step into whatever mediocrity was awaiting me at the rental agency. Fifty miles of commuting every weekday was going to be a minor form of hell. This feeling was confirmed, unfortunately, and continued to be so for three full weeks. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say “the difference in the driving experiences between the MINI and the others is kinda like the latest Hubble pictures – it'll be 13 billion years, at least, before the light from this day reaches those galaxies all the way across the universe before I buy another domestic car, unless they change utterly.” I posted that once, and it still applies.

Relief came in the form of a phone call from Sandy at the body shop last Thursday – she was going to have my MINI ready the next morning!! Here was the Plus! I was so tired of driving the soul-less excuses for automobiles that I had the misfortune to end up with, that every minute on the road seemed like an hour of frustration. I could hardly wait. When I went down at lunch to collect Brooksie, it was like slipping on my favorite pair of shoes, or cocking the brim on my best hat – natural, pure, and simply part of my self that had been missing that now was returned. I sat in her for bit, checking the mirrors, adjusting the seat, grinning a lot. The body work was excellent, the car sounded marvelous, it was a beautiful day out, and it was all I could do not to go roaring off to the twisties. Saturday would come soon enough. The drive home was actually pretty slow by my normal standards, like I didn't want to arrive, as it would shorten the getting there. 😉 My adrenaline was up by the time I got to our cul-de-sac, and I sat and listened to the radio for a little while after I shut her down. I was following Alice's lead down the Rabbit Hole, again.

Saturday morning and a glorious day to do the nadgery bits, as Henry Manney used to say, so who am I to quibble? I put on comfortable clothes and my MINI ballcap, loosely tied my Puma Speed Cats, pulled on my Hatch Dura-Thins, clipped on my shades, opened the sunroof, popped in a CD, and rolled down the windows – motoring time. As I trundled down the street, I glanced over at the spot where I'd been pranged – a month and more had gone by, and now it was back to square one. Ah well, I could look at it as a left-handed favor – I now had chance to recreate the first-time MINI driving experience, with a heightened sense of Brooksie's limits and strong points. As I got out into the back roads, I became more and more relaxed, listening to the music and the wind, the drive rolling thru the twisties, the up and down shifts like an extension of the bond between myself and the MINI. It doesn't get much better than that drive, just me and Brooksie on the open road, little traffic and fine weather, the bark of the exhaust and the sun-dappled road flowing underneath. It was all too soon time to return, and I got a little more aggressive on the way home, pushing the envelope a bit, running to the redline a coupla times, feeling the tires on the limit. This is what I had been missing for a month – the last piece of the puzzle that made the daily grind less irksome. I pulled up in front of my house, blipped the throttle, and shut off the motor. I left my hands on the wheel for a little bit, savoring the day. There was still a residual road noise in my ears, and my neck felt a little stiff, but I was really quite happy. As I buttoned her up, for that day, I knew my “Drink Me” was all used up.