MotoringFile is happy to present another short story from Rob Carver… not 100% about MINIs but a great read for a quiet weekend nonetheless.

Some things change in a big way, when you least expect it.

Just over a year ago, I went out on a solo run thru the eastern part of our county, putting on some fun miles thru some of my local twisties with Brooksie, not too fast and not slow by any means – just a relaxing drive on a nice day. I know people who live out that way and visited some on occaision, watching how most of 'em had found a place they obviously preferred to the City below. I gotta admit, it puts you closer to Nature, and not incidently, closer to some hellacious twisties! HeHe! Somehow, I'll always see an automotive connection whatever situation I'm in. The road was in lovely condition, the shadows just soft enough to give one's eyes a break, and the traffic was fairly light. Sure, there were a few doorstops, (minivans), road slugs (SUVs), and the almost obligatory local yokel pick-em-ups, but it was mostly a clean run with even a few turnarounds to try a different line or two. My favorite parts were the tightest series of turns in a heavily wooded 2-lane mountain road, with quick alternating lefties & righties, often blind – you had to learn the sequence 'cause you couldn't always see the approach of the next curve until you were just coming out of the one you were in. Makes me understand why Moss had Jenks along with a roll of notes in the '55 Mille Miglia – you can only memorize so much, certainly not as much as the locals, and it's very difficult being a reactive driver as opposed to a proactive one. I much prefer to know what's ahead by at least a turn or two, as I'm sure we all do. 😉 This run stands out for me for a different reason, as well – it was the last run I made there before the catstrophic fires here in So Cal last year.

I woke up very early one dark morning soon after that run, with the smell of smoke heavy in the air. I went outside, and I could see a glow in the east, frighteningly close I thought. Immediately, I made a decision to start packing up some of the more important items in the house, nothing major yet, but I had a feeling things were getting ugly. We had a close call a few years ago across the canyon where we live, but slurry bombin' Hercs stomped it out, thankfully. There's nothin' like watchin' one of 'em skimming the ridges to get the last bit of flame doused to make you appreciate their dedication and skill. I only hoped I wouldn't need them to hit my place this go-round. The TV only reinforced my fears – ginormous fires were scorching major parts of the county, outrunning the valiant efforts of the firefighters, and jumping freeways and valleys. I called into work and told 'em I wasn't leaving the house until I was comfortable with the situation, and they agreed – they closed early and sent everyone home.

The sun came up revealing ash all over everything, the light dusting on Brooksie and our other cars looking like a nuclear winter had arrived. I drove her over to the other side of our little suburb, and was appalled to see how black the smoke had become, and huge gouts of orange flame licking up to sky could be seen at a moderate distance – this changed even as I watched, and they seemed to jump forward. I got the hell outta there, got home and started packing valuables into our vehicles, and gassing 'em up in shifts. The announcement that the next neighborhood over had been evacuated to our local high school made me realize I might lose our home – something that really chills you to the bone, lemme tell ya. We spent the next few hours packing our Westy and the other cars, except for Brooksie. It was a painful choice, but we happened to have five vehicles, and only four drivers available, and poor Brooksie had the short straw – she couldn't carry enough to make her valuable in this particular situation. If we had to bug out, I figured I'd park her in a dead spot down the street by the curb, and hope the fires didn't get too close, altho I had already seen footage of at least 10 fire-storms on TV, some amazingly moving uphill faster than freeway speeds, it seemed. Finally we were packed, and the waiting began.

The long day dragged on, with more and worse news coming in every minute. At one point, the freeways on three sides of us were blocked – our only escape route would have been clogged, I was sure, even though it looked like buggin' out time was close. The long day turned into a long night, and somehow, we lucked out – and that's all it was, let's face it – the fire turned away from us and we could breathe a little sigh of relief. With a grin, I brought back the reprieved Brooksie, and figured she deserved a drive soon. I went into work the next day, and everyone had an edgy look – no one was sure the whole thing was really over. This was soon brought home to us in the most cruel manner – one of our co-workers, Christie, was missing, and things didn't look too good. She lived alone out by those very twisties I had been so assidiously dissecting, and the fire had hit there first, with little or no warning. As the day wore on, the word finally came down – sadly, she hadn't made it. It turned out the fire had been on her area so fast, it took only a second of hesitation and you were lost. She had gone next door to wake up a sleeping neighbor who worked the swing shift, who then got out OK, but she didn't make it back to her vehicle in time to escape herself. She was a cute, funny young lady, with a wicked dry wit, and the mildest tempermant of anyone I ever met. We're a small business, and it's like a family, so it was awful for weeks around work, and I really missed her – still do. Sometimes driving is a tonic for me, letting me concentrate on the mechanics of the thing and helping soothe the mind. When they opened up the backroads again, I took Brooksie out for twisties run, but what I got was totally unexpected.

The landscape looked like the airless moon, or an atomic bomb had hit – if it wasn't scalded down to bare rock, all that was left were miles & miles of black twisted skeletons of what used to be a lush green forest. I saw whole mountains for the first time, surprised and disconcerted – where the hell had they been all this time? I was driving Brooksie in a halting manner, and missing shift points slightly. The most amazing thing, though, was the road – you could see 3,4, sometimes 5, turns ahead and it seemed the whole world was turned upside down. Some corners I didn't even recognize until I was right on 'em – no landmarks, no familiarity, it was like I'd never been there before. I slowed down at one point, just marvelling at the extent of the destruction, trying to wrap my mind around the situation. I was totally discombobulated, and I had trouble concentrating on the road, so got outta there ASAP – I was sure I was gonna wreck, like it was inevitable. Very Scary.

The next time out that way, some weeks later, I was passing the the road Christie had lived on – total devastation, like a page outta Hell, and I had to blank my mind – it was too awful to contemplate. I don't go down that way anymore – the ghosts of what was keep intruding on my drives there – even Brooksie runs raggedly. I'm re-learning some of my favorite roads now, and a strange deja-vu is involved. This busy summer has precluded a lot of twisties fun, and I'm hoping it's greener when I go out again to those old haunts. Geez, that's appropriate, huh? Nowadays I see every run in Brooksie as a gift, and I'm even more thrilled when I have a really good one – you never know when your number's up, so get 'em while you can. Got another solo run coming up, and I'll be slamming along those strangely familiar twisties, the sunroof open and the windows down, listening to, say, the Flower Song from Lakme' , relaxing. Couldn't be better, dontcha know!

Rob in Dago