Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Driving the Family MINI Cooper

A silver-haired, self-imagined stud muffin doesn’t conform to everyone’s image of a MINI Cooper driver.

mini cooper red and white striped_2SJInstead, burly men in high-rise pickups snicker. Mothers maneuvering minivans shake their heads. Harley-Davidson bikers smirk. Younger women, who perhaps drive MINI Coopers themselves or wish they could, offer a wan smile. No one gives you a thumbs-up for a cool ride.

To set the record straight, the cute little red MINI Cooper belongs to daughter Sophia. She went to college; the car stayed at home. My role is periodic car jockey to ensure the motor oil doesn’t petrify in the crankcase.

wolterbeekstraat-mini-cooperDon’t get me wrong, the MINI is genuinely fun to drive. It corners well, has surprising acceleration and offers creature comforts, like heated seats and a speedometer the size of Pluto. You can park a MINI almost anywhere. And it holds more junk than you think possible. I’m still finding junk Sophia left behind.

An old guy like me driving what amounts to a little toy box on wheels attracts roadway attention. You get looks. Most aren’t admiring. Especially from other MINI Cooper drivers, who see me as dragging down their self-image and the resale value of their rigs.

When I stop off at the gas station for a fill-up, which usually takes less than a minute, the attendant makes me explain all over again how this isn’t my car. “Uh-huh,” he says. “And I suppose your real car is a bright red Ferrari.”

Hahaha. I don’t even own a model of a bright red Ferrari.

Mini ConsoleWe leased the MINI Cooper for Sophia because it was eminently drivable, safe and fuel-efficient. It delivers on those values. But it is pretty much everything in a car that grown-up men don’t want – or least want to be seen driving.

I know. I’ve been a car snob. I went through period of my life driving a series of BMW Z cars, progressing from a spunky 4-banger to the out-of-this-world M roadster. Pulling away from a stoplight in a M roadster is a very different experience than revving up a MINI. One leads to exultation; the other invites invective.

“Hey there, if you have time this afternoon, I could use help mowing my lawn,” said a guy in a Dodge Challenger, who sported a ridiculous smile on his face.

“What happened to the rest of your car?” needled a colleague in the office parking lot.

“Oh, that’s a cute little car. Did it come along with your regular car?” asked a “friend.”

Yeah, sure. The MINI is the rubber lifeboat that came with my yacht.

Because of the communal scorn, I don’t drive the MINI as often as it deserves. It does duty on 0-dark thirty runs to Starbucks and out-of-the-way Saturday afternoon errands. Most of the time, it sits forlornly un-driven, and slightly under-appreciated, on our neighborhood street. Some neighbor kids have toys bigger than the MINI.

The car remains a point of interest for our dog. Apparently, Sophia’s makeup rubbed off and kindles nostalgia in the pup, who also stayed home from college. The inside of the car holds little interest for the dog. Sophia never gave the dog a ride, or maybe the dog just didn’t want to ride in a car with the radio blaring our rap music.

My latest gambit is to drive the MINI wearing a hat, with the bill pulled down over my face as far as possible while still being able to see the roadway. It isn’t working.

“Hey there buddy, I can still see you. I know who you are. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should be driving a Buick.”

My mother drives a Buick. Peyton Manning drives a Buick. Maybe I can wear a ski mask and a fright wig when I drive the family MINI.







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