My father got polio when I was two years old. He demonstrated that being disabled would not hold him back from doing anything, like working under the car, creating hand controls, or climbing a few steps on a ladder with a leg brace and crutch. His example would become my way of life.
On Labor Day weekend in 1983, I was climbing on rocks near a river that emptied into the Pacific Ocean. My feet became numb, sort of like when you sit on your hands and get pin prickles. Once back home in Berkeley I decided to see my doctor about it. He recommended rest, heat, ice and aspirin. Not exactly take two aspirin and call in the morning, but call back if there’s no improvement. Unfortunately my numbness increased. First, up to my knees, then into my hands and arms. I thought when it kept spreading I would die. My doctor could not schedule an immediate appointment so I went to Oakland emergency. I stayed for three nights. After lots of tests, including a spinal tap, I learned I have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. I attended classes to learn more. They said “if you’re not in a wheelchair in five years, you’ll never be in a chair.” Since then I’ve observed that’s not true.
It was while in a wheelchair that I developed my personal motto, “Don’t Postpone Joy!” I needed a positive mindset when, at 33, I faced MS and divorce too. With my mobility waning, my mind turned to joyous British cars to get me moving. The salary for a library cataloger, however, did not pair well with a classic car. I started on the Cheerios saving method: don’t eat out more than once a week. My credit union would not extend money for anything so exotic. Luckily, another local bank would lend most of the cost.
At this time a library colleague had moved to LA. She would read the LA Times and give me a ring if she found a car I might be interested in. It took me months to decide if I wanted a Morgan, an MGTF, MGTD or MGTC. When I got a good look at the MGTC I knew that right-hand drive and wire wheels were a match for me.
I looked at basket cases. I never wanted red or black. I saw some non-MG colors like navy blue. Finally, in 1985, I found a TC that was part of a divorce sale. It was the ugliest color I’d ever seen. But my mind immediately said Mr. Toad, as in my favorite ride at Disneyland since the day it opened—”Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” After a five-minute right-hand drive lesson, I hopped on the freeway and drove straight to Mike Goodman’s to have new tires installed. I then drove to Santa Barbara and spent the night. Due to heavy fog, the next day I learned to use the wipers. Turns out the hardest part of a right-hand drive car is remembering which door to open when getting in. Almost immediately I joined Abingdon Rough Riders.
Back home in Berkeley, the car and I had bonded. And he was nicknamed “Froggy.”
That could be the happy end to the story, but we’re not there yet. At a conclave near Yosemite, Froggy was uncooperative, but that is how I met Sam, my knight in shining armor and my future husband. He and I differ on a few things. Sam believes that cars are for going from point A to point B, while my driving style is a bit more…adventurous. As a member of Abingdon Rough Riders, I fit right in.
By Betz Miller
Betz has been a member of the Abingdon Rough Riders, an MGTC club in the San Francisco Bay Area, since 1987. The Rough Riders have been around for close to 60 years and have had a number of unique characters as members, with Betz certainly qualifying as one of them. She is the only driver of her car—husband Sam won’t even think about riding with her—and she drives with some ferocity, having been timed at 80 mph (a following Mini Cooper verified that). The original spec for the MGTC was a top speed of 72 mph and her car is stock, but hey, I guess it has loosened up a bit in 57 years. Members of the club have been helping keep Betz’s car stuck together for some time now.
Betz has MS and has been slowing down a bit in recent years, but it hasn’t stopped her—she walks with a cane and uses a sort of a wheelchair called a Rollator, which can be seen strapped to her spare tire. Her handicap sticker is slipped under the windshield. This does not stop her from rapid motoring. She also motors with interesting and very colorful garb, such as a panda costume in honor of a San Francisco Giants ball player known as “The Panda.” Did I mention she was also a rabid Giants fan?