My Favorite Passenger

by Will Howard

Since the MG TD roadster only has two seats, you must have discerning criteria for your favorite passenger. The rider must not be concerned about keeping their hairstyle neat, since the convertible top is almost always down for touring country roads. Also, it’s a must to not get carsick easily, the low gear shifting in a car built in 1953, with an original motor, can at times tend to be abrupt. Finally, it’s always nice to ride with someone who is equally as excited as you are for the journey.

I have fond memories of driving my MG. The lovely blonde who rode to my right always seemed to be smiling. The wind whipped through our hair and the engine revved. Without exception, we always turned heads when we rolled through town. I could see the smiles from a block away, and so could Murphy, my golden retriever.

He was the friendliest dog I had ever met, and it was by random chance that we became acquainted. Our regular Fed Ex delivery driver knew that we already had a large labrador (who happened to be a bit unfriendly) named Muldoon. One day while delivering a package, the driver explained that a family on his route was looking to re-home their golden retriever mix. He had jumped out of the back of their pickup truck when they had taken him out for a ride. They could no longer trust him as a passenger. I thought of my daughter, who had just started college, and had expressed interest in adopting a dog. She wanted him immediately upon seeing him, and decided he would be called Murphy.

Murphy and Muldoon.

After my daughter graduated, she asked my wife and I to keep an eye on Murphy, as she was moving out of state. Murphy got along well with Muldoon, and was so much friendlier, we began to form a bond. It was decided by all that his foster care would be permanent, and he became my dog.

My love for MGs has spanned decades, beginning in 1961 when my brother and I were gifted an MG from our Uncle James. It was an incredible sight to see as it was unloaded from the truck. My brother loved driving it, and then he took it apart with a friend in an overly ambitious attempt to fix it. Two years later, at the age of 16, I was given total possession of those pieces—and surely have had no regret of taking on the expense of having it rebuilt. I drove that MG to Mount St. Mary’s college for my freshman year in 1967, and I was still driving it years later as a reporter for the News American in Baltimore, Maryland. And then one morning I awoke to find that my MG had been stripped to the chassis while sitting in a parking lot.

The MG was used for our annual Christmas photo in 1986. My son was an infant, and I seized the opportunity when I realized it was going to be the last time my whole family would fit in my car.

The insurance payment from that dreadful morning helped fund a trip all the way to England to buy my second MG. I was in love with the older models, so I got myself a black 1950 TD with right-hand-drive steering. It suited my sense of humor. Whenever I took out passengers, I would be sure to have them raise both hands in the air to confuse the people in the cars behind us—a practical joke that never gets old. I also used the car for dates, taking my girlfriend out on the weekends for quiet country drives. I believe it helped me to impress my now wife of 45 years.

In the 1980s I had the opportunity to acquire yet another MG. I had seen the car locally in the town of St. Michaels. It was a 1953 TD that was impeccably cared for and was painted cherry red. It spoke to me. The RHD TD was less than reliable, so I knew what I had to do, and that was to find space in the garage for both cars.

I now had a black one and a red one. It was great fun to have friends over for a bit of touring the countryside. Luckily, I have a talented friend who runs North’s Garage on the Eastern shore. He shares my passion for MGs and has helped me keep the cars running.

The flashier red MG was more of a town car. My daughters would sit up on the back of the car and practice waving like princesses, as I slowly drove them up and down our long driveway.

In the 1990s I became a videographer. I started a company called Visitors TV Network. My wife and I travelled all along the East Coast producing documentary style videos of the sights and traditions unique to the area. When we were not busy traveling, I started a local video series called “The Man About Town.” This series covered an assortment of subjects, and was a way that I could promote and showcase the talents of local craftsmen and women. It was broadcast on the Eastern Shore cable network station. When I was writing the episodes, I had so much inspiration and ideas for what the show was about, but something seemed to be missing. I needed a sidekick. My wife is quite talented, but camera shy, and was only interested in helping out behind the camera. I needed someone charismatic, lovable, and friendly. At last, I realized the answer was right there sitting at my feet. My buddy Murphy would be perfect.

Murphy and the MG were crowd favorites at the March 17, 2010, St Patrick’s Day Parade.

The first time I opened the rear-swinging passenger side door for Murphy and suggested he get in, the look on his face was one of utter disbelief. It lasted only a millisecond. He wasted no time jumping right up; his dreams were finally coming true. At last, he was reunited with the open road. This was a safer open-air option for him than a pickup truck, and I kept him on his leash to be certain he could not jump out. Having Murphy with me while filming was a great icebreaker, and also like having a golden key to the town. He was welcomed everywhere!

It became clear that he wished to go for rides more often than just my days filming. He would accompany me to the post office, and the bank where he was always given special attention and treats, too. Murphy sat proudly while in the car, and sometimes even allowed us to dress him in hats or t-shirts for photo ops. As the years went on people became accustomed to seeing him as my passenger. When I would run errands alone, I would often hear, “Hey where’s the dog?” Murphy and I were even invited to participate in local parades, which of course we did. He was always calm, happy, and appreciated the fanfare.

After my retirement we began running a bed & breakfast adjacent to our property, with Murphy as the official welcoming ambassador. He was always happy to meet new people. And then in 2013, Murphy went on ahead of me to explore all the smells of the great beyond. Since his passing no other dog has taken his place in my MG. Looking back I have no doubt in my mind that Murphy knew how truly special our times together were, and I am grateful for the memories. MM

In 2011, my daughter requested that we use the MG in the procession of her wedding. Murphy was of course part of the ceremony, but on this day, he had to walk the isle rather than ride, as the bride had priority seating. As an official member of the wedding party, Murphy did wear a tie.

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