Are We Rallying Yet?

Last spring I cried from sheer terror on this pass. I just wanted to get down off Red Mountain before a great chunk of the melting snow that was dropping on the road in near-MG-sized snowballs decided it wanted a ride down with us. I’d wanted to take more pictures, I wanted to put the hood up!

In October we are on that same pass on our way to the British Automobile Owners Association Rio Grande Regional Rendezvous, to be held in Durango, Colorado, this year. The day is bright and clear, the passage easy. Put the top up? What kind of delusion was that last spring? And now, here on Red Mountain, that clinical word, delusion. This, on top of the suggestion I read recently that we buy British cars out of co-dependence, because they need so much from us!

Here, on Red Mountain, the words were catching up with mc—words like co-dependent, delusional, were sticking in my head like a bad ’70s song. Faces of my car-loving friends passed in front of me (was I simply in denial that I was on Red Mountain yet again?) along with words like obsessive compulsive, separation anxiety (a winter disorder, tarp-related), and simple phobia (a Red Mountain syndrome). I dared not go on!

Better to diagnose the cars. I thought of British cars I had known and loved, and terms came to me such as that rare but literary favorite, multiple personality disorder, and close on its tires, elective mutism, intermittent explosive disorder winding up with pyromania. Yeow! Time to change the Prosoil. Better yet, to look at all that work talk, as well as Red Mountain, through the rearview mirror. I bought Buttercup, my 1979 MG Midget, to get away in, to have fun, to get out in the fresh air, away from the office.

But everybody who has a British car has some such story. That’s the beauty of it. Beauty—I think that word is at the root of many British car acquisitions. We take a car with classic lines and bring it to its best. We love looking at it, bringing this object of beauty to its apex, and then maintaining it for one great drive after another. I don’t think that motivation is listed in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders.

Still, on Sunday, we will see an Austin-Healey in a parking lot near the car show. Many people will walk slowly around it, such as Barbara Buchanan, who drove from Santa Fe to this event in the MGB she normally races. The Austin-Healey belongs to Jeff Yoder, but Barbara says she has one very similar—”finished.” Beautiful now. The Austin-Healey she circles is the quintessential “before” car, the one that challenges our imagination. Rescuing behavior, perhaps, but I like to think of it as simply our human penchant for hope.

The coppery slope of Red Mountain is behind us now, and we are speeding up the flat place before Silverton, before Molas and the Coal Bank Passes. Soon we will be in Durango, ready to rally the following morning. Three years ago, Ed and I did our first rally with the BAOA. We did everything wrong two people could possibly do in a rally. This time we will know more!

On Saturday morning, we choose the easier rally again, not the traditional one, which would require Buttercup to have an accurate odometer, still not one of her features. That first year I also remember the awarding of the rally trophies at the banquet and the couple who announced upon winning, “And we’re still married,” and their wry look and tone of amazement.

Some carefully edited dialogue from our rally, three years ago:

“Isn’t it my turn to drive?”

“I think I forgot to fill the tank.”

“Forget the landmarks—this is a timed event.”

“Go back! We have to find that sign!”

“‘This can’t be the right road.”

“You call this a road?”

Then the careening to the finish line from the wrong direction (how did we do that?) an hour and fifty minutes late!

I wish I could say that three more years of driving, tinkering with the MG, not to mention marriage, would have made this year’s rally a breeze. At the last minute we did remember to gas up before the starting line. We took fewer wrong turns, kept a steady speed, finishing only about 20 minutes late, instead of two hours, our final score respectable, but not triumphant, by any stretch of the imagination. More remarkable, somewhere along that ravishing route southeast of Durango, the sky above the open tar was such an enormous clear blue, I didn’t care if we did it right or not. I was enjoying the ride!

At the car show on Sunday morning, in addition to the People’s Choice Awards, a judged competition featured judges such as the world-renowned restorers Chuck and Pete Rumschlag of The Color Works. When Pete came to look at Buttercup, I mentioned to Ed that maybe we should button down the tonneau so she would look her best. He hurried to snap it down, but someone bad forgotten to set the emergency brake. Pete was down by the front tire, looking under the car as it rolled slightly backwards with Ed’s vigorous pressure on the snaps.

“I don’t think running over the judge is a good idea,” I whispered. Pete just stood up and moved on.

“I was just trying to make a good impression,” Ed said. I bit my tongue.

So on to the awards, and Buttercup did get a People’s trophy in her class, her first trophy ever! Then came the rally awards, and I smiled to myself recalling the couple who won three years ago, those words made famous by Garrison Keillor’s book, and dear to many ralliers: “We are still married.”

Maybe I should start a whole new school of marital therapy, requiring couples to rally together before they head down the aisle. I’ll call it, let’s see, Rally Encounter. If they’re both still in the car at the finish line and…No, wait a minute! This is supposed to be about having fun. Owning a British sports car must not be scrutinized under too bright a light. Save that light for pulling under the engine in winter so it will start. Are we rallying yet?

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