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Text and Photos by Cor Steenstra
I have always had a weak spot for the Mazda MX5/Miata, ever since I drove my first ones while working for Mazda in Germany. In fact, after totaling a red MX5 in the rain during a company trip to the Mille Miglia in Italy, I was so impressed with its strength, that I bought one myself, in British Racing Green, with Tan leather interior and with extra 16″ 5 spoke wheels on wide Good Year tires, which, back in 1992 was not very common at all.
The circumstances during which I drove this latest version of the MX5 were slightly different. The weather was unusually cold and wet for California standards, even in winter times, and I had to commute quite a bid during heavy rush hour traffic on the famed grid-locked California “not-so-free-ways” on the 105 – 405 or the 5.
In Germany I was adamant that whenever possible, I would drive the MX5 open, in drizzle and February cold weather, so, being in California where it is inherently warmer than Germany, I was determined to do the same. What a wrong idea that turned out to be. Not only did I thoroughly freeze to death, I also ended up being more frightened for my life than I have ever previously been in any car, anywhere.., and that includes race cars at speed..
Though the MX5 is definitely grown since the early 90’s, it still is a car that you wear like a backpack. There is not a lot of room to spare, especially for someone my size. With the hardtop up that comes to a blow, since I do hit my head on that very hardtop, and end up having to hold my head sideways to avoid that. So, of course, opening the top up is the best alternative. Heavy winter coat, cap, scarf.. I even thought of wearing my racing helmet but I heard that the police kind of frowns on that here, even though it increases safety, and with my recent success in acquiring speeding tickets, that was not a valid option.
As a side footnote though, the fact that I pay my speeding tickets does NOT mean that I admit to having done anything wrong. The police here apparently does not have any burden of proof. Thei statements stand, and you can try and go to court to pursuade a judge that they were wrong, but he decides in their favor anyway, so you don’t have a leg to stand on. Add to that the enormous amount of time lost in court waiting for the judge to finally have 10 seconds available to scream you are guilty, and it all adds up to a waste of time and effort. But guilty..? NO WAY!!!
As most of us know, Americans can’t drive. And of those Americans, Californians are the worst. So there I was hitting the inevitable traffic jams with the little MX5, and patiently trodding along with all the other slaves to the system. I tend to choose the left most lane, right next to the car pool lane, so that I won’t be bothered with traffic moving all around me. A little tranquility in all the chaos.
Now driving in traffic jam times means of course that there will be traffic that moves slowly, or even stand sstill, and then sometimes there is a little breather where you can speed up a little bit, but you know for sure that it won’t last long, so your foot is near the brake pedal most of the time.
But then there are these darn Californians, the same ones that loose all control when there is a little drizzle, calling it Storm Watch 2011 etc. Those Californians are also in that same traffic jam, but when they see the traffic move a bit more, they close their minds and think it will last forever… But it does not.. and thus you get these total panic braking scenes, where you here and see cars go all over the place.
During my MX5 commutes I have had so many near death experiences where I was convinced that cars behind me would not react in time and fly over my car, taking my head of.. literally…
It is now a good 8 weeks ago that this was going on, and I am finally a little calmer, but it did take a lot of time.. and I aged a lot… But I still love the MX5, just not during rush hour traffic..