by Ron Petrou
One of the most annoying things anyone can say to me when seeing me drive my Miata convertible with its top down, is, “Oh, you’re experiencing a ‘middle age identity crisis,’” or “You’re out fishing for young women.” Some of my best friends compare me to a noisy teen who would be driving around with his audio speakers booming out hip-hop music, suggesting that I and my car are a form of personal “display.”
So, I try to tell them the real reason I so much like to drive this “sports car,” something I have often described, quoting the poet John Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and I really mean it. And I say, “I don’t drive my Miata. I wear it,” trying to convey what it is like to drive this rear wheel drive car, with its perfect 50/50 balance between the front wheels and the rear wheels, designed to be a delight to drive with its 5-speed stick shift, with a gear box that is so quick and smooth it’s like butter.
And when I come to a curve on Lincoln Drive, I down shift from 4th to third gear, and accelerating around a curve, I “carve” that curve with the car vrooming happily in joyful response and me in perfect control, the car seeming to respond intuitively to my unspoken intention.
I say to these doubters that I once met Bob Hall, the California man who designed the Miata, at a Bucks County Miata Club gathering. He told me he had a photo on his desk when he fashioned his dream car of Charlton Heston as Ben Hur, “standing in his chariot, racing with four horses charging ahead.” His creation, introduced in 1989 and inspired by the English Triumphs and MGs of the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s and perfected by the engineers at Mazda, has become the most popular sports car in history with over one million sold so far.
To really answer this question, though, I have to go deep into the experiences I knew as a teenager. By good fortune and the loving care of my successful, generous and wise parents, I grew up spending my summers — from the last day of school in June to the opening of school the week after Labor Day — at our summer home at the eastern end of Ram Island, near the end of Long Island, New York.
Our ranch house was on a cliff, 30 feet high, overlooking Gardiner’s Bay. During a Northeaster, Atlantic Ocean waves crashed against our 400 feet of waterfront beach with its protective bulkheads and jetties. In this paradise every summer, my immigrant parents, who did not really know the ways of America but somehow were canny enough to fashion a summertime strategy for creatively raising my brother and myself: “Keep them busy all summer long, fishing and sailing and ‘messing around with boats’ so they won’t have time or the energy to get into trouble.”
It worked like a charm. I raced our Comet one-design sailboat with my older brother, John, every weekend. We’d go fishing in our rowboat in Gardiner’s Bay a couple of hundred yards from our home. We’d catch fish and throw the fish heads and guts into the water to the noisy enjoyment of flocks of happy seagulls. We brought my parents 20 of the best of them and gave the rest to our neighbors. How delicious they were!
But for me what was best was once being with my brother, way ahead of 15 other Comets during one of the Eastern Long Island Regatta races in our 15-foot Comet, speeding on a broad “reach,” with the 20-knot wind blowing from the side. We were triumphantly approaching the finish line with no sound of anything mechanical or motorized under the brilliant, bright sun and the azure, blue sky. We knew we were going to win the race, all smiles and feeling with indescribable relish and delight the occasional cold water splashing over us.
That is why I like my Miata, especially with the top down, on a spring or summer day with the wind in my hair, the engine purring and with nothing above between me and the open sky.
Ron Petrou lives in Mt. Airy, writes, does videography and helps conduct study groups on the works of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education. He was a high school English teacher at Kimberton Waldorf School in Kimberton, PA; the founder of Wordsmiths, a public relations firm in King of Prussia; and the grants writer/public relations officer for the Wilmington Housing Authority in Wilmington, DE. More information at firstname.lastname@example.org