Sports car fever. Guys, you know what I'm talking about, right?
That irrepressible urge to own a sports car. It can hit at any time, but really kicks into gear once you acquire a valid driver's license.
My own bout came during my senior year of high school. I was working at the local supermarket after school, saving for college, when an older co-worker, Frank, took me to the parking lot to show off his latest acquisition: An MGA sports car.
Whoa. Talk about sleek. A two-seat roadster, produced in Britain (the "MG" stood for "Morris Garage"), it had long lines and great styling. Could I sit in it? Sure. Wait -- where are the door handles? No door handles. You opened the doors by pulling on a cord inside the door panels. The side windows were plastic; you bolted them on and off. Heck, all that just added to the mystique. While small, it was amazingly roomy. Plenty of legroom for my almost six-foot-two frame.
We went for a ride and that sealed the deal. I was hooked, and immediately started plotting to get my own British sports car.
Over the course of the next year, I started learning all I could about imported sports cars, becoming a walking encyclopedia on models like the MGA and MGB, the MG Midget, the MG TD (a real classic, but no legroom whatsoever), Sprite, Austin-Healey, Jaguar, Triumph, Aston Martin, Alpine and Lotus. I discovered area clubs of owners and enthusiasts devoted to the various models, and something called The Terlingua Racing Team, which hailed from a ghost town and ranch in far West Texas (more about them later).
By the time college rolled around, I was ready to take the plunge. I had found a one-owner, used white MGB for sale (the MGB was much improved over its predecessor MGA -- it had door handles and other creature comforts, like roll-up windows). After some cajoling, good old Dad was willing to co-sign the loan. Insurance premiums on sports cars for male drivers under 25 was kind of shock, but I bit that bullet, too.
The white MGB convertible was mine (and the bank's) at last. But that didn't end the fever. Oh no, it just fed it. There were accessories to buy, clubs to join, friends to impress. And the first thing to do -- put the top down, of course!
Now understand, putting the top down on a 1963 MGB is nothing like the convertibles of today, where you press a button and the top retracts. The MGB top itself was cloth, with a plastic back window, and the whole process was very manual. It snapped in place at the front windshield and along a metal frame that recessed behind the seats. This will give you some idea of what it was like:
can just imagine how much fun it was to get caught in a sudden Texas rainstorm. But who cares? Tooling around town in a British sports car with the top down was what it was all about.
The MGB also produced a very distinctive sound from its four-cylinder engine as you progressed through the four forward gears from a stick shift between the seats. Not exactly a roar, but more a deep-throated "Vrooom" as you tached up from first to fourth. One of the first things I bought was a wooden gearshift knob bearing the "MG" emblem.
Something else I did was join up with the Terlingua Racing Team. Created by the legendary Carroll Shelby and his buddies, it was more honorary than anything. For some small payment, I got a certificate in the mail, plus a way-cool sticker to put on the side of the car. Read more about the fascinating history of the racing team here, plus the world famous Terlingua Chili Cookoff.
While owning the MG was Beach Boys' "fun, fun fun until Daddy took the T-Bird away," it wasn't without its not-so-fun aspects, either. Let's just say British auto engineering has its challenges.
For starters, the dual carburetors were subject to clogging and had to be cleaned on a regular basis. I once attempted to do it myself, with disastrous results. I'm not what they call, mechanically inclined.
The battery arrangement was just weird. It was a 12-volt system from two, six-volt batteries located behind the seats.
One time while out driving with Pam, the engine started cutting out. Never a good thing to lose power on a freeway. I had been having trouble with the battery connections, and was advised placing a copper penny on the terminal would restore the juice. Quickly, I instructed Pam to grab a penny and hold it to the battery post behind the seat while I looked for the next exit. No time for questions ... I'll explain later!
A big problem was the back plastic window. The merciless Texas sun would turn clear to cloudy yellow, making it impossible to see through. Little bit of a safety issue there. It had to be replaced on a regular basis.
The sun also cracked the leather on the seats. While they were being re-upholstered, I had to sit on a wooden Coke case.
Here's a memory. On one of my first dates with my future wife, we got broad-sided on the West Freeway in Fort Worth going to a movie. Luckily, it only damaged the driver's side door. As a memento of that auspicious occasion, I took the damaged door from the body shop and gave it to Pam, which she kept for many years. We even considered having it framed to use as wall art. On the side of that crumpled metal was my Terlingua Racing Team sticker. Oh well, I still had the membership certificate.
Sadly, the '63 MGB came to a bad end while we were living in Austin and I was attending the University of Texas. Someone ran a stop sign and that was it ... totaled. But not to fret. Soon we got back in the sports car business when we purchased a 1970 MGB.
Sports car fever. It never goes away.
To be continued ....
Memorial Day is upon us, and summer is right behind it. If you go by the calendar, summer doesn't officially arrive until June 21. But as a kid, that holiday signaled the start of summer vacation.
The end of the school year. Final grades and one last report card for parents to sign (or not). Free at last!
Free to stay up late and sleep in. No homework or projects to worry about. Free to conspire and plot with the other kids in the neighborhood on things that parents only knew on a "need to know" basis.
That's was when "school's out for the summer" meant just that: Over after Memorial Day and not on again
until after Labor Day. A full three glorious months to do whatever our little imaginations could dream up.
Like most kids, I'm not sure I ever really appreciated how special that time was, or how fleeting. Why would you? You're a kid. And even though we didn't have cell phones, iPads, video games or 500 channels, you could, believe it or not, still have fun.
What was special about a Texas summer in the Sixties? A few things leap to mind:
-- The nightly chorus of the cicadas. As darkness fell, the 17-year cicadas (also known as locusts) would begin singing in trees all over the neighborhood. Loud. Sometimes ear-piercing, depending on how close they were. My brother and I, being somewhat insect nerds (we collected bugs), would set off to find the source of the noise and sometimes capture the culprit if we could pull the tree branches low enough. Little did we know the singing is how male cicadas attract the females, so now I feel bad for interrupting their fun.
-- Fireflies. Speaking of insects, what is more magical than watching the on/off green glow of a firefly on a summer night? Sometimes it seemed our whole backyard was aglow with these tiny, twinkling "lightning bugs." As the years passed, we saw their lights less and less. Maybe they moved on, or we weren't looking as much.
-- Insect Honorable Mention: June Bugs. These little brown flying beetles that swarm to porchlights. Beware their sticky legs if they land on you, or Heaven forbid -- your hair!
-- Homemade ice cream. Ice cream the old-fashioned way: A wooden bucket, rock salt, a hand crank and muscle power. Why pay a couple of bucks for store-bought ice cream when you could spend double that on ingredients and ointments for your aching arms and back? But on my! I can still taste the homemade vanilla and still feel the pounding "brain freeze" headache it gave you. (Sidenote: According to Wikipedia, "its given scientific name sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (meaning 'nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion'), is a form of brief pain or headache commonly associated with consumption (particularly quick consumption) of cold beverages or foods such as ice cream and ice pops." I knew it wasn't all in my head.
-- Playing games. That was what the backyard was for. Football and baseball, no matter the season. Volleyball, badminton and croquet (with equipment Mom supplied courtesy of S&H Green Stamps). The grownups would set up the card table for games of Canasta and Dominoes. Of course, the games we played were not without drama. On one occasion, I hit the baseball over our fence and into the narrow alley that ran behind our house. It was overgrown with honeysuckle, and I had to crawl on my stomach underneath to reach the ball. Of course I never saw the nest of yellowjackets just over my head, but they saw me. I got stung three times.
-- Food. Summer is the perfect time to fire up the grill, and we wore out several of them. Family and friends would gather at our redwood picnic table (a "must-have" outdoor item at the time) and enjoy burgers and all the fixins'. On the porch was a yellow metal chest where red and yellow-meat watermelons rested in frigid water between chunks of ice. During the hot summer days, Mom always had a big picture of Kool-Aid at the ready (made with one cup of sugar -- it's a private joke). My other favorite drink was NeHi Orange. We would hoard the empty bottles and redeem them for a nickel each -- money enough for new comic books.
-- Books. As a book lover, summer meant I could read the books I wanted to read, instead of what was assigned. Besides the comic books (little did I know my super heros would be the future heros of the Hollywood box office), my passion was science fiction and fantasy. Favorite authors included Andre Norton (I had no idea at the time Andre was a "she"), Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke. I also became a big fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and collected the entire series of paperbacks illustrated by Frank Franzetta. Besides Tarzan, he authored many science fiction titles, including the exploits of John Carter on Mars. Thanks to my spouse, Pamela, I still have those books now.
Additionally, there were some memorable times involving fireworks and the Fourth of July. But I'll save that for another blog.
One of the local arts organizations we gladly support is Ballet Palm Beach, which just ended their current season this weekend with performances of "Cinderella." As a matter of fact, ballet talent runs in the family.
Our granddaughter is a budding ballerina, and even yours truly is not without ballet skills. That's right. At one of their rehearsals for "Romeo and Juliet," I volunteered to engage in a sword fight with Romeo. It was a classic stage battle for the ages ... well, that might be overstating it just a bit.
See for yourself in this video (I'm the tall guy in the Cuban shirt):
What has impacted our daily lives more than smartphones?
Once a luxury, now they are for most as essential as fingers, hands and feet. They are at our side, in our pockets and purses, by our beds, in our cars, on our trips -- day and night. We wouldn't dare think of leaving home without it.
Apple, with its iPhone, has been King of the Smartphone Hill, a virtual license to print money. Collectively, its family of i-gadgets has propelled it to the largest company in the world, sitting on cash reserves said to total over $230 billion.
So, why all the angst over Apple earnings last week? In a nutshell, they missed revenue estimates, which in turn drove their stock price down, which in turn resulted in depleting the value of the company by many billions.
What to blame? Simple. The smartphone market is saturated. We all have one, and fewer of us are eager to upgrade to the next whiz-bang, new and improved, latest model. Count me in that last group.
After progressing through the generations, from iPhone 3 to iPhone 5 to the newest model, the iPhone 6, I'm stopping. At least for a while.
Why? Simple. The retail price on a new iPhone is almost $900. That's not an insignificant purchase. But more than anything else, all those new whiz-bang features are wasted on consumers like me. My needs in a phone are pretty straight-forward:
-- Place calls. Check.
-- Send messages. Check.
-- Take photos and videos. Yes, newer models will always provide more pixels, better features and faster operation. But I already have more megapixels for family and vacation snaps than I know what to do with, and I still don't use 80 percent of the other bells and whistles already available. Check.
-- Surf the Net. Check.
-- Listen to music. Love that Amazon Prime.
-- Apps. Look at maps and get directions ... check the scores ... social media, on occasion ... weather forecasts and radar ... a few games ... plus a whole bunch I never seem to touch. Check.
Don't get me wrong. I love my iPhone and yes, wouldn't want to do without it. I just can't help them with their next $billion until they can give me something new I can't live without.
Maybe the Age of the Smartphone has run up against the Age of the Smarter Consumer.
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."