I drive a lot of cars. As a freelance automotive journalist, I test and review an average of three new vehicles a month, of various makes and models. I even drove the new F56 Mini hardtop back in February at an event just for media. And although I had a blast the first time around, nothing prepared me for MTTS.
My MTTS adventure began in San Francisco, where I was able to meet and mingle the night before the start with a range of Mini owners from all walks of life. I noticed the wide age range, variety of backgrounds and, most of all, the passion each owner had for her Mini.
On most automotive press events, journalists are isolated, away from the people who actually buy and drive the cars. Not so in this case. Within a few hours I’d made new friends from Seattle, Arizona and Chicago, plus a pair of crazy Germans who were driving their Mini around the world. I even got to meet Tony Hawk, who was preparing for his awesome kickoff stunt the next morning.
My ride for the next three days was a 2014 Mini Cooper S hardtop I dubbed Grisu, after the animated dragon, inspired in part by the green checked livery on the sides. By end of the first day, new friends and I had decorated Grisu with stickers that were handed out at the morning’s Rise and Shine, including a Magic 8 ball and one that said “Whiptastic Handling.”
We drove the less-traveled roads from San Francisco to Sacramento, wound our way through the mountains to beautiful Lake Tahoe and up to Reno, all in one long caravan. The friendliness of the drivers was an unusual sight to see. Everyone waved as we passed. Even in my borrowed Mini press car, I felt a part of the group. We were all on the same team.
On our way from Reno to Wendover, NV, several unlucky Minis got pulled over by a swarm of Nevada CHP on the highway (who were most likely alerted by the Reno police who I’m sure Mini paid handsomely to close streets and direct us out of town). Even though I was relieved to have escaped a ticket, a part of me still ached for my compatriots. I felt nearly as rotten as they undoubtedly did.
The journey continued across the Nevada desert, with wide-open expanses of sky blackened by distant thunderstorms. That night in Wendover, I saw my first-ever pet fashion show and made even more friends, including a married couple that owned five Minis, including a GT and an old classic hardtop. I also got a photo of Grisu with the airplane used in the movie “Con Air.”
My last morning on MTTS was grey and misty. We’d hoped to drive the famous Utah salt flats, but access was denied due to weather, literally raining on our parade. But it couldn’t dampen the spirits of our Mini family. We joked, exchanged hugs and said goodbye, as I would be leaving the group not far away in Salt Lake City.
The final stint with Grisu was a long, rainy straightaway, flanked by seemingly endless stretches of wet, grey-white salt. As I sped down the highway toward my next assignment, I contemplated the unique culture of the Mini community and its zeal for life, contrasted with the often cynical and jaded world of automotive journalists.
At my final stop, I extracted my luggage from the boot and my co-driver took the wheel. I lingered at the curb just long enough to see Grisu disappear around the corner. Part of me wished I were going all the way to Boston, but duty called, and it was time to move on to the next test drive. I will always remember the warm, inviting feeling I felt on MTTS and strive to carry that with me, infusing some Mini-style sunshine into every cloudy day.
Laura Burstein is an automotive and lifestyle journalist based in Los Angeles. She has written and test-driven for Automobile, Car and Driver, CNET, Forbes, and Edmunds.com. She is also editor-in-chief of Road & Chic, a new online magazine that covers cars, travel, fashion, beauty and food.
2014 MTTS Blog »
- August 12, 2014