MGB Dreaming

Driving home today, I noticed a car for sale, parked in the street, on the downtown square of Fayetteville, near the old courthouse. It was a white, 1976 MGB. I owned a white MGB when I was in college around that time. Or should I say, it owned me.

The car I bought was not new. It had rusty holes in the body, so I took it to a friend’s body shop. Over the course of several months, we cut out the rust and welded new metal into the car’s exterior. We added bondo, dry sanded, wet sanded, and dusted. Then I taped it up, and he painted it. The car looked great. But once the tape was peeled off, it wouldn’t start. It had been sitting for about three months. I got it towed to a foreign car repair shop. The shop fixed it, but it didn’t run long before it needed more repairs. Subsequently, after several more visits, I was on a first name basis with the mechanic. Not good. British cars of that era used technologies that were decades old back then. The wiring harness was huge. A separate wire for everything. So, the car had electrical problems. The engine used mechanical devices that were probably designed back in the WW II era. Parts were expensive. When you buy a classic MGB, Triumph Spitfire, or Jaguar, you are really buying the classic design that was used when the first car came off the assembly line, along with a bundle of old school problems.

Over the short life of the car, I probably paid more to repair it than I paid to buy it. I paid to fix one thing after another. But as I was looking at the car by the courthouse today, I wanted it. While my MGB was a headache, driving with the top down at night on a warm summer day, running through the gears, with the roar of the engine in your ears, is an unforgettable experience. What an image.

The youthful, fun, sporty image I have of the MGB supersedes the reality of the car as a poor, unreliable means of transportation and huge time suck. On the day after the first presidential debate, I am reminded that our perceptions of political candidates are often informed by image. Some people like convertibles. Others appreciate a big four-wheel drive truck. A dependable four door family car is appealing to a different group of buyers. Hummers, BMWs, Teslas, Cadillacs, Dodge Chargers, and other brands appeal to various consumers.

Our political candidates are a lot like cars. Trump is a Hummer. Clinton is a Honda Accord. Politicians create an image which appeals to segments of the voting public. If those segments of the population like a car or truck or brand, they like them. If the cars themselves have a rattle, slip a bit when going through the gears, sputter, spit out black smoke, have safety issues, or even if they break down, they make excuses to preserve the image they have of the car. Something that looks great, those car fans assume, must be good.

What looks and sounds great may vary a bit from person to person, but we all fall into the trap of thinking what is beautiful is good. This happens in politics and in our everyday relationships. Some of us benefit from this prejudice; others pay a price.

With age comes a bit of wisdom. I would have been much wiser sooner in my life (or certainly have had more money in my wallet) if my listening skills had been better. My parents already understood that what looks good may not be as great as you think.

I won’t be buying the car; however, that MGB in the square gave me a moment to dream and remember. The dream is free and without consequence. Our other choices, in politics and in personal relationships, may be costly. So, listen carefully. Don’t be fooled by appearances.

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