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25 Years Ago – Winter 1991

Ol’ Paint

By Vince Tidwell
Miata Club of America

I did an irresponsible thing the other night. No, nothing that I would regret the rest of my days, but the kind of act resulting from a poor decision that everyone makes at least once in their lifetime. I was fortunate in that the outcome was as planned, but it caused me to ponder and discard the editorial that was intended for this issue for what you are reading now.

I usually require at least 24 contiguous hours of tranquility to compile an editorial (hey, I majored in engineering and business, not English). In an effort to find that solitude, I decided to travel to a relative’s cabin high in the Tennessee hills, adjacent to the Smoky Mountain National Park near Gatlinburg. It was early November and the probability of any inclement weather at that time of year which could impede my arrival was slim to none – or so I thought.

Wrong – it snowed. I left the club’s office late in the evening and with excellent local road conditions, knowing that there might be scattered snow flurries near my destination. I congratulated myself for taking a generally lower altitude route and topping of the gas tank full of dinosaur juice. Even though it was a slightly different route than I usually take, it appeared to be the same distance, and I had arrived easily on one tank before.

Wrong again – I ran low on fuel well before I planned. There must be a law against gas stations being open past 9:00 PM in Tennessee. Either that or these good or boys figure that anyone with a lick o’ sense ought not be a drivin’ here late at night. Nonetheless, I was determined to get to the chalet and heat up some of the home-made Brunswick stew and country ham (no caviar dreams and champagne wishes for me, thank you) for what would inevitably be a midnight snack. Press on, Vince ol’ boy.

A sign read “Gatlinburg 18 miles”. My fuel gauge then read WELL BELOW the empty mark tick. Average speed on the road ahead of me was 30 mph (great curves) at best, even when dry. My rear tires were showing their wear bar indicators, but I decided to continue. Oh yes, it was 12:30 AM and I had not seen a car for the last ten

minutes. I knew I wouldn’t seee any on the park road (no facilities or residences) I was about to enter either. Once in, there would be no turning back.

“Shouldn’t I stop and do something?”, I silently asked myself. “Why should I risk running out of gas 15 miles down the road in some pitch-black dark remote mountain hollow with only Cherokee Indian spirits and bears to converse with?” I still can’t answer that question. Maybe I’ve seen too many NIKE ads saying “just do it”.

I was ten miles deep into the park when I had to stop and gaze at a wonderment of nature. There was untrodden snow on the road and a thick two inches on the branches above. Absolute silence as well. Eery – very eery. The illumination provided by my megawatt halogen headlights caused a tunnel-like path. Maybe experiencing that was worth the risk. I turned my headlights off to see just how dark it was and quickly concluded that, “I shouldn’t be here – not now and not in these conditions.” Besides, I just knew there was some black bear bigger than the Miata out there that wanted my stew more than I did. Perhaps I should have put the hard top on before I left after all.

It was literally down hill from there as I put the 5-speed into neutral to conserve fuel. “Remarkable,” I spoke out loud to console myself. “This road has been so full of tourists at times that traffic often comes to a standstill”. Thankfully, no one answered.

Finally, I spotted some lights of civilization and once again the Miata’s fuel gauge fooled me. (The next day I filled the tank finding 1/2 of a gallon to spare – equating to another 15 miles.) Through judicious driving and reduction of the air pressure in the tires for better adhesion in the snow, I made it to the chalet without having to share my stew with Smoky.

I pulled my Miata into the garage at the cabin and, as I still often do, even after two years, went down to the garage to look at it before going to bed. This time was different, though. Instead of listening to it cool after a hot track session or admiring a recent wax job, I leaned against it like a cowboy would have leaned against his horse after crossing a high mountain pass. “A good horse delivers his master from his, own foolishness” is what clearly came to mind.

Copyright 1991, Miata Magazine. Reprinted without permission.

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