I apologize in advance for my verbosity and the lengthiness of this letter, but I think it’s true that when one is passionate about something, one can go on forever about that something. And this something is really something. Or something.
I grew up a huge fan of The Beatles and also VW Beetles. But then a teenier and unbearably cuter car rolled into view: The MINI Cooper. I was instantly enamored. My seventh grade boyfriend even got me a mini yellow MINI model for my church confirmation. I still have it yet today.
When I turned sixteen, my lovely Grammy gave me her ’96 Chrysler Concorde. It was a fair bit longer than a yacht. My parents used that as part of a trade-in for my younger brother’s first vehicle (still not over it), so I was left carless. As much as I begged and pleaded with my aunt, the designated coinpurse, I was not allowed to get my coveted MINI Cooper as they were “small and unsafe.”
‘Sputtering’ doesn’t begin to cover my reaction to those words.
I ended up with a Dodge Caliber, which was… not a MINI. But I got a job at a car dealership in town and always kept an eye on the inventory.
One day, a co-worker told me that someone had just traded in a MINI Cooper hardtop to another location. I hadn’t even seen it, but I had it sent up. I’m pretty sure that was that salesman’s easiest, quickest sale to date.
I loved that MINI. It was black and had broad, red stripes up the bonnet, across the roof, and down the boot. I found blue ones online and had the red ones replaced. I bought ridiculously huge fog lamps for the grille and had a push-pull, choke-like knob installed to turn those on and off. I bought an S chrome gas cap to replace the non-S gastank door. It was a beauty, and, oh, it was so mine.
Then, as it happens, I got into (read: obsessed) the BBC show Sherlock. Shortly thereafter, and I don’t even know how I found this (read: I was probably google-searching any and all things Sherlock Holmes), I saw that MINI had a Baker Street Edition.
I had to have it.
I went straight to the local dealer, MINI of Omaha, met with the most perfect saleswoman and kindred spirit, Kim, and I probably had the Baker Street Edition ordered that same day.
Saying goodbye to my first MINI was tough. I got emotional right there in the parking lot. I knew it would be going to a good home and an excellent driver who would have even more fun with it than I did. I’ve yet to see it around town, but I’m still hoping to someday.
The Baker Street, though, woof. What a beauty. The Rooftop Grey paint, the dapper-cut bonnet stripes, the door sills, the door scuttles, the dash panel, the floor mats, the seat fabric and stitching, oh, God, I’m drooling just thinking about it. Utterly gorgeous. And don’t even get me started on the delivery process, oh, too late:
When one orders a MINI directly from Oxford, one gets to track their baby, and that’s not even my word, online. Like a package. Like a delightful bundle of joy. There is no stone left unturned by MINI. They literally think of everything and everything is bespoke and simply perfection. But yes, you get to watch your baby being ‘born’ and when it’s having its last check-up and when it’s making its way across the pond and when it reaches dry land.. It’s just a wonder to behold.
Now I’m getting emotional again.
Anyway, that MINI was my pride and joy and I planned on having it until it couldn’t tick over any more miles.
That is, until, that feat was made impossible.
One night in February of this year, I was driving to see my dad. His driveway leads out onto a busy street, so it’s sometimes nerve-wracking to park in it. This night, as with every night, I signaled my turn from at least two blocks away. As I was slowing and turning into his driveway, I looked up in my rear view mirror and saw headlights coming quickly right for me. I thought, “they’ll see me, they’ll see me, oh my God, they aren’t going to stop!” and I went to press the accelerator. The last thought I had as I stepped on the gas pedal was, “this’ll be a narrow miss.”
If you’ve never been in a car accident, you won’t know what I’m talking about; and if you’ve seen one on TV or in a film, you still won’t know what I’m talking about; but there is a noise unlike any other. Louder than I can explain. I can still hear it if I think about it.
A suburban rear-ended me going about 45mph which swiftly sent me skidding in the snow and T-boning into a utility pole in my dad’s yard.
In my daze, I tried to open my door and it wouldn’t open. I then panicked a bit and shoved into it a few times. All of a sudden, it was like someone had reached in and lifted me over my gearshift, across the passenger seat, and out the door. To this day, I don’t remember how I got out so easily that way.
I walked around to the driver’s side of my MINI and my heart absolutely broke. I couldn’t even feel any pain other than that, between the adrenaline, the shock, and the anger. When the driver of the suburban got out, a teenage girl, I yelled at her. “I am so fucking pissed off at you!”
My MINI, my baby, which I was supposed to have forever, was gone. But I was alive. And I was alive because of my MINI. The curtain airbags kept my head from crashing right into the window, the seatbelt kept me from going anywhere. I was able to walk away. I sustained a bruised and very sore right side, a stiff neck, and anxiety. The MINI sustained quite a bit more.
You can see how deeply the pole lodged. It still hurts to look at these.
It took a long time to get over, and I’m not particularly over it. It was a loss. It was also a loss of some of my confidence in driving. I’ve always loved driving. I go for drives to calm down or just for fun. After this accident, any time I would pull up to a stoplight or stopsign or anywhere someone would have to stop behind me, my eyes would be glued to my rear view mirror, pleading with everything I had that the person would see me and stop. Even in broad daylight. There were a few times I actually began to take evasive action and pull to the side because I thought, for sure, this person isn’t going to stop.
Now, with insurance and the rental car and having a job, I knew I couldn’t wait the month or so to replace my baby with another Baker Street, so I had to go for something else. Which was also very difficult. Part of me wanted desperately to just have it back. Go back to the way things were. Start fresh. But then part of me knew it wouldn’t be the same, even if it was physically the same down to the last V on the dash.
I’d only had her for a year. And in that year, she was kept in a garage for three months while I was living in London. I hated that I’d missed out on those three months of driving her. She was truly my dream car.
When the Clubman came out years ago, I’d always loved the idea of the barn doors. They were adorable and fun, not to mention totally handy and perfect for when you’ve got your shopping and can’t manage a hatch.
The Clubman came to mind when I had to look for a new car. And because I couldn’t possibly drive anything else, obviously, I was back at MINI of Omaha.
I also thought, sort of as an homage, I’d get it in British Racing Green. I’d actually painted my nails that color as I was in mourning. I warned you: passionate.
MINI of Omaha found me a 2014 British Racing Green Clubman, manual (because how could I do anything else), brand new, with leatherette heated seats, a panoramic moon roof; pretty much everything I wanted besides the black wheels and bonnet stripes. Which was fine, I could take care of those things later.
They got it in for me and it was beautiful. It was hard after the Baker Street, but I grew to love my new MINI, of course. Especially when I went in to order bonnet stripes and I noticed that I could get Baker Street Edition bonnet stripes… Ohhhh, boy. I couldn’t contain my excitement at the parts counter. And when they were installed? Wow. It was perfect. The perfect combination.
I had a Black Jack rear view mirror cover and a Black Jack grille badge to match. I also installed another grille badge that had a quote from Sir Alec himself, “I don’t want bloody women driving my cars.” It was all coming together to be my little British Chappy.
Then this past Saturday, 30th of August, just hours after my mom’s wedding, I was driving to dad’s – this may sound familiar – and as I neared his driveway, I noticed that his friend had parked a bit crooked and if I parked behind him, I’d have to let him out eventually. For the sake of ease and laziness, I decided parking on the side street would be best.
There was not another side street to the west until further south, so I moved over to get into the center turning lane to take a turn eastward. As I was slowing, downshifting, and moving into the center turn lane, no sooner had I done so that I heard loud, drawn-out screeching of tires. I couldn’t see anything, so I had no idea what was coming until it hit me head-on.
The impact was hard and loud, but luckily I had no time to react, otherwise I would have tensed up. When I came to a stop, I was facing the opposite direction on the opposite side of the street. My horn was blaring, the airbag had gone off and the windshield had shattered. I had glass and airbag residue in my mouth. I tried to open my driver’s door and it wouldn’t open. In my panic, I rolled down the window and was prepared to climb out. Thankfully, I didn’t even attempt it, and I crawled across the gearshift and passenger seat to get out that way. Even in my state, thinking, “this is harder than last time.”
I walked around the back of the car because the horn was just so loud. I couldn’t even look back at it. My left hand was bleeding and I could hardly walk, but I almost started to walk the couple houses to my dad’s before I thought better of it. Luckily, there were, what seemed like, about six witnesses who took care of calling the police and getting the driver’s license plate number and letting me phone my dad. I remember asking, “do you hear the horn? I was in an accident.” He half-shouted, what?! and I was so upset and furious that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I shouted back, “CAN’T YOU HEAR THE HORN? Just come down the street toward the horn!”
For the sake of things to come, I won’t go any further with the details, but I will repeat what the responding officer told me: When the tow truck came to pick up my car as I was taken to the hospital, the tow truck driver thought he was picking up a fatality. That told me exactly how bad it looked.
I mean, I knew it was bad. It was a head-on collision with a drunk driver. I couldn’t put weight on my right foot, I had a laceration requiring stitches on my left middle finger and couldn’t use my left arm – it took the airbag in less than a stride and my chest took the rest of it – I had cuts and glass all over me. Amazingly, the x-rays were negative for breaks in my foot, hand, and chest; I had no breaks anywhere else. I am, however, mottled with bruises and contusions, and in pain just about everywhere.
But I’m alive.
I didn’t actually see photos of my car until the next day. Then not in person until I had to go to the impound lot to get my personal items.
My British Chap saved my life. MINI saved my life again.
So, in ready conclusion, it is with my whole heart that I say: Thank you, MINI. I would not be here today if it weren’t for your brilliant engineering and attention to safety. There was a reason I was inexorably drawn to your little cars, what, with their bulldog stance and protective snarl. You better believe that as soon as I can physically and psychologically get behind the wheel again, I will be back, yet again, at MINI of Omaha. How could I possibly drive anything else.
Sincerely and loyally yours,
Christina Friis, MINI Owner.