My wife TIP (The Irish Princess) poured forth to the marriage counselor dude we were seeing her litany of complaints about her boring husband: “All he does is buy plain, dull, four-door cars. He never gets anything fun-like. It’s like he’s always depressed.”
“Are you depressed?” the counselor dude asked.
“I don’t think so; how would I know?” I answered, “If I was depressed all the time, how would I know what it felt like to not be depressed?”
I thought that was a reasonable answer, but TIP rolled her eyes with a see-what-I-mean gesture.
Actually I felt fine (aside from steadily increasing stomach pains, and I was pretty sure I knew where they were coming from) but I elected to keep my mouth shut.
TIP and counselor dude agreed it might be good for us to look at some fun cars.
I was up to my ears in alligators in late 1998 as an employee of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) doing Y2K prep work for my customers at the NYC Department of Correction (DOC), but I assured TIP that as soon as I came up for some air, I would get right on this new marital task.
But (and I already knew this), TIP was not one to wait.
In the late 1990s there was a world wide fear that come midnight December 31 1999, every computer program working with six digit dates, or with 8 digit dates but bad code, would go berserk, break down, or set your bank account balances to what they might have been in January 1, 1900, meaning zero.
People feared that on Y2K airliners would fall out of the sky, railroad engines would speed up and ignore signals, nuclear missiles would stop receiving “All-OK” messages and go into auto-launch mode, and time set coffee makers would brew too soon and burn your morning cuppa joe. Or worse, not brew at all.
While some experts tried to calm people with assurances that all would be fine, there was genuine fear of what might happen after midnight December 31, 1999. People were afraid that the civilized world would be thrown into a Cormac McCarthy-like dystopia leading to chaos and anarchy, or what the Billy Bob Thornton character in the 1998 movie Armageddon described as “…basically the worst parts of the Bible.”
I can joke about it now, but back then the fear was genuine, and those flames of fear were fanned by dooms-day profiteers, survivalists, and by a steady stream of excited radio and TV news channel anchors and talking head experts.
Gun sales went up.
So my cozy little crew of 6 people wiring Rikers Island with fiber and cat-5 cable and putting new networking devices into DOC office facilities and jails had to quickly double in size in order to help the DOC comply with Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s directive to all New York City agencies to exhaustively test for millennial bugs in all computer systems.
We had to hire new people (competing against lots of other organizations), train them, design testing scenarios, get the needed additional testing hardware and networking gear, and then get that equipment up and running, and then test, test, test, and then document the tests for the Mayor’s reviewers.
Not everyone we hired was up to the job, so we had to do some firing, more hiring, and then start the training anew.
Two of the persons we had to fire threatened my sales rep Jack and me with physical violence; these were the kind of people we were dealing with during that crazy time. I started using different subway lines between the DOC and DEC’s mid-town offices to avoid a conflict.
It was also a lot of work to procure the needed NYC purchase orders to fund these unplanned for expenses. While the panic was real, NYC procurement policies were as slow and as wrapped in red tape as ever.
I was leaving for work at 5:15 A.M. every day and getting home long after Will and TIP had eaten dinner.
I developed an ulcer. Sometimes it was just a dull ache; other times I curled up on the floor of my 2 Penn Plaza cubicle in NYC and waited the pain out. I drank big bottles of pepto bismol and chewed extra strength antacids like they were Necco wafers.
That pink stuff worked rather quickly, but the benefits did not last long.
My doctor told me ulcers were becoming an epidemic in his and other practices. If companies were not laying people off, they were making people work 14 hours days, and then there was still the threat of layoffs if the company had even one bad quarter. He prescribed some ulcer medications but admitted my OTC efforts were probably as good as any, despite the overuse.
The last thing on my mind was a fun car. If I was no fun before all this Y2K business started, I was even less fun after.
What happened to that simpler life I was looking forward to in 1982? Well let’s see, marriage, child, suburban home, mortgage, car(s), lawn mower, leaf blower, three bathrooms, another lawn mower, flooding basement, long commutes, and oh yes, Y2K. It all sneaked up on me little by little.
About one week after TIP and counselor dude determined I needed to lighten up a bit, TIP greeted me as I came through the door at the end of a day’s work: “I found the perfect car; it was in the show room; they’re moving it out for us to test drive.”
TIP was acting happy and excited but I saw an edge in her eyes that warned me not to say “I’m too busy, or too tired, or too much in pain.” This was our marriage that was being tested and I was trying not to fail. Again.
She continued: “You always said you liked the Miata, that it was good old fashioned sports car driving without the old fashioned sports car. Right?”
“Right!” I answered.
She was, indeed, right.
Beside, we all know that Miata means: Miata Is Always The Answer.
From the time my 14 year old eyes peeked through the honey suckle property border of my parent’s home and first saw a neighbor working on his new bug-eye Sprite, I have always admired that little roadster from afar, and of course any other little roadster like it.
There was an open air purity and motoring minimalism about these little bug-eyed roadsters that appealed to me.
Not that I wasn’t also in love with every other type of car on the planet; big, bigger, even the biggest 1958 over-chromed Oldsmobile 98 hardtop and the smooth spaceship sleek Citroen DS. It’s just that I also loved the smallest little roadsters as well.
Car-wise, I was easy to please and eager to be pleased.
At 6’1” I suspect I would not fit well into those Sprites; actually I haven’t yet had the chance to find out.
But a few years later there was an even more, less innocent object of sports cars affection, that gave me the inviting “come here” finger wiggle.
“The Avengers” became popular on American TV and steamy British actress Diana Rigg now played the character Mrs. Emma Peel. I didn’t know too much then about her right hand drive sports car, but the combination of the jump suited Emma Peel and the (as I now know it to be) Lotus Elan was, er, very interesting.
And TIP was right, the Miata was well known for looking and sounding just like a good old fashioned British sports car but with modern day Japanese quality and conveniences. And the original NA Miata looked a lot like the offspring from a marriage between a Lotus Elan and a bug eye Sprite.
The Miata TIP found was silver over black. It had a 5 speed manual, A/C, power windows, power steering, and new for the NB 1999 model year, a glass rear window with defroster. It was a basic model with no torsen differential, no leather, no headrest speakers, and no cassette tape deck.
Actually, the available torsen would have been nice. Miatas with the torsen differential and four winter tires do quite well in the snow as long as it is not too deep.
It also had a plain, simple, thin metal key.
There was no 1998 Miata. The last NA was the 1997 model year; the NB came out in March 1998 as a 1999 model.
I fit in it (just barely I thought), but on the test drive I had to stretch my left foot to floor the clutch, so actually, I realized I fit in it pretty well.
Two days later I drove it home. The above photo was at the marital abode a short while after we bought the car.
TIP took a few manual transmission driving lessons with a local driving school and was soon roaring around town with the top down and her long blond hair blowing in the wind.
She got a lot of attention.
Oddly enough, 9 year old William did not want to be seen in the Miata, especially if the top was down. He seemed embarrassed by the car, or by me, or by me and the car, or maybe he just wanted to be under the radar, not noticed, and not seen. Not sure why.
Some specifications: The engine is a DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder 112 cu. in inline 4 with EFI and a cast-iron block and an aluminum head. It develops 140 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 119 lb. ft. of torque at 5,500 rpm, and has a 7,000 rpm red line.
It weighs about 2,300 pounds, has a 50/50 weight distribution, an externally vented absorbed glass mat battery in the trunk, and 15 inch wheels. The consensus of web sites say 0-60 comes in 8.0 to 8.5 seconds. Even the latter rating is plenty fast enough for me.
Over the years I’ve left the Miata 100% stock, even the air box, but have done little things often described on Miata web sites or narrated to me by my anal retentive obsessive mind careful attention to details.
The black rubber molding just behind engine on top of the gray bulkhead that separates the engine room from the windshield and wiper area is a hollow rubber tube that has flattened down over the past 18 years. I threaded some round window insulation through it to plump it up a bit and do a better job of keeping engine heat out of the wiper area.
I noticed that there seemed to be a little heat coming from the vents even when the heater rotary dial was all the way off. The web site remedy was to attach a pull cord to the heater lever and route it through the glove box. Giving it a gentle pull while turning the heater dial to cold would pull it all the way closed. In the above photo you can see the nubby end of a white cable tie routed through the end of the metal heater control lever.
After putting the glove box back in, the end of the cable tie is clearly visible and easy to tug when I want no heat coming through the vents.
The cable for the front hood release brushed the tip of my left foot when I was going to or from the clutch pedal. Another cable tie tightened around that hood release cable and the dash frame above it remedied the situation.
Miata center console covers only have one hinge plus a flat strip of thin plastic that flexes as the console cover is opened and closed. Of course, if one keeps the garage door opener there and open and close that cover a lot, the flat plastic part of the “hinge” breaks.
For $2.29 I bought a set of small brass hinges with screws and installed one of them at the front of the console cover (upper left side of above photo). It now works just as it should. Also visible is the black electrical tape of a failed earlier effort.
The longer lever on the right of the above photo opens the trunk; the shorter lever opens the door to the fuel filler.
As the NB top folds up and back just like convertibles in the old days, Mazda probably missed a detail in the way the inside of the top was not protected from the sun. There is a boot for the top but it is rather clumsy and fragile, so I do not use it much. As a result, the faded interior of the top is clearly apparent in the above photo. I can live with this.
The steering wheel is by Nardi. It feels just right.
Although the car’s mileage is only in the mid 30Ks, it has been almost all local driving and the wear on the edges of the driver’s seat is showing. And during summers I do a lot of dirty and sweaty gardening and mowing work and find it helpful to use some of Will’s old black band T-shirts as an easily washable seat back cover. I see here even that old t-shirt is fading.
It has a usable 5.1 cubic foot trunk. The battery is on the right side under the mat and is easy and clean to change. A mini spare and jack are at center, also under the mat.
It is also getting harder
and harder for me to exit the car gracefully without looking like a old man who should give up this long ago purchased mid-life-crisis mobile and just buy that damn Buick.
But as I recently wrote in the 1978 280Z COAL, and can rewrite here as well, I always smile as I walk towards this Miata with its plain metal key in my hand. As I like to smile, I hope to hang onto the Miata a whole lot longer.
Back at work, the DOC passed its Y2K tests and we felt quite confident that things would go well as the deadline approached. DOC management requested that my entire team be present at both the 60 Hudson Street headquarters and at the Rikers Island MIS trailer for New Year’s Eve.
You can imagine how well that went over with the members of the team and their spouses.
TIP didn’t seem too upset.
So around 4 P.M. on Friday, December 31, 1999, I took a NJ Transit train into Hoboken surrounded by anxious-to-get-drunk teenagers and slightly older party people. At Hoboken, the teenagers and party people took one Path line to 33rd street where it was a short walk to Times Square.
I took the other Path line to the basement of the World Trade Center where it was a short walk to 60 Hudson Street.
As was my habit when using this route, I ran up the three or four flights of stairs next to the escalators from the Path tracks to the WTC concourse because it was good exercise. That was a lot of steps.
The atmosphere at the WTC and its neighborhood was sober and somber. It was only seven years earlier that terrorists had set off a bomb in the basement parking lot of the WTC and all of NYC knew the twin towers were a target on this significant and already scary New Year’s Eve.
The downtown part of the City that I walk through to go from the WTC to 60 Hudson Street was visibly nervous and on guard. It felt surreal. There were dark sedans and SUVs parked and idling at all of the intersections around the WTC neighborhood with the shadowy figures of occupants barely visible through the tinted windows. Every NYPD officer was on duty that night along with many federal government law enforcement personnel.
There were numerous large tractor pulled trailers parked on side streets containing giant diesel generators that had thick black cables running up and into service ports of federal government, state government, and “critical service” buildings in that area. 60 Hudson Street was a “critical service” building.
The mood inside the DOC’s technical offices and computer room at 60 Hudson Street was as chilling as the street outside. No one smiled or joked. We were as prepared as we could possibly be, but we were also more nervous than we expected to be.
DOC management told us the local restaurants would be closing early that night so we ordered a bunch of pizzas and coffee and had to divvy up the costs because we, as Digital Equipment employees, were not allowed to buy New York City personnel any food or beverages. And vice versa. That was part of our explicitly worded contract with the City and the State; no exceptions were permitted. Never mess with NY State Contracts and Procurement rules.
At 11:30 we positioned ourselves in the noisy and cold computer rooms on Hudson Street and Rikers Island with fully charged flashlights and connected laptops and waited while we chewed on pizza slices cooled by the computer room’s frigid A/C. The coffee was cold too.
A few portable TVs with fuzzy reception were on and tuned to the Times Square celebration.
The count down started.
Then the date went from 19991231 to 20000101.
We waited. Again no one joked, or sounded relieved or even smiled. Armageddon might take a minute or two. Be patient.
The lights and the a/c stayed on and all of the computers and networking gear kept humming and blinking.
DEC team members and DOC personnel on Rikers Island started making test inmate calls using previously developed scripts. The network people at 60 Hudson and Rikers ran network tests and traces. Frank, the lead DEC programmer on the project queried the system about every minute or so and it kept coming back and saying “All-OK”.
We waited a half hour and then reran all of the Manhattan and Rikers tests. The inmate phone system and other DOC applications were all operating normally.
It wasn’t until 2 or 3 A.M. that DOC management, looking at our tests and confirming that all of the DOC office, jail, and inmate systems were up and running as designed, sat down with us and laid out extra oversight and service plans for the next few days, just to be sure.
We dodged that bullet. Either Y2K wasn’t the terror we feared, or we had fixed the problems before they became the problems we feared. And, terrorists hadn’t struck us.
DEC, which had been under new management since 1992 when its founder Ken Olsen was replaced by an uncomfortably over groomed and dentally enhanced guy named Robert Palmer, was still having financial woes and once again informed field droids like me that company cars would not be renewed or replaced when their three year leases were up.
We, the customer facing personnel in the field trying to sell and deliver DEC services and products, were getting damn tired of our management’s obsession with eliminating, and then permitting, and then again eliminating what was generally considered to be part of our compensation package and a tool we used every day in our business efforts.
But even more frightening was the increasingly clear fact that DEC management was in over its head and was ineffectively flailing about trying to solve the company’s business problems. Management’s answers to DEC’s dropping fortunes were to cut all employee benefits, lay off some employees, and sell off corporate assets and businesses.
They were trying to fire and cut their way to success. I doubt that approach has ever worked in a modern technology corporation, other than giving stock prices a small and temporary bump.
I was still traveling to Rikers at least once or twice a week. I did make that trip in the Miata when I had to return the still well running and dependable 1996 Taurus sedan, but the trip was neither pleasant nor comfortable. Additionally, DOC uniform officers informed me that the use of a convertible on Rikers Island was not wise for obvious security reasons.
So once again we planned to get a new car for TIP and I would use her 1995 Eagle Vision for work.
TIP wanted a manual transmission car with pizzazz, not unlike the Eagle. That meant a powerful motor and leather seating.
Little did we know we were about to go from the Chrysler frying pan into the VW fire.
Already gone, and it’s “All-OK“.
Related reading (and a definition of the term “Niedermeyerization”):