My Year in a Cult (or Why I Love My MINI Cooper)

Today is the birthday of Lady Bridget Moneypenny. She’s a youthful one-year-old, but you may be scratching your head to place her face or wondering if you were supposed to remember the day for some reason.

It’s okay. I understand. You’re probably not part of our cult–the cult of MINI Cooper.

Lady Bridget is my car–my MINI Cooper S convertible, in pepper white with black interior and soft-top. And trust me, she looks like a Bridget, just like other MINI Coopers look like their monikers–Artemis, Mrs. White, Blue Shmoo, Scarlett O’Dare, Anderson Cooper and so on.

I’ve named my cars before, though never quite as elaborately. But Lady Bridget is special. She’s named after Bridget Jones (a hot mess) and Miss Moneypenny (dignified in a mess of slutty Bond girls).

I bought my car because it was cute, different, good on gas mileage, and a convertible. (It also handles like a race car and lets me outrun tractor trailers and much snazzier cars–I know, I’ve tried…). It was the first time I’d bought a car for its look and feel rather than for price and practicality. It wasn’t until a week or so later, when my MINI Adventure Field Kit (which declared it contained “essential motoring nonessentials”) arrived in the mail, that I realized just how serious these MINI people were about having fun. My kit included window poetry decals, secret owner web site information, a decoder, 3D glasses for receiving special messages on the web site, a book of 101 things I needed to know, and “badges” Bridget could earn for special feats (riding top-down in rain or snow, getting pooped on by birds, or being hit by falling fish, for example). For MINI Cooper, quirky is a way of life. Everything the company does seems to imply a wink.

I guess MINI owners are a bit like that, too. Unlike most cults that aim for like minds, MINI encourages its owners to stand out in the crowd and “you-ify” their cars. There’s just about no part of the MINI that can’t be personalized with a cool design or accoutrement. I’ve left Bridget unadorned, though, because despite her noble gaslines, she’s a simple girl with simple tastes.

MINI owners don’t drive–we “motor.” We store our stuff in the boot, not the trunk. The mechanic doesn’t look under our hoods but under our “bonnets.” We have a hand signal to flash each other when we cross paths on the road, known as the MINI wave or the MINI-loha or MINI PDA. We join motoring clubs and go to rallies. We have multiple cool web sites and an international magazine. We measure our Carfun Footprint (how much fun your car gives you versus its impact on the environment).

I know MINIs are small, but this is ridiculous!

We may not have been like that before we brought our MINIs home, but the company does all it can afterward to elbow us in the ribs and let us in on the joke. The brand mascot is a bulldog (symbolizing the wide, “bulldog” stance of the car’s tires). The company encourages you to name your MINI (which I admit I’d already done) and if it’s a convertible, to never again put up the top. It sends you a stencil in the mail that spells out “MINI parking only” and encourages you to spray-paint your neighborhood. It tells you to get dirty. It sells a bumper sticker that reads “*Actual Size.” It reminds you that “Headlight Hoedown” and “Bootgating BBQ” are good MINI party themes while “Bonnet Breakdancing” and “Floor-Crumb Hors D-oeuvres” are not.

It’s totally goofy, right? But if it wasn’t, it’s likely that the rest of the world would find MINI owners quite annoying. And it’s also why so many people willingly join the cult of MINI. Life can be pretty serious so why not have a little fun with your car? Bridget thinks it’s hilarious to beep and send me a signal to let me know it’s cold out. She keeps track of the hours the top has been down since I bought her, for no good reason except that she can. If I turn on the air conditioner, her glove compartment becomes a refrigerated space to stash snacks. She has a couple of secret compartments so, as my salesman told me knowingly, I can “hide stuff” if I get pulled over by the cops. (Um…okay…) She has a speedometer bigger than my head that sits smack in the middle of the dashboard that more than once has elicited comment and conversation from people in the cars around me (“Does it really go to 160?” Yes. “Have you ever gone that fast?” No.).

Why wouldn’t I want to drive, er, motor in this car????

I knew the car would be fun to drive, I just didn’t know how much fun it would be to simply associate with it. I love walking out of Target and seeing a daughter circling Bridget and trying to convince her mother that she needs one, or seeing an older couple peering inside (top down) and actually cooing about the car’s cuteness. I love having people stop me to ask questions about the car, even when they’re yelled from across the road divider while we sit at a light. My favorite MINI interaction was when I took a Saturday road trip to a horticultural garden in the sandhills of North Carolina. I was walking down one of the garden’s paths when a couple ran up from behind me just to say, “We just wanted to tell you we have the EXACT SAME MINI at home! Don’t you love it?”

People love their MINIs for many, many reasons, not least of which, quite simply, is they really do put a big smile on your face, mostly because they appear to be smiling back at you (honestly, it’s not creepy at all!). Since I bought Bridget a year ago, when the dealership first opened, the Triangle area has been deluged with new MINIs on the road–striped ones, convertible ones, hardtops, checkered rooftop ones. Some car owners might be annoyed to be one in a crowd but not MINI owners. Just about every MINI is slightly different from its sister or brother and it’s fun to check them out and throw their drivers a knowing nod and MINI wave.

I love Bridget. My friends love Bridget. My parents love Bridget, although they don’t seem as excited about their grand-MINI’s birthday as I am.

Oh, well. I guess that even if you admire a MINI from afar, you never really get the joke until you’ve joined the cult.

Happy Birthday, Bridget!

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5 Responses to My Year in a Cult (or Why I Love My MINI Cooper)

  1. Grumble Girl says:

    So nice! Congratulations, lady!! And my kid has had TWO teeny-tiny versions of the Cooper… tres adorable. 🙂

    • Tracey, I honestly think kids like MINIs so much because even at full-size they look kid-size! I’m searching for a small version of mine for my desk but haven’t found one yet. I’ll keep looking, because clearly I’m obsessed.

  2. amberherself says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRIDGET!

    I know exactly how you feel. When I was 17, my sister decided to lease a Mini for two years. I had to BEG her to let me drive it and she didn’t always say yes but when she did I was soooo excited. You really do zoom around in a Mini, unlike any other car.

  3. Amber Back says:

    Great writeup! My MINI just turned 1 not long ago… she got a new set of wheels for her birthday! We’re heading down to MINIs on The Dragon this week! Can’t wait!

  4. Pingback: Until I Met You

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