Traveling the country on business trips generally means boring budget economy rental cars. Bare bones entry models with firm cloth seats, strange odors and tires that squeal at the onset of the slightest of lateral movements. Driving enthusiasts understand that this is no way to enhance a trip and is absolutely unacceptable for a visit to northern California. Enter Turo.
Unlike a chain rental car company, Turo offers rental cars that aren’t destined for the red tag and clearance aisle. These are personal vehicles owned by people like you and me. And that means there should be something interesting in the inventory for everyone.
Low and behold, I found a handful of appealing options available for pick-up at the San Francisco airport. I had favorited several three-pedal convertibles, which didn’t make my choice easy, but when decision time came I opted for a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata in Club trim with the Brembo brakes and BBS wheels. The going rate was an eye-popping $40 per day plus a few bucks for insurance and fees. Lower your eyebrow. This happened.
In order to pick up the car, I took a shuttle over to the local A Loft hotel. The Turo cars were parked in a separate parking lot out back. Turo had a station set up with an attendant with my reservation on file. They snapped off a few photos of the car before my departure, handed over the keys, and off I went. Painless.
If you’re questioning the reliability of a rental car with a clutch, you’re not alone. How many other renters leaped at the opportunity to get behind the wheel of this street legal go kart? Nineteen, actually. There is a renter count under each vehicle’s listing. That’s how I know. The percentage of said renters who could operate a such a car without burning up the clutch is another story.
It wasn’t until I got off Highway 101, just minutes from my hotel, that I noticed it. Letting out the clutch in either of the first two gears resulted in an audible creaking noise that sounded much like bending metal or a bushing in serious need of lubrication. Concerning to some, I ventured on. It was nearing 11 PM and I was exhausted, still jet lagged and had to be in the office in the morning. Whatever that noise was would have to wait. Besides, I’m sure the owner knew about it already.
Just as expected, the noise was still there the following morning. Squeaking aside, the car drove fine and no other noises were heard so I chalked it up to something minor. The weekend was soon approaching and I had no intention of letting some whiney-ass bushing do me in.
The Foothills of California
To much pleasure I discovered Californians only want to work until 4PM, which allowed plenty of time for a dry run up the local Foothills. This was, to me, a fairy tale. A place of unimaginable switch backs and perfectly paved asphalt with views that rivaled the Caribbean islands. In just moments I was to explore the wonders I’d only seen on YouTube. Driver’s Paradise, I bring to you a shiny black answer to every poetic automotive question. Take me in your arms!
And boy did she ever.
The enormously tall tree line neared. The roads narrowed. Mailbox numbers became sparse. The hills rose and the asphalt swept up and away from the skyline like a perfectly cambered Rainbow Road, and the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Club was my dark Baby Peach.
I was now one with machine. Mazda’s engineers know what they’re doing. Over two decades of development has gone in to the MX-5, or Miata, whatever you want to call it.
Skyactiv is a real thing. It’s all about adding lightness and that philosophy shines through the car like the brightest star in the night sky. Every nuance of the road is transmitted through my finger tips, and unlike a go-kart the steering weight is effortless. The sorriest of weaklings could pilot this car. The grumpiest of dwarfs would perk up and laugh hysterically at the ease of which the MX-5 absolutely balls around corners.
Was this real life? I was nearing an experience proving too much to download. With no other reasonable action in mind, there was but one thing to do. I had to stop and take a selfie.
I didn’t know what else to do. All I could do was fist pump because – shit, I didn’t know how else to convey the amount of awesome that I had just consumed. I barely had time to swallow and the drive hadn’t yet been digested. This fist pump thing just happened. No apologizes.
The sun was on it’s way down and there was plenty of road left to explore but I was in no rush. Several motorcycles and small sports cars drove by at a rapid pace. My eyes locked with each rider and driver mid-corner in the least homosexual way possible. “You don’t know how lucky you are.”, I thought, while standing with arms up and wide open on the edge of a cliff.
What a life to live out here. What a dream. I realized what I must look like and put my arms down.
Back in the Miata we continued climbing and snaking upward. Then, on the side of the road, another small unpaved bit of road just large enough for a full-size pick-up truck but there didn’t seem to be anything worth looking at – just trees and more hill. It was a pull-off for slower vehicles. These take-over spots seemed to be around every other corner. California, you’re doing it right.
Just before the crest the road widened with pull-off areas on both sides of the road. Over my shoulder was a brilliant view of Mountain View and San Jose. With no place to be I figured I might as well stop and take it all in once more.
With the sun at my back I opened up the camera app once again. I held my iPhone by my side and started clicking. My shadow casting a Superman’esque silhouette. And with the Miata and in this place I felt every bit on top of the world.
It took no more than an hour for California to blow my mind and the best was yet to come. This time tomorrow I was to start the real adventure, west through the Redwoods and down to Santa Cruz. That story, coming soon.