The e-mail popped into my inbox one morning, buried among the intraoffice notes and the poorly worded Nigerian ads for male enhancement. There wasn't much to it--no real introduction and no greeting, just a simple question. Is there anywhere in the United States where I can go surfing and skiing in the same day? We get asked stuff like this all the time. People tend to think the offices of car magazines are stocked with spare copies of God's Answer to Everything, and so we receive all kinds of queries on all kinds of subjects on a regular basis. They run the gamut from the ordinary ("What's the capital of East Upper Furbuckle?") to the sublime ("How can I weld the rear axle into my Camaromino SS so it doesn't curl my mullet northways durin' clutch dumps?"). And while we don't always know the answers, we read everything we get.
That said, on the surface, the surf-and-ski answer was an easy one: Southern California. People claim to do that sort of thing all the time there, but then, Californians also pay for purified oxygen in bars and elected a single-minded robot death machine from the future to be their governor. Stuck in the middle of a drab Michigan winter, we couldn't help but wonder: True snow and surf in one day?
If you take a look at a map of the Los Angeles Basin, it becomes fairly obvious: At first, yes, such a trip seems feasible. Beaches line the coast, and L.A.'s city center is only a hundred miles away from snow-capped mountains and a few big-name ski resorts. One catch: Those hundred miles cover some of the most traffic-snarled highways known to man. My curiosity was piqued--could you really leave Hollywood during the morning rush, hit the slopes at lunch, and make it back in time for a beachside dinner? A few phone calls to gloating West Coast friends ("It's seventy-five degrees outside! How's the snow?") indicated that, under the best of circumstances, it might be possible. Hanging up the phone, I stared out the window and tried to see beyond the blanketing gray skies. Running home at lunch, I threw some clothes into a bag, hastily booked a flight, and decided to get the hell away from Detroit's winter to find out for myself.
On a clear day, Los Angeles wakes up with a bang. The sun hits the hills, the colors burst into life, and boom--everything looks perfect. It doesn't matter if you hate California; the landscape sparkles, and you immediately love L.A. You forget that for much of the year, the town's skyline is coated in more brown muck than a stockyard's floor. You want to soak up the fabulous, and soak it up now.
For this reason, few things are more fittingly L.A.-esque than a convertible. Enter the new Mazda MX-5 (ne Miata) Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT). Essentially a standard MX-5 equipped with a three-piece folding steel roof, the hardtop Mazda is the perfect car for a cross-town, mountain-climbing mission. It's small enough to dart in and out of holes in traffic, making it easy to navigate L.A.'s jumble of freeways and car-clogged surface streets. The MX-5's folding roof is quick to lower in the summer and makes the cabin both warm and quiet in the winter, which means the Mazda is comfortable regardless of season or location. And finally, unlike many hardtop convertibles, it's fun to drive. The $24,350 MX-5 is a sports car in the traditional sense, one that trades gut-thumping power and torque for nimble reactions, excellent steering, and forgiving handling. It's been said before, but the clich is still true: think of a modern, reliable Lotus Elan, and you've got the general idea.