How Off-Roading A Smart Fortwo Completely Changed My Life

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A common question that I get is why do I love the Smart Fortwo so much? Car enthusiasts will rightfully point out its less-than-optimal fuel economy and how its small size makes it a good choice for a seemingly dwindling number of Americans. The little Smart Fortwo has always been more than just a car to me. Instead, these cars feel more like the warm embrace of a good friend. They’re forever intertwined with my identity for a number of reasons. A Smart was not just the place where “Mercedes” was born, but where I found a part of myself that I didn’t know existed. Taking a Smart Fortwo off-road changed my life.

This story first takes us back to Halloween 2014. I came out as transgender to what was originally warming support. But it didn’t last long and before I knew it I was losing just about everyone in my life. My best friends tried to force me to be a man at a wedding that was going to take place two years in the future. I couldn’t fathom why it was happening. You’d think that your best friends of all people would be there for you. But they clearly weren’t, and with a heavy heart I decided to end over a decade-long friendship. Later, I would find out that they spread a rumor that I just went “crazy” against them, which probably explains why others in the friend circle never reached out.

Relatives weren’t any better. Something that I will never forget is the sharp pain of hearing a relative tell me that I killed their family member. You also never forget hearing “I can never love you again” coming from someone you care about. For a while, I was alone and had to live with a loving member of Opposite-Lock just to escape the heartbreak and attempts at conversion therapy.

In a still vulnerable state and desperate for something resembling positive feedback I did the most boneheaded thing that I’ve ever done. In 2017, I cosigned for a comically bad subprime business loan pretending to be a mortgage. The damage to my credit was so catastrophic that I’m still recovering from it today. And somehow that wasn’t even the worst thing to happen. I’m not even mentioning toxic relationships or a roommate drawn to a violent felonious lifestyle. I’m talking someone who had a life goal of constructing a makeshift drug lab in my basement and protecting it with an illegal firearm. These events and more brought me to the absolute lowest part of my life. There was not a day that I didn’t cry and that I didn’t fear for my safety.

Now it’s 2018. I was more than three years into my new life and I promised myself that I would rise above what brought me down. I moved out of that horrible house. Instead, I went my own way. I rented my own apartment and treated myself to getting a motorcycle license.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

I followed it up with my first motorcycle, a Buell Blast. The little Buell was followed up by an epic vintage Honda Gold Wing, a Suzuki GS850G, and even a Yamaha DT175. Life was turning in the right direction and I was feeling accomplished. The therapist that I had since 2015 concluded that I no longer needed her services.

One thing that I never had was confidence. It was something that I didn’t have before transition and those years in a series of unfortunate events didn’t make anything better. I was a hot mess and more risk-averse than even the most conservative legal departments. And I didn’t know it, but I never really tapped into my true abilities or personality. Many people saw me as the old me, but more or less with a new coat of paint.

Little did I know that it would take one event and one little car to change that.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

Sometime that year, reader and Opposite-Lock denizen Shop Teacher posted about taking an old Geo Metro on an adventure. He went on an endurance rally called the Gambler 500. The goal? Make a $500 beater survive 500 miles, much of it off-road. Along the way you’d pick up trash and make new friends.

The concept seemed amazing to me, and I had to participate. As luck would have it, 2018 had two Gambler 500s in Illinois, and fall was coming right around the corner. Shop Teacher, his friend, and I decided to partake in the fall run. But instead of cars, we’d do it riding aboard a trio of cheap scooters. They acquired beat examples of the cult-classic Honda Helix while I found myself a 150cc Chinese clone of a Honda Ruckus.

My little “Chuckus” hadn’t run in four years, but all it took was a new $20 carburetor and a $20 battery to bring it back to life. I speed-tested the little guy and it got up to 55 mph, which was good enough for me.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

But the little scoot did have one problem that I couldn’t fix in time for the rally, and it was the fact that it rode on bald tires. The Gambler team that welcomed me in their ranks told me to just bring new tires with me and they’d mount them the night before at camp.

Of course, I should have known that there wasn’t a chance at getting those tires installed. Everyone got sloppy drunk at camp and someone set the tires on fire to try to bead them. That’s about as far as things got. But I’m happy that things went down like that because what happened next would change my life.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

The next morning I was faced with the tough reality that if I was going to do this Gambler 500, I would have to do it from my trusty 2012 Smart Fortwo, not from the scooter. I bought the little car new and it has served me so well. There was no way that I could hurt it off-road. I had visions of the poor thing tumbling down hills and getting totaled. But I drove hours from home to do this, so I said screw it, I’ll make it work.

 

One of the first stops on this rally was an off-road park was The Cliffs Insane Terrain in LaSalle County, Illinois. I had never been to an off-road park before. Hell, I had never been off-road before! And here I was at a park notorious for killing cars.

My team had somewhat scattered, so I had nobody with me. Still, I gave the park’s employee at the gate my money and they pointed me to the trail that I was supposed to go up to start my trek. I tapped my smart’s steering wheel, thanked it for being an awesome car, then put the hammer down.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

This trail entrance was unforgiving on its own, being steep with rocky ruts and tall ledges to climb up. I didn’t see the Smart with its low ground clearance making it. But learning in real-time, it hit me that these cars are tiny, with practically no overhangs. So I could just drive around anything that looked too bad. And the steps were actually doable because there wasn’t a front end to scrape.

The little Smart made it through the opening trail with ease, amazing not just the park’s owners but other people at the Gambler, too. I mean, this was a completely stock car looking like the driver had followed a bad Apple Maps direction.

My Fortwo’s tiny size, short wheelbase, and no overhangs proved to be a winning combination at this park. I saw obstacles, calculated what it would take for my little car to get through without damage, then did it. And every time it worked out my mind was blown.

In fairness, The Cliffs had manicured the trails prior to our arrival. This meant that the trails were easier than usual. But that somehow didn’t stop the park from killing countless vehicles. Some Subarus hydrolocked while a Geo Metro lost a control arm and a Buick Century lost an entire rear axle.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

Somewhere else, a Mercury Cougar exploded like in the movies. But the little Smart? It couldn’t be stopped.

Deep in the park, an RV was given a full send through a valley and collapsed on the other side. This caused a blockage that required cars to go through a bypass. This bypass was meant for ATVs and wasn’t manicured before the event. A log lodged in the bypass killed that Buick’s axle. But the Smart? Its tiny size meant that I just drove around it. Later in the bypass were two ruts, dug in presumably by Jeeps or trucks giving it full skinny pedal to make it through mud. There was no way the Smart could have made it through the ruts. But as it happened, the hump in the middle was perfect to be straddled by something with a narrow track, like a Smart.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

Later, I made it down a rock wall without a single scratch. The park’s owners were baffled as to how, as even lifted Jeeps couldn’t get down without high-siding at least a little.

I didn’t know it, but this was bolstering confidence that I didn’t even know that I had. One single lap of the park had killed about half of the 100-car or so field, but my Smart did so well that I took it on a second and a third lap.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

Later that Gambler, I used my Smart’s towing hitch to pull a Ford F-250 around a gas station. The little car was also instrumental in saving a bunch of Gamblers stuck in deep mud in a dark forest. So long as I kept it near redline it didn’t get stuck in mud, and I was able to discover a way out for those stuck people. I was paid for my services in cheap beer.

By Sunday morning I felt like a new person. This event was so outside of my comfort zone that I couldn’t even wrap my head around what I just did. But myself and the little car survived two off-road parks and a huge road trip and neither of us were worse for wear. And to think, the original plan was to do a milder rally on a scooter.

 

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

After that rally, I thought that if I could do that then I could do anything that I wanted. My newfound confidence gave me the power to do whatever I put my mind to and by extension, be who I wanted to be. If it was that fun getting out of my shell just to off-road a Smart, then what awaits if I just let myself be who I think I really am? I never expected it, but the Gambler unintentionally taught me to never be afraid to be the person that I wanted to be, not the person that I thought I needed to be.

I would return to the Illinois Gambler again the very next year, where I would finally succeed rallying a scooter on the trip.

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Photo Credit: Mercedes Streeter

Armed with the knowledge that I’m more powerful than I think, I took that little Honda Elite 150D on an off-road adventure, going where few scooters before it have been. The Smart got to go a second time, too, and did just as wonderful as it did the year before. In the end, the Mercedes you know today was truly unleashed. I came out of the other end thinking that the future was more in my hands than I previously thought. The future is what I would make it to be.

Fast-forward to today and here I am, publishing stories that I love to write and that you love to read. I found friends who love me and I love right back. I found the love of my life, and I even have my family back. It’ll be hard to forget my experiences between 2015 and 2017, but now I always look towards the future and for what’s next. And for that, I have to thank one crazy off-road event for cracking that shell.

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81 Responses

  1. What are the chances of an Autopian meet up/official site entry at a future Gambler event? $500 beaters and their ethos are obviously a big part of the site’s story.

    I’ve never done one before, but friends of mine have, and they’ve universally called it an awesome experience.

  2. I was present on the other site when you were talking about some of the shit you were going through-how you had been treated by your inner circle and family. That was heartbreaking. But, the love & support showered upon you was heartening.

    When you told about changing & getting gussied-up in your little car, I knew you would be ok. 1) even with all your fears(both of rejection/ridicule and possible physical assault), you knew you had to, so you did. 2) even with all the angst & fear, you made it funny for us to read. The ability to see the humor of a situation when you’re neck-deep in a cesspool is an invaluable strength.

    So glad you’re here!
    Love,
    (formerly Recovering Gaijin)

  3. Very inspiring story. So inspiring, this will be a long post. Fair warning. Thanks for posting this, Mercedes.

    Being gay and choosing to live in my native deep south has been a challenge at times, but I’ve made friends through cars and always knew that no matter how discouraged I got, I could usually go for a drive and clear my head.

    I never knew how much I depended on this freedom until I ended up car-less (10+ years ago) due to *situations*. I could write a seemingly endless story about that period, but it leads to me finding my Taurus, seemingly put in my path, a car only I would love this much, and it getting me through some of the worst times of my life as I doubled the mileage on it. I lived in it at one point because the guy I was with had nowhere to go. (Upon hearing this, my cousin immediately lent us his vacation cabin until we rented a place). Turns out the guy was an abusive pig and totally not worth it, but I felt like I wasn’t going find anyone better.

    But I did. I left that loser, in my Taurus (that he also tried to destroy). I have since met my partner and my dreams have come true, I’m truly happy, as an adult, for the first time. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s closer to it than I deserve. I thought I knew what being in love felt like. I had no idea. I was pretending, I guess, thinking I couldn’t do better. I was so wrong.

    The Taurus is here with me, and having been forced to get rid of SO MANY cars I loved for bullshit reasons, I refuse to get rid of this one. There is no rust, it’s drivetrain is in good condition, it’s not beat up and it’s gotten me through so much.

    My partner is in full agreement. He was basically forced to get rid of a 2000 Pontiac Bonneville that he absolutely loved. He compares every car to it. He drives a 2011 Accord Special Edition now, and would rather have another Bonneville. He agrees its better in many ways, but “its just not the car that Bonneville was”. I respect his opinion just like he respects my love for my Taurus. He’s a big guy and the FWD Bonnie just fit him. I’d love to find him one that isnt trashed or 2,000 miles away. People who love cars should drive what they love.

    1. This was a very good read, thank you for sharing. The comments about the Bonneville make me think of some of the Torch comments about cars being an irrational thing and can never judge anyone for loving what they love.

      1. Exactly and thank you!

        Speaking as a guy who owned (and loved) about a dozen Ford Tempos (and about as many 80s-90s Tauruses), I can definitely attest to that!

        The FWD Bonnie was a pretty damn good car. Those and the Grand Prix were about the only two sedans I liked when I worked for a GM dealer in the early 2000s. I absolutely hated most everything else, even rebadged variants of the Pontiac. The Chevys were cheaper inside, it that was possible, and the Buicks drove like pigs in comparison.

        They stocked very few Oldsmobiles, but I did like the Alero a lot more than it’s Grand Am twin. And I absolutely fell in love with a first generation Aurora after driving it from one dealer to another, about two hours away. I was extremely impressed with that car.

  4. Love the Buick Century pic. It looks like what we used to call a “Cleveland Cruiser” where about 15% of the lower sheet metal is more or less uniformly rusted away. Those guys needed David Tracy and his 100 dollar Harbor Freight welder to glue that rear axle right back on.

  5. People don’t realize how great smart cars are! They always seem to be the butt of a joke, but they’re better than people give them credit for. Side note, when did you get the convertible 450 in the 3rd picture???

    1. I got that 450 in March 2018. Sold it in April 2020 or so because the transmission was always a pain in the butt. It had a knack of randomly throwing the three bars of death, requiring a tow home. Then the alternator seized multiple times, because of course it did. lol

  6. Wow. Just wow! What a fantastic story. I really enjoyed your writing before, but I absolutely LOVE it now! You’ve been through so much, every single one of your articles reads like a pitch for a movie, and they just keep getting better and better.

  7. Mercedes, it breaks my heart to hear how you’ve been treated, what you’ve gone through. I expect this community will always welcome you as you are (and I hope everywhere else one day, but maybe that’s naive).

    Thank you for sharing these stories. It’s brave and impressive and also it enhances what would already be excellent automotive writing about really cool stuff. So glad you’re here!

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. Amazing how the vehicles in our life can have such a lasting and large impact on our lives. I am so happy to hear you are in a better place (both in life and in job).

    I have always liked hearing your stories both here and in Jalopnik. Keep wheeling!

    P.S. I hope at some point you get to take a trip to Italy. It is fun to see the SMART cars ending up as the large vehicles in some of those cities.

  9. I love this story. I had a kind of similar story that led to me becoming interested in cars and got me where I am now. It is quite powerful how things like this can make such a big difference in changing lives for the better. I am glad you have found your place in life!

  10. Paragraph two, it hit me.

    See, in March, I came out – to myself as much as everyone else – as gay. I was 36 (now I’m 37!) It took me a long ass time to admit that. Hell, it took me a long-term, straight relationship collapsing to admit that. And I know exactly WHY it took me that long to admit that.

    You have the general family discomfort – which still very much exists, I felt very much like the elephant in the room at an Easter gathering, and there’s still a bunch of dancing around it. You have a mom who is extremely Catholic and thus has said some terrible things. You have a summer job where people titter and laugh because two men were HOLDING HANDS in a GROCERY STORE. But I remember a VERY SPECIFIC moment that made me try to, at least, pretend I wasn’t, both to others and myself.

    I was driving with a friend from school, though at this point I was in college and he was working already. It was night and we were in an industrial-ish area of town, near some railroad tracks. And we were talking about stuff, and he said: “I hope we stay in touch and stay friends for the rest of our lives. Unless you’re gay.”

    And I remember every detail because of that. I won’t say that conversation ruined my life, life moves on, but it definitely pushed me to hide from myself.

    I’ve been lucky in the past few months, honestly, but I don’t know what it would have been like if that hadn’t happened, and I hadn’t convinced myself that there was no way I could live my life as a happy gay man. That the only way I could keep friends would be to force myself to stop being gay. And, well, that didn’t work obviously, because it never does.

    I was, in all honesty, afraid. And your story reminds me of why I was afraid. But it also makes me hope that all of the people coming out – no matter how they identify – won’t have to either live through that experience, or be afraid they might. I hate that we kind of have a universal experience – and I know that talking with guys like me it IS a depressingly universal experience, at least if you’re in your mid-30s or older.

    There are tons of differences between us, obviously – I’m a medium-sized bear, for instance – but that I recognized your experience made me wish it wasn’t so universal, but grateful that you could share it.

      1. No, and he is actually straight. People can be homophobic without secretly being gay.

        He’s not the same person he was back when this happened – we’ve talked since I came out, and he was supportive – but I’m not going to make excuses for him and it’s a big reason why I don’t go out of my way to talk to him.

        1. My best friend of 20+ years once said over the phone, in regards to my spending the night, “you’re not gay are ya”. That stuck with me.

          In his defense, he was my biggest supporter when I did come out, once he finally accepted it. “But you don’t act gay.” lol

          I guess we’re all guilty of it (assumptions), all we can do is try to do better. I’m not the world’s manliest man, by any means, but it can take some people a long time to figure me out. I don’t hide who I am, I’m not going to deny who I am. At least, not for the past 20 years or so lol.

          1. I’ve been joking with friends that I’m not “TV gay.” I’m not fashionable, I’m not thin, I don’t like musical theatre, I’m not nearly sassy enough to be the sassy best friend. It kinda fucks with your head if you don’t see yourself represented in media though. Like you’re doomed to be alone as you don’t fit with any community you can find.

            Luckily I have found the place where I belong, which is apparently among hairy Star Trek fans.

            1. And that’s why it took me as long as it did to find my partner. We’re out, I mean, we have “married couple” conversations at the local grocery store we go to at the same time every week (in our town of about 3,000). People gotta know we’re more than friends. I had an old guy laughing his ass off at our back-and-forth over taco seasoning. But Jack McFarland is nowhere to be found, here.

              I feel like every person should be free to be who they are, so long as it doesn’t cause harm to someone else. If you’re feminine or masculine or somewhere in between, go with it. There’s a place for you out there, and a person also out there who’s looking for someone just like you.

              Like you (and im sure many others agree), I’m glad this is a place where anyone can belong, so long as they/we share our love of cars. That’s the glue that binds us. Having Mercedes join the staff and post articles like this makes it clear that’s the case.

          2. I think for some straight men their reaction to gay men is less about sexuality than presentation. Some straight guys just do not like effeminate men regardless of orientation and can’t be comfortable around them. But they’re fine with a more masculine guy whom they know to be homosexual. I’m not sure why that is though.

            1. I don’t know either. Someone being really obnoxious can certainly be off-putting.

              I think people like to put everyone in a pre-determined box and when someone doesn’t fit in the box they think they should, they have a hard time accepting them.

        2. Man I believe that is a line from some 70s farting, belching teen male angst discovery movie. I used it decades ago in college as the only straight person living with 3 lesbians, some of the best friends and times I ever had.
          We need to remember most times when people say random stupid shit they are just trying to project they aren’t as scared as we are that they might be ostracized.

    1. Holy shit man, so many similarities. Only, I couldn’t maintain a straight relationship for that long. Two years and as I fumbled around in the bedroom, I claimed it was because we weren’t married.

      Weren’t married! WTF was I thinking? This wasn’t going to work if we got married by every religious leader in existence simultaneously.

      The next morning, I left. She called and said, basically, ya wanna call it quits? I’m grateful she did. I loved her but I couldn’t love her like she deserved.

      Years later I invited her out to dinner and apologized for monopolizing two years of her life she could have been with a man who could love her. She said on some level she knew, but ignored it just as I did. She said there was no apology necessary, but I’m glad we cleared the air.

      1. It went about six years, didn’t have a relationship of any kind until I was 30. To be honest, I genuinely did (and do) love her while admitting she was a rare exception (and the bedroom situation slowly faded to nothing, which you might not be surprised about).

        But through meeting some new friends (and then meeting their friends, and so on) I’ve noticed just how much of a shared experience this all is. Know a guy for five minutes and feeling like you’ve known him for years because you lived through the same thing.

        1. Exactly, with minor differences and details, many of us could all write the same story.

          I had more but it kinda opened a can of controversy unintentionally, so it’s gone.

          Incidentally, my post below was almost erased about 5 times, but it was Mercedes courage to post what she did that encouraged me to continue. It wasn’t easy.

    2. BTW I can’t believe I forgot to say, congratulations on coming out. Better late than never. My partner didn’t come out until his 30s. It happens. Better than continuing to live a falsehood.

  11. I used to take my 4Runner to the Cliffs Insane Terrain 2 or 3 times a year, but in 2021 they changed ownership and it’s now closed for SUVs and Jeeps, and Smart ForTwo. They only allow ATVs and dirt bikes now.

  12. Ok – so now we need an edit function AND a heart emoji.
    Thank you for sharing your story Mercedes. And thanks as well to John Taurus and Citrus. I love it that this is a place people can feel so at home.

  13. I’ll never forget how dejected you were the morning we were going to do the scooter gambler together. That’s when I told you to, “Get in that Smart, and send it.” I’m so glad you did!

    And frankly, you had way more fun that we did on the scooters. I’m glad we tried it, but 500 miles on a scooter in one weekend is something I never intend to equal.

  14. OK, I loved this site from day one (DT and Torch, what’s not to like?).

    I loved it more when Mercedes joined up.

    I loved it more when I read this story.

    I loved it more-er when I read the comments on this story.

    GROUP HUG EVERYONE!!!!

  15. Thank you so much everyone! I’m full of tears this Friday morning. ♥ Those who have known me for long enough know that much of the past eight or so years has been a slog, and at times I came perilously close to doing the unthinkable. But I pushed through it all and now I get to be happy doing what I love day in and day out. And perhaps most importantly, I get to do it surrounded by awesome people.

  16. I am so glad you told this story and I am glad that you have found happiness. It is very inspiring. Good on you for sending that Smart. I don’t think I would be able to do it.

    If you are ever in the San Diego area, we can off road my VehiCross!

  17. Wow. Just Wow. Thank you foe sharing Mercedes, and thank you for having the courage to be you no matter what others said or did. Also, thank you for joining us here at the Autopian! Your stories were awesome and inspirational at that other site, your antics (you own 17-19 freaking vehicles, and just told us about offroading a smart, yes, antics is the appropriate word) and the WCSIB were the only things I missed when I bailed on them to come here. Glad to have you here now!

    Thank you to the commenters for being so awesome as well. This site is amazing!

  18. Reading about your issues with your family is around the time I first found Oppo. Your writing over the years makes me feel like I have known you for a long time, even though we havent’ actually met. I am so happy that you are so confident in yourself and happy in your life these days.

  19. Glad you are still writing about cars/vehicles somewhere. I hope the break from Jalopnik wasn’t a bad one. I’m glad you shared this story and I’m happy there are more voices here at the autopian. As much as I like Jason and David, I appreciate more voices/writing perspectives. Add a SmartCar obsessive to the Jeep and Chang Li obsessive.

    I feel like you three need to run a vehicle at a lemons event and catalog everything that happens. But, do the event with a vehicle/brand none of you currently own one of so we get something fresh to read about in the run up. That would make one heck of a series in my mind. Anyway, thanks for the article.

  20. Just awesome your here… I love how DT, JT and BB have opened up this site to everyone, not cluttered it with BS and are allowing the writers to tell stories. Stories that keep us all connected around cars, motorcycles, electric golf cart/cars, taillights and all written around our obsession…

    I have to start looking for some more fun cars…

    Thanks Mercedes !!

  21. I always enjoy stories about how people found out who they really are through vehicular adventure. And this is a pretty good one too. You are a very interesting person. Great having you on Autopian.

    That said, I’m not a fan of SmartCars. On, or off road.

    You be you and all that. But my congruence with your motoring intersectionality is more buses and bikes.

  22. This was an excellent read Mercedes! That was an impressive transition from the gut-punch narration of first part to the hell-yeah soaked-in-cheap-beer good times of the second. Your stories have brought back a bunch of memories lately. Yesterday you reminded me that a dead battery in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais was what brought my wife and I together. Today you reminded of me of the time I brought that same lovely woman (black, immigrant) home to meet my family (white, with a few “Great Replacement” scholars sprinkled among them). I tell ya hwhat… things did not go well. After awhile though, the stench of that shitshow faded from memory and even the loudly unagreeable types came around. 21 years later, the delightful Oldsmobile-lady and myself are happily married with 1 child, 2 cats, 9 garage stalls, and 15 vehicles. Things sometimes do work out. Anyway, keep up the greatness – so happy you’re here and to hear things are working out for you!

  23. This is an amazing story that brought me to tears as much as it made me crack up laughing. You’re a wonderful woman, Mercedes. It’s awesome that it was the car community that first accepted who you are. Car people can be pretty toxic and discriminating sometimes, and I always felt like the support you found on Oppo to be an amazing sign of things changing for the better.

    For what it’s worth, I think I know how you must’ve felt when you realised you did laps around a gruesome offroad event that killed a few cars in a little stock Smart. I have found myself in a couple of situations that forced me to do some gruesome off-roading in my beloved Renault 4 (including doing an insane trail full or rocks, tree stumps and protruding roots up the side of a mountain – in reverse), and I remember the confidence boost and sheer joy of overcoming those obstacles; these moments truly made me feel confident about what I can do, which is not something that happens very often, to be honest.

    I also have to add that I got goosebumps over some of the comments sharing similar stories of coming out as LGBTQ+. It probably takes an insane amount of courage and I wish you all nothing but the best. As an ally, living in these times when we see actual change makes me feel very hopeful for the future. Still a long way to go, of course, and change happens at a different pace in different places, so I won’t lean back and pretend that homophobia and transphobia are magically over. It’s an ongoing battle we must keep fighting it.

    Happy pride month everyone!

  24. Mercedes, and everyone in the comments:
    This site hasn’t been up that long but I love it more with each passing day. Being in the VW community and growing up around muscle cars it always seemed so exclusionary but I feel like things are slowly coming around a corner and appreciate that we have an awesome welcoming community where rust eaters, taillight fetishists and anyone else who walks in the damn door can feel welcome and included. Love your stories, keep them coming and can’t wait to meet you in person. If it’s a good weekend I’ll drop over 9000 on gas to get the f150 up to Michigan.

  25. An incredible and inspiring story. Very happy you persevered, found yourself, and discovered the potential and amazing self that you are. Keep on kickin’ ass, both on the road and off it. <3

  26. Being in nature is fun.

    Being in nature with a super nimbly bimbly automobile that was never meant to go off road is fun

    I appreciate you taking Smart Cars off road, I’m still kicking myself for not getting a Manual Transmission Smart Car back when they were brand new.

    Keep on rocking the Smarts, I hate to say this but I sincerely fear there will never be another car like them sold in the US.

          1. I sadly haven’t driven a manual 3rd gen, but from what I remember at launch events, even the auto was decently improved over the the slightly jerky semi-auto from the first two generations. Either way, if you can’t have fun in a rear-engined car that weighs about 2000lbs, you probably aren’t trying.

            I’ll say this much as well, smart had some of the best events the general public could attend of any OEM that I’ve experienced.

  27. Thank you. What a beautiful story. I previously loved this site because Torch and DT are kinda nuts and I’ve been reading them for years (plus, my wife went to high school with Torch and they’re FB friends so I’ve chatted with him a few times about VW things that my Opa was involved in). The writing team is great, but with Mercedes here, it’s just a level better. Thank you, Mercedes, for being exactly who you are and letting us see you.

      1. I’ll just share the first name which I hope is enough – Laura. And we’ve talked about my Opa who worked for Porsche the elder at Austria Daimler before it folded. Oh, and antennas, but that was about my dad.
        The username comes because I ride a 300cc step through scooter, not the tiny wheels of the Vespa I grew up riding (in Durham and Chapel Hill…) but still fun as hell to ride.

  28. Mercedes, first of all it’s great you made it over to the Autopian. This story hit me right in the feels. Going out into the woods with a vehicle and getting stuck and unstuck gave me more confidence then years of therapy. I still struggle but not as much these days. I’m glad in addition to the Gambler litter that was picked up you could dump some of that unneeded mental baggage that “others” were trying to push on you. Life is short, life it your way. I was driving my DelSol to get pizza last night and met another DelSol owner. He’s only got 4-ish months to live with terminal cancer so he bought the fun little car he wanted for 15 years. I’m sad he waited 50 years to treat himself, but glad he did while he still could.

  29. I am glad you have found yourself in a better place. Not much to add that others haven’t already said, but…I do have to tell you about my favorite shirt! So far, nobody has gotten the joke unprompted, but it’s a pink, white, and blue firebird with the words “Am Trans” underneath.

    On another note, I just finished the illustrator design for a new shirt, which is just a diagram of my Accent’s M6CF1 transaxle colored in pink, white, and blue. Fingers crossed someone will laugh someday lol.

  30. Mercedes your writing is awesome, I was truly bummed out when I saw your departure article just thinking wow, going to miss her. And then like magic you pop up on my new favorite Autopian along with two of the best writers. Very cool, Autopian is definitely rocking it with your addition.

  31. I’m of the ilk that doesn’t care of you are transgender or Transylvanian. Be yourself and be happy. And we appreciate your efforts on Autopian. May they continue for as long as you want.

    Although realize that you seem to be having waaaayyyy to much fun! Folk will want to hear much more…

  32. Didn’t know you had transitioned, although I guess you’ve dropped a few hints. Hearing your families reaction was heartbreaking, and I hope they see what they’re losing. If not, we will be your family now. Keep doing what you do; you do it very well.

  33. Mercedes, you go girl!

    I’ll confess I’ve never been able to get over (and probably never will) how subpar Smart fuel economy is (particularly for running premium), but this adventure (both literary and physical) definitely has given a different level of appreciation for what is indeed a pretty tiny thrasher to putz around with and have a great time.

    Can’t wait to read more about them and your other vehicle adventures!

  34. I can’t post pictures, so just imagine the supportive transgender rat here (the “that’s so cool!” one)

    Also, your smart car adventures make me want to chop 15 inches out of the wheelbase of an old Wrangler, for science.

  35. Mercedes, your story gave me goosebumps. Great to see you here finally, and bravo for your bravery and vulnerability. If you ever want to overland the Backroads Discovery Route through Washington State and Oregon, hit me up. Would be a great new adventure for you and your Smart(s). I’ve even got a RTT you can use if you want to REALLY push that little car’s limits.

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