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The BMW that changed my life — Part III

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

Concrete. Steel. Impersonal. Shivering souls being whisked away one by one by one.

That was my vision and take of the O’Hare Airport concourse I stood on waiting for Hussein to show up in the car I bought on eBay.

And he was late and I had no idea what he looked like.  And I’ll confess I was full of all the stereotypes — I was looking for a swarthy Muslim man in his 40s. I felt like some profiling airport security agent peering into the windshield of every BMW that arrived looking for a Muslim male — Hussein. The minutes ticked by. Was I in the right location? I tried to call him and his phone gave that dying at the end of the ring that told me he was talking. I knew he saw my call.

A white haired woman in a red pea coat drove up in a 740IL. A slick leather jacketed business guy with driving gloves in a 5 series. Every time a dark colored beamer arrived, I clenched my aluminum briefcase and walked precipitously close to the road only to watch them gun it and whiz past.

 

The anti Buddha

I am not a patient person. Like all frenetic and selfish people, I am late most everywhere. Not because I am arrogant and want to make people wait and think my world is superior, but because if I see a window of time I shove seven tasks and all kinds of optimism into a time window that has no basis in reality. If I have to be at the airport at seven a.m., I am the person paying bills at 6:10 at the house, walking the dog, kissing the kids goodbye and deciding to pack the perfect books for the trip.

My mind thrives on open windows of time like some anti Buddha who fills the void with all sorts of nonsense.

Is this guy going to show? I had that feeling that buying the car on eBay and flying up was essentially a waste of a hotel room and an airplane ticket and I would be going home defeated. I tried to view it like a perfect convergence of all the fates and it would work, but between the cold February wind in Chicago, the manner of Chicagoans who make no eye contact and the fact that I did not know a single soul and absent my cell phone I might have well have arrived at Ellis Island. I waited and waited.

My phone rang after 40 minutes.

“I am 2 minutes from you,” Hussein said matter of factly. “I am in the car.”

“Well I am here,” I answered and while I was relieved he arrived, I tried to conjure up the persona of toughness and total control of the situation. The emphasis was on persona.

“You smoke?” said Hussein as I entered the car. I looked around as I fell into the BMW.

I remember the last time someone named Hussein gave me a ride in a car. It was in a blue 300SD from Rhonda, Spain to Algeciras in 1988. I was hitchhiking  — 18 years old and my girlfriend was 19 — and he drove 90 mph all the way. We sat in the back seat and when we were a few miles out of Algeciras he kicked us out and told us we must exit the vehicle. We protested, “Could we get a ride to the boarder?”

He was adamant and looked at me and said, “I drive Hashish — Morocco to France to Morocco— you must go.”

Into the 5 a.m. Spanish morning we hopped out with our backpacks. This memory flitted through my mind as he drove off serpentining through the morning traffic.

 

No choice but faith

I fell in love with the BMW coupe. I was used to my last car — a Mercedes S500 coupe — but this car felt muscular, powerful and fast. Its seats were comfortable, supple leather and the roar of the engine could be felt and heard.

Then Hussein got on the cell phone. He made back-to-back calls with deals flowing off his lips — “No! 12k is too much; we can go to Pretoria and get that one for 9. Hold on I have another call. Then he would turn a corner and another call. This went on as we headed to a Wells Fargo.

I had seven thousand dollars in my pocket — the balance owed from the eBay purchase. This Wells Fargo trip was my ruse  — I had the money but went in as if I had to withdraw the wad of cash. I took $20 out of my account as he waited in the car.

I worried that we would drive off with the money and I would end up slit throat in some shed and only a link via an eBay account and a grainy photo by airport security as my legacy. I thought of my wife and six children. I walked out with that fake faith in humanity we conjure when there is really no other alternative but to go forward with a plan.

I was relieved when he said the DMV was two blocks away and we drove there and transferred the ownership.

The car was perfect — no dents or dings, the leather flawless and it had 97,000 miles.

This was the 8 series Supercoupe BMW produced in the 1990s. It was built for fast and long cross-country trips and all I wanted was to hit Indiana, drive strategically far over the speed limit pretending to myself that I could figure out where the police were hiding as I careened across the Midwest.

Careening across the Midwest took quite a while to accomplish. My inner images of cornfields like some 1980s John Mellencamp video backdrop never really came to fruition. I learned the soul of southern Illinois had as much in common with Cortez Road and Shirley-Medford, New York and every other endless string of lights and shopping centers and strip malls. But eventually the road opened up and evening started to come.

It was about 4:30 and I noticed the radio would not play music and there was no upgrade, no IPod connector, nothing.

I pulled over and googled BMW radios and found out that it was security protected by some code. Online forums suggested I call a dealer and offer up the VIN and radio number and they could provide the code to unlock the 1990s radio so I could listen to music. I dreaded driving all the way to Sarasota with only my thoughts and the sound of wind sheer.

I called Sarasota BMW and they sounded suspicious and circumspect about offering such coveted information over the phone. They said I had to be there in person in case the radio was stolen. I told them it was a $50 radio and the days of anyone stealing radios with tape players had passed. They would not offer any help.

I went online searching for codes. After reading all these hopelessly long and intricate forums of techie BMW fanatics I did what all of Middle America does — I tracked down a Wal-Mart and bought a replacement. And in the parking lot I installed a new stereo with an IPod ready connection and that changed the entire journey.

 

From Axl to Ziggy and Bach

An IPod full of music is a jukebox of the soul especially driving through a long night alone. Everybody’s IPod is different and each song a tangle of memories and associations.

By 7p.m. I was mesmerized by the guitar riffs of The Rolling Stones in Sister Morphine. Soon I got tired and depressed by the Rolling Stones and switched to Van Morrison and then Chopin. I played the opening rushing notes of Winter’s Wind by Chopin over and over — an avalanche of dissonance.

Who can drive through the Midwest without listening to Bob Dylan? Most every woman I have ever known.

So I took advantage of my solitary hours — all the music everyone turns down when they hop in my car I turned up — the opening notes to Suicide Solution, Pavarotti and let’s not forget about Nina Simone, Sinatra and yes, even some Eminem.

Sadly enough, I get influenced by music. If I listen to Chopin over and over I will want to live alone as an artist refining my craft far away from the silliness of Longboat Key and journalism and family. It is like reading Nietzsche over and over — it isolates the soul. Then Bach brings back the harmony of the universe and for me Beethoven’s 9th symphony must be listened to at least once a week in its entirety to remain halfway balanced and restore faith in life and humanity.

And then there is Guns N Roses, Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. They bring out the wild teenager angsty rebellious gene. If I listen to more than an hour, I become this mock testosterone-laden Rock God of partying, womanizing and late night nuttiness — at least in my mind.  As a remedy I will often quickly put on some Simon and Garfunkle and like popping a tire it releases all the testosterone from the system. Another calming and depressive set of music to play when I feel irresponsible and ready to drink Coronas all night are some old Harry Chapin songs. Harry Chapin is like putting a wet sweater on at the top of a ski slope when it comes to fun.

I want to live with a Cinnamon Girl…

Destroyed your notion of circular time…

Welcome to the Jungle…

Quanto e Bella…

Me and Julio down by the schoolyard…

All my life’s a circle…

I met her in a club down in Old Soho

Ziggy played guitar…

Sad eyed lady of the lowlands…

Instant karma’s going to get you…

Gonna give you my love…

 

I shut the music off.

It was a funny feeling being alone in the car with my thoughts for so many hours. I went from feeling this liberating maverick feeling — a high octane Jack Kerouac or Henry Miller or Ulysses — to moments later little more than a lonely and depressed cross-country truck driver.

 

Longboat was always on my mind…

Sometimes when we are alone in a car over a dark landscape our lives come into reflection.

How did I end up putting out newspapers and writing for a living?

I thought of all the issues on Longboat Key I could grapple with — the Colony, beaches, Town Centers, Bayfront park, peacocks, police dispatch changes, trailer parking and candidates.

I thought of all the people I knew and had met and all the friends and people I upset with opinions or coverage they found offensive or distasteful.

I thought how my habit of poking fun of people and positions had created a small but vigilant group of adversaries and that made me uncomfortable. I then criticized myself for wanting people to like me.

I lowered the windows and let the cool night air in, which was moist and damp through the car.

I pictured Murf Klauber at the Colony. I thought how his entire life was spent building and operating a resort that lay in ruins. And no matter what assertions he makes in court or how he laments over drinks at Pattigeorge’s, a world he lived in each and every day for 40 years has slipped beyond his grasp. And he has to accept that.

I thought of the intimacy of the events. The Colony had a life and vibrancy epitomized by Klauber’s crazy pastiche of crazy-color shirts and his Axl Rose-like white shorts and his boat shoes — a veritable uniform I saw him in for about 15 years.

Then I thought of my oldest daughter who is approaching 18 years old and is a senior and will be leaving our home soon. I thought of how she was born the very first day I started work at the Longboat Observer 18 years ago. I thought of all the errors and parenting mistakes and times I worked when I should have been at home and times I wish I could recreate and live over but were already too late. I thought of how easy and selfish it was as a man to bury myself in work under the proviso of providing and while that necessity has a distinguishing honor, I now find myself like a hoarder at 45 trying to spend every second with my children and my wife.

The night sure got long and depressing. Perhaps it was the Midwest. Then suddenly as if a ghost attacked the car, the windows went up on their own and sealed me inside. I hit the brakes and lowered the windows again. Soon, they did the same trick. I pulled over and on another BMW forum I learned at 100 mph the windows automatically rise in the 840ci to create a sealed driving compartment.

 

Deep thought fizzle away

I realized at 45 I was not on an adventure, I was not seeking a wild experience. I was not on some freewheeling Kerouac or Henry Miller adventure. I was speeding to get home. To get back to my life. It was a strange feeling.

Like the fall of the life that was known as the Colony, I realized my wildest and craziest days were already over.

But driving as fast as I could to get back to my home was not feeling whimpish. It actually felt like a thrill of sorts. I had created a world and was no longer trying to chaotically and aimlessly seek experiences. My days of paddling through Central American jungles and cruising for months around Mexico were over. The idea that I was living in my own 100 years of Solitude of Magical Realism was over. The driving a van to the Yukon and canoeing the Yukon River was over. And hitchhiking through Spain and Morocco was over. Building houses and playing contractor and landlord was over.

I wanted to get home.  I wanted to write books and tell stories and grow increasingly reflective. I thought of how I care more about my daughter’s progress in piano than about any guitar playing I could ever hope to accomplish — and I have been playing 30 years.

And as for the newspaper, I thought how a paper could at its best help touch lives and bring meaning and soul to a community. I knew as I drove into Kentucky that I was lucky to have spent the last 18-year working on Longboat Key and in Sarasota. I had found an epicenter.  I started to think about the Lakota Indian, Black Elk, who said the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills and it was the center of the universe. Then he added,  “But anywhere is the center of the world.”

Longboat Key is our Harney Peak. Murf, the Commission, the visitors and the residents and the many faces on Longboat Key have a mythological dimension. They all start to center their lives on this 10-mile strip of land and play out their final year and extinguish their final energies on our island.

After thinking of all these seemingly deep thoughts I opened a bottle of seltzer and stupidly did not release the pressure. The cherry seltzer sprayed the windshield, the dash and my lap and continued to fizzle.

“How could I be so goddamn unaware and stupid?” I said as if anyone was listening. I cursed violently for a minute more and then laughed as I sopped up the mess and decided to pull over for the night.

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