My Highway to Hell through the Midwest in a BMW — Part II

Editor & Publisher

I never should have bought my BMW on EBay.

Normal people see a car, research, drive it and make a financial decision.

I bought it like a food addict ordering chocolate mousse at Pastry Art — “That looks good, I’ll figure out how to work it off later,” was my sentiment.

And I had what my wife calls that “glint” in my eye, which is a combination of manic desire and I-will-accomplish-this-whatever-it-takes mania as I headed out the door on that cold February morning to meet a man named Hussein who was the seller on EBay.

It seems celebrities and criminals go by single names — Sting, Oprah, Eminem, Jeter, and then of course presidents and Hitler and the like all end up branded by a single moniker which culture adopts.  And so the seller of the BMW insisted in three phone calls that he goes solely by Hussein and when I pushed the issue he capitulated to, “OK, Mr. Hussein.”


An awkward strategy

The plan was to fly into O’Hare to meet Hussein, who was to pick me up in the green 840ci BMW I had won on EBay in a single push of the Place Bid button 30 seconds before the auction closed like a sweaty-handed sniper watching his prey for days and then finally releasing the shot that takes his object down.

My children were not yet stirring, my was wife asleep and I felt the $7,000 in cash curled in my front pocket as I gathered my belongings for the trip.

The cash in the front pocket was a special strategy. I reasoned I did not want to be up in Chicago and Wells Fargo for some reason will not give me the $7,000 owed on the car. I was not going to pay the guy more than the minimum down payment if the car was not as described on EBay and yet the last thing I wanted was for the seller to know I was walking around with a wad of cash.

Realize the seller went only by the name of Hussein. He was a young guy who spoke of rebuilding BMWs and racing them on local tracks and had come across this 840ci, which after my research represented one of, if not the finest, coupe the company ever made — at least at my price point.

But of course my solution was to tell the guy I had to go to the bank and I thought I would go in and pretend to withdraw the money. That way he would think I was traveling without cash and yet I could go into a Chicago Wells Fargo and make a token small transaction all the while having the cash in my pocket. Kind of like a bad shell game. But as I headed out on the crisp morning with the cash bulge in my pants I thought it was a weird and silly strategy and felt awkward.


Razor edge drama

My plane left for Chicago from Tampa at 7:40 and for those who know me, I make getting somewhere on time one of those razor edge dramas.

We all have strange behaviors we spend our lifetime trying to tackle and that is but one of mine. If it is imperative I make an ATM deposit by 9 p.m., I find thing after thing to do at the office and race down Gulf of Mexico Drive scanning for police, pedestrians and viewing the road like my private Autobahn and obstacles are like moguls I pivot off of, accelerate and fly by.

I have hundreds of ATM receipts stamped 8:58 p.m. When we were in a financial juggling mode, I would not have the paper printed or money for the weekend if I did not make those deposits by 9 p.m.

Perhaps I should have followed my childhood dream of being an emergency room surgeon where that mania has real value. But the reality is I wanted to be like Hawkeye Pierce in Mash when I was 12 years old with the pretty nurses, the gin still in the tent and the funniest lines in the show. Funny how dreams and life do not converge. So heading out to the airport to buy the BMW I found on EBay was no different.


Sweaty and haggard

I left at 6:20 a.m. and was moving fast toward the Skyway Bridge when the old Mercedes diesel 300SD I was driving blew its passenger rear tire. I was in the left lane and pulled the bucking car over.

The tire had unraveled and careened across the road, across the rushing morning traffic. I stared the way one might stare at a friend getting shot in war — hopeless, helpless and watching the day and world unravel around me.

I had that “I am Steve Reid and do not give up” inner pep rally and pulled the jack and spare out.

Of course the median was narrow and I had to jack the car up with cars whirring by to my back and I felt the wind lifting my shirt every time an 18-wheeler went by. I kept fantasizing I would be plowed off the road and into eternity as I stupidly changed the tire.

With my love of deadlines and the inherent pressure of a plane leaving in about 40 minutes, I looked at my watch and said, “You have seven minutes to change the tire.”

An 18-wheeler whizzed by and the flannel shirt whisked up and over my back. As I crouched over the $7,000 in cash kept pressing against my thigh and stomach as if saying — “you are clowning.”

Then I had that inner Joseph Campbell voice that started saying all these Jungian pop psychoanalytic sentiments such as, “In life when obstacles keep presenting themselves it is your unconscious saying, ‘You are on a wrong path.’”

None of this was of any help. I threw the tire on and accelerated off with the diesel spewing its black smoke as I raced to my finish line.

Then in the airport, with blackened hands from changing the tire and with the $7,000 bulging like a gun in my right pocket and sweaty and haggard I ran toward security holding only my silver aluminum briefcase which had a couple of books, my laptop and a change of clothes.

Of course I had to take my shoes off and open the computer case and make chit chat so I would not get pulled into some room and interrogated as I should have been given my horrible morning demeanor next to the crisply dressed businessmen and woman and upscale vacationers.


Prairie Home Companion Hell

I made it. The plane was full and I was the last one on and found my seat and relaxed as we careened toward Chicago.

Like all people, I have so many prejudices and preconceived notions and ideas. It is said labels and a priori assumptions create an efficiency as we go through life. Sort of like police profiling. But the problem is one must stay open to the exception, the contradiction or the fact that a preconceived notion can be flatly wrong.

My preconceived notion is that I dreaded driving from Chicago to Sarasota through the Midwest. I though it nothing more than an area malnourished of culture and the extremes that imbue the coasts. I thought of the industrial legacy and the endless expanses of farms. I thought it would be like one endless Prairie Home Companion episode.

And on top of that I was worried that Hussein might roll me and take my money or the car would be an absolute junker that might make it to some God forsaken place like Indiana and then die and I would be standing on the side of some Midwestern highway like a 45 year old Bob Dylan but without the musical talent.


A shot of confidence

As I stood in the concourse, I watched cars arrive. I was to meet Hussein at 11 a.m. and I watched the cars as they swept up and pulled off. Every time a Beamer approached I would get excited and then it would pick up passengers and drive away.

Hussein was obviously late and I started to get that feeling like David Byrne of the Talking Heads “This is not my life; what am I doing here?” kept going through my head. That feeling married people get or people when they work years for some company or in a career and then say, “What happened to my life and my soul and all the dreams and hopes and passions I had? They have been diminished to a desk and table and the complicated tasks of picking up milk, toilet paper and soap on the way home.”

I thought, “Why am I in Chicago buying a car that if anything breaks will cost more than the car itself?”

I then realized that with my laptop I really could be a Germen auto mechanic. There is nothing I cannot learn from a YouTube video on how to fix this car I reasoned.

Then I surveyed O’Hare. It was cold and cement filled and people were rushing. I liked the frenetic energy. I got a shot of confidence as if my testosterone was starting to surge. “I am going to control this situation, flag Hussein down and he will drive to Wells Fargo, I will make my mock cash withdrawal after I survey the scene and try the car out and I will drive that Green Machine 100 mph all the way home,” I thought.

Then like Walter Mitty, this idea started to blend with reality and a man in a black leather jacket about 30 years old pulled up in my future car. It felt like a psychotic arranged marriage where my bride was being dropped off and I was going to assume all responsibility going forward.

“I am Mr. Husain, You must be Steffen…” Hussein said through a rolled down window. “You ready?” He asked.

Read next week for another installment of the purchase of the BMW, the manifestation of a mid-life crisis and how inner images can turn into reality — but always with a twist.            — Steve Reid

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