We are getting ready to put down an old friend. No, not the family dog…our old friend is a 1989 BMW 325i. It is 23 years old, which in Southern California car years is equal to 102 in human years.
Our Beemer failed a smog test this weekend. (Luckily, failing high school algebra wasn’t a criterion for euthanasia or I wouldn’t be writing this!). The car is in that very gray area where it would cost more to fix it than it’s worth.
And before we go too far, let me emphasize that we are not serious car people. We call our car The Beemer, which BMW car enthusiasts argue is incorrect. BMW motorcycles are to be called Beemers and cars are to be called Bimmers. Tomato, Tomahto I say. I am a phonetically based person and Beemer seems to be what a BMW vehicle should be called. Let’s move on.
1999 was a good year for me. I had just come off my most successful year in coaching college basketball. I hit the mystical “hole in one” at a golf tournament. Good things come in 3’s, right? I was looking to buy a used car and decided to treat myself and buy a convertible. Right away I found a promising want ad: “1989 325i BMW Convertible, 30,000 miles, immaculate condition, asking $10,500. “
Driving over to see it, I determined that I was going to use my negotiating skills to negotiate the price down to $8,000 or so. But when I saw the car, price went out the window. The seller had the top down; the car was washed and waxed, glistening in the sun, ready to cruise down Pacific Coast Highway. I feebly asked if they would take less. The seller said “…not a penny less than $10,000” and like the dad buying a Christmas tree in “The Christmas Story” movie, I said ‘throw in a piece of string’ and we had a deal.
For the next few years, the Beemer was my primary method of transportation. The roof had begun to get a little bad and the plastic back window quickly became opaque and cracked. A small hole appeared in the back window one day and soon grew to a size you could fit your fist through.
Like many families with pets, our kids grew up with the Beemer. They have many fond memories of the car. Driving to camp, trips to the beach, sneaking the seat heater button on my side when it was 105 degrees, giving me the hot seat! We kept the car in the garage and I liked to have the top down as much as possible. The kids loved to hide in it.
The Beemer also figured into some dark days, too. When my coaching contract was not renewed in the spring of 2001, I came home feeling very low, as you might expect. I didn’t have the heart to tell my kids I was unemployed. Kids being kids, they wanted to play a game, and decided on “hand grenades.” This was a game like Hide and Go Seek but with one big exception: I was armed with a tennis racket and a bunch of tennis balls and when I found them, I would try to blow them up by hitting them with the tennis ball, hence “hand grenades.” Luckily for all, I rarely connected because I would hit them pretty hard!
On this particular day my son, Joe, who was 11 at the time, hid in the BMW and the top was down. I spotted him and from behind the car about 25 yards I smacked the first tennis ball, just whizzing it over his head. He kept popping his head up and down; I zinged another one. WHACK! The tennis ball exploded into the rear view mirror, knocking it off and shattering the windshield. We were all stunned; then we fell down laughing. Why not! Just when you think it can’t get worse, it gets worse. But what fun memories!
All three of my kids learned to drive in this car. With the top down, it was like driving a golf cart and was not intimidating at all. It was the “first car” for all of them. And it was only in two minor accidents. Joe was backed into by a fellow student, an act witnessed by about 50 other students. I called the student’s mother, who spoke limited English, to discuss the accident and since it was her daughter’s fault, would their insurance company be fixing the car? “YOUR SON IS A LIAR!” shouted the woman with a heavy accent, claiming that my son had somehow arranged for the side of the Beemer to slam into the front of her daughter’s car. YOUR SON IS A LIAR continues to work its way into our family conversations today.
The second accident involved Jenna mistaking the gas pedal for the brake pedal, slamming into a parking curb and knocking the oil pan off the car. It was amazing how big the oil spill was! But after a brief time in the auto hospital, the Beemer came back bigger than ever.
We never had a name for the car, nor did we think of the Beemer as a male or a female.Like a woman we don’t know how many miles is on her…the speedometer only works every now and then. And like a man, the parts are starting to fall off…my youngest son, Jackson, recently put his finger through the plastic seatbelt button, the glove compartment handle broke off, and we have to have the heater on to keep the engine from overheating, a trick my daughter, Jenna, taught us.
We will take a last victory lap or two this week and will bid thee farewell, Beemer. You were the closest thing the Marshall family had to a pet.
Greg Marshall also writes at www.theunlimitedproject.com