Google+ Two-Wheeled Tourist: Tales from the Battle Wagon - how a slightly broken BMW repaired a part of my heart.

4.21.2015

Tales from the Battle Wagon - how a slightly broken BMW repaired a part of my heart.

I may call myself the Two-Wheeled Tourist, but I wouldn't be where I am now without a little help from my four-wheeled companion, a 1999 BMW 528i (E39) wagon in Oxford Green Metallic.

I acquired this vehicle in May 2011 as a replacement to my beloved 2003 Subaru Outback that found its demise in a collision in the middle of Columbus, Ohio after an impromptu makeout session with a 1993 Honda Civic hatchback at the hands of a roommate. Luckily, I wasn't the one driving the car when this happened; however, the things that did happen to me not much long after the acquisition of this BMW were a clear sign that my time inhabiting the Midwest was coming to an end.

Here's the wagon the day I bought it. I set it free, and it would return the favor several years later.
I was the third owner of this wagon, inheriting it at 102,000 miles on the odometer. It was far from perfect; several hundred dollars from the remainder of my insurance claim check were invested to replace broken pieces, the radiator, and other minor details (thank you eBay and Bavarian Autosport). At first, I didn't like this car very much, but the reasons were more emotional than logical. I missed my Subaru and was quite bitter about the way that car met its end - like in many aspects of my life in Ohio, out of my control and without a satisfying solution or conclusion. This "replacement" of a wagon took a little getting used to because of its larger frame and heavier handling than the nimbler Outback that took me through college and my first foray into a teaching career. The new (to me) car had a large set of tires to fill; replacing what was my escape vehicle before I became a full-fledged motorcyclist was going to be a tough undertaking.



As time went on, I learned that the BMW had (and still does have) a way of bringing out the best and the worst in the people I interacted with. When I think about most of the conversations I had with my [now] ex-husband in regards to the car, which he insisted in fixing himself at all times, I was guaranteed like clockwork to end with him silencing me with "stop complaining about the car because it's not perfect." It didn't matter what the problem was, and I'd only express the concern over the ones that jeopardized my safety, such as broken windshield washer sprayers when I needed them to spray off road salt that impeded my vision of the road during the winter months, forcing me to pull over to gas stations to manually clean my glass every several dozen miles. For the record, driving blind on Interstate 71 in Cleveland while only being able to see out of a tiny corner of the windshield was very scary and quite life-threatening.

And then there was that one ridiculous stunt in March 2012 of driving 30 hours straight on I-80 to Salt Lake City to attend my ex-husband's friend's wedding. We could've just flown, but he was adamant about saving a couple hundred dollars on plane tickets. So he tested my patience and energy levels on marathon long-distance traveling and sleeping at rest stops while outside temps dipped well below freezing in most parts of the route. However, through that stressful ordeal I did learn that with the right kind of driving habits, the wagon 2.8L 6-cylinder engine could average 36 MPG and drive for more than 550 miles on a single tank of gas. Aside from suppressing my frustration and anger by taking what was given to me with as much grace as I could muster, I did learn just a fraction of the capabilities of this station wagon despite the fact that it wasn't running at 100%. I could only dream of what this car would do if it were completely fixed up.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2014. After accepting a job in Southern California in the middle of my impending divorce, I hastily prepared my exodus out of Ohio. Two moving companies took Eleanor along with most of personal belongings a week and a half before I finally left the state for good. The BMW accompanied me on several trips to the Goodwill in Eastlake to donate what I couldn't take back with me. Sometimes I would accompany the BMW to the nearby O'Reilly Auto Parts to replace multiple headlight and taillight bulbs, fill it with bottles of coolant and windshield wiper fluid, mostly in the frigid, icy cold of night. And finally, in a snowstorm in the beginning of Feburary 2014, the wagon and I made (and survived) our long 2500 mile trip home, stuffed to the gills with many of my possessions.

This BMW is a hardy beast, though; surviving 15 winters in Ohio is a feat not many people or objects can accomplish. Heck, I barely made it through five of them! I was ecstatic to take the wagon to far greener pastures than what were offered to me personally in the Midwest. Under my watch, I promised my E39 that it would never be subjected to another winter storm for the rest of its functioning life, unless we'd en route to some cool destination and it just happens to be that time of year.

It wasn't always running at its best, but it did its best when it could...and eventually it was my turn to take care of it the same way it did for me. In July 2014, its fuel pump failed on me while travelling westbound on the CA-134 freeway en route to a photography assignment for my now full-time current employer. The timing couldn't be any worse; Eleanor was still in the shop receiving major repairs (I wasn't the only thing neglected in Ohio) and the BMW was the primary vehicle until her work was done. I ran out of plausible options and turned to my parents, a difficult decision considering that my relationship to them to this very day is still not very close. But my car's needs gave me the means to end a three-year stalemate of not speaking to them due to their ongoing philosophical differences and judgmental tendencies toward my existence. I still can't talk to them about anything personal, but at least I can now say hello with a lesser feeling of dread.

They were willing to assist me to a very unexpected extent, loaning out their spare car and sending the BMW to a distant relative who lived nearby that just happened to be a retired Ford/Lincoln master technician. After three months of work and tons of replacement parts, my station wagon was returned to me with a near full internal restoration for my 30th birthday. My four-wheeled ally was back in full force and ready to support my journeys once more.

Moving on to April 2015, I had tickets to the April 10th Barry Manilow concert at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas that I had purchased back in November 2014. Plans were set to drive the wagon and take one of my closest friends with me to enjoy the show. After topping off the oil and coolant in the BMW as part of standard long-distance driving prep, I received a slightly disturbing phone call from her. She was reeling in pain after stubbing her right foot against a bookcase in her apartment. It turned out later that she had broken her pinkie toe, but it was obvious over the phone that she was in quite a state of discomfort.

I jumped into the car and proceeded down Crenshaw Blvd. to check on her. Once I made it down the road, the BMW began to run roughly at idle, and I suspected that I may have put too much oil in the car, although my suspicion didn't make any sense as the dipstick read normally after several tries. Regardless, I didn't want to take my chances of something catastrophic happening, so after making my friend comfortable as she lay in bed in pain, I borrowed her emergency siphon and proceeded to pull oil out of the tank through the dipstick pipe. The process was tedious and I grew quite frustrated over her injury, the speed of this car repair, and the sudden change of plans.

So I stood outside in wee hours of that chilly Friday morning, hunched over the engine of my car, my hands covered in synthetic motor oil after wrestling with an inefficient siphon. All the while I used my Bluetooth headset to call up to my friend's apartment to make sure she was okay and keeping her leg elevated and her foot on ice. In a moment of need, I called the man I was dating at the time to tell him the current situation. He immediately came to my aid right after he got off his shift at work (he works until 1AM on weeknights) by picking up first aid supplies from CVS, driving from the LAX area to Torrance to patch up my friend, and providing me the emotional and moral support I needed in this strange situation. In short, the BMW and I never made it onto I-15, but it was clear from my conversations with him after the incident that I was meant for a different, life-shifting adventure that weekend.

Over these years, the wagon put up with my initial, begrudging acceptance of it and stuck around until I realized in my own personal growth that it really is a vital part of my current vehicular family. As for the title of this blog post, the BMW earned the name "Battle Wagon" from my now-boyfriend (yes, I'm still talking about the same guy). It is a fitting name for a car that was there during the lowest points of my life and in its strange quirks, found a way to lead me to a happiness that I haven't seen in several years, if ever, in my life. I know that there will be fishing trips and long-distance drives in our future, but this time I can be reassured that challenges will be met with maturity, understanding, and patience. Also, with the wagon in a condition where I can do most of the repairs myself and Pelican Parts located down the street, it is much easier to fix things as they happen.

So I guess you can say that I've started a new chapter in my adventures here on Two-Wheeled Tourist. And yes, there will be photos to go with the stories. Time to go home now...the wagon is waiting for me outside.