The Car: 1973 BMW 2002
The Crash: During my senior year on scholarship at a fancy Michigan private school, I helped start a community service organization. We’d traverse the Detroit area, visiting underprivileged kids or oldsters at nursing homes or play bingo with the inmates at the state mental institution. (Really.) I did this all in my scrappy BMW—a car I’d dreamed of, scrimped and saved for, outlaid every penny earned from my restaurant jobs to have repaired, restored, and repainted. It was perfect.
The summer after I graduated, I kept up my weekly visits at the old folks home, particularly with a retired jazz musician who seemed to have no family. I was a bitchy loudmouth, a taunter, a political radical without an off switch. I had a heart? Evil, but loyal. I was en route to the old folks home, stopped at a red light, when I saw the car in my rear view mirror.
You know that moment in the movies when the crash is imminent and then the screen goes white and there’s a piercing whine? Yeah, that happened.
The impact spun me into the intersection. Other cars skidded around the 2002, their paths like strands of spaghetti falling through a colander. My gas tank ruptured. I’d just filled up; fuel was everywhere.
I was alone. The police came. The fire department came. Did anyone ask me any questions? I don’t know. Did I talk to the owner of the offending vehicle? I don’t recall. A car obsessive, I cannot for the life of me tell you what he was driving.
Wandering around the intersection, I stepped in and out of rivulets of gas and over crushed car parts. The red and orange lenses of my beloved round taillights littered the asphalt like smashed candy. I was an adult, I guess. Eighteen. I must have looked insane.
I hitched a ride with the tow truck back to the body shop that’d done the restoration. I walked home alone, three miles, carrying a worn shoebox filled with my cassettes. Joy Division, Billy Bragg, The The, Bauhaus. A friend drove me to work that night. My manager informed me that I stank of gas.
The Damage: The rear bumper was pressed nearly to the back seat; the rear quarters crumpled; the trunk lid creased up into the shape of an opened envelope. The frame was torqued. The rear suspension, snapped. The car was pronounced totaled. The insurance company’s appraisal came in at $900. I did not accept their initial offer.
The Moral: Don’t visit lonely senescent strangers? Avoid stopping at intersections? Consider the hubris of being a oddball teen with a classic BMW? Buy American? I don’t know. Thirty years later, I’m still looking for answers..