James C 1969 BMW 2002 2dr Sedan

Bad idea. Really bad idea.

As a high school kid in the late 70's, I fell in love with a quirky little car known (by a few) as the BMW 2002. I had never driven one, but the car magazines fawned over it. Good enough for me. The nearest BMW dealer was 100 miles away, but when I occasionally saw one driving around my small town, something about the styling just appealed to me. Some day, I said, some day.

My first day of college saw me ten hours away from home, looking for my off campus housing. As I approached my new residence, I was stunned to see not one, but two BMW 2002s and a Bavaria parked on the grass. At the time, that was probably a large percentage of the BMWs in the state of South Carolina.

Obviously, one of my new roommates was my kind of people. It took most of the year, but I finally talked him into selling me one of his family's 2002s to me. Not the gorgeous silver '71 tii, but the '69 tiaga and bondo colored one I could afford. It was 13 years old, had over 100,000 miles, a mysterious oil leak, and looked like a moldy lime, but it was mine.

As Elvis once sang, I said all that to say all this...

In 1982, I-77 was a brand new highway. Cutting through the hills of Virginia and into North Carolina, it was a driver's dream. No traffic, just a series of smooth sweepers for miles and miles. The exits were far apart, and development was still a dream into the future.

My '02 was dependable. For the most part. Like most old cars, it had its own quirks. Dim lights, wonky gas gauge, a starter that would work when it felt like it. I think it was protesting the fact that I had detached the key cylinder, allowing me to start it with a quarter, from underneath the dash. But if I could get it started, it would run all day and all night.

On this particular trip home for the Holidays, I was driving late at night, on my now familiar route I-77, when the T light lit up on the dash. T as in Tanke, as in you're pretty much out of gas. Miraculously, I knew there was a gas station not too much further up the road. I also knew it was on the other side of the Interstate, with no exit on my side. As I drove past salvation station, I started to get anxious. How much gas did I really have? Did I feel lucky? That's when I saw it. One of those maintenance connections, "for emergency crew only", across the median. I pulled over, backed up a little bit, and pondered. Not a car in sight. Late at night, running out of gas, in the middle of nowhere. Seemed like an emergency to me. What's the worst that can happen?

I throw it in gear, punch it...and immediately hit the chain draped across the gravel path. Did I mention I had 14-year-old, dim, headlights? I jump out of the car to assess the damage, and see the chain is wedged between the body and clamshell hood of my car, like a horse bridle, two feet in. In a panic, I pop the hood, wrestle the chain out of the hinges, gather up the loose trim pieces that have been ripped off my car, and hop back in. I throw it in reverse, and WHAM! What the Hell?

I had just impaled my driver's side door with the post that I had just pulled out of the ground. There's now a gaping hole, the size of a grapefruit, in my door.

Fortunately, the post is now completely out of the ground, and I extract it from my car without much effort. I sit there, shaking, for a few minutes. It's now chain gate two, college kid, zero. I slink back onto the highway, heading in my original direction, with no idea how to explain this to either the police, or my parents.

In the end, I did not run out of gas before I got to another station, but the door whistled all the way home. Ultimately, I had even more reason to repaint my car, although my parents did wonder why I had that duct tape on my door.

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