Two for the Road

Abigail: Two weeks ago, Monkey, one of my longest-standing friends, called to check in on me, prompted by some misinterpreted Facebook post. Nine months prior, my father had passed away unexpectedly, so she was worried again. Being a daddy’s girl, we were close. I took it hard and compensated by trying my damnedest to further embody those things I loved so much about him. Historic housing projects. Bizarre antiques. Classic cars. Specifically, I started searching for an early-’70s model BMW. It was dad’s favorite car and what he drove when he and Mom were still together, terrorizing nice folks while avoiding the war in London, Ontario. After months of trolling Craigslist and the like, I found the perfect car. Online. In California. A bidding war ensued, with Monkey egging me on while we remotely shared happy hour. Every time I’d throw in the cards, she’d cheer me on, convincing me to pour another scotch and raise the bid by the minimum. An hour later, and with half a bottle of Talisker down, I had the car. Next call: Giles Clement, my other BFF.

Giles: Last month, I was sitting in a hotel room on the Washington coast, pants off, whiskey in hand, trying desperately to scan a small mountain of film from my just-completed project photographing the people and places along the U.S. Pacific coastline from San Diego to Seattle. The trip had taken two months and was just a small part of the year and a half that I’ve spent crisscrossing the country to keep my small portrait business alive, and I wasn’t much in the mood for another road trip.

My phone rang at 8 p.m., and it was my friend Abigail, who I usually refer to as mom, my Jewish aunt, or my lawyer. She is none, but has on occasion played the role of all. She wanted to know if I was interested in helping her drive a car she’d just bought in California to her home in Ohio. Not really, I replied. She paused, texted me a photo of the car, and the classified advertisement. It was a 1968 BMW 1600-2, two doors, two-liter engine transplant, twin carbs, previously owned by two high school teachers in Berkley, and completely f*cking gorgeous.

My real mother once told me never to sleep with a woman with more troubles than you, to hold open doors for old ladies, and to never buy a plane ticket while intoxicated. Needless to say I’ve routinely ignored two out of the three, and at 7:30 the next morning I found myself drinking another whiskey—this time at 30,000 feet heading south.

Berkeley Abigail: Berkeley was uneventful, save the actual pickup of Giles and the vehicle. Giles arrived, wreaking of booze, with only his camera bag. Typical, I thought to myself—another road trip of buying Giles underwear and socks at CVS. The 1600-2 came much better equipped. Every service record was neatly recorded and filed—each oil change, every spark plug check. The seller even provided us with a quart of oil, a tool box filled with dollar store-quality tools, and a fire extinguisher. Thankfully, the last was unnecessary. The next day, we had driven less than 100 miles before the car stopped accelerating, the engine sputtered, then died. After cruising to a stop, Giles stumbled out of the vehicle. Despite his vulgarity, he is almost chivalrous at times. The Clements are a breed of their own—colorblind, mechanically inclined, and artistically talented. And protective enough of their friends to know better than to allow them to do a trip like this solo. A quick inspection and some dumb luck yielded a pin from the fuel pump, delicately resting on the engine block. I cut some barbed wire from a nearby fence for Giles to wire the pin in place and off we went.

Yosemite Abigail: What’s there to say? It’s one of the most amazing places in the country. Except half the people were photographing the BMW instead of the mountains.

Death Valley Abigail: After hours of driving in 90-degree weather and suffering Giles’ incessant profanity and flatulence, we arrived at the edge of Death Valley. Of course, we couldn’t just park and walk the half-mile down the bumpy, desert road. We drove. Competing with full-size SUVs, we barreled down the road and parked atop a keyhole-shaped peninsula. Amazing. So was the burnout when we left. 110 degrees in the bottom of the Valley. No death, thankfully. But the BMW did overheat a bit on the climb back out.

Nevada Giles: After more than two days we made it out of one state and into the next. As a younger man, my impression of Las Vegas was severely skewed by reading of Hunter S. Thompson. It is no longer a Mecca of the gloriously depraved—if it ever was—but rather a tomb for the hideously deprived. The attorney-toting manic writers bribing waitresses to bang polar bears have been replaced by flat-minded housewives diddling away their nickels five cents at a time. You should go to Vegas once, but one drive up the strip is really all that’s needed. At least I was traveling with my lawyer…

Arizona Abigail: Damnit, Giles. How is it that a man without a job is finally in a rush? We flew through a corner of Arizona without stopping at the Grand Canyon.

Utah Giles: I’m by no means an expert on the best driving roads in the country, but the route through southern Utah is very near the top of my list, and I can’t think of a better car to take that route in.

Kansas Giles: World’s largest ball of twine and breakdown number two. Fixed with spanner, hose clamp, and light-to-moderate profanity. Amazing stars and a low-flying jet were a bonus.

Missouri Abigail: Sheer misery.

Indiana Giles: Indiana.

Ohio Abigail: Five days, 2,987 miles, 11 states, a solid handful of national parks, at least two beers, and 17 million dead bugs later, the 1600-2 rolled into her new garage in Columbus. She’s parked next to a 1958 Ford F250 who58 she’s no doubt regaling with the story of two friends on the road trip of a lifetime.