We embraced each other for what felt like an eternity, yet in reality it wouldn’t have been any longer than a full minute. We were standing right in the doorway of a busy airport, oblivious to the chaos we were causing; the electric doors kept opening and closing on us, while a line of weary travelers started to steadily build up behind my father. We had not seen each other in twenty years, so you would forgive us for being a little inconsiderate. I came to pick him up here, but despite my best efforts to plan this meeting to perfection, I needed to check on the car, and as I turned around to go back in to the terminal, we literally bumped into each other.
Not a lot was said. We just embraced. When we finally released each other from the suffocating grip, I looked into my father’s swollen, glassy eyes and said, “I hope I have hugged the right man.” He laughed, which lightened the mood considerably, and we made our way to the car. We spent one full day together, drove around a bit, saw some sights, grabbed a bite to eat and tried to cram twenty years into less than 12 hours. By 11pm that day, I boarded another flight and headed back home to the Philippines.
That was two years ago.
Fast forward to the present; I’m woken by the KLM pilot’s announcement – the kind they make just after switching the fasten seat belt sign on. A charming member of the cabin crew asks me in her thick, Dutch accent to put my seat back in the upright position, stow away my table and prepare for touchdown. I start to feel a little queasy. I had notched up over 130,000 frequent flier miles this year alone, but this time, as we came into the final approach to Heathrow Airport, it felt very different. It wasn’t airsickness – it was that nauseating feeling your get before you take a bungee jump. And this had nothing to do with KLM’s safety record.
For starters, I had committed myself to staying in my father’s home for three nights. That’s a whole lot different to spending a day together in the tourist traps in and around England. But I knew that if I wanted to develop a relationship of any substance, this was the next natural step. I just didn’t leave myself a safety net. And that scared me. What if we didn’t get on? Or worse, what if it was awkward? It was too late to book a hotel without sending the wrong message, but the very thought of being totally dependant on my father for the next three days made me feel like I was ten years old again.
It was 2 degrees Celsius when I stepped out of the terminal. My phone beeped. Among the endless greetings from the local cellphone companies, reminding you just how screwed you are if you dare call home while roaming, one message stood out like a bright orange dinghy in a cold and misty sea. “Your BMW is waiting for you at the NCP Flightpath. Enjoy your drive. Remember to keep right”
It was confidence with a capital B.
It was also history repeating itself. The last time I was here, BMW arranged for a stunning black 530D to help break the ice with my dad. Twenty years had gone by and we may as well have been meeting for the first time. I needed something special; something familiar, comforting, yet exciting enough to carry us through any awkward patches just in case it worked out that way. If we were the Von Trap family, I would have pulled out a guitar. But we’re not; we are Deakins, and Deakins like to drive. So it was more than common ground; it was a shared passion; a common bond. And ironically, BMW were once again the driving force behind it.
As I walked up to my test unit, the M Sport version of the 530D, with 18-inch rims, a six speed manual box and covered in a brilliant pewter finish, somehow I just knew we would be ok. If nothing else worked out, we could end up talking about this car for the next three days and then go back to our lives.
I must admit, the five series is still a very handsome vehicle. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t altogether convinced when it was first launched on the cover of our July issue back in 2003, but it has really aged well. It’s a classic design, unlike some Japanese or Korean designs that work with passing trends, and end up looking more extinguished than distinguished after you’ve coughed out your final monthly payment.
I drove out of the airport and headed 70 miles east. It would have been almost 1 am and I knew my dad was still up and waiting for me with some home made parsnip soup simmering on the stove. There was not much I could do on the motorway, especially while the authorities feel that it is safer to go to war than it is to go 5 miles an hour over the speed limit, but once I hit those narrow country B roads that cut through lush green fields, hobby farms and tiny villages where the postmaster happens to also be the local priest, I began to make up some time.
I dropped the short, leather-wrapped, stubby gear lever down into third and powered gently out of a long, damp, cambered turn, comforted by the familiarity and predictability of the 530D, which, since my last drive down these roads, has undergone its own subtle, yet significant changes that you would easily miss at first glance – like the new start/stop push button to activate the ignition; the full chrome grille, standard servomatic steering and an MP3 compatible audio system. Power, too, has been bumped up to 231hp giving it that extra lungful of breath on a quick patch of road.
Personally, nothing gets my thinking cap on faster than a spirited drive through some challenging roads. And when you’re driving a car that is enjoying itself more than you are, it frees up some space in your head for some soul searching. There was a lot to think about. Certainly more than a 70-mile drive or a thousand word article could ever straighten out, besides, I could smell that parsnip soup already – or was it the brakes, heating up into the entrance of a series of tight corners – as my navigation system counted down the miles before my destination. I was into the single digit miles already, and nerves were being replaced by excitement.
It had all come down to this. Before I knew it, I had arrived at the driveway of my father’s home. It was almost 2am. The entire village was fast asleep. You could almost hear yourself thinking. There was a light on and the gate was left open so I pulled the 5 series right up to the door. I drew a deep breath, opened my door and stepped out. It took me twenty two years to make it this far. My father was already standing in the doorway waiting for me. But this time, we could embrace each other for as long as we wanted.
We stood there for a while, marinating in the moment, and when we finally released each other from the same suffocating grip, I was tempted to ask if I had the right house, until he interrupted, looked over my shoulder and said, “What a beautiful car.”