A number of recent events have gotten me thinking about my own mortality. First and foremost is the fact that, as some of you may have heard, our friend Paul Wegweiser has cancer. It’s Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—which, fortunately, is not only treatable, but one of the cancers for which they use the word cure—but Paul has some rough road ahead. His chemo starts next week. Paul does have health insurance, but he’s going to be missing a lot of work, and there’s obviously a cost impact to that. A GoFundMe site has been set up to help him defray expenses. (To be absolutely clear, Paul has not asked me to write about this, and the fund has already reached its target goal, but any donations are hugely appreciated. Paul is the ultimate pay-it-forward guy; he has helped any number of us, and is utterly deserving of your generosity.)
Second, my wife, Maire Anne, showed me a letter in the Boston Globe magazine that described how a husband, nearing an early death, noted that his car was really dirty and asked his wife to drive him and it to the car wash. He also asked her to find someone who could come to the house and use his floor jack to mount the wheels and tires he’d bought but hadn’t installed. The letter described how she initially thought, “This is what you want to do in your last days?” but eventually understood that he thought this was necessary to put his affairs in order—his wife, he thought, would likely need to sell the car—and how getting the car washed and the proper wheels and tires installed brought him a sense of closure and peace.
Third, BMW CCA member David Yando, manager at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, sent me a story of a Lotus Europa that was purchased by a guy who’d stashed it in his garage and planned to work on it as a retirement project, but then received a brutal cancer diagnosis. David said that the man’s wife reached out to a local British-car club, which in turn contacted Lane, to ask for help getting the car running in time for a final track day at an event coming up in the next few weeks. Volunteers performed a heroic sort-out of the Europa, and the owner did in fact get to take it out for a few laps at the now-closed Nashville Superspeedway. The car then went in for proper bodywork and paint, and was finished in the classic Lotus motorsports colors of green with a fat yellow stripe down the middle. The completed car was taken by open trailer past the man’s house, where he was able to see it out his bedroom window a few hours before he passed away. David says that the car was then donated by the man’s widow to the Lane Motor Museum; it is now part of their permanent collection, and sees occasional track time.
Finally, and coincidentally, is the fact that my soon-to-be-released CD A Landscape of Ghosts (my first new album in nearly fifteen years) is something of a meditation on mortality, absent friends, and things we can’t get back.
It’s difficult for the rational mind, at least mine, to process this kind of information. Perhaps we process it at a different level: Since I am a guy with a dead Europa in his garage, the Lotus story sent chills down my spine. At the superficial level, many of us have unfinished projects—but really, we’re the unfinished projects.
On the one hand, owning twelve cars (fewer than some, more than most), I don’t really have much credibility when I claim that I’m not attracted to things like cars and guitars. Of course I’m attracted to cars and guitars, but I can’t say that I’m happier at age 59 because of the number of things I’ve accumulated. I’m happier for other reasons. Sure, with my increasing age, I can’t even sling wheels on and off cars without angry-ing up my back, but in general, Maire Anne and I are healthy, we adore each other, and we continue to do interesting things that give us pleasure, both alone and together.
It’s things like that, and spending time with people that I love, that makes me happy. I love owning and working on the cars, but as metrics of completion or closure on the scale of a lifetime, they don’t even register. If I die without owning a Series I E-Type and an M1 (and I will), it’s not even a ripple in my pond.
Now, it is true that when I leave for the airport or hop in one of the vintage cars to go on a long road trip, I’ll sometimes joke with Maire Anne and spin out a litany, like, “Okay, there’s a folder in the dining room file cabinet labeled ‘If I Die.’ If anything happens to me, don’t take less than fifty grand for the E9; it’s in the Woburn storage space. Get what you can for Kugel the ’72 tii. Remember that Kugel, the Bavaria, the Z3, and the M coupe are out in Fitchburg. And Kugel needs hiscooling system refilled; I didn’t quite finish after swapping radiators with Louie. And he’s really hard to start. I think there’s starting fluid in the trunk, but it’s best to bring a can.”
Maire Anne doesn’t find this as funny as I do.
What’s funny to me isn’t that I’m joking about mortality, but that it’s as close as I get to estate-planning. There actually is a folder in my file cabinet labeled “If I Die,” but what it contains is something perilously close to “The wife gets it all. Just plant me in the garden with the stupid Lotus.” (If you don’t get the reference, watch the wonderful movie Second-Hand Lions.)
In all seriousness, if I’m suddenly stricken by accident or illness, the last thing in the world that’s important to me is the damned Europa. It doesn’t matter. Recite five Lucas jokes and tow it off as Siegel’s Folly.
And the other cars, the ones that, you know, have drivetrains in them and roll? Well, they’re just cars, too. They’re not my legacy. If they’re advertised on Bring A Trailer as “Former Rob Siegel cars,” it’ll probably lower their value. It’ll turn into a giant internet game of “Find The Kluge,” the Hack version of “Where’s Waldo,” with people swearing that they were present when I temporarily replaced a ground strap with a coat hanger. And for the record, I only did that once, and I made sure the windows in the garage were taped with newspaper, so you can’t possibly know about it. (Yes, I’m making that up… because it’s abundantly clear that my real legacy is this: Being a wiseass.)
So forget the cars. I want people instead. You know who you are: my family. Paul. (And I am ten years older than you, so I will likely go first). A few of my longtime colleagues with whom I worked in the engineering trenches for twenty years. And especially my singer/songwriter friends; play me some Michael Troy songs as I go. That would make me happy.
But I have to admit, a fat yellow stripe would look badass down the center of my Europa. And if someone could fix the hard-starting problem on Kugel…. Never quite figured that one out.—Rob Siegel
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Rob’s new book, Ran When Parked: How I Resurrected a Decade-Dead 1972 BMW 2002tii and Road-Tripped it a Thousand Miles Back Home, and How You Can, Too, is now available on Amazon. Or you can order personally inscribed copies through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com. His new book, Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, will be out in the spring.