By Joseph M. Onofrio:
When we began dating in high school, Michele spoke of one day owning a BMW. It had to have an inline six, black leather, and four doors. It went without saying that it would have to be blue, as that was her favorite color. Michele kept that dream alive through four years of college, two years of laboratory research, two years of working with children with congenital anomalies and at-risk youth, four years of medical school, five years of general surgery training, two years of pediatric surgery training, and her first two years of getting established in a practice.
On the ride home from a late dinner in March 2013, we were passing by a local dealership and Michele spotted it. She had been waiting for months to see that distinctive color in person after gazing at images on the BMW website. She had finally found one in person: a brand-new loaded Estoril Blue 2013 335i M Sport with summer performance tires. It was everything she hoped it would be. The next morning, she and I returned for a test drive and deposit. Michele took delivery the following day, and by the end of the week she had her BMW CCA membership in hand. A short while later, she affixed her T4FS vanity plates that reflected the moniker she had picked up during residency: The Four-Foot Surgeon (although in actuality she was closer to five feet in stature).
Channeling her inner “car guy,” Michele promptly ordered an M Performance power kit and had the Auto Stop-Start feature deactivated. Prior to the kit’s installation, she obtained a proper baseline dyno reading. She spoke of taking her F30 to the Virginia International Raceway to stretch its legs, but only after first getting some advanced training at the BMW Performance Driving School. When the kit was installed, she refrained from applying the tiny rocker-panel decals because she didn’t want her brilliantly blue car to be “too flashy.” We had a follow-up dyno appointment scheduled on a rare day off; however, Michele’s attendance was averted due to a recent development: morning sickness. (I dutifully went and texted her pictures, though.)
With our first pregnancy and related preparations underway, Michele’s track aspirations had to make room for a car seat. Nevertheless, every time she got behind the wheel of her 335i, a big smile would spread across her face and she’d spontaneously exclaim, “I f***ing love this car!”
Our son was born in December 2013. I typically ferried our son around in the family truckster, but he quickly came to associate that Estoril Blue BMW with his mom.
In May 2015, Michele was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It turned out to be very aggressive. She never complained, and exuded unimaginable fortitude over her remaining 599 days on earth. Michele somehow managed to continue working full-time until less than one week before she died on January 15, 2017, at the age of 42. I wanted desperately to keep her 335i because it was so special to her, but I knew that it would not be the most prudent thing within the scope of things I am now unilaterally responsible for.
I tried to think of the best way for my son and me to honor her and this beautiful machine before we let it go. Can you take a three-year-old out on the track? Even if he watches from the bleachers, is it sensible for me as his sole parent to be hitting the limiter out on a track?
Then it came to me: a long Mother’s Day weekend road trip.
In preparation, I purchased a few children’s books on CD and a couple of GoPro cameras, had the car serviced, completed a state inspection, and applied a fresh coat of wax.
We soon embarked on an epic “farewell to mom’s car” journey. On the first day (225 miles), we traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive, and Luray Caverns, and stayed overnight at Skyland Resort (inside Shenandoah National Park). The following day (405 miles), we visited the Natural Bridge and Natural Bridge Caverns before visiting Roanoke and landing in Knoxville, Tennessee, for the night. Day Three entailed the fewest number of miles (180), but arguably the most smiles as we forged into the Great Smoky Mountains to Deals Gap, North Carolina, and got to experience every single curve of the 318 found along the eleven miles of the infamous Tail Of The Dragon (three times) before heading to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville for the night.
While at The Biltmore, my son and I toasted Michele and left a special message in the guest book. After we toured Biltmore House, we proceeded on the 455-mile journey home. Around the midpoint of this leg of the trip, a Durham, North Carolina, police officer in a stealthy blacked-out and unmarked Dodge Charger further commemorated the last ride of the 335i when she issued me my very own speeding citation with a mandatory court date. Before reaching our final destination, we stopped off at a Taco Bell (one of Michele’s guilty pleasures).
It was truly a special road trip that my son and I will forever cherish. It was one that I know Michele would have enjoyed had she been with us, but also would have been pleased that we did it in her absence. In my son’s room now hangs a framed action shot from the Tail Of The Dragon with a T4FS license plate.
Like Michele, her mint 335i M Sport (with 27,147 miles on the clock) left our family prematurely, but we have many great experiences to look back on. I’d like to think that whoever the caretaker of this prized vehicle is now has a permanent smile while driving it, and can’t help but tell anyone who will listen how much they “f***ing love this car”—just as she did.