The sun peeked through morning clouds as I came around a bend. I soon saw Jerry Dotson’s 1938 327 cruising along ahead and a ’60s-era Mercedes-Benz at the intersection. Approaching the red light ahead with countless intriguing cars crossing right to left, my excitement revved as much as those engines. Blocks away from the morning meet, it felt like peeking at Christmas presents piling up early beneath the tree.

Seeing Jerry Dotson rolling in his 1938 327 meant the meet was near!

This all made me wonder what the rest of the cars (well, their owners, really, unless this was a Pixar movie) were thinking as they cruised toward the meet. What brought people out to these events? What were they anticipating?

I spent the morning catching up with friends and taking pictures instead of dutifully researching for this column, but I still wanted to know, so as we try to navigate through what we hope is the denouement of this grueling COVID-19 story, let’s hear from other folks about what they enjoy about car gatherings—maybe what they miss, why they go to these Cars & Coffee-type events, what they’re looking forward to at the next one, and basically, how they “car-meet.” (It is a verb, after all!) Please share your own stories in the comments section!

Johnny Valencia and Aimee Shackelford’s “Blue Car” attended a 2019 meeting at Funfzehn Auto (@funfzehnauto) in Orange, California, just weeks after arriving from South Carolina.

When I think of these meetings, I often think of Aimee Shackelford (@petrolgirl) and Johnny Valencia (@southerngermanation), two car-meet veterans who now count both coasts as home. “For me, a car show in Southern California is pure gold,” Shackelford said. “Here we have every kind of automobile, attending multiple shows held every weekend throughout the entire year. There are many weekends when I’m able to attend two and three shows in a day.” (See? It’s not just me!)

“We’re a bit spoiled, to say the least,” she continued. “I love a car show that has a lot of variety: exotics, classics, JDM, trucks, Jeeps, and more. When you’re a gearhead, you typically attend car shows for not only the cars, but for the people. So many great stories are shared at these car events.”

Valencia echos the people-appreciation theme. “I rarely go to a show for the cars,” he says, “I go for the people. The cars are an added bonus, so the more unique and different a car is, like a Maserati Merak or a pickup truck with Lambo doors, the more likely I’ll take the time to go see it and snap a few pictures.”

Luc Dessange drove six-plus hours to SoCal for a weekend of car shows, including the All Makes Welcome (@allmakeswelcome) meet at Commodity in Long Beach, California.

I am always amazed at how far some people drive for a show—but then again, driving is generally why we have cars. Northern California resident Luc Dessange (@lucdessange) drove more than six hours in his S54-swapped E46 330i ZHP to see friends and enjoy a car-filled weekend. “Car meets are a blast,” Dessange said, fresh off his whirlwind weekend in Southern California. “I had planned to come down this weekend and stay with a friend in Los Angeles and hit up some Cars & Coffee meets. I’m from the Bay Area, so it was a bit of a drive, but totally worth it. Many of the meets at home have been cancelled or shut down, so I knew it would be fun to make a trip down. I hit up three events, which included classics, BMWs, and hypercars. It was amazing seeing the variety of cars and the awesome people who actually drive those cars while down here. Meeting cool people and hanging out with friends just makes the whole experience that much better.”

I was impressed when I saw Dessange in SoCal after that six-hour drive south. I’ve also always been awestruck when I see Lancaster, California, resident Stephen Villagrasa (@stephenvillagrasa) at meets; he often drives 100-plus miles each way to get to meets. While you might be doing the math to see how fast that odometer might pile up the trips around the gears, he’s not worried; one of his chariots, an E30 318iS, has more than 384,000 miles on it.

After 115 miles to get to a Sunday Steel meet in Laguna Hills, California, it was definitely E30 time for Stephen Villagrasa.

“For these events, Step One for me is picking which car to drive, but honestly it usually depends on the mood I’m in,” Villagrasa says. “It’s the E30 when I’m ready to attack corners and the E39 M5 when I’m ready to attack the highway. It’s also a great excuse to get in my car and drive, especially since I’ve been driving much less than normal due to COVID-19. Once I get there, I’ve made so many great friends at these things over the years that it is great to catch up with them when I can make it.”

SoCal might receive its share of car-show accolades, but we know that the good stuff is not reserved only for the Golden State. Miguel Torres (@miguel_bimmer) lives in Pompano Beach, Florida, and is a fixture in more than just the Florida BMW community, including co-founding BMW Invasion. He has owned (and owns) his fair share of BMWs, including a beautiful F80 M3, and even with all his organizational roles, he still gets to enjoy some car meets, too.

The drives to and from so many Florida events are part of the fun for Miguel Torres. Photo courtesy of Gianpiero Comuzzi, @grizzly_lenz.

“Here are a few things I enjoy about the meets: First is planning, letting the wife know I’m booked for the day, marking that day on the calendar and starting the car prep,” Torres says. “Then prepping the car, including ordering new mods—regardless how big or small they may be, it’s about getting something new. Then we move onto the meet-up, figuring out who lives nearby and where to meet to drive all together as a group. That roll-up to the meet is as enjoyable as the meet, in most cases. That’s when you get to have friendly pulls with your friends and get to surprise them with how fast your car is now compared to the last time. Then you arrive to the meet; here’s where you spend some time around your car and talk to other enthusiasts and spectators, making new friends and sharing Instagram accounts. Most times, the day ends up with a photo shoot and a cruise to an eating spot, where you wind down and get ready to prep the car again for storage.”

Another member who considers which car to bring is long-time BMW CCA (and BMW CCCA) member and Southern California resident Chris Macha (@hbchris1952). Macha is no stranger to meets and events, often supporting and judging at Legends of the Autobahn and the Huntington Beach Concours, among others. Because so many drives and rallies were canceled last year, he gathered some friends with classic BMWs and made their own drive—the Kustenfahrt—through California’s coastal hills, but he still appreciates a weekend car meet.

Chris Macha loves meets, but also led a group of friends on his Kustenfahrt late last year through the coastal California hills.

“Car meets for me are a reason to get in one of my vintage BMWs on a Saturday morning and simply enjoy the drive to my destination,” Macha explains. “And once there, meeting other BMW owners is the icing on the cake where our passions are shared and discussed. Without car meets, I would not have met probably ten vintage BMW owners whom I now consider to be my best friends. And my knowledge regarding our shared passions would not have grown without their contributions.”

I was asked the other day by a non-car-enthusiast (I do have those friends) what I do at these meets. “So… you go to a parking lot… and walk around… and look at the cars parked in the parking lot?”

“Yes—you get it!” was the obvious reply. But for many, there is so much more—especially after the past year’s many challenges.

Seattle-area resident Tim Alfaro (@flipdaskript) is eager for meets to get back to normal. “I am most excited about upcoming meets because you get to see the cars in person and interact again face-to-face,” Alfaro says. “It’s almost like we had a pause for time to reflect—and when we get back to it, we’ll rediscover the passion we have for the cars and atmosphere. Lately, we’ve actually had time to do these things we didn’t have time to do on our cars when we were going to meets more often, so when things open up, we’ll be ready to enjoy the meets and roads again.”

Tim Alfaro made the drive from Seattle to BimmerFest in 2019 with his supercharged S62-swapped E39 Touring.

Alfaro is no stranger to those roads. He drove his supercharged S62-swapped E39 Touring down to BimmerFest a couple of years ago and continues to improve Touring 2.0. “I also spent time recently refreshing the sedan, adding some upgrades to the Touring, refreshing the other sedan and prepping for some Dinan goodies for the M6 Gran Coupé,” he notes. Seattle-area enthusiasts might be even more eager for meets to get back to normal in order to see all the work Alfaro has done recently.

Meets can often be cathartic in ways greater than just a relaxing weekend after a tough work week. For Braselton, Georgia, resident Michael Keavney (@heidi_the_335), car meets have become therapeutic. “For me, car meets help me get over social anxiety,” Keavney explains. “I normally don’t like being around groups of people, but for some reason talking about cars with other car enthusiasts just feels different—all the anxiety goes away. I like to go around and ask questions about interesting builds. I love it when others come to ask me about Heidi, my F30 335i. This is my first BMW—and really, my first modified car. I wasn’t financially able to do a build until later in life, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

Michael Keavney’s Heidi catches a lot of attention at Atlanta-area meets. [Photo courtesy of Michael Keavney, @heidi_the_335]

While you might immediately notice the dynamic 3M Satin Psychedelic wrap, Keavney’s 3 Series also has Bilstein coil-overs, BBS wheels, a custom exhaust, and MHD stage 2+ and XHP Stage 3 mapping.

Many meets start so early that departures are cloaked in pre-dawn darkness. Some of us are morning people, and others? Not so much. But most car-meet veterans are morning people by default, and San Bernardino, California, resident Vic Laurent (@itsvicsf82) has his morning routines that get his car-meet mornings off to a good start.

Vic Laurent  rolls out of a morning meet hosted by Sterling BMW in Newport Beach.

“What I love most about car meets and Cars & Coffee events is the excitement of prepping your car the night before, waking up early, grabbing that espresso, and hitting the open road in the early hours of the day when you can really drive and enjoy your car,” he muses. “I like to see all the different builds; classic and modern to the unique and rare vehicles, I appreciate them all! Best of all, car people are very approachable and love to talk cars. You really get to make good friends. It’s an atmosphere where people come together from all over to appreciate what gives us some happiness in this new world we’ve come to live in.”

There is no right or wrong way to car meet—as long as you’re not “that guy” who does morning donuts instead of eating them. For all of us who line in areas where car gatherings have been curtailed, here’s hoping the we soon emerge into a comfort zone that will get more of us back to sharing more similar stories and approaches. To those still able to gather safely and lawfully, meet on!—Kyle van Hoften

[Photos courtesy Kyle van Hoften unless otherwise noted.]

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