Every once in a while I receive an email that stops me in my tracks and makes me smile at the fact that I go through life the way I do. Such was the case with this one, which I reproduce verbatim below:
Hi, Rob. I don’t expect you to remember me, but you saved my butt on the side of the road near Boston College about 35 years ago.
I was driving my ‘76 2002 outside of Cleveland Circle when the engine cut out. I pulled over, opened my hood and started trying to diagnose the issue. I realized fairly quickly that this was not likely to be a ‘side of the road’ kind of repair, and began to wonder what to do next. I was a broke college student before cell phone ubiquity, so simply calling AAA and waiting for a tow was not an option.
You pulled over a few minutes into my pondering. You got out of your Bavaria, approached me and asked what was going on. I described the symptoms, and what I had tried so far. You took a look, had me crank the engine and almost immediately said I needed a fuel pump. It was near dusk on a weekend, so finding a fuel pump for a 76 2002 would be really challenging, aside from the fact that I was dead on the side of the road.
Amazingly, you said you actually had a spare fuel pump at your place and offered to swap that one in. You drove me to your home (I believe in Allston/Brighton), got the pump and some tools and we drove back to my stranded car. You then helped me remove the faulty one and install the replacement. With a quick turn of the oblong key, my car came back to life.
I thanked you up and down and asked what I could do to repay you. You wrote your address on a piece of paper, and said if I could replace your spare fuel pump, we’d be square.
A few days later, I got a new fuel pump and planned to drop that off the following weekend. Then I couldn’t find the piece of paper with your address. I kept the fuel pump in my trunk and whenever I was in the Allston/Brighton area I’d try to replay the drive to your house in my memory to try and find it. Never found it.
Fast-forward all these years and I was looking for an independent BMW shop for repairs to my ’12 X3. Yes, I’ve been a BMW owner consistently since 1985. I went to the BMW CCA website—which I haven’t been to in years—hoping to find a recommendation. In my browsing, I found a post you wrote, and immediately recognized your name and photo after all these years. A quick additional search brought me to your website.
So first of all, thank you for your kindness to a stranded college kid a long time ago. There are many people I’ve helped on the side of the road in the years since, and your example factored into many of these interactions.
Regrettably, my ‘76 2002 is long gone, along with the fuel pump still in the trunk. I’d be glad to send you another one if you still want, and most of all I wanted to again thank you for a random act of kindness many years ago. Your act may have had a small impact in the universe, but the ripples remain to this day.
All the best,
If you don’t know, the term for what Mr. Mahoney is describing—you being in trouble, someone helping you without expecting payment, and you emulating that behavior and doing the same for someone else—is “pay it forward.” I have been on both ends of it many times. It’s a beautiful thing because whether you’re the giver or the recipient, you can almost feel the oars in the spiritual water, helping our world go around.
On the giving end, it was particularly satisfying to help out a 2002 owner whose giubo self-destructed heading the last few miles into the Vintage in Hot Springs North Carolina in 2019. I couldn’t safely jack up his car on the grass of the field at Hot Springs, but I said that I’d do the repair provided there was a place with shade and a hard floor. He found another car guy whose house with a small barn with a cement floor was less than a mile away. When I was done, the 2002 owner tried to pay both of us, but the homeowner said, “No. It’s called pay-it-forward. It’s how it’s done. Next time, you help someone.” I loved the terse economy of this simple statement.
And on the receiving end, my entire Ran When Parked adventure (buying the decade-dead ’72 2002tii, nursing it back to health, and driving it home) wouldn’t have happened without the help of Jake and Liz Metz, Dave Gerwig, Lance White, and others.
But to be thanked 35 years after the fact, that’s something special.
I remember the fuel-pump incident well. Mr. Mahoney left out the detail where I first removed the pump, slid off the nylon block between the pump and the head, and dragged it back and forth on the asphalt to shorten it, which effectively increases the length of the stroke of the fuel pump rod; this can sometimes eke a little more life out of a dying mechanical fuel pump. When that didn’t work, we ran back to my house, which was maybe a mile and a half from where his car had died, and grabbed my spare pump. There are two styles of 2002 mechanical fuel pumps, and they use different length push rods, but if I recall correctly, I didn’t realize this at the time, and we had to go back to the house again to find a rod that matched the replacement pump.
No, I did not ask Mr. Mahoney to send me a new fuel pump, because I love the idea that even though he no longer owns the 2002, maybe it is still out in the world with that spare fuel pump in the trunk, waiting to help someone else.
Paying it forward feels like a natural thing to do in a niche passion like the vintage BMW world. I mean, when you see someone with a stranded BMW 2002, and you also own one, of course you’re going to stop and help them. The challenge is to extend it so that it’s not so nichey—you know, helping people who don’t necessarily share the same interests and backgrounds. Now, that would really keep our world spinning ’round.
But… yeah. Best email ever.—Rob Siegel