It was January 1992, and I was driving my 1978 BMW 320i. The 320i was not a very good car (IMHO). It was the replacement for the beloved 2002, and I had a roundlight 02 up on blocks awaiting parts (lots of them) and attention (lots of it). The 320i had the same 2 liter motor, but with more pollution control, more relays, and more weight. It looked good (with euro bumpers), and the interior was more modern, but in many ways it was a much worse car. This particular car came to me from family and had some sentimental attachment. What’s that you say, it was the birth of the legendary 3 series? Well yes, and no. It was the first car with the legendary 3 series moniker, but the 3 series really began with the 2002, or perhaps the Neue Klasse models before it. In any case, few would consider the 320i (in US trim) to be the first of the great 3 series cars. But I digress….
I was returning from Orlando to the west coast of Florida. I was using route state route 50 rather than I-4 because I-4 veers to the south and is much longer in distance and time for my intended destination. That is, providing that you do not get stuck behind a convoy of logging or quarry trucks which frequent that route. Or octogenarians traveling west who are avoiding the high speeds of the interstate. Or tractors travelling between pastures. None of those presented much of a problem in this instance because it was…2:00am. Temperatures were relatively cool, and the 320i was running great, showing no evidence of the electrical gremlins I had been chasing. It felt responsive and lithe, and was speeding along “faster than a scalded rump dog”, as the chef at the local diner would say. FL50 had no lights whatsoever once you left Claremont west of Orlando, except for the small towns you would pass through. It is a truly rural road in the Florida interior. Possums and armadillos were a nocturnal menace. Nothing like the threat of deer, but it was not the safest road to go fast on.
Except tonight. It was 2:00am on a night that had possibly the biggest full moon that I had ever seen. It cast a light that created shadows and lit up the fields and cows, yet it was in no way similar to sunlight. I got the sunroof crank from the glovebox (it was missing the set screw, and would fall out of the roof and hit you squarely in the kneecap or in the wedding vegetables), and opened the sunroof all the way. Through the sunroof, the rythmic orange lights of the street lamps in Orlando soon gave way to the steady glow of mother nature’s nightlight. It was as if I was in a Film Noir, and I should have been driving a Jag XK120 with the top down, sawing at the wheel, careening around corners out in the country, fleeing a rendezvous gone wrong, with a scared (but always seductive) woman in the passenger seat.
Both the gas pedal and the speedometer were buried on a few stretches, and the stretch through the Withlacoochee forest was magical as it has a few curves and has deep forest on both sides. I could have been in Germany’s Black Forest, and the 320i was fooled into stellar performance as if not to disappoint its country of origin. The moonlight lit up the road like a silver ribbon, and there I was sailing along the ribbon on moonbeam power. Despite the speed, this segment seemed to go on for a long time, and I did not encounter a single vehicle. I was alone, at speed, with the glow of the moon bathing the interior of the car as effectively as it was lighting the road. I could have turned my headlights off. The midlife Koni shocks were as new, and the suspension balance was perfect in the flow between sweepers.
Finally, there was a segment through the hills and curves of eastern Hernando county. While still in the middle of nowhere, I had to stop. I knew that city lights would soon diminish the beauty of the dream scape. I knew that I would have to slow down and become just another car traveling through town late at night. So I pulled off the road in farm country with no civilization in sight. It was a scene from a Disney movie (maybe I never left Orlando..hhmmm). I turned off the engine and got out. The car was a luminous silver in the soft-focus glow rather than the metallic blue it should have been. The slight bubbling around the rear fender lip, and the faded patch of paint on the roof and trunk were all gone. The BBS wheels had none of the chips and blemishes and brake dust evident in daylight. I got back in and sat for a while looking out across orange groves to one side, and acres of open pasture on the other. The sounds of the frogs and the insects somehow contributed to the sense of silence like some magical sound cancellation system.
Then I looked up at the still enlarged moon and studied its landscape. It was responsible for all of this. This moment was magic, and I was aware that it was special. Back on the ground, a rabbit scampered across the field, and some of the cows were up and grazing. They knew that on nights like this, the grass tasted much better than at any other time, and that it was worth staying up late to experience it.