My X5 Moment

- BACKSEAT DRIVER By James Deakin -
On the eve of the biggest event in C! Magazine’s history, the connecting flight from Perth touched down in NAIA, while the welcoming committee circled feverishly around the airport. The air that night was thick, stale, and hung like an old heavy curtain that smelt like perspiration. It was so intense that you could actually see it on the faces of the passengers as they stepped out of the terminal and were greeted by a wall of humidity that was brewing up tropical storm, something or other.

It was just after midnight, and by this stage I still had no idea that I was just minutes into the darkest day of my career. By sunrise, I would be joining in our largest gathering of vehicles for a single test. It was the grand AUV comparo, coupled with our cover story, the BMW X5 and a Land Rover piece as well. We had secured a 20-acre venue for testing and photography and all hands were on deck. There were contingency plans as well as back ups for back up plans and someone even thought of preparing the exact amount of change for the toll and even wrapped it up in handy little rolls and placed them in each test vehicle – there were 12 all in all.

My in-laws just happened to be arriving for a holiday. The timing was perfect; after all, what better way is there to answer the "he’ll-never-amount-to-anything" phenomenon than pulling up in a gleaming silver X5, 3.0-liter diesel with all the trimmings. Security guards started re-routing traffic for me, while other well-wishers ogled, waiting to see the celebrity that was about to be fetched in this fabulous looking ride. It may be a fairly common sight these days, but back in early 2002, the X5 was extremely new in Manila and quite radical for its’ time – kind of like our magazine.

There were the usual exchanges of hugs and kisses, but all the fuss and fanfare of the arrival was diluted by my father-in-law’s interest in my new ride. "Fine set of wheels you got there, boy! Does she go?" He had walked right into my trap; ever since I picked up the unit just hours before, I was just dying for someone to ask me that. "Hop in, I’ll show you"

I opened it up on the first clean stretch after the airport. The thrust was lavish; it feels more like a shove with two open hands than a kick. Judging by his smirk, I had earned some valuable points with the in-laws. This was going to be a great trip, so I decided to take the long way home. There’s a certain smugness that comes with driving a Beemer; I have never been able to fully explain it, but those that have driven one need no explanation. Parking becomes a lot easier; entering exclusive private subdivisions just needs a wave instead of a sticker – it’s the same confidence you wear when you feel well dressed.

We got back home at about 1am. I spent the next hour and a half on and off the phone working out some details for the morning ahead. I checked my watch – it was 2:30am, which allowed me only about two hours sleep, so I took a quick nap.

Then it happened.

Imagine being woken up by someone yanking out your nose hairs. That’s exactly how I felt when my wife said, "Hon! Get up. There’s been a flash flood on the street! The cars are under water!" I must have had a better 0-100 time than the 4.8 version of the X5 getting from my bed to the door of the car, which was exactly as my wife had described: under water.

The waterline had just reached the door sill. I managed to open the door without getting water in. But it was rising. Fast. Another five minutes or so and I wouldn’t have been able to, surely. I twisted the key, and to my sheer relief, it turned over. It was absolutely pelting down – the kind of downpour where you need to scream just to be heard. Even with the windscreen wipers on full speed, visibility was still zero.

I had about 30 meters or so of raging flood waters to wade through before I could turn up an uphill street and get to safety. In my panic, and desperation to avoid a whopping debt spreading down a couple of generations, I floored it. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, smarty pants, but don’t you go shaking your head saying, "That’s the worse thing you could do" because you, along with everyone else that has given me grief over the last five years, will be crowned MVP, or most valuable person to have the day after I needed you.

In hindsight, we all have 20/20 vision. In reality, you tend to not think very clearly in situations like this. My primal concern was to get out. If you were running away from an armed attacker and there was only one way out, you would most likely smash through a window rather than try to stop and open it. Which, in a way, was exactly how I felt. But rather than parting the water like Moses, these aerodynamically designed modern vehicles slice through the wind (in this case, water) and ended up taking the water over the hood, into the air intake, into the cylinder and…Bang. Water does not compress, apparently.

So there I was. Stranded in the middle of rising flood waters, contemplating a jobless life of poverty and debt. We had only come up with two issues by this stage and already I was facing retirement. The dream had died, and the nightmare had just begun. In front of my in-laws, too. The only consolation was that at least I would drown in the lap of luxury. And, with all the power seats and gizmos, I figured that I would probably be electrocuted before I took my last lungful of water. But whatever way it went, I just prayed it would happen before any of the C! board of directors turned up. Because I knew they wouldn’t care which death I succumbed to so long as they could be sure it was a slow and painful one.

The rain had eased into a steady downpour but it was still dark, with nothing but a flickering street lamp overhead. It couldn’t get any worse than this. I had hit rock bottom. It was then that I looked up in the rear view mirror and saw my wife, waist high in filthy flood water, using every last ounce of strength she could muster up, trying to push me out. It may as well have been the rock of Gibraltar she was trying to move, but you wouldn’t have guessed that by the sincerity and determination on her face. She just wanted to help her husband out during his darkest moment, no matter how impossible that may have seemed at the time. Or maybe it was to hide the evidence so she didn’t inherit the debt.

The tow truck eventually arrived around two and a half hours after this had all started, and was organized by the only other voice of reason during all of this – our current EIC, Tito Hermoso. I remained in the car the entire time. Believe it or not, I still made it to the test. Without the X5, of course, but Tito had another one. Just try and picture the mood. The entire C! team were there: bosses, editors, staff, layout guys, photogs, the works. I felt a bit like that Columbian soccer player that accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal during the World Cup.

Needless to say, the stories that circulated after ranged from me ramping the vehicle off Roxas Boulevard, to plunging myself into the ocean down in Batangas, but as unspectacular as my version may be by comparison, that is just the way it happened.

The car was eventually repaired, but that didn’t get me off the hook. I lost six pounds in one week from the psychological torture alone.

During the initial talks with BMW, because a flood is considered an "act of God", insurance wouldn’t cover it. After my affidavit was lodged, however, it turns out that once it was clarified and proven that I drove the vehicle out from where it was parked and actually made it down the road, it became an act of stupidity, which, thankfully, was covered by their policy. Although to soften the blow, "Human error" may have been the official term used.

We’ve all had our own "X5 moment". But just remember, if it happened or happens to you, it does so for a reason. And what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger.

I believe that each experience we have in life are like little brush strokes, and sometimes, usually when you least expect it, along comes something that just paints everything black. It can be quite devastating of course, but think of it as a fresh canvas, and you’re free to paint a whole new picture. Even if it all may seem hopeless, as it did for me that day, sometimes, it is only in your darkest moments where the things that really matter the most in life can finally shine.

Here are some of your Backseat Driver comments from last week…

Motorcycle with plate no. VK 6234, be warned that the driver is reckless and to make things worse, arrogant when confronted. – 09217773651

I’m about to buy an SUV but I can’t decide between the Fortuner, Everest and Santa Fe. Help! – 09197112031 (Tell you what…We’ll try to come up with a comparo story. How’s that sound?)

Have you noticed that public jeeps usually don’t turn their headlights on during the night? This puts other motorists and people at risk! – Eric M.

Speak out, be heard and keep those text messages coming in. To say your piece and become a "Backseat Driver", text PHILSTAR<space>FB<space>MOTORING<space>YOUR MESSAGE and send to 2840 if you’re a Globe or Touch Mobile subscriber or 334 if you’re a Smart or Talk ’n Text subscriber or 2840 if you’re a Sun Cellular subscriber. Please keep your messages down to a manageable 160 characters. You may send a series of comments using the same parameters.)
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