Continuing the trend of normal content, it’s Thursday, which makes it the perfect day to do a throwback article. I’m more creative than just re-running an old article, so let’s take a look back at one of my favorite experiences since joining ECS in 2017. That would have to be the European Experience 2018 trip where I packed up my E30 and drove all the way down to Tybee Island, Georgia to meet up with my friends from back home in Nashville. Today, I’d like to revisit that trip to the best of my memory.
– – – – – – – – – March, 2018 – – – – – – – – – – –
Early Thursday morning before the show, I was not ready to hit the road. I still had to put some finishing touches on the E30 after not driving it all winter. I finished replacing the control arms, installed Turner Motorsport Monoball FCABs, KONI adjustable dampers, and new tires with a fresh alignment earlier that week, but stupidly left the LIQUI MOLY oil change, coolant flush, and final inspection of the car for the morning I was to make the trip.
Naturally, I hadn’t packed, either. My friends and I were going to meet up at a Walmart just South East of Nashville around midnight, so I had plenty of time. The plan was to arrive in Nashville for dinner, nap at my friend Justin’s house for a few hours, and then meet everyone else for a late departure. Unfortunately, my poor time management meant I was well behind schedule as I tightened the drain plug, bled the coolant, and tossed my gear into the trunk.
I said goodbye to my dog for the weekend (she hates my straight-piped E30 and has a tendency to jump out when the top is down, so she stayed behind) and ran through my final checklist as the E30 warmed up in the now midday sun. While it was still well below 60 degrees here, I was quite ready for the weather to warm the farther South I headed.
Already behind schedule by several hours, I set off shortly before 1 pm. Ahead of me was an eight-hour drive to Nashville followed by another seven hours to Savannah, Georgia. Consequently, that would also be the farthest I had ever driven the E30 in a single stint, but I wasn’t too concerned after I had pulled it from hibernation and performed extensive preventative maintenance.
Still, I drove cautiously as I left Ohio and traveled South. The weather continued to warm with clear skies and bright sun overhead, which made me wish I had been intelligent enough to buy sunscreen for the trip. I had a healthy burn by the time I reached Cincinnati after driving with the top down since Columbus. My spirits remained high as I crossed into Kentucky, near the halfway mark to Nashville.
Several uneventful hours later, I pulled into my friend Justin’s front yard and met him outside for a beer and a quick break before we took his truck to my favorite hot chicken restaurant in Nashville. Satisfied with the hottest possible fried chicken in my tummy, we went back to his house. Stupidly, instead of napping for the four hours I had before I was set to meet my friends, we watched YouTube videos and caught up on each others’ lives from the several months we had been apart since my move to Ohio. Before I could catch my senses and some sleep, it was just ten minutes until I was set to meet up with the rest of my group.
I quickly gathered my things, jumped back in the E30, and headed a few blocks away to our meet-up parking lot. I was the last to arrive, which meant I had barely any time to run into the store for a pack of energy drinks and snacks that would sustain me for the remaining seven hours I had to drive. Fortunately, one of my friends who did not drive his car agreed to ride with me and keep me awake. Being an E30 guy himself, I had him promise to make me pull over and let him drive if he noticed me drifting off to sleep from the nearly 24-hour day I would be pulling.
That came in handy, as, by the time we reached Atlanta in the early morning hours, I was hardly able to keep my eyes open. We alerted the group that we needed to pull over and switch drivers. We put the top back up, I jumped in the passenger seat of my E30 for the first time ever and handed the keys to Kevin for the remainder of the drive. Almost as soon as I slumped into the passenger seat, and despite the four or five energy drinks I had guzzled to stay awake, I was passed out, head hanging out the open window, and teeth catching bugs while I snoozed through the drone of my straight pipe heading down the Georgia highway.
I woke up as we turned off the main highway to hit a side road somewhere between Macon and Savannah around 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. Everyone needed a break as we still had two more hours to Savannah, but on the desolate South Georgia section of highway, we hadn’t found a real exit in miles. I woke up, found that I had eaten roughly a pound of sand gnats, and picked wings, bug guts, and road grime from my teeth. Kevin couldn’t stop laughing, explaining I fell asleep with my head completely out the window. Being well over six feet tall, that meant my entire face was sticking out past the side view mirror, so Kevin was able to watch in the reflection as my open mouth swallowed swarms of bugs.
I took the controls back from him after a brief break on the side of the road and we resumed our trip. Everyone was exhausted, myself especially, as we all set our sights on the beaches of Tybee Island. The closer we drove to Savannah, the more the sky darkened, but we were determined. I had made a plan to drink a beverage on the beach and dig my toes in the sand, so rain or shine, that’s what I was going to do.
The weather continued to hold as we pulled into Savannah and stopped our convoy for some gas and to speak with our Airbnb host about check-in availability. Since the house wouldn’t be ready for a few more hours, we decided to head straight to the beach before the rain descended. Fortunately, we made it to Tybee in time to unload a cooler and some snacks, head to the beach in our swimwear, and enjoyed some cold, windy, but sunny, beach time before the wind picked up and a storm moved in overhead.
We sheltered under the pier with the small number of other beachgoers who had decided to hit the shores despite the ominous clouds that had gathered and waited out the rainstorm. In Georgia fashion, the storm passed after less than half an hour with the sun quickly returning so we could spend the rest of our downtime on the beach before our house was ready for us. I helped set up our day tent and immediately laid down for another nap, still tired from the long two days without much more than a few hours of bug-filled sleep.
When I woke up, the tent was already back in its bag and my friends were nearly packed. We heard from our host that the house was ready for us, so we went back to the cars and wiped our feet before heading to the house we had rented just off the island for the weekend.
After arriving at our rented house, we all claimed sleeping spots and unpacked. I unrolled my trusty sleeping bag on an air mattress I would be sharing with my new friend Taylor, turned on some anime, and went back to sleep. A meet had been planned with more of our friends who had driven down from Michigan later that night, so I caught as much sleep as I could before we went to join them.
The pre-meet was massive, even when we arrived roughly on time. I had been to the area many times growing up, as my grandparents lived a short drive away on St. Simon’s Island, but I had never experienced a car culture there. What we found was surprising. Locals and weekend travelers there for the show filled the lot under the causeway to Tybee Island for a mostly BMW meet.
By nearly midnight, the lot was clearing out. Some rowdier attendees had begun doing burnouts, donuts, and drifting around the parking medians, so my group decided it was time to head back to the house for some sleep before the show early the next morning.
Well, some of us decided to sleep. Taylor, Kevin, and I stayed back at the house while the rest of the group left once more to hit the Savannah strip for parties. Still tired, I went back to bed for some precious sleep that I desperately needed. My circadian rhythm had been completely upended, so I intended to be awake at a normal hour the next morning to wash my car and prepare for the show that would take place that day and the following morning.
Saturday morning, I woke up well before the group and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee and croissant for breakfast before digging all my detailing and washing gear from my trunk. I found the hose and began washing my E30. It was completely covered in bugs, road grime, and gunk from the hanging Spanish Moss swinging from the trees above our driveway. I took my time detailing the car while the rest of my friends woke up one-by-one, joining me outside to do the same with their cars.
After a slow start, we were all finished washing up and ready to caravan to the show, which was set to begin officially in about the time it would take us to drive there. We lined up, drove in, and joined the extremely long queue of event attendees all waiting to enter the gates.
European Experience is, or was, a breathtaking show. In part due to the excessive Georgia heat and humidity, but mostly due to the layout of the venue. It is relaxed, much like the beach vibe that surrounds it, and beautiful. Cars park on the sandy, grass-covered fields around part of a rarely-used race track, with a large tarmac area for vendors and booth cars. There is an atmosphere of camaraderie as the show draws in European car enthusiasts from all over the country for the same reason: to appreciate builds we might never have the chance to see in person all in one place.
It primarily attracts vintage Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen owners, but contemporary cars, Porsches, MINIs, and even imported Seats, Renaults, and more turn up for the show. The first day is reserved for enjoying the turnout and letting the judges make their rounds for all the registered ‘show’ car classes. I registered, but only to have the early-entry and parking that my group, unfortunately, did not make it to the show in time to enjoy, so I mostly ambled around, met up with some ECS coworkers at the Black Forest Industries booth, and photographed the cars with Taylor. Ais and our then-videographer Steve also provided more visual content, which you can enjoy throughout this article.
When the Sun began to set, we were all ready to head back to the beach. We packed up, headed to the island, and enjoyed some more relaxation on the sand. I sat back and let the tide come in around me while I thought about the drive I had to make the following day after the final part of the show. All I wanted then was another week of vacation that I wouldn’t have.
That night, half of our group made burgers at the house while the other half went back out to the strip for more parties. Being the eldest and most responsible, I stayed in and washed dinner down with a few shots before settling down to watch Akira with Taylor and Caleb, who were also sun-tired and in no mood to party.
The next morning, we made our way back to the venue for a morning of events. The two-step completion, low-car-limbo, and awards ceremonies would all take place that day before we would all depart back to our respective homes. I took the E30, packed full with my friends and random strangers, and placed second (technically tied for second with a VW Thing) in the Limbo, which made me incredibly salty. The prize was a full Air lift Performance 3p setup, which I desperately wanted. Unfortunately, a static E36 vert that aired its tires down beat me by less than a centimeter, so I accepted defeat and applauded their commitment.
Regardless, I still had a blast. Hate on limbo contests all you want, but there is just something so entertaining about making your car as low as possible while a crowd watches you be absolutely ridiculous. You can tell by the smile on all our faces in the pictures that it is stupid fun. Unfortunately, that fun marked the end of our weekend in Georgia and meant we had to head home.
We had already packed up and checked out of our Airbnb, so all we had to do was gather the troops and begin the drive back toward home. For my group, that was Nashville. For me, though, it was another eight hours North. Taylor rode back with me to Chattanooga, where we stopped for late-night dinner at Aretha Frankenstein’s, a favorite hole-in-the-wall pub just off the North Shore. It was then, at nearly 10:00 pm, I realized there was no way I would last the trip back to Ohio alone. I had to make a choice.
I could either continue driving back with them for the night to Nashville or wake my parents up to stay the night. Since they only lived just up the street from Aretha’s, I decided that would be my best option. I called them, finding they were still awake, and they agreed to let me crash there for the night.
After extended goodbyes from everyone, they headed back to Nashville and I lazily drove a few blocks up to Coolidge Park, where the entrance to my parents’ neighborhood began. That night I enjoyed a real bed for the first time in several days and a good night’s sleep in the comfort of my parents’ guest room.
I woke up the next morning for breakfast and found that my father had recently retired his old Toyota Sequoia, which he had driven for nearly twenty years, and replaced it with a new truck. He asked over coffee if I would be interested in buying it for what the dealership had offered in trade-in value. When he told me the figure, my jaw dropped open, likely revealing some bugs I still had yet to pick from my teeth. I quickly pulled out my phone and wired him his asking price over PayPal.
My next call was to U-Haul, where I found a trailer locally I could rent for the one-way trip back home to Akron. I took the truck to U-Haul, hitched up the trailer, and headed back to my parents’ house, still astonished that for less than I had spent on gas for the weekend, I had a fairly clean, one-owner, tow rig and trailer that would make the remainder of my return trip incredibly relaxing.
This proved to be my saving grace for the weekend, as, despite my decent night’s sleep, I was still playing catch-up from pulling the all-nighter to get down to Georgia and my head was pounding from the straight-piped drone of my E30. I loaded up the trailer with my car (after no small amount of struggle and hunting through my dad’s garage for wooden planks to get the low car up the ramps) and hugged my parents. I thanked them repeatedly for keeping the truck for me and made my way out of their neighborhood and back towards home.
The rest of the drive was incredibly uneventful, if painfully slow. The nearly 500,000-mile truck struggled up hills while pulling my BMW on the trailer, and definitely showed its age, but it made it home. Due to the slow pace, I didn’t make it to my house until well after U-Haul had closed, which meant I would just have to wait until the next day to unload the car and return the trailer. Eager for my bed and to see my dog, I parked my rig on the street and unpacked the necessities before collapsing in my bed, exhausted but fulfilled thanks to a weekend of fun with my friends on the coast.
– – – – – – – – – – Present Day – – – – – – – – – – –
With EUEX 2020 canceled even before the COVID-19 outbreak, I knew this car season would be incredibly different than years’ past. We have not been able to enjoy our regular events, small meet-ups, or even just casual evenings out thanks to national lockdowns and social distancing measures. Nothing will make me happier than when we can return to normal if there even will ever be such a thing. Until then, we just have our memories and our hobbies at home to keep us entertained. Hopefully, we don’t run out of good times to reminisce over to stave off the boredom and depression. Soon, we should all be back to some semblance of regular activity, but for now, we’re still sheltering in place…