My main task yesterday was reaching the end of our national nightmare: getting rear fog lights on our car so we can register the da ... uh, thing, here in Germany.
To recap the state of play, internet research had yielded things that weren't completely true, and two dealers, the BMW mothership, and BMW North America collectively looked at me as if I was asking them to add a teleportation option to the da ... uh, thing.
I suspected the laws of physics had not, in fact, been suspended on our car. Having perused schematics and parts diagrams, the glaring lack of differences meant that it just couldn't be that hard. Fortified with this knowledge, I continued working my best Google-fu, and following a chain of searches I couldn't possibly reconstruct got from computer codes to this:
Cursory inspection immediately proved internet wisdom: it would have been easier to turn the car into a teleportation device than to have the rear fogs -- which we will almost certainly never need -- work without a damn wire.
Which is how I got to my main task yesterday. Armed with wire and connector pins, and diagrams and procedures, I headed off to our garage to finally slay a monster far more wily than St. George's dragon.
And save someone's life.
In journo-speak, I think this is called "burying the lede". Ordinarily, this is an editorial no-no, but, I hope, this will make sense later.
The garage where we park our car is difficult to describe, especially to Americans. It is down the street and around the corner from our apartment, and is really more of a closet than a garage. This picture will help:
Apartment buildings are built around the perimeter of the block, while parking facilities occupy most of the area in the center. Ours is shaped something like a two story donut, with the ramp to the second story and the exit to the street are on one side, and the admin building is in the center. Our car cubby is on the other, far less traveled, side:
As I was rooting around under the dashboard to get access to the lighting computer -- yes, really, that is a thing -- so I could add the missing wire to the light switch no one at BMW could be fussed to learn about, another guy in the third white door to my right pulled out his minivan, and drove it onto some service ramps, pretty much like these:
For those who aren't gear heads, these things are an easy, fast, and safe way to get some clearance under the car. Drive up on them, stop before going off the end, and you are good to go.
Having done that, he grabbed some wrenches and crawled underneath to do something or other, and I returned to dealing with my task at hand.
Then I heard scraping, and looked over just in time to see the ramps squirt out from under the front wheels and the minivan fall onto the guy.
He smacked the bumper with his right hand in a completely redundant effort to get my attention, then pretty much stopped moving.
That right there qualifies as an "oh shit" moment.
Having an adequate grasp on the obvious, I ran over and tried to lift the car off him.
I'm like almost every one else. I think of the thing I should have said, or done, minutes, hours, days or years after the fact. If I was as Johnny on the spot as I am in my reconstructed recollections, I'd be making a heck of a lot more money for writing than Great Guys pays me, that's for sure.
But just this once, the right thing showed up exactly when I needed it: grab one of the squirted ramps, slide it under the bumper, and use it as a lever to lift the car. It didn't get me much, only several inches, but that was enough for him to get out from under the car, breathless and face a bit banged up, but otherwise not particularly worse for wear.
Physically, anyway. I'll bet that will be a nightmare gift that will never stop giving.
I don't speak German, he doesn't speak English, so a crushing bear hug -- he out heighted and weighed me by five inches and fifty pounds -- got the message across.
A few minutes later, shaking from the adrenalin surge and practically sobbing (which I thought a strange reaction, but my wife the nurse assures me otherwise), I couldn't help but think how contingent all this was. Never mind the convoluted path that got me to Düsseldorf in the first place, had my trivial fog light solution not been so hard to find, and the dealers so incurious, and the manufacturer so ignorant about how they build their cars and even more unwilling to find out, and I wasn't on a trip that day, I wouldn't have been there to see the car fall on him.
And no one else would have, either. It could well have been many hours before someone passed that way (in the time I've spent working on the car to get it ready for inspection, I've never seen someone in that area).
It wasn't that I did anything heroic; that's a foolish thought, but rather that I was standing there, instead of all the other places I could have been, with just enough presence of mind to see a lever in a ramp.