In a change of pace, I want to tell the story of a non-car enthusiast. In fact, my friend Neil really could have cared less about cars. And yet some of the funniest automobile stories I know revolve around Neil and his BMW. Mostly these stories are funny because of Neil, not because of the car.
We first met at Fort Lewis, Washington in about 1990 when both assigned to the 9th Infantry Division. We lived in the same apartment complex in the little town of Steilacoom, overlooking Puget Sound. With a common interest in Depeche Mode, history, and quality furniture, we became fast friends.
Neil was unlike anyone I have ever known. He grew up in Los Angeles and New York City and attended Notre Dame. After earning his degree in English Literature he entered the Catholic seminary, only to decide that the church was not his calling. Casting about for a purpose in life he somewhat suddenly joined the Army, eventually graduating from Officer Candidate School.
Neil would hilariously imitate his mother's reaction to his joining the military, "You have ruined your life!" He served in Germany, the U.S., and Hawaii and commanded a company in Operation Desert Storm; Neil of Arabia we joked. An outstanding officer, he was serious about his profession. He was also serious about friendship.
Once Neil accepted you, he was your friend for life. Even after I was reassigned to Germany we kept in touch. Every once in a while, usually late at night, the phone would ring. "Telephone cocktails" he called these conversations and they would go on for hours, covering every subject under the sun. Laughter was a major part of any time with Neil. He was funny in that droll, sophisticated way that I have never mastered. It was like having a young Noel Coward in the living room.
|Neil in Heidelburg, Germany about 1995|
Oh, Neil's car... A 1989 BMW 325i four door with automatic transmission. Its trunk was inevitably full of empty coffee cups, rolling around. He took a cup to work each morning and when they piled up in the car he would simply transfer them to the trunk.
And that famous Yakima Valley wine tour? The air conditioning in that damned car failed on the way home. 110 degrees, badly hung over, and the AC goes. Misery. Hilarious misery.
I visited him in Washington, DC in 1996 or '97 and he still had the car. It wasn't running and I asked him why he didn't get it fixed. Neil explained that with plenty of public transportation available, he had applied for a AAA membership and planned to call a tow truck once the card arrived! Soon afterwards he transferred to Hawaii, and so telephone cocktails got a bit more expensive. In 2000 he was reassigned to Washington, DC.
Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Neil Hyland, Jr. was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. On the back of his headstone is this epitaph, a phrase I remember him mentioning from time to time.
He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.