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Prompted By Going to Work

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BMW 533i, 1983, white with blue leather interior

With the exception of walking when working downtown, briefly, when I lived in the Boston (while pregnant with David), and taking the bus in Chicago, I always drove to work. During my many years in sales, I either flew to out-of-town appointments and rented a car, or drove to see clients, using my own car.

As a child of Detroit, cars never meant much to me, as we always had a new model in the driveway. Not until we got our first BMW 533i in 1983. I had to learn to drive a stick shift when Dan bought his first BMW (a 320i) some years earlier, but this was my first love affair with a car. It felt like a rocket and I loved driving it. It was white with blue, leather seats, plush, but sports-like. I felt in command of the road. I listened to rock music, changing to New Wave radio when I crossed into Connecticut.

I often drove to Hartford and had no problem cajoling the business consultants from my company to come along with me. They would demonstrate the product, answer client-specific questions about how the product might be implemented for individual needs, and add general depth of knowledge after my initial call, if I felt there was real potential to make a sale.

I’d offer to let them drive. Even the president of the company came along once. He had a fancier model of BMW, but enjoyed driving mine. The upper echelon at the company teased me, “You’re making too much money if you can afford that car”. (It soon became our only car, as Dan was involved in an accident with my VW Rabbit, and we found, living in Boston, we only needed one car. When in town, he walked to work. Mostly, we both traveled a lot.)

It was a sad day when we traded in that car. We have driven BMWs for more than 40 years, but not one has meant as much to me as that one did.

(A musical offering from a Boston band appropriate to the era of my car.)


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    As a fellow Motown girl, it was cars all the way for me.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Detroit never had good public transit, probably because it IS Motown, so cars, cars, cars! When I went back to work after David was born, our nanny took baby David riding on the “T” just for a fun activity! A very different mindset.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    As a Manhattan worker most of my life (train, subway, walk) , I always felt a little guilty driving a car to and fro, but later realized that my commute was the exception not the rule. Often, there was no other choice. And I sure would have loved driving your BMW. Is your photo of your car or just the same model? In any event, you were sure generous to let others drive your car — hopefully, without accidents (that’s the lawyer in me worrying).

    And a great choice of music — and group — to go with your story. I will now have that earworm at least all day.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Unfortunately, I have no record of MY Bimmer, John. That’s a stock photo – the best I could find. I did not take lots of photos during my working years. None of my colleagues ever had an accident with my car.

      I just remembered that I had one once on a snowy day. This would have been around 1984. I waited for commuter traffic to clear and hoped the plows had done their thing. I had a reverse commute from the Back Bay out to Waltham (I worked in the Prospect Hill Executive Office Park on 3rd Ave, off Totten Pond Road), got on Storrow Drive near the Mass Ave Bridge. Of course, the BMW had rear-wheel drive, and as I went into the curve of the ramp, I fish-tailed and struck the guard rail. The front fender got bashed. I think the car was drivable, but needed body work. A close friend had a 320i and was doing a project in Saudi Arabia for several months, so he lent us his car while mine was in the body shop.

  3. Marian says:

    Great earworm on the audio, Betsy. Love the BMW and can see why you enjoyed driving it so much. Although today’s cars, with front wheel drive, would be safer under those Massachusetts weather conditions.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Every car since that one has been front wheel drive, Marian. I got caught in a snow storm coming home from work once (we had that car a long time, and had moved to Newton – I live at the top of Heartbreak Hill). I COULD NOT get up the hill! Traffic was heavy and I needed a running start, which I couldn’t get, with all the cars around me. It was impossible! And I was not dressed appropriately (nice business suit and heels). That was it…no more rear wheel drive cars after that.

      Glad you enjoyed my Boston-band musical interlude.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Such a different relationship to cars! Our family bought cars outright and then drove them to death, and I continued that pattern. First one I owned was when I was 27, and a very cheap second hand one at that. I didn’t even realize it had heat until one day I noticed it after driving around for a while–it was so inefficient. I am now a happy electric car person. But I am sure everyone including your colleagues enjoyed those great rides!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We now do the same thing. We buy nice cars, but keep them a long time. Once my dad got out the car business (in 1970), everything changed for us as well. And we always bought cars outright (Dad bought my mother’s car, he had a car from the dealership, but had to buy one when he went bust in 1967; more on that in a future story). We always buy our cars too. We only leased a car once and wound up buying it when the 3 lease was over, so never leased again, since we tend to keep the cars at least 10 years. My first car was my mother’s 7 year old Valiant, which she sold to me for one dollar when I student taught my senior year in college (and I had to get to Arlington High School every morning). I knew nothing about maintaining cars, so never replaced the oil. Many years later, I had a gasket problem. I’d go into a gas station and say, “fill up the oil and check the gas”. That car died in 1977. That’s when I bought the VW Rabbit, which we had until Dan was rear-ended on Memorial Drive, waiting to turn left to get to Kendall Square in 1983. By that time we had the 533i and we stuck with that one car until we moved to the suburbs and needed two cars again in 1986.

      • Khati Hendry says:

        Maybe the “buy outright” impetus came from the Depression years–which all our parents lived through and passed on those habits. Love the instructions you gave to “fill up the oil and check the gas”. Cars have been so central to our lives that it is hard to imagine another way, but I have noticed that many kids DON’T have drivers licenses the second they turn 16 the way it used to be. Along with staying at home longer. Times change.

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          Yes, perhaps, Khati. About today’s generation – I have a friend who described her 40 year old as having “climate anxiety”. He walks or rides his bike everywhere and tried to encourage her to do the same, while visiting with his wife and two small boys (they live on a dirt road here on Martha’s Vineyard – it just isn’t practical to go to the grocery store that way) and she lives up a huge hill in Pacific Palisades in LA, also not feasible. This generation is very concerned about the climate, which is great. That may be why they are seeking alternative ways to get around.

  5. Suzy says:

    Love the song, and glad you used it for your title! I did not know that the Cars was a Boston band – with that name, you would think they would be from the Motor City! 🙂 Also a good story about your beloved BMW. Sounds like it was fun to drive. Great detail about listening to rock music, but changing to New Wave radio when you crossed into Connecticut.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I know you know your rock bands, Suzy. Thanks for the title suggestion, too. It’s true that the Cars should be from Motown with that name! Those were the days when I knew my tunes! Now all I listen to is NPR or whatever music I’m learning for my chorus (sigh…we just got a survey about how safe would we feel coming back to sing if we wore masks, were all vaccinated, etc. I said NOT AT ALL!)

  6. Fun story Betsy, and you even impressed a company president with your car!

    I never thought much about cars or myself as a car lover …. until my husband bought himself a Thunderbird as a mid-life birthday present, and then I fell for that car . (See FENDER BENDER – my first Retro story!)

  7. Such a great song…and there’s Paulina (Ric Ocasek’s then soon-to-be-wife) drawing on the wall a la Suzy’s kids in last week’s story in Home Repairs! Betsy, I so relate to your experience of falling in love with your Bimmer. If you’re a car person (which I happen to be), driving certain cars is a special sensory experience. You do feel like you’re in command of the road, they seem to actually love the road, and you do want to turn the music up! The first time I drove a Porsche I was blown away…I thought, “Ah, now I get it!” and went on to own a couple. Same with my BMW which sadly died of old age just a couple years ago. I miss those cars!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      My husband is the Porsche person in our family, Barb. He LOVES his (he’s had 911s, a Cayenne, a beautiful Panamera and just this March got a Macan turbo. But that 533i was the first car that I ever experienced a true love of driving with. You describe that feeling well (and yes, we never understood what Paulina saw in Ric Ocasek, but they were married for years).

    • Bebe,
      As I told Betsy, I never thought of myself as a car person, but when we got a Thunderbird I must say I love it (even banged it up a bit , see my story FENDER BENDER)

      And we do have a 1994 (!) BMW which we somehow keep repairing instead of doing the smart thing which is getting rid of it already!

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