"You just go along figuring some things don't change... like being able to drive on a public highway without someone trying to murder you. Then one stupid thing happens, and all the ropes that kept you hanging in there get cut loose. And it's like there you are, right back in the jungle again."-David Mann, Duel
There's nothing like getting out on the highway and just driving. That might be a mystery to anyone who treats driving simply as the utilitarian task of getting from point A to B. But after the week-in, week-out grind on over-populated surface streets and freeways where the proverbial Rat Race never was so convincingly illustrated, there's nothing like escaping with a little automotive catharsis.
Of course, there's driving, and then there's driving a really good car on an especially secluded, seldom-traveled and deviously winding road. No car I've driven recently has stirred me like our long-term Z4 M. It isn't the most powerful, fastest, best handling, most economical, cheapest, or most comfortable car I've ever driven. But it's a pretty good combination of all those things.
Angeles Crest Highway, otherwise known as California Highway 2, is a pretty good local road. Likewise, it isn't the most breathtaking road I've driven, and it can hardly be described as seldom-traveled. But for a reasonably clear, relatively technical road, you could do a lot worse at the back doorstep of the Los Angeles basin. It's a decent drive as long as you've got no traffic, but more importantly, it's a passage to California's high desert, which is in turn a passage to the Sierra Nevada mountains and some of the best driving roads anywhere.
Now, if I can just get past this truck...
For the last dozen miles a hulking, filthy tanker rig has blocked my view of the road. A grave admonition, "FLAMMABLE," is stenciled in what once might have been red paint across the ovular rear face of the tank trailer. It's now barely legible, coated in what must be a decade's worth of road grime and oxidation. Trundling down the long, sweeping grades that make up the tail end of Angeles crest en route to scenic Palmdale, the tanker resembles nothing so much as a massive, rust-colored turd. It downshifts with a low, farting rumble and roiling black smoke pours from the exhaust stacks, enveloping the BMW in cloying automotive flatulence. This is not what they mean by clean diesel.
The northbound lane opens suddenly, widening to reveal the final passing lane before the last downhill leg of the Crest. I shift to fourth and goose the throttle, whipping around the mobile roadblock as the M's S54 straight six screams past 4500 rpm, putting me in the middle of the powerband's choice tenderloin. The tanker blasts me with its airhorn for my efforts, swerving drunkenly in a crippled attempt to cut me off. Too late as I hit 7500 and shift to fifth, left arm jerking into the one-fingered So Cal salute-a bad habit, sure, but one that seems these days as reflexive as a hiccup.
I ease off throttle as the leviathan recedes into my rearviews and shift to sixth. If there's one thing 12 months of driving the Z4 M has taught me, it's that speed can be deceptive. And detrimental to one's driving record. Better to save the hedonism for short bursts along empty stretches of road or lonely mountain passes. For all its virtues, Highway 2 northbound counts as neither.