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From Vegas to Nelson

Calvin Fisher provides one of the many reasons why it’s always best to stick to the speed limit – especially in a foreign country

I was carving a winding line through the Nevada desert, with Las Vegas long faded from my mirrors and the tiny town of Nelson steadily pulling into view. Hunter S Thompson would assert that this was bat country … but it was in fact the land of Johnny Law. A white truck (that’s American for bakkie) that had been small in my rear-view had now grown large, and its roof had sprouted sirens. It was time to pull over. Fast.

Some context: thisall unfolded on an international trip.BMW had invited me to drive the new 2 Series Coupé in Vegas. I insisted that I needed to conduct a photoshoot at 5am with said vehicle for my story. To do that correctly, I’d need police escorts to block the Vegas Strip for me, so my photographer Barry could go about his affairs unobstructed. Which he did.

I was beginning to feel important, so I suggested we turn our shoot into something of a road trip, complete with police chaperones and a BMW X5 crew car trailing us. We drove in formation for 40 miles or so; Barry got the photos we required, and I was able to enjoy my newfound importance at the wheel of a German sports car, chasing the horizon I’d only ever seen in movies. Suddenly I was Kurt Russell in 3000 Miles To Graceland and literally Leaving Las Vegas like Nicolas Cage all at once, sunk into a leathery pew, with my shades polarising a sun hard at work baking the tarmac ahead and behind me. Bucket list verily ticked.

Then we came upon a road sign marked Nelson, a tiny movie town favoured by Hollywood’s finest celluloid, just 20 miles away. The cops pulled over first; we followed suit. “This is as far as we go,” the lanky officer drawled. “You’re entering a different jurisdiction now. But you got yer shots, right?” It was a rhetorical question – he’d spun on his heel halfway through the sentence and dropped into the driver’s seat of his cruiser. He rolled over till we were window-to-window and added, “You should be fine from here.” Okay.

Barry drove ahead with the crew in the X5; I brought up the rear. He’d rattle off a couple more action photos for the next 10 miles – epic tracking shots of the BMW and me going around corners, with the sun casting big, blooming lens flares from behind. Nelson loomed just eight miles ahead when the hazard lights of the X5 signalled me to a halt. After a short pow-wow we agreed that Barry and the X5 would amble ahead and set up for some shots of the town, then of me arriving. I’d wait 10 minutes on the side of this canyon road before belting it into town for the finale.

It’s worth mentioning that we hadn’t seen another car since we took the turn-off. So belt it I did, pinning the throttle and tugging a gear from the column-mounted paddles, leaving a cloud of dirt in my wake. The tarmac twisted, rose and dived like a bucking python, but I was on it and all over it, kissing the apex, rubbing up against the redline, until Nelson rose from the canyon. I settled into a mindless thrum, a smile threatening to bisect my face … and then I saw the state police truck, and my stomach dropped into the recesses of the bucket seat.

His stare might have been intense but there was no way of knowing, since I couldn’t penetrate his heavily tinted Aviators. “Sir, do you have any idea how fast you were going back there?” Again, this had all the hallmarks of a question, but I wasn’t convinced. I started saying all the words I could muster. I remember it like this: “I’m so sorry officer, we were taking photos of the car for a magazine and I was just building up some speed, um, I’m a good driver? Sorry?

The trooper put me out of my misery quite quickly. “Please don’t do that again.” And I never did. I watched him climb into his truck and drive off, then dropped my bum into the BMW and pottered off back to Vegas – at the national speed limit.

 

Former editor of TopCar and Top Gear magazines, Calvin Fisher is one of South Africa’s most experienced motoring journalists.

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