Last Sunday morning, the social media world was abuzz at the sight of a BMW 535xi wagon parked in front of a fire hydrant in Boston. Not only was it inconvenient for the firefighters trying to put out a blaze, but it was the second time since April that a BMW owner decide not to find legal parking. His reaction afterward was very un-BMW-like, though.
The reaction on the Boston Globe’s Facebook page was one of unmistakable outrage, with a lot of respondents suggesting that the firefighters should’ve smashed the windows and run the water line through the car.
Which, of course, is what Boston firefighters actually did during a deadly fire in April. Responding to an eight-alarm blaze, the firefighters found another BMW parked illegally in front of a hydrant. They busted the windows out and ran the water line straight through the interior, surely to the pleasure of anyone looking on.
It plays right into the stereotypes that most people have about BMW drivers. They’re rude. They’re inconsiderate. If anyone cuts you off in traffic, there’s about a 68% chance that they’re piloting a BMW.
The Boston Fire Department tweeted the image of a second BMW parked in front of a hydrant:
This never helps pic.twitter.com/EoEKSgTDYJ
— Boston Fire Dept. (@BostonFire) November 16, 2014
This time it wasn’t going to be long before this particular BMW owner knew how people felt about him, though. There, for all the world to see, was his Massachusetts Cape and Islands license plate. It wasn’t going to take long to figure out who the owner was.
The Boston Globe found out and got in touch with the owner, Jeff Conklin, an attorney, a patent-holder and a guy who once successfully battled with IBM over patent infringement.
He’s also a single dad. He was returning from a meeting with his twin five-year-old children’s teacher. It was a meeting during which — he told the Boston Globe — he worried “about whether he was doing a good job as a parent.” The teacher reassured him that he was. “I was in this state of really intense relief and gratitude,” he told the Globe. “I don’t even remember driving home.”
“It was dark when he backed into the spot,” the Globe story goes on. “The fire hydrant was on the rear passenger side. He swears he didn’t see it. He got out of the car, crossed the street, and walked home.”
Then the internet exploded.
Boston’s South End is a notoriously difficult place to find a parking spot, and frankly, it’s easy to forget where you left it. Conklin was out walking his dog on Sunday morning as the firefighters were finishing up their work on the blaze that displaced seven people from their homes. He noticed that a red car had been damaged by a fire truck because it parked too close to the hydrant. The same one where his car was parked the day before, and from where it was towed.
Later that day, a Globe reporter called the house. He still had no idea his car had been towed, and that he’d been the subject of many a vitriolic Facebook post.
Conklin was “mortified,” according to the Globe. He immediately walked to Engine 22 in Boston’s South End to apologize.
The firefighters were enormously kind. No one had been hurt in the blaze, they assured him. And though a department spokesman says his illegally parked car had made it harder to fight the fire, Conklin says the firefighters assured him it hadn’t. Perhaps they were just trying to make him feel better.
They kept saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, relax,’ ” Conklin recalled. A firefighter named Skip Askia was especially nice: He remembered Conklin from earlier in the day, when he’d stopped by with his son and his dog. Conklin offered to buy the firefighters dinner, but they declined.
Instead, Askia offered to do something for him, telling him to bring his little boy to the firehouse for a tour.
This week, Conklin has talked to Boston Fire Fighters Local 718 about making a $5,000 annual donation to the charity of their choice.
“I understand why there would be character assassination,” he told the Globe. “If my mistake means there will be less incidences of people parking in front of hydrants then I am willing to pay the price.”
(IMAGE SOURCE: Boston Fire Department, WCVB)