TL;DR: Team Boner, Mike & Magnus indulge in spirited driving along Angeles Crest while Taylor & the Italian Stallion gentlemen vanish to take a much-needed nap in the Vanborghini. Team Targa leaves early for the Grand Canyon. We spend the night somewhere in Arizona at the first of many truck stop motels.
Our merry band of eight was supposed to meet downstairs in the hotel lobby at 6:00am. But Michael and I were late to the party and didn't step off the elevators until 6:20am, three minutes behind Devon and Brittany.
Thankfully, everyone was forgiving of our lateness because we were all operating very little sleep. With every additional early morning we spent together, came increased exposure to each other's bedhead and crustiness; along with increased insight into how each of us functions on too-little rest. That morning Taylor was (somehow) still perky and glib; Mike was quiet yet cheerful; Devon and Brittany shuffled along like the undead; Greg and Miles were polite but took twice as long as they normally do to make words happen; and Michael and I simply couldn't function.
Coffee and food from the iconic Urth Caffe, just five minutes from Willow Studios where we would be meeting Magnus, helped restore us to normalcy.
As near normal as we could get given the circumstances, anyway. How normal can you be in the moments leading up to meeting a master story teller who is ultimately responsible for this whole road trip happening in the first place? Not that our road trip is his story -it isn't, and he was quick to tell us that he regarded himself as just a small part of our grandiose tale- but his passion for Porsches helped Mike and Michael discover their own, which led to this hairbrained idea in the first place.
For those of you that read the name Magnus Walker and think of magnum wrappers, magical wizards, or just get distracted by the notion that someone somewhere named their child Magnus, here's the Coles Notes version of who he is: Originally from the UK, Magnus is a trendsetting creative who has an entrepreneurial spirit, and killer business savvy. He's built multiple business empires, one of which being Urban Outlaw, a wildly successful air-cooled Porsche 911 after-market car customization brand. Or, to borrow my husband's words, Magnus is a regular guy that some people worship and adore, and that some people disregard as being more fictional character than person, but who ultimately seems like a genuinely kind and empathetic nomad who just does what he wants to do. Also, he's a Porsche fanatic with a wizard's beard and badass dreds.
When Magnus stepped out from behind his motorized, thick steel compound gate that was topped in a row of perfectly formed coils of barbed wire to meet us, I laughed in genuine delight. He looked exactly how I imagined, and hoped, he would.
He waved us into his compound and then loped over to greet us as we climbed from our cars.
As the team's writer, I came to our meeting with a list of prepared questions in my head. I was fully prepared to interrogate him as politely as I could. But the second I stepped out of Bones and shook his hand to introduce myself, it became clear that Magnus was the professional and that he was the one in control of how our meeting would go. Right away he set our agenda and confirmed how much time he could spend with us. His demeanour and early conversation told us that friendly discussion would be restricted to the topic of cars. And to be quite honest, that was fine by me. It meant that we were in for the full Magnus Walker experience and as a person interested in his approach to entrepreneurship, I wanted to know exactly what that was!
So after some good-natured teasing of our "Minibus" (we can't blame him for not recognizing the true value of our Vanborghini because he's a Porsche, not a Lambo, guy) Magnus gave us a tour of his garage and chop shop.
He even let us wander around his wondrous film set facility on our own without a single cautionary word; and he even removed caution tape to grant us additional access to his prized fleet.
Then, in keeping with the seemingly ironclad agenda he'd put in place, it was time to put our pedals to the metal and get out there and drive. First, he graciously led us around his downtown LA neighbourhood so that we could capture some truly epic photographs.
There was a bit of competitive shoulder rubbing in the tight lanes of the city roads as our three drivers rotated positions and drove as loud (and as close together) as they could manage, all in order to capture The Perfect Moment on camera. The entire time we whipped through the streets chasing behind the Urban Outlaw I was gasping and sucking air through clenched teeth, and my cheeks -you know the ones I'm referring to- were clenched tight together. But in spite of the puckering experience, no one (and none of our cars) got hurt, and the photographs Taylor captured are sensational.
After that it was time for Magnus to take us canyon carving along Angeles Crest highway and teach our drivers one or two tricks about how to navigate such treacherous, twisty roads.
Truth be told, I didn't know what to think of Magnus at first. I'd seen plenty about him on the internet but from an early age I'd been taught to be wary of online material (unless that material is a blog about eight relatively privileged Gen Y'rs gaking a cross-continent road trip, of course). It wasn't until after a lot of unexpected shit went down (see list below) and after Mike, Michael, and I, spent some time alone with Magnus, that I began to see the forest through the trees. The man beneath the mask. The face beneath the beard.
Some unexpected shit that went down:
- We lost all our camera people and equipment when Team Italian Stallion and Taylor in the Vanborghini vanished from sight and the walkie talkie airwaves. We later discovered that they got lost in downtown LA trying to follow us (Magnus set an impressive, minibus-defying pace), so they waited inside their luxurious chariot for us to return from our spirited drive. And Greg napped.
- Much to our group's resigned disappointment, Devon and Brittany peeled away in pursuit of seeing a bucket list item, the Grand Canyon, while there was still enough time and daylight to actually see it (more to come on that later).
- Magnus drove the piss out of the Turbo and Bones (and complained loudly, dropping the most colourful expletives about Bones' driver, wheel, and roll cage positioning; and about the turbo's long gears that didn't allow for a full driving experience) along Angeles Crest, a highway with driving complexities that rival the Nürburgring in Germany, the most lethal race track in the world.
- Magnus autographed Bones.
- We drove to and then sat down at the iconic Newcomb's Ranch for a quick coffee that turned into an hour long meal, and the woman behind the counter asked Magnus about his mum. (The woman behind the counter introduced herself to us as Dani. It was clear to me that Magnus was a special person to her, and that she was a special person to him.)
I didn't know what to expect from Newcomb's, but by then I should have expected that it would be entirely unique (it's Magnus' favourite haunt on his favourite driving route that we're talking about, after all). The yellow paint on its walls and framed photographs and posters that decorated them, were all evidence of an accumulation and blending of tastes that must have evolved over decades. The ranch was a shrine to the brave and the bold, the idiotic and the insane. It was a haven, a special destination, for drivers and riders who pushed their limits and embraced the dangers of living as wholeheartedly as they embraced life's joys.
Walking into Newcomb's behind Magnus was like trailing behind Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughan and their band of bawdry bros in the 1996 film Swingers during one of their nights out on the town. Everyone regarded you with fondness and happy recognition because you were with him; everywhere felt homey and steeped in esoteric meaning that only insiders -the ones who were like family- were privy to.
Mike, Michael, and Magnus didn't stop talking shop the entire time we were at Newcomb's Ranch together. I sat quietly and offered little as I listened in. Gradually, their conversation became less stilted and began to flow naturally, and I was delighted to see evidence of genuine kinship forming between them. But something was bothering me. I kept wondering when Magnus would fix us with his hypnotic and paradoxically available yet guarded, periwinkle blue gaze; and tell us to get the hell out of his hair and leave him alone. But he never did. He just kept hanging out.
What made that morning spent cradled in the mountain range of angels, is that it was entirely ours. There was no camera crew to avoid bumping into, there were no scripted questions to worry about botching, and the internet connection was shoddy. It was just another morning spent between four strangers who happened to be sharing food, fears, and fantastic stories. It was focused, unadulterated time spent together.
So you'll find that I haven't included a transcript of our conversation about the revitalization vs. hipsterization of downtown LA; and I haven't bothered detailing all the car tuning and driving wisdom Magnus shared (although he did share plenty of both); nor have I expounded on what Magnus thinks of the internet and how it's changed (and ultimately, not changed) modern car buying and selling. All that information already exists in some form or another and is readily available online. Just Google the man and you'll see what I mean.
Instead, I've shared what I believe makes Magnus a magician. His special sauce, as it were. Because the pure emotion that his quirky demeanour and obsessive perfectionism (more to come on that) activates in others on a global scale is what makes him so damned inspiring, and is nothing short of magical.
Remember when I mentioned that as soon as we arrived at his garage he took control of the situation and reminded us that he was operating on a tight timeline? Well, what I haven't relayed is that not once did Magnus make us feel unwelcome or rushed, or as though we were encroaching on his personal space or plans. Instead he gave us his undivided attention and behaved as though he was as enthusiastic as we were at the notion of getting lost in a new experience with new people. Completely without rancour or ill will he allowed a short drive to become a guided tour with driving lessons; a quick coffee to become an intimate sit down meal between peers; and a photo and video opportunity to become a forty minute long tune up of Bones.
That's right, Magnus patiently supervised my husband and walked him through how to fix Bones' steering alignment because it was impossible for Magnus to fathom driving it all the way to Toronto in its current state (now that he'd experienced its current jankiness for himself). A perfectionist, indeed. And so what was supposed to be three hours rapidly became six hours (which, unfortunately, is why Team Targa had to leave us behind).
When I asked Magnus why he was willing to spend so much time with us and give us so much help, he told me simply that, "No good deed goes unpunished." I asked if that meant he felt mechanical sympathy for us. He just looked at me with a ghost of a grin and replied, "Something like that."
An ambiguous response from an enigmatic man.
If my husband was the one to convince me that fortune favours the bold, then our time with Magnus convinced me that's only true when the bold, in turn, favours fortune. Completely of his own volition, Magnus gave us the most generous gift of all: his time and focus. Is there anything more bold, more appreciative of life's fortune, than being intimate and generous in giving your time to complete, maybe-but-probably-crazy strangers?
Being bold isn't just about seizing opportunities or pushing boundaries and asking for things from others. It's also about being brave enough to trust other people, to trust yourself, and to trust that life will go on and you'll make the best of it no matter what comes your way.
If Magnus worried about what he was missing out on by spending three extra hours with us, or whether his jet lag from having just arrived from Australia the night before would kick in and he'd go full face-eating zombie on us, he didn't show it. He just spent time with us because, evidently, he wanted to. He trusted himself well enough to do to exactly what he wanted. Whether you're a fan or a critic of the Urban Outlaw, you can't deny that's pretty damned bold of him to do.
For Mike and Michael, driving alongside Magnus was the stuff dreams are made of. For Mike, especially so. It was the type of hero-meeting, perspective-altering experience he needs to help him figure out what's most important.
When Mike first discovered Brian and The Stable, and his own hidden four-wheeled gem, he was just beginning to take his love of driving seriously. If it weren't for Mike putting himself out there time and time again to build a relationship with his Magnus, the day we spent with at him would never have happened. The chutzpah Mike demonstrated that got us into Willow Studios was the same chutzpah that he demonstrated when he made the decision to sell his company and see what he could make of himself at Google, in spite of the very real risk that they'd kill the business he'd bled over to create; which is the same chutzpah that has him questioning his next chapter right now. While this journey may not directly result in clear answers for Mike, it's given him new challenges to sink his teeth into. The act of shifting focus, just like shifting gears (whether they're annoyingly long or painfully short), has given him the boost he needs to conquer the twisted, possibly even treacherous, road ahead.
When we said goodbye to Magnus I was relieved to be on the move again. We all felt badly that Brittany and Devon had to strike out on their own, and were sad that our time together was coming to an end. We had aggressive driving deadlines to meet so that people could catch their flights (Brittany, Greg, and Miles would all be spending their last leg of the journey in the sky and not on the road with the rest of us). And we still had a very long way to go.
At my quiet request, Michael took a photo of me with Magnus before we left.
I've never warmed to the idea of mooning over celebrities, and I felt shy asking for a photograph with him. I felt as though I had no right asking this man who'd already been so generous with his time for a single second more. But when he wrapped his arm around my shoulder and pressed me against him, I swear that he smiled a little at me, and I swear that his embrace was kind and encouraging. To the very last he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable, and that made me think about something he'd said earlier that day.
When Magnus noticed the photograph of Michael and I kissing in place of where a clock should have been, he laughed and said, "Ya I noticed that. There's always time for love."
At first I thought he meant romantic love, and I agreed. I thought about the love he and his late wife/partner in crime, Karen, had shared. My stomach tightened in sympathetic response.
But in that moment, when he went out of his way to make me feel special and accepted, I believed that his comment went much further than romance.
His greatness, his boldness and strength to keep putting himself out there in such magnitude, comes from his unfailing trust in himself and his ability to always make time for love, for all people. Even eight overzealous strangers visiting all the way from Kitchener, Canada.
That's what this girl took away from it all, anyway.
With fresh adrenaline hangovers and renewed trepidation at the long road ahead (the daunting home stretch had officially begun) we pulled out onto Willow St. We wanted to get to the Ramada Inn near the Grand Canyon where Devon and Brittany were waiting for us as quickly as possible. We were all anxious to be reunited, and we hoped that Brittany had enjoyed discovering the Grand Canyon as much as Mike had enjoyed discovering Newcomb's Ranch.
Late that afternoon, when we stopped to fuel up at In-N-Out Burger, Taylor asked Michael what he thought of Magnus (the legend was still on our minds). "It's like LA grew around him," Michael answered. "He's just like an old tree. The beating heart at the centre of it all. He pours lifeblood, man." And I found that I couldn't agree more.