It was about 10:30pm on a chilly January night when I received the phone call from my brother. His voice was sullen as he asked me a question I knew was borne in pain and being offered with trepidation. “Can you help me get Maggie going again? It’s time to sell her.” He had finally reached an intersection in life where his privilege as the designated keeper of her keys had run its course. Gearheads like me know these crossroads all too well. I have usually come to that crossroad when needing to free up finances. For my brother, the decision came out of a transitional reality that his family would never really get to enjoy her again the way they craved to do.
In 1996, this little MGB came to live with my brother and his wife as a honeymoon present. For a number of years, things went really well and this car lived up to her expectations. Life, though, has a way of creating obstacles. As his family found themselves dealing with breast cancer and autism, Maggie had to take a back seat. In late-2003 Maggie pulled into her garage space where for nearly a decade she sat—until about a month after that phone call.
At the time, I wasn’t in a position to purchase Maggie. I was however looking for a project of another kind.
The Giving Kind
Here is a lesson I have learned: Life is in great part about giving. Having been afforded the opportunity to travel extensively and meet fellow transportation enthusiasts, I can tell you that gearheads are some of the most generous people on the planet. From bikers in Daytona Beach to aviators at Oshkosh, gearheads are givers.
As a lover of motorsports I strive to find ways to intertwine this passion with opportunities to change other people’s lives. In short: do good with what is entrusted to you. At dinner one evening I asked my girls to help answer some questions: Could we find some way to make the 2013 Motoring Challenge a part of our charity focus this year? What if we thought big? How could we do something that would honor my brother and his family, raise some money for charity, challenge us and be fun all at once? From that conversation we developed a very simple plan: Enter the Challenge and raise money for every point we earn.
Step one was to get the car. I had owned 15 MGs in my short life, although at that point I didn’t even have a garage. I called my brother a few days later and told him what we wanted to do. Get Maggie outdoors, running and safe. Drive her across the country over the next year, take a whole bunch of pictures that will turn into points and get people to give for each one we earned. He was in. Maggie was mine and we would work out the details later.
Step two was to pick the charity. This was actually a great deal of discussion. Each of my daughters had ideas about charities: UNICEF, Cloud 9, Food For The Poor International all made the list. The question was how to make the connection. Our family has been ravaged by cancer over the decades. Breast cancer in particular has tried to suppress us many times—I am amazed at the strength I see in the women and families who wrestle that beast. Likewise, autism has changed the way we view life. It causes life plans to adjust in major ways. Susan G. Komen and Autism Speaks are leading the way in raising awareness and striving to find cures for these life factors. The family voted and we had our charities.
Go Out and Do It
The most difficult step is the first one. Gaining forward momentum is key to accomplishing anything. With a simple plan in place we got started. Looking over the point sheet I realized that there was a deadline of March 1st for Sneak Peek bonus points. Even though I initially had no intention of placing high in the final standings, I wasn’t going to miss out on bonus points if I could help it. The problem was Maggie really hadn’t run in over a decade. And when she did run (briefly) her front end shook like grandma on horseback.
Mystery oil and time, combined with some work to the fuel system, the ignition system and the “what was Mr. Lucas thinking” system was done. Fingers crossed and a fresh battery convinced Maggie to wake from her slumber. That was a great day for my brother and me. The brakes didn’t work right, but that didn’t really bother us. They were at least dragging. We motored her out of the garage, two-footing the throttle and brake pedal, and wobbled our way toward two city signs.
Not surprisingly, we caught the attention of a local law enforcement officer. As he approached this dilapidated, dirty, smoking car with no registration, no inspection, no top in 30-degree weather and two frozen greasy guys, he simply said, “There has got to be a story here.” I opened my mouth first, “This is Maggie. She hasn’t been out of the garage for over a decade, but this year she is going to run across the country and raise money for charity. We are going to honor my brother’s family and we are going to help people understand that there is hope for those suffering from autism and breast cancer. We need to submit two photos by Friday of this car in front of official city signs to get as many points as possible. Would you mind taking the picture for us?” He looked at us for a second before responding. His words hit home. “My nephew also has autism. I get it. Take the picture and get the car off the road.”
And so continued this journey we call Miles with Maggie. The water pump gave out on the way to car show #1. On one 300-mile leg I burned through 11 fuses before finding a bit of corrosion in a connection. The gentleman at the parts store in Love County, Oklahoma just shook his head and said “Lucas.” A blown head gasket, bad radiator and carburetor problems all took tolls.
So did one day of 908 miles of driving.
You see, somewhere along the way I decided that the best thing to do was not just run the challenge, but to run believing I have a chance to make the greatest impact by trying to win. Time after time I was feeling the impact. Like the impact Maggie made on a man in Lewisville, Texas whose wife teaches children with autism. Or the impact the car made on the homeless veteran I shared breakfast with in Memphis TN. He lost his wife to breast cancer shortly after returning from Vietnam. Or the impact a conversation made to the single mom we met at a gas station in Virginia who was suffering from breast cancer herself… She was reminded about how she is not alone.
And then there was the staff at Waffle House at one o’clock in the morning who paid for my breakfast as their way of saying thanks—each shared with me a story revealing how our journey is making a difference. In Xenophon, Tennessee a farmer told me about the 1959 MGA he drove while stationed in England. In Hutchinson, Kansas the host of the car show just looked in wonder when we pulled up. He was more than happy to let me display on the car the message of the charity drive. All day long people stopped to talk and share their stories.
The Impact Hits Home
With the approach of fall, Maggie sat in my shop for a few weeks getting some work done. When I got her on the road again I picked up my daughter Madison at the frozen yogurt shop. A smile lit up her face and she ran and hugged the car. This enthusiasm affected my parents, too. Both are cancer survivors and both are MG nuts. When we all get together to tinker on Maggie you can see the pride they have in knowing they had a part in forging this unique British car bond.
The messages of hope penned on magnetic graphics affixed to Maggie tell the stories of people around this country who have been impacted. Yet to me the greatest so far was the one made on my brother and his wife when their son, who has autism, got to walk up on stage and receive a “Best in Class” trophy at the car show in Carrollton. I wonder how many times in his life he has had people applaud like that for him? I wonder if his mom’s tears of joy could be matched?
In the grand scheme, Miles with Maggie isn’t about winning. It’s about fulfilling the spirit that gearheads possess, the spirit of giving, of caring, of going the extra mile to help a friend or stranger. It’s about helping others and doing good with what we have. It’s about you and me and lots of people like us who can do small things to make a major impact on the world around us. We simply need to look for the opportunities that drive by every day.
If you want to know more about Maggie’s journey, check out Miles with Maggie on Facebook. We’d love to have you along for the ride.
By Bryan Hutchinson