While We Still Can

Challenge, adventure, bucket list…what difference does it make. We decided over two years ago that we were going to take an unforgettable trip to find out how the real America looks—up close and personal. “We” includes my wife and I. We entered our 60s a few years ago, then we had our 40th anniversary and that, in part, made us realize just how much time had passed…and how much was left for us, physically at least, while we still could set out on a great adventure. But more than that, we are both romantics. We have always loved sharing adventures, fun, new experiences and challenges. From the very beginning we had no doubts that a trip like this would have an ample supply of all of those things. The second “we” includes our much loved 1973 MGB. With the love and care we give it, its time is probably not all that limited. But, at 40 years old and being a British car, “can”, still or ever, might be more problematic. But as the story of this trip documents, the MG still can – could – no…it can.

How does one pack for an epic trip?

How does one pack for an epic trip?

Finally, “we” includes the people of this great country who have always proven they can do anything. I just wanted to find out for myself what I have long suspected, believed and observed as a life-long student of human behavior; that the images we are fed by the popular media (not legitimate journalists) and what we are told by political leaders and wannabes, and what we see in movies or on television do not remotely depict the true character of the vast majority of people anywhere in this country. I also believe that the true character of people can best be discovered by meeting them where they live and where they work. What better way than to go to their home towns and talk to them, eat with them and stay with them. And, what better conversation starter than a red MGB roadster…with New York plates?

Remember Simon and Garfunkel’s song America? If you want to find America turn off the damn television, stop reading those popular trash magazines (please recycle them though) and don’t buy, rent or download any more movies. Instead, pack only the essentials and hit the road to look for America.

Not any road will do however. Interstates are far too sterile to find anything, let alone the real America. The Interstate system was designed and built to move troops and military equipment fast in case of emergency. However, in that brief period between the 1930s, when the automobile became standard equipment for the majority of Americans, and the 1950s when Interstate construction went into high gear, a system of federal and state highways evolved to connect population centers. The crown jewel, the Granddaddy of them all and the longest road in the United States is U.S. route 20 which runs a serpentine path from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon some 3,365 miles west.

We are writing down everything about the adventure, mostly about the people…and the car…and the road. We decided to send periodic email updates to a list of about 100 people who asked to follow our progress. Here are some of our favorites.

Day 1 – We left our nephew Pat’s house in Beverly, Mass this morning and drove down Rt 128…45 minutes of terror for Carole…65 MPH and crazy Mass drivers. We went down 20 to Fenway Park. Apparently the State of Massachusetts forbids road signs so we drove around Fenway a few times before we found the beginning of Route 20 West. Then we hit every single red traffic light in Boston. Once we got to the Berkshires it was beautiful. The Red Car was obviously very happy. An hour of high-speed freeway driving, two hours of stop and go city driving and then two more hours of open-road in the Berkshires and not a single complaint…it didn’t even use a drop of oil.

MG-at-Speed-Trap-DinerDay 6 – We left the Jabbies in Medina mid-morning and bumped our way up to Route 20 then across the West side of Cleveland. After a couple hours we finally hit open road. Western Ohio has a lot…I mean A LOT of corn. We got to Woodville, Ohio around 2:00 and had lunch at the wonderful Speed Trap Diner. As you can see in the pictures, it is a 50s classic. I got breakfast and we bought T-shirts. We arrived in Angola, Indiana around 5:30. The motel was not quite like the picture on the Internet but the room is clean and has a refrigerator and micro-wave. Right across the parking lot is restaurant so we ventured over and it was great. I got the Senior pork chop…entire dinner…$5.99. Pamela, our waitress, sat down at our table and asked about our trip. Then we heard about how she had just moved to Angola from California because, after 52 years, she finally met Mr. Right. The trip is really living up to expectations. Hey Andy…just over 1,000 miles and all I have had to do is add a splash of brake fluid. Way to go buddy!

Day 9 – We arrived in Dyersville, Iowa around 6:30 after a long stop in Galena, Illinois. It was 95 degrees and right now…at 9:30pm it is still 84. We walked to downtown (one block away) and ate at the English Pub…owned by an Irishman named English…serving only pizza, hotdogs and nachos.

On day 10 we went going to the Field of Dreams. Ray…people will come Ray. However, they will be from AAA! (Keep reading)

The Field of Dreams movie site was very much as expected and looks pretty much like it did in the movie…except for the souvenir stand. We got some great pictures and lots of stuff for the family. Then Sir Joseph Lucas reared his ugly head. The MG would not start. AAA sent a truck. We tried to jump start it with no luck. The guy used a high tech approach…he wacked the starter with a wrench handle and it fired right up. I decided it was not wise heading west with what the Brits call a wonky starter so I ordered one from Moss to be overnighted to a shop in Dyersville. The starter was the only thing I have not replaced on the car. I guess it did not like the hot humid air out here in God’s country…or it really liked it and wanted to be buried here!

Day 12 – Another day…another time zone. We crossed into the Mountain time-zone a few hours ago. We took multiple pictures of route 20 in Nebraska…actually we have a dozen pictures of route 20 in Nebraska taken hours apart and they all look the same. We arrived in Chadron, about 100 miles south of Mt. Rushmore, around 5:30 and it was a nice round 100 degrees. I kept the MG at 3,500 rpm which kept us at about 63 mph. I was concerned that cars coming up behind us would fly past. That might have happened if any cars ever came up behind us.

Day 14 – The car continues to draw a lot of attention. We stopped at a Sinclair station (when was the last time anyone back East saw one of those?) in Rushville, Nebraska which borders the Rosebud Reservation. We were surrounded by a half dozen Native American kids who wanted to know where I got the cool car. British cars do seem to be a bit scarce out here. They really were not built for hours of driving in 100 degree heat.

Day 15 – Side-trip to Mount Rushmore. We headed for Rushmore on a road that was designed for the MG. The park road has hills and turns and even a few tight 180 degree curves. The car actually seemed to love it…I know I did. We arrived at the Mount Rushmore Park and parked the MG in the parking ramp to give it some shade and a much deserved rest. Neither of us had ever been there before. It is awesome. There was a big crowd partly because there was a big reception for new U.S. citizens. We spent several hours there including having lunch in the big dining room were Carey Grant Eva Marie Saint met in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

Day 17 – As we pulled out of a gas station in Greybull, Wyoming, 50 miles from Cody, the SU fuel pump quit pumping. Under the heading of the good, the bad and the ugly let us start with the ugly. We waited over four hours for AAA. The bad, of course, was the dead fuel pump. The good will make a great chapter in the book. We had coasted to a stop in the parking lot of a Ron’s Grocery and Liquor. The thermometer read 98.2 degrees. Fortunately, this was one a very few spots where we had cell coverage. After a long conversation with AAA with multiple transfers and questions, e.g. “What make is the car”? “MG”. “But what make is it”? “MG”. etc., I joined Carole in the air-conditioned store. “They will be here in 45 minutes”, I said at 4:45. Of course 5:30 came and went as did 6:30. I called again. They are on the way. A text came from AAA saying they will be there by 6:30. Ron’s was getting ready to close at 7:00. As it got to be 6:45, Dave, the manager, came over and said if they don’t get here by 7:00 we could just stay inside. Roger, the 70 year old night worker will be stripping floors and he can let you out when AAA gets here. Of course 7:00 came and went. Another text from AAA they will be there at 8:00. Dave stayed and chatted with Carole until around 8:30. I also got Roger’s life story including how he and his buddies drove around in an MG Midget when he was stationed in France waiting to be deployed in Viet Nam. (By the way Tom…he has a 1950 Dodge for sale. It is all original with 38,000 miles.)

Finally, the flatbed truck arrived at 9:00. During the wait I had called the Big Bear Motel in Cody where we were booked for two nights. The owner said to have the car brought to the motel because he also owns a garage and his mechanic would stop by and put in my spare fuel pump first thing in the morning. Did I mention that I carry a spare fuel pump? I would have tried to switch it myself but I was not looking forward to lying on 100 degree pavement and trying to reach under the car, which with the full load, had all of 3 inches of clearance.

A warm welcome by the Willamette MG Club.

A warm welcome by the Willamette MG Club.

Day 21 – We arrived at the B&B in Stayton, Oregon much later than planned because it was much farther off route 20 than I expected. We had a plan to meet Troy who is Highway Safety Director for Oregon and has done numerous impaired driving assessments with me over the past 10 years or so. We were scheduled to meet for dinner and we made it to the restaurant only 5 minutes late. Troy was standing out front to greet us when I noticed a very nice MGB and an MGA parked down the street. He pointed to several more MGs along the street. When we got out he said they were part of an MG Club which made sense since the National MG Registry annual meeting is next week in Corvallis. However, when we walked into the restaurant we were greeted with an ovation from members of the Willamette MG Club. Troy had contacted them to tell them about our trip. We had a blast. What wonderful folks, as car folks, and British car folks in particular, always are. They took pictures and one-by-one they came and sat next to me to ask about the car and the trip…but mostly the car. I told them the car had performed flawlessly, just a starter, a fuel pump and bleeding the brake lines. They all agreed that is flawless for an MG.

Newport, Oregon coast!

Newport, Oregon coast!

Day 28 – The end of route 20. So…how would you like that crow prepared? Not that many of you were ever really in doubt but, in any case, to skeptics and supporters alike, WE MADE IT! With a bit of a tear in our eyes, a lump in our throats and some pretty fair pain in our lower backs, we pulled into Newport, Oregon around 1:30 Pacific time. We had completed 3,365 miles on US Route 20 and 4,250 miles altogether. The MG was singing away, obviously happy to be at sea-level and have oxygen again.

If you would like to read more and see additional pictures from the trip go to www.whilewestillcan.org.

By Rob Lillis








'While We Still Can' has 1 comment

  1. December 18, 2013 @ 12:01 pm Jerry Woodward


    What an adventure.

    I took a 70 B pulling an Apache tent camper from Western Pa on a 7 week trip to the West Coast and back but that was in 1971 (no break downs or problems but the car probably only had 15k miles to start out).

    My wish trip is not as ambitious as yours was, my wife and I would like to take a trip from Western Pa. down the Skyline Drive and then continue down the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Southern Entrance at Cherokee, NC. It will probably be around 1400 miles round trip. I am in the very early stages of restoring my 75 B and feel it will be up to the task.

    Again Congratulations on the trip and I hope you have a Blessed Christmas Holiday Season.

    Jerry Woodward


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