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  • Happy Birthday America

    Happy Birthday America

    Happy Birthday America and Happy Birthday MINI USA. AOL Autos set out on July 4 with MINI USA on its MINI Takes The States cross-country rally. We hit 16 states and traveled almost 4,000 miles. As part of the celebration, AOL Autos in June held a Facebook sweepstakes to give away a 2012 MINI Countryman.

    The MINI Takes The States 2012 rally began at MINI USA's headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, NJ. The caravan of MINIs headed down the NJ Turnpike to Philadelphia and then to Washington DC that night for the most spectacular fireworks display in America.

  • R.I.P. Andy Griffith

    R.I.P. Andy Griffith

    Senior Editor Scott Burgess and Assistant Editor Colin Croughan, who began the trip in N.J., were in the area of Mt. Airy, NC days after Andy Griffith died.

    Mt. Airy is the town on which the fictional Mayberry was based, and the town has a litte industry connected to preserving a part of the town to be Mayberry-like.

    This is a statue of Andy Taylor and Opie Taylor taken from the familiar opening credit sequence of the The Andy Griffith Show. Fans of the show might like to know that Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) pretty much called it a career after the show went off the air and lived in Mt. Airy thereafter. And Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou) moved to Mt. Airy in 2006, leaving Hollywood for quieter surrounds where she undoubtedly enjoys  her celebrity status.

  • Ann Arbor Handoff

    Ann Arbor Handoff

    The leg of the MINI Takes The States trip that I  signed up for took me from my driveway here in Ann Arbor, MI to Los Angeles by way of Chicago, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

    The car was was meant to be a blue MINI Countryman that AOL Autos has had as a long-term tester since last year. But that car, as we said earlier, blew a clutch in N.J. MINI was kind enough to lend us this replacement. This car, with stars-and-stripes on the roof, would get us a lot of salutes along the way on our westward journey. At least, I think they were salutes.

    Don't get the idea that there is much if anything wrong with the MINI clutch. Having a dozen auto writers, each with their own style of driving and clutch habits, drive the car over twelve months is a very hard way to break in a car. We heard from our friends at one of the car enthusiast magazines that their long term test MINI Countryman gave up its clutch at around the same mileage tick on the odometer--23,000 after they had put a dozen different writers through the clutch and stick. Clutches and shifters tend to like to get used to the same driver over the miles.

  • Roadside Folk Art

    Roadside Folk Art

    As we were leaving DesMoines and headed for Lincoln Nebraska, we got onto a secondary road of small villages and farms. Assistant Editor Colin Croughan spotted this birdhouse. I'm glad he did. It is a great example of recycling car parts into something useful. I wondered if a kid, about ten or twelve years old, put it together in his garage on a slow day--of which there are many in rural Iowa.

  • Hoover Museum

    Hoover Museum

    I am a geek for U.S. Presidents. When we planned the trip, I saw that Herbert Hoover's house and library was on the route. I was able to add this to the list of Presidential museum/libraries I have been to including: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Garfield, Rutherford B. Hayes, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford. In an election year, it was good to visit Hoover's. A Republican, Hoover is often held up as a failure because of his inability to cope with the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash.

    Hoover was a small government Republican who was nevertheless considered a "progressive" of his time. From Iowa, his specialty was figuring out how to get food to hungry people, something he did after World War I in Europe. He was called on to help again after World War Two. He is considered one of the great ex-Presidents of all time, having lived more than thirty years after he left office, devoting his retirement to various public service projects and causes and writing numerous books.

  • Yes, You Can Eat That

    Yes, You Can Eat That

    We avoided eating at McDonald's, Burger King and the like throughout the trip. The one concession we made was the occasional Starbuck's and one Subway in Iowa that was attached to the gas station where we stopped. We were hungry, and that's all there was.

    We had a book along with us: Roadfood: The Coast to Coast Guide to 800 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More by Jane Stern and Michael Stern. We made use of it to find Joe Tess Fish in Omaha. I, indeed, had some locally caught catfish. But what caught my eye on the appetizer menu was the gizzards. This is the organ in the chicken that breaks down the food because chickens don't have teeth. To the uninitiated, it is part of the giblets in the bag inside the package of chicken that either gets thrown away or used for making broth or gravy.

    It is not my favorite of the organ meats, as it is kind of tough. But I couldn't resist, and it beats eating McNuggets any day.

  • Jim McDowell

    Jim McDowell

    Jim McDowell is the VP of MINI USA. I have known him for about fifteen years or more. McDowell is one of the most genuinely happy people in business I have ever covered. Why not? He spent many years as head of BMW marketing. And now he heads MINI USA. How many car executives would you think would have breakfast in one hand and a water-gun in the other, while he talking to a customer, and call it work?

  • Manifold Cooking Result

    Manifold Cooking Result

    Cooking on the manifold of the MINI Countryman seemed like a great idea given that we would have many hours a day of driving in the heatwave of the midwest. We found a package of pre-marinated beef on skewers, wrapped in heavy-duty-foil as advised in the book Manifold Destiny, and left in the engine for about 2 hours. We also had small new potatoes, which we wrapped in foil with a bit of water to create a steaming effect.

    The beef was done, but kind of chewy. I immediately realized that we would have been better off with meat that had some fat--sausages or Brats, or maybe a hunk of pork shoulder. But I also wonder if modern cars like the Countryman get hot enough, even in 95-degree to 100-degree weather, to cook the food. The potatoes were under there for about seven hours and never did get done.

  • Arizona Horses

    Arizona Horses

    Somewhere near the Arizona-New Mexico border, we pulled over to photograph the Countryman, and we found these beauties. Nothing more to say here.

  • Mojave Desert

    Mojave Desert

    Here, we are paused in The Mojave Desert. We weren't keen to drive up this road to explore. But on another day, we might have, as long as we had a full tank of gas.

    The cell-phone coverage was surprisingly good around here. We spotted a few cell-towers on the horizon.

    But very near where we took this picture, we saw a Chevy stopped, with the trunk and one of the doors open. We also spied a tractor trailer truck idling nearby. The whole scene gave us the willies, and we tried to piece together a possible scenario of the two vehicles. that would fit a Quentin Tarantino script.

    Then, we left, in search of more water or iced coffee. It was 100-degrees.

  • Desert Gas

    Desert Gas

    The gas pumps at "Desert Center" have not been used since, I would estimate, the early 70s at least. They are branded Chevron, and have the crank along the sides of the pumps that I haven't seen since I was a kid.

    The thing I will long remember about this stop is that a guy in new Ford Explorer drive up to us while we were shooting the picture and asked me, "Is it closed?" "Seriously? I thought. "Yeah, since Kennedy was President I think."

    What you can't see in this picture is that the two service bays had no doors and were strewn with trash. He even asked, "is there any place to pee?" I answered, looking around, "Just about any place you want dude."

  • George Patton Museum

    George Patton Museum

    The temperatures and terrain in this part of California are very similar to that of Tunis. It proved to be just the right place to put soldiers, as well as the Detroit-built tanks, through their paces.

    It is what I call a small, and well-intended, museum. You can learn a few things about tank battle in WW2, Korea and Vietnam, as well as about "Old Blood and Guts" himself.

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