Road Tripping With Elon

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March 25th, 2021

Today’s headline seems like a great title for a PBS show, with a soft-talking host who’s way too smiley and kind. I’m a visionary.

On a completely different subject, I just walked back in the door after getting my first Covid vaccine and it could not have possibly gone any smoother. I was so impressed.

Barbara and I have been scouring the “Vaccination Finder” websites to find open slots anywhere in Woodbury or our surrounding communities but it’s always like being the last kids to the Easter Egg hunt. They disappear in a flash. She found an open slot up in Fridley, which is about 45 minutes away if traffic is good on I-694. Traffic is rarely good on 694, but I wasn’t going to turn it down. As it turned out, other than the over-the-road truckers trying to run everyone over, traffic kept moving and I found the clinic with no problem.

It was an amazing process. I’ve been going to doctors, specialists, and clinics since just after birth (thanks to my chronic asthma and allergies as a kid, numerous baseball injuries, and then arthritis as an old guy) and I know the drill. 90% waiting, maybe 10% meeting with the doc. This was not like that.

It was crowded. So crowded I had to circle the parking lot twice to find someone backing out of a spot. But when I walked in the door, absolutely certain it was going to be mayhem, I couldn’t believe it. They called “Next” about every 20 seconds for check-in. Then had me fill out one simple form and head up to the third floor. They even used green tape on the carpet to keep everyone from getting lost. Just follow the green arrows.

I came to the next checkpoint and thought, “OK, this is where it gets bad. Behind that door will be madness.”

Wrong again. 30 seconds after arriving I was at the front of the line and a friendly Minnesota nurse came out and took me to another nurse who was waiting for me. Needle out. Syringe filled. Shot administered. Took all of 12 seconds. Then to the post-shot room where they schedule your second jab, and where they want you to wait 15 minutes before leaving. All done in 15 minutes plus 15 seconds. Incredibly efficient, and everyone was as “Minnesota Nice” as they could be.

So glad I got this. We’ve been super-careful for a year now. I’m high risk with my history of asthma and bronchial allergies. Proud to have made it this far, masking up and following protocols everywhere with never a complaint. We’ve lost a close relative and some friends, and watched as other friends battled it mightily while going through pure hell. And people complain about wearing masks. I don’t get it.

Three weeks until my next shot and then about two weeks until the vaccine is fully ready to go to war if needed.

For the record, I got the Pfizer and the shot was not totally painless, but almost. As I posted on Facebook, I’ve been plunked in the arm with slow hanging curveballs that hurt way worse than that. And can’t even compare it taking a fastball in the arm and ending up with a bruise that perfectly mirrored the seams on the ball. Those were always fun.

So here’s Elon, writing about road trips, and rugby, and fishing. But not really all at once.

See you next week! And please give this a “Like” if you enjoy Elon’s tales. They’re always worth a “Like.”

Bob Wilber

Road Tripping

Getting my first taste of professional rugby. These guys are, well… TOUGH!

Last weekend I took a work road trip to Austin to take in my first professional rugby match. In addition to drag racing public relations I also work with Major League Rugby, handling their national media services and public relations through Tony Fay Public Relations.

We started working with the league last August. They weren’t playing due to COVID but we worked on a media plan for 2021 as well as some social media initiatives leading up to the start of the 2021 season. They have 13 teams across the county including teams in Austin and Houston. The Austin team was playing their home opener against the Utah Warriors and I wanted to see, firsthand, what I had been writing about and promoting to national and international media.

The first surprise of the trip was realizing their stadium was inside the Circuit of the America’s footprint and overlooked the track. It was a crazy collision of my two primary sports worlds. When they are warming up they have to be careful not to kick a ball over or around the nets at the end of the pitch or it could wind up on the race course. They have had events that have overlapped and forced two teams to warm up on the same end of the pitch to wait for racing activities to wrap up.

Really cool venue at Circuit of the Americas

The drive from Dallas to Austin was an easy three and half hours with minimal stoppages for construction. Once I arrived at the stadium I was able to take a quick tour with the team’s marketing director. It was a great scene with a very upbeat vibe. The weather could not have been nicer and their patio seating area was packed, well over an hour before kick-off. They were keeping their players in a bubble so I was not able to get out onto the pitch (what they call their field) but it really didn’t matter because I was so close to the action just from being in the grandstands.

I had watched a couple videos to get a better understanding of the rules but I was immediately transported back to the early 1990s when I attended my first drag race with limited knowledge of the cars and classes. I knew the play would look a lot like a combination of football and soccer but the little rules took a while to pick up. I loved the fact that they had two 40 minute halves with a running clock. There was very little time wasted but it definitely kept the action moving. The play was exciting and the tackling was brutal. These guys wore no pads and they were colliding at full speed. The sound of two enormous athletes making contact sounded like two sides of beef slamming together at 30 mph.

There were a number of times I was convinced a stretcher would be dispatched to carry a player off, only to see both players hop up and play on. The visiting team from Utah got off to a fast start but the Austin team battled back and had a chance to kick a game winning try (field goal) from about 40 yards for the win. The kick came up about three yards short and time expired shortly afterwards. Both teams walked out onto the pitch, lined up and then shook each other’s hands. It was a nice display of sportsmanship and I found out there is usually a big post-match dinner that traditionally both teams and the officials all attend to rehash the match. I can’t wait to check that out, hopefully later in the season. I can’t imagine how hungry these guys must be at the end of the day.

I am excited to be learning a new sport and also introducing it to more fans and media. The MLR has launched a free streaming online channel called, The Rugby Network, which lets fans watch all the games anywhere in the world. The only exceptions are local TV blackouts and the two matches that are aired weekly on CBS Sports Network and FS1/FS2, respectively. Their championship match will be contested on August 1 and will be aired live on CBS, which is a great accomplishment for a league that is entering its fourth season.

We’ll just load up the bass boat and drive it to Canada. What an adventure It always was!

The road trip reminded me of some other adventures I have experienced over the years. Growing up in Texarkana, Texas, my dad and I were big time fishermen. We would fish for crappie in the fall at Millwood Lake in Arkansas and then in the spring and summer we would head to Wright Patman Lake to fish for bass. Also each summer we would take a big road trip to Canada to fish Whitefish Lake outside of Ontario. We would drive my dad’s Blazer and pull our bass boat all the way. We made this trip eight or nine times as I was growing up. It took us a couple of days to get from home to my grandmother’s house in New York. We stayed with her for a couple days and then we would make the day long drive to Whitefish Lodge. When we rolled up we could not have looked more over-the-top Texas. Most boats on the lake were small 8 to 10-foot aluminum boats with a 30 mph motor. We rolled up with a 15-foot bass boat powered by a 150 mph Mercury motor. We could go from one end of the lake to the other in 10 minutes. We fished for lake trout, northern pike and rock bass every day.

Hooked this Lake Trout on Whitefish!

On one trip I was driving and we were headed into construction zone when I looked out my side window and saw something terrible. As I was slowing down I heard a thud and saw one of the boat trailer wheels go rolling past me. For a split second I thought I could keep going but I immediately felt the trailer start fishtailing and I pulled over. Amazingly, we were able to track down the tire and we took two lug nuts off the other tire, gingerly reattached the lost tire and made it to an exit ramp and garage. There was minimal damage to the trailer and in less than an hour we were back on the road. I will never forget seeing that tire roll past me and thinking, “That can’t be good.”

Those trips instilled a love for driving that I still have to this day. They also set me up for success with the crew guys in the drag racing world because we could talk about different tricks we utilized to stay awake when driving overnight.

The longest road trip I took when I was working with John Force Racing was during the Western Swing in 2008. I had suggested to ESPN they chronicle the team as they drove from Seattle to Sonoma since that is a decent trip with some cool scenery along the way. I was tasked with shooting the footage and Robert Hight came along to help drive one of the haulers. He started out as a crewman so this was like old times for him. We left Seattle midday and after a quick stop at a favorite beef jerky shop the caravan was on its way. The teams tried to keep at least two haulers together on the road in case one of them had an issue, and if so there would be some back up. I had never really ridden in an 18-wheeler before so it was very cool to be so elevated as we were cruising down the highway. We made a stop midway and I was treated to the most amazing skill I have ever seen a crewman execute.

I watched in awe as one of the crew guys emptied the dirty water from one of the lounge bathrooms wearing shorts and flip flops. You can guess what dirty water is but I will bring you up to speed. The haulers all have lounges with bathrooms which all the crew guys use all weekend since they can’t really get away when they are working on the race cars. For four to five days, eight to ten guys are doing their business in that bathroom. At the end of the event the tank needs to be emptied and you do this by attaching a hose to the bottom of the tank and then to a receiving tank at the truck stop. You do not want to spill anything and I would have been wearing a hazmat suit if someone asked me to execute this maneuver. I can’t remember which crew guy was handling this job but he hooked the hose up to the trailer and then attached it to the receiving tank, threw a level and just stood back. After a few minutes he carefully removed the hose and put it away. I was completely impressed. We all loaded up and continued to head south.

The teams switched drivers regularly and I was able to keep chatting with a new crew guys every three or four hours. I didn’t want to seem rude and take a nap so, basically, I was awake for almost 24 hours straight. The drive time from Seattle to Sonoma was a little under 13 hours but with a few stops and also a run through the truck wash we wound up rolling into Sonoma very early. I happened to be sharing a room with Robert for the first couple of days and I let him know I hadn’t gotten any sleep. He told me I was crazy and that I should have gotten some shut-eye, since everyone else was sleeping when they weren’t driving. Lesson learned. Robert went on to win the race and gave me a winner’s jacket which I still have.

The Sonoma “Winners Jacket” Robert Hight presented me. Very honored!

My other favorite road trip from my time with John Force Racing was a trip I took to the March Meet in Bakersfield with John Force. The drive wasn’t that great but the stories were unbelievable. Force talked non-stop from Yorba Linda to Bakersfield. It was amazing. He told stories about his early days racing with his brother Louie and also about getting thrown out of tracks for being such a menace because his race car was in such bad shape. In the very early days his entire racing operation was a Funny Car chassis and some tools. That was it. No motor. No tires. No trailer. He had a Funny Car chassis and a dream. He drove all over the country and probably has more miles under his belt than any other Funny Car driver on the NHRA tour.

Being a road warrior was instilled in me early on thanks to my dad and our trips to Canada. Those trips made a 3-4 hour drive to see a single rugby match an easy adventure. It was worth the miles to create the memories. 

Thanks for reading, everyone. See you again here soon.