Travelogue: A Summer Drive To The Summer Drive

It has been too damn long since I was able to physically interact with my colleagues at some sort of event.

To me, that is a sign of life emerging from months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Months of video conferencing, phone calls, e-mails, and social media posts from my colleagues at some of the few in-person events that popped up these past few months. Every time I deal with these moments, I wondered if I will ever be able to connect with my colleagues and industry contacts again, live and in person. 

For the record, I have seen a few of my local/regional colleagues at some events, such as the Twin Cities Auto Show or at a car meet. Signs of life, but it’s not exactly the same as being at the Midwest Automotive Media Association Spring or Fall Rally. 

Seeing that there is a chance at bring us journalists and industry folks together, MAMA decided to create the “Summer Drive” event in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. It would be similar to an older version of their Fall Rally held at a hotel off of the Interstate 90 tollway, featuring several vehicles from 16 different brands. Plus, we will be driving these within the nearby suburbs. 

Although I missed this year’s Chicago Auto Show, I figured I would make up for it by attending this event. It would be a litmus test on how we can gather as a media association, even in the face of a continuing pandemic with rising cases of a new variant of the virus. 

My plan was simple: Take my own summer drive to this event. Do so in a vehicle that might not be featured at the show. Something many journalists might not have on their radar. Oh, and take some downtime while I’m there. 

Of course, you can’t have a summer drive without an appropriate vehicle. For that, I came with an idea. A conversation with my friend Richard Herod III, the owner of White Bear Mitsubishi and The Bear Lot, came about after the Twin Cities Pride Festival wrapped up. We had a chat about a few things and the idea of this story came up. In turn, I set off on my own summer drive in a 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL Launch Edition with Super All-Wheel Control. 

Oddly enough, this particular Diamond Red example was the promo vehicle for Twin Cities Pride. The wrap that was used for it was removed after the festival concluded. I received it with a special treatment for the roof – a black wrap creating a true floating roof motif while creating a cool two-tone effect. 

Frankly, there is nothing special about this drive. It is direct shot on Interstate 94, until it splits off onto Interstate 90 in Madison, Wisconsin. I have taken this route for 19 years now. It should be second nature to me. 

Come to think of it, I have driven this route more times than most in my lifetime. I lost count at how many times I have taken the route from my home just northwest of downtown Minneapolis to The Loop in Chicago. Sometimes to places closer or further afield from O’Hare Airport. 

Using Google Maps, I was told that my drive to Hoffman Estates would take short of six hours. That does require some flexibility with stops for food, fuel, and short rests. I have to remember that I am not as young as I used to be. Moreover, I am starting not to feel as young as I used to be. 

By now, you’re wonder if I should’ve taken a plane or a train instead of driving. This is a subject I’d rather not breach, as it would require some explaining about my state of health. Besides, as an automotive journalist, why not drive? Why not take in the scenery and gobble the miles along the way?

It becomes a default for me to take the wheel and the highway. Especially, when the route is familiar.

Before you ask, I do not have any regular stops along the way. I do know where to get the bets prices for gasoline and consistently good food at certain exits. I do play my loyalty programs well with Speedway and Kwik Trip to get discounts or points towards earning more discounts. 

When you are traveling on a familiar route traversed many times over, you always want to find something new. Something different. A new-to-you restaurant that just opened up since the last time you took that route. Maybe a reopened rest stop for that precious 10-15 minutes to pause your trip?

This time, I had to recalibrate myself on these Interstates. The last time I drove the complete route from the Twin Cities to the Chicago area was in March 2020 – just before Minnesota’s Governor Tim Walz asked us to stay at home to control the COVID-19 virus.

This time around, the drive itself was unremarkable. I left around 5:30 AM, arriving in Hoffman Estates just after 12:00 PM. There were some stops for gas and personal needs. 

I have to admit that I was not as prepared as I should be. The arrival into Illinois yielded a lot of humidity. Even as I was doing a photo shoot for my outlets, the air was very thick and steamy. 

Yet, I was surely entertained by the greenery along the way. Familiar landscapes that denote certain stretches of the route. You can tell where you’re at by the scenery. You go through the Wisconsin Dells and come out into another set of landscapes. 

Of course, there was construction. Annoying road works that control your speed. I just wish most of my fellow motorists would consider slowing down so they won’t get hit with a massive bill from the state of Wisconsin for going over the posted temporary speed limit. They’re redoing their highways to make things safer for us. 

Upon arrival, I hit the ground running. Getting the Outlander washed for a series of photo shoots. Using my Hilton Honors app to check into my room at the Hampton Inn down the street from the venue. Finding food places that are local…rather, a local chain. 

Considering the steamy weather in the morning and early afternoon, I should have been clued in when that turned into a nasty storm system. The local news reported that 180,000 ComEd customers were without power by the time of their evening newscast. 

Guess who forgot to pack any rain protection? Just take a guess. 

After a stormy first day, I proceeded to the Marriott in Hoffman Estates for the MAMA Summer Drive. This felt like a reunion of sorts. Having not seen my fellow MAMA members – both in the media and on the industry side – in 17 months, it felt like “home.” 

At this point, I would like to hold off my impressions of the vehicles I’ve driven at the event for another post. 

Within an hour or so of our morning, another nasty storm came through the venue. We had to scamper back into the hotel and the event committee, along with the MAMA board decided to switch a few things up. They moved up the lunch presentation to earlier in anticipation of a return to driving. After our early lunch, the skies cleared up and we were back to doing what we do best – taking vehicles out on public roads and catching up with each other. 

When the snack truck arrived, I decided to head back home. I was eager to skirt the storm through Wisconsin. A dinner stop in the Wisconsin Dells yielded a rethink of that decision. I have only been in the Dells once – I should’ve left it at one-and-done.

The fatigue began to hit as I was getting closer to home. The predicted storms never came, and the roads remained dry all the way into Minnesota. I arrived around 11:30 PM – tired and fulfilled. 

Traveling on a Familiar route has become more of a vacuum. You eventually lose any sense of landmarking after a while. A few signs point to where you are at and how much further you have to go. Technology helps with navigation systems reminding you of the same landmarks and directions that you already have memorized after decades of traversing the same route. 

The real star of this trip is the 2022 Mitsubishi Outlander SEL Launch Edition itself. It was such a comfortable road trip vehicle that I simply did not need to know where I am at and how far was I from my destination. One feature on the Outlander I should point out was its Adaptive Cruise Control. Not only did it make this drive an easier one, it was also a very good system. 

Seventeen months was a very long time to interface with the people in your line of work. Video conferencing and social media feeds tried to replace in-person meetings and events. Perhaps it is my proximity to these events have been my disadvantage for these past two decades in this business. Given the opportunity, one must bridge the distance to fulfill one’s goals. That also means crossing that proverbial bridge to close the gap of 17-plus months of not seeing the people you work with due to a global health crisis. 

These are the reasons why I took this summer drive to the MAMA Summer Drive.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by White Bear Mitsubishi, White Bear Lake, MN. Travel logistics were paid by Victory & Reseda. 

All photos by Randy Stern

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