To fellow Jeep brand fans: I just wanted to share this story. Thanks for taking the time to read it.
With so much dividing us, it’s worthwhile to share a story about those things that bind us and remind us of the value of family and the greatness of being an American.
My father is 71, fixin’ to be 72 years old.
He’s worked hard, and now he and mom are both retired.
Years back, I bought my first Jeep vehicle, a (too) pretty little red XJ. It took a single ride to get the wife to understand and get her converted.
Flash forward to present day, and we’ve got a JK, our third XJ and an MJ (2011 Wrangler, 1998 Cherokee and a 1988 Comanche), and are hoping to trade her Explorer in for a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 10th Anniversary Edition, job/economy permitting.
When my parents started showing signs of age, I started looking to move closer – to be there, to be a bigger help. When the house literally next door came up for sale, well, it was a done deal.
Turns out, Dad loves coming over and helping me in the garage when I’m tinkering on the Jeep vehicles (almost every weekend). Even though he owns a ZJ (1994 Grand Cherokee), he’d talk about what he’d love to do if he had a Wrangler. And, truth be told, about the only time he takes that ZJ off-road is if he accidentally catches grass as he’s pulling into the driveway. (Repeat after me: Street. Queen.)
Now, I have taken him with me to the Jeep Jamboree in Hot Springs and offered to let him drive. He was too responsible to risk damage to someone else’s vehicle, which is both admirable and understandable (a quality I am not sure, given that particular temptation, I have inherited).
We do love the off-road lifestyle, and we’re drawn toward TV shows about off-roading adventures. One night, we were watching a show called “One Car Too Far,” which, aside from the blasphemous title, is a great show about a red Wrangler TJ and two guys getting paid to go on totally awesome out-there adventures. There are a couple of jobs I would do for free and that would be one of them.
We’d watch the show a bit and he’d talk about what he would do with a Wrangler and how he’d like to take Mom for a ride. I could completely empathize with the visuals and the scenario – taking your bride out with the top down, waving to the other Jeep vehicle owners. Let’s face it, it really is a Jeep thing, and he totally gets it.
Problem for Dad is, well, he’s retired and living on fixed income. Piled on is the fact that Mom’s cardiovascular system decided to go all clog city on her a bit ago and now, quadruple this, stroke that, and she’s looking at some pretty long shadows in her late afternoon.
Now, you have to understand, Dad spent 20 years as a deacon in a local church. You don’t get rich performing weddings and saying Mass and counseling, but you do give to the community in ways most of us never will. That said, I looked in the mirror and thought about how we bought our Wrangler because we didn’t want to miss the adventure and joys of the Jeep brand lifestyle, and I decided Dad wasn’t about to, either. I spoke with the wife and she completely agreed. Yes, I did marry well.
I thought about how much Dad loved “One Car Too Far,” and then it hit me: with his birthday coming up, I wanted to get him his very own TJ.
Hours of searches in the usual corners of the web turned up a perfect (well, almost perfect) candidate, a 1998 red TJ, 4-cylinder, 5-speed with black steel rims. Purty darn close to the one they used and a perfect starting point.
A week of bids and, viola, I now had Dad’s birthday gift. All I had to do was get it to traverse the 2,000 miles from where IT was to where WE are.
Not (yet) worried about logistics, I went over to Dad’s and gave him the news. His response? A huge smile, a bit of an involuntary glint in the eye and a single sentence: “How much would a lift kit be?” I don’t think he could have said anything more perfect.
So now on to “How the heck do I get it here?” Turns out one of my cousins I hadn’t seen in 20 years and whom my wife had never yet met lives up near where the Wrangler is. He’s still in touch with another cousin, one I hadn’t talked to in 34 years, who knew a guy who does auto transporting.
Sometimes, when you’re a guy, you’ve just gotta have a stupid excuse to call those people you haven’t spoken to in a couple of decades because of political alignment, and the thing is, the American icon that is the Jeep brand is just that magic. In all my conversations – with everyone: the seller, family members – all of the red/blue stuff that has this country at odds wasn’t present at the meetings. It was all about the aura surrounding Jeep vehicles and the adventures to come for Dad. I know I had almost forgotten how to communicate without having it descend into who’s taking up space in the Oval Office.
After calling around to several transporters, I found that the cost to fly up there and pay for gas, hotels and meals would actually be slightly more than having the Wrangler shipped. Clearly, shipping was the more cost-effective (and logical) route. Cheaper, yes, but only slightly more so … What that meant was I was now looking at the opportunity to go on a cross-country road trip in a Wrangler that was already in place and ready for me to pick up and drive back. That’s the kind of adventure you reminisce about in your golden years and tell to your grandkids just to watch their eyes widen. “Really? You and Grandma drove across country IN A WRANGLER? Wow!”
Everyone said we were crazy to even consider taking a car we’d bought sight-unseen and never even test-driven on a 2,000-mile journey. And normally I’d agree with them, but this isn’t a CAR. It’s a Jeep vehicle. Me, I’ve driven MB2s, CJs, ZJs, XKs, MKs XJs, MJs and JKs in on- and off-road conditions, and I’ve built up quite the empirical faith (righteous oxymoron) in a vehicle with those four letters (J-E-E-P) emblazoned on it and a properly stocked roadside tool kit. Oddly, “TJ” was conspicuously missing from that list, and this was chance to right that in high style.
The wife and I talked it over and decided to plan the trip for the weekend before Dad’s birthday, which was also our 18th anniversary. We planned out the route and built in some stops along the way “just for us.” One day to fly up and take delivery of the TJ; three more days to drive 2,000 miles through 10 states from New England back to Texas.
I will tell you, if you ever have the opportunity to drive across this great country, do it. There are quaint little towns and beautiful mountains with huge unending skies and farms and rolling hills that you just have to see with your own eyes. Each state we went through really had its own personality, and I enjoyed every mile of the snow, sleet, rain and sunshine we drove through. Even if you’re not into mudding or crawling, go on a road trip. Do it in a Jeep vehicle. You will treasure the memories for life.
In Tennessee, on our anniversary, we stopped by a barbecue diner, then took a scenic drive past the mansions of Nashville. We also got pulled over by the nicest highway patrol officer in Tennessee who was also a fan of the brand and was rather surprised to see New England temp plates that far south. We chatted for a while, showed pictures of our rigs and swapped mud stories, shook hands and parted company. I’m not even sure he remembered why he pulled us over to begin with.
Then, the next day, we headed up to the mountains in Arkansas for a little light off-roading. After all, it wouldn’t be right to turn the vehicle over after a 2,000-mile test drive that didn’t include thoroughly vetting it in 4×4 low through mud, over rocks and up hills. (It passed, and heck yeah, I delivered it with the mud still on it, properly christened.)
On the fourth day, we made it back to Texas. Dad was waiting anxiously in the driveway while we unpacked the vehicle, and then he took it for his first ride. I guess the best part of this story was that moment: watching someone drive their first Wrangler for the first time.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen with Mazdas and Volvos. It’s just what it is: Jeep vehicles are part of the fabric of American history, woven into the culture, built here by us, and the secret ingredient no one else can add is the metaphor for our American values and independence.
It is, without a doubt, amazing – at least to me – the story of how a little red Jeep vehicle from a blue state back East can reconnect family and remind us there really still is a red, white and blue, and we do still make American pride here in America.