Diary #12: from factory to stadium

Mud Hens 1T-shirt for Toledo MayorGrand finale for Vittorio, alone after Gregory and Livia returned to Rome. The day started early: at 8.15 am the Willys was already outside the Jeep plant, escorted by Mike of Yark Auto and carrying aboard Dan, the mechanic. A beautiful day, chilly but not uncomfortable. The car was greeted by one of the plant managers, who jumped aboard. Once on site, the Willys drove up to the Wrangler assembly line, where it was met by a barrage of employees ready to greet the grandmother and snap photos with their cellphones. Driving along the assembly lines led workers to break from work or stare at us. Next stop was putting the Willys nose-to-nose against a white (later a red) Rubicon, surrounded by people asking questions, touching, taking pictures. After this came a tour on foot of the Wrangler area, followed by the short drive to the little artificial hill decorated with a giant JEEP sign. The pictures show the old Willys caught between two Wranglers. After thanking our hosts, it is time to drive alone (Mike and Dan having left before the factory visit) towards Jeep Parkway, the area which once hosted the Overland plant which built this Willys exactly 70 years ago to this day. After a ten minute ride, the Willys sits in a desolate plain dominated by a huge smokestack marked OVERLAND. Although the rest of the huge area has been bulldozed, it is still possible to recognize a hard-surfaced street which I assume was once lined by buildings on both sides. Around us are the reporters with their vans and staff from the Toledo Port Authority, which owns the area and smokestack, now considered a local monument. TV and print journalists want interviews and photographers shoot away. Soon Mayor Michael P. Bell arrives to deliver a speech from a freshly-delivered podium. He is followed by the Port Authority President and by my short thank you. We exchange gifts and give more interviews. The Mayor wants to ride the Willys, appears interested and talks about a Jeep Museum. I offer our support and that of ASI, particularly with respect to wartime use in Italy. Before parting, the Port Authority press office asks me if I would like to drive the Willys around the baseball field before this evening’s Mud Hens game. Of course I do! At 5.30 pm I meet Rachel, from the Mud Hens press office, at Yark’s. Dan, who has meanwhile checked that the battery is charging as it should, is with me once again. We start and reach the stadium in twenty minutes. At 6.40 pm we drive, amidst cheering spectators. Our lap is filmed and shown live on the giant screen. A few minutes later we leave the field: the match is about to begin! By the way: the Jeep did not bring the Hens much luck – in fact, the lose the fame. Now it is time to make decisions about the return to Newark.

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