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Encounters | An occasional feature

It's a road trip, CEO style: small cars, big fun

Shamed by the public relations fiasco from their first trip to Washington, the heads of the Big Three automakers decided that this time they would forget the private jets and drive themselves back to the capital today to plead for $34-billion in loans.

Road trip! We imagine what happened along the way.


Fearful of reports of extremely volatile fuel prices, Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford, decides to leave Tuesday when gas is still below $2 a gallon.

He contracts with a professional valet service to have his Ford Escape hybrid gassed up and detailed. He pays a little extra to have his monogram embossed on driver's side door.

He loads his iPod with driving tunes that were suggested by a service he subscribes to that tells him what people who drive from Dearborn to Washington are likely to listen to. (See list below.)

Loses an hour waiting for attendant at gas station near Sandusky.

Woman wearing "Ask me about my grandkids" T-shirt shows him how the gas tank cover opens.

Back on road, brainstorms crazy idea to make a car that runs on something other than gasoline. "If this car used electricity," he thinks, "I'd never have to feel embarrassed like that again."

Spends night in Holiday Inn Express outside Washington. Asks clerk for executive suite. Told there isn't one, he asks for three connecting rooms.

Eating Raisin Bran, he realizes the electric car idea is way ahead of its time. "Why would anyone want an electric car when gas is so cheap?"


Wednesday morning, after washing the breakfast dishes, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner has his driver load suitcases in his hybrid Chevy Malibu.

Can fit only one in trunk. Must leave three identically packed Louis Vuitton steamer trunks at curb.

Tells his driver to lie down in back seat as he pulls out of driveway, waving to stunned neighbors who have never seen a car that small.

Onstar tells him to take a right at end of street. Wagoner disagrees, turns off system. "I know where I'm going," he says. "I've flown this a thousand times."

Misses turn in Toledo.

Three hours later in Cincinnati, he completes third loop of beltway, increasingly frustrated at absence of signs for Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Turns Onstar system back on. "Do you need directions to get back on route?" Wagoner's driver answers "yes" and seizes control of car.


Robert Nardelli gets a really late start Wednesday, but is pretty sure he can make it to Washington in time if he drives straight through.

He stocks up on essentials: 25 $2-lottery scratchoffs (wins $5, buys two more tickets and loses. Later tells wife he won $1), five packs of American Spirits smokes (menthol), four bear claw Danishes and a 64-ounce vat of Colombia supremo into which he pours 13 creme de menthe creamers.

"This thing flies," he says, hitting I-275 at 93 mph.

Can't hear siren because he's singing King of the Road at the top of his lungs. First speeding ticket.

Spills half his coffee in lap trying to open third bear claw while steering with his knees.

Smoke in his eyes, misses sign saying speeding fines doubled in construction zone. Ohio trooper explains origin of law.

Dashboard lights blink on, including a mysterious one that he thinks looks like a slot machine. Confused, he ignores it.

Exactly 27 miles later, just past the Somerset exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he runs out of gas.

He coasts to a stop in the passing lane, lights up the last of his cigarettes and waits for someone to arrive with a gas can.

Contact Bill Duryea at

Have an Encounter?

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they will play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of the news. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at or (727) 892-2924.

Playlist | For the road

Ford CEO Alan Mulally's Roadtrip Playlist (imagined by Sean Daly, Times pop music critic)

1.) Highway to Hell, AC/DC

2.) Money (That's What I Want), Barrett Strong

3.) Mercury Blues, Alan Jackson

4.) I Think We're Lost, Ron Sexsmith

5.) Like a Rock, Bob Seger

6.) My Chevy Van, Sammy Kershaw

7.) I Can't Drive 55, Sammy Hagar

8.) 40 Miles of Bad Road, Duane Eddy

9.) Stuck in the Middle With You, Stealers Wheel

10.) Crawling From the Wreckage, Dave Edmunds

It's a road trip, CEO style: small cars, big fun 12/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 5, 2008 8:30pm]
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