Long-Term Car: Windy City Road Trip

By John Beltz Snyder

February 28, 2012

Some days ago, my wife Catheryn and I packed a night’s worth of luggage (some clothes, an air mattress and pump, snacks for the road) into the Mini and took off for Chicago to meet up with our friends Michael (Nitschky) and Dina for a concert. The drive from Ann Arbor to Chicago is a pretty boring one, and road-tripping with my wife is usually a bit tricky because of her tendency to get carsick.
As is her wont, once we were on I-94 for a few minutes, and I got into my driving zone, Cat decided to take a nap. In the Mini, though, the bulkhead directly behind the seats prevented her from reclining her seat, so when I saw that she had dozed off, she was simply slumped to the side against the window, looking a bit uncomfortable, but asleep nonetheless.
For me though, the driver’s seat provided good support. On long drives, I like to alternate between sitting upright in my seat, and leaning my head against the headrest. In many cars, the headrest is too far behind my head to provide proper support, but in the Mini, I could still sit erect and alert with the cushion behind me supporting some of the weight of my head. I didn’t have to readjust my rear-view mirror so accommodate for a different position. It just felt natural, and at the end of my journey, I didn’t experience any muscle fatigue in my upper body.
On the highway, the Coupe was happy to maintain a fast and consistent clip without the use of the cruise control. It was easy to hold a constant speed, and there was always plenty of power in reserve for passing maneuvers and the like. Visibility is a bit tricky, especially out the rear, but I was able to position the side mirrors to account for that. When popping a peek over the shoulder at my blind spot, though, I was able to clearly see anything that would have been hiding through the side and rear window. Where there’s usually a thick pillar in the way, I could see the edges of my car, and everything beyond it. So while the over-the-shoulder check was more frequently necessary, it also gave a lot more information than it would have in a larger vehicle. My previous visibility laments had been assuaged after this longish highway trip.
Between Kalamazoo, Michigan and the Indiana border, the highway gets pretty bumpy, with creases and heaves every few feet sending the Coupe into a rhythmic rocking motion for several miles (there was even a billboard for Michigan-made Grey Heron Vodka proclaiming the smoothness of the beverage being much greater than that of the road we were driving on—clever). As my wife woke up and asked, “What’s going on?” we were treated to the Mini’s “go-kart” underpinnings on this very fine example of our fine state’s civil engineering. Soon enough, though, we were on smoother surfaces in Indiana, headed for the Skyway that would take us into the Windy City.
At the tollbooths, I was reminded of the Mini’s diminutive stature as I reached up to grab my change from the machine. I was reaching from such a low angle that my fingers got caught between the bottom of the change return and the plastic flap that covered the opening as I tried to slide my 40 cents out. Luckily, I was able to get free before traffic behind me started to honk, and I was able to make up time passing other cars and trucks with ease as the lanes narrowed back down the three that made up most of the Skyway.
Once in the thick of Chicago traffic, the Cooper Coupe felt very adept for this sort of densely packed driving. Needing to move through lanes to reach exits on either side of the road, I had no trouble placing the little car into small holes in traffic, knowing confidently that I wouldn’t be landing on the hood of another driver. Off the highway, it was just a little bit of darting around neighborhoods and finding a parking spot until we were safely at Michael’s apartment, ready to rock.
Parking in an urban setting is particularly easy in the Mini Coupe, as one would imagine, thanks to its size. It also got a lot of attention from children walking home from school, other motorists, and, of course, from Mike and Dina when they finally saw it.
Early in the evening, we were trying to decide how the four of us would get to Wrigleyville to see the show. Right away, taking the Mini was out of the question, as it only seats two. I didn’t mind, though; that meant I’d be able to enjoy a few libations. We were able to get a ride from a friend, and we split a cab home after the concert.
The next day, Catheryn and I packed the car up and headed home after lunch. We made our first stop for gas once we were well inside of the Michigan border again (359 miles since its last fill-up, with a couple bars left on the gas gauge, for an average of about 29.6 high-speed miles per gallon). We chatted for a while before Cat fell asleep and we arrived home safely by dinner. We had made some of the best time we ever had driving to and from Chicago, and with no incident (besides the tollbooth trying to eat my hand). For what it’s worth, not once did Cat complain of feeling carsick.
—John Beltz Snyder, Senior Editor