Leno at show

Robert Walton – Route 66 Traveler

Have Passion… I Don’t Care What It Is

I have been to more than 20 countries, and I’ve seen a lot of North America but not as much as I’d like.

What made you decide to finally realize your lifelong dream?

In 1991 I started the Cadillac Club of North Jersey. It grew from nothing to 300 members in two and a half years. I learned how to get the attention of reporters and got unbelievable publicity. We signed up 82 members one month.

Sal Santoro (my driving buddy) was one of the very first people who signed up. We’ve been friends since then. Each year we would share expenses going to the Cadillac and La Salle Club Grand Nationals. At some point, we realized we both wanted to drive Route 66. Sal retired in 2005 and I retired in 2008. That’s when we got serious about the trip. We planned for a year and left May 19, 2009 in my 1968 Cadillac DeVille convertible.

We had the time of our lives. We were like Buz and Tod (from the TV series Route 66 that ran from 1960-1964). Route 66 is one of the most recorded songs in the world. Between the song and the TV show, for people my age, it was a mythical thing to someday experience.

What were the specific obstacles that you faced?

Well, there were a number of personal things in both of our lives that all later worked out fine. I was taking care of an aunt who passed away a month before we left. If she had not, we could not have gone when we did. There are always things that can conspire against you, but you keep pushing ahead.

We inadvertently picked the tornado season to do the trip. When we saw vans with ‘Storm Chasers’ on them as we drove through Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, we started watching the weather report a little more closely.

Sometimes being ignorant helps on these types of trips. We may not have gone if we weren’t. For instance, in Illinois, one day there was rain like you’ve never seen. We ended up driving our ‘68 Cadillac convertible through a foot of water. Sal is a creative person, so he hung his head out the window and took photos of the water coming up off the wheels of the car.

What helped you get through them?

Ignorance is bliss. When you want to do something for a long, long, time, the ‘thing’ becomes more important than what could possibly go wrong or happen. Your desire to complete what you’re doing overcomes your fear, hesitancy or obstacles.

Numerous studies of elderly people show that  when asked what they regret the most, it’s not the things they’ve done, it’s what they didn’t do.

Were there people who tried to discourage you?

A lot of people in our car club said, ‘Are you guys nuts?! You have a car that’s more than 40 years old. How are you going to make it from New Jersey to California and back?’ We won’t know until we try it. There will be challenges. I just hoped that we could meet them.

My biggest concern was the electrical system. All of the wires were more than 40 years old. There were miles of wires for the power seats, power windows, etc. In 1968 General Motors did not expect that idiots like us would drive the car to California 40 years later. After we completed the journey, it was those same members who encouraged us to write Route 66, The People – The Places – The Dream.

How did you feel when you finally accomplished your lifelong dream?

When we reached the Santa Monica pier in California, I don’t think Lewis and Clark were any happier to see the Pacific Ocean than I was. Then it hit me, ‘You still have to drive home.’ However, even if the car does blow up, I will still have lived my dream. Driving Route 66 was the dream. Getting the car home is the bonus.

I had no idea that when we got home 38 days and 7,292 miles later, we were going to write a book, be on TV, radio shows and that the book we wrote would be a Jay Leno book selection. ‘Hi…this is Jay Leno…. You have to come out to California. I want to interview you…’ Can you imagine getting that phone call?

What advice would you give to others who are contemplating finally living their dream?

There are no guarantees in life. Live your dreams today. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you will be a better person if you are happy. Whatever situation in life, if you live your dream, other people around you will benefit. You will be an inspired person and you will make their lives better.

So many people tell us that our book has changed their lives. It’s one thing to hear, ‘I like your book,’ but to have people say, ‘It inspired me,’ is really gratifying. We love to get those notes and emails. The book has sold in at least 11 foreign countries with Australia being number one because they have a very large group of Cadillac enthusiasts.

You shouldn’t stop having fun just because you’re a grown up.

To read more about Bob and Sal’s adventures, visit their website.

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