Learning About Life on Highway 77: A Face of America Journey Special Moment

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2010
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

“If you really want something, go flat out for it.” Dr. Jean Harris, Former Mayor Eden Prairie Minnesota

The words of Dr. Jean Harris, the former mayor of Eden Prairie have special meaning for Kitch and me. For the past seven months we have been traveling across our country searching for the Face of America on its best day. As of today, these are the numbers:

20,000 miles driven in a Toyota Prius;
39 states and 270 cities and towns visited;
300 people interviewed;
56,000 digital pictures recorded.

Unquestionably, this is the experience of a lifetime, and we are going flat out to make the most of it.

There is another quotation from the esteemed former mayor of Eden Prairie that has great meaning for us: “Life is a poker game. You play the hand you are dealt, and you play to win.”

A few days ago on a beautiful July morning just outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Rt. 77, we were dealt some cards that will complicate our life for several years to come. Kitch and I were talking about the marvelous experience we had in what Money Magazine calls the best place to live in America, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. It was one of the most magical days of our journey. City officials were welcoming, cooperative and very willing to help us with our project. They graciously accepted the 9/11 National Remembrance flag, and they put it in a display case in the entrance to their City Center Building.

City Manager, Scott Neal, wrote a very thoughtful article about our visit for his blog.


During the public forum session of their council meeting, they asked us to speak about our project and our visit to their city. It was a moment like no other, and one we will not soon forget.

Less than 12 hours later, we were on our way to visit Judy Gailbraith, the owner and publisher of Free Spirit Press in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The glow of our visit to Eden Prairie was fresh in our minds, and we were talking about the way were treated with kindness and respect by the City Manager and his administrative assistant and all the people we met in Eden Prairie.

Then it happened.

I looked in the rear view mirror and saw a car speeding toward our Prius.

In what seemed like nanoseconds, we were rear-ended, and in that instant we learned how fragile life can be…how dangerous life on the road can be…how lucky we were to be alive.

There is no need to recount all of the details of that scary moment here. Much more important is the fact that there was no loss of life. There were no arguments about responsibility. There were no angry words, and no moments of contention. During the hours and days that followed the accident, we learned in very real ways how kind, generous and helpful Americans are in times of trouble.

Our experience on Rt. 77 is a classic example of what America is on its best days. Everyone pulled together to make the best of what was a bad situation knowing full well it could have been a disastrous situation.

In the days since the accident, that cooperation has continued, and we are back on the road making our way in a rented Toyota Prius thanks to the kind people at Walser Rental Car and Walser Collision. Wherever we go, the memory of that moment on Rt. 77 goes with us. The help we received from everyone at Walser enabled us to get back on the road. We did not miss an interview. We did not have to change our schedule.

The encouraging notes and calls from friends, family and former students inspired us to keep moving forward. If truth be told, it took us more than a week to answer the beautiful e-mails of friendship and concern we received from people who live in places we have visited during our journey.

Yes, we are much more aware of what can happen on a busy highway during rush hour traffic. Yes, we are anxious when we get behind the wheel of our car. Yes, we are much more cautious when we are driving. Yes, we are worried about the complications that will result from the accident. Our car was declared a total loss, and we are not in a position to replace it.

There are other complications and inconveniences, but there are opportunities as well. We choose to focus on the opportunities.

The day after the accident, we made our way to Mt. Rushmore. Standing at the foot of this monument to what America is on its best days, we were rejuvenated by the majestic images of “the four men on the mountain,” as they are affectionately known here, the 34 people we interviewed during our visit to this iconic memorial, and the captivating evening ceremony that celebrates America and Americans in a beautiful way.

As we continued our journey to Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan, the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln and the beautiful mosaic of America we found at Mt. Rushmore gave us hope, energy and strength.

Dr. Harris is right:

Life is a poker game. You play the hand you are dealt, and you play to win. That doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be successful or always going to make the right decision. You will stumble, and you won’t always make the right decisions. The important thing is to learn from those experiences which don’t always turn out the way you hoped or expected.

Thank You Scott.

Thank you Mark.

Thank you Cody.

Thank You Ginger.

Thank You Carmen.

Thank You Sean.

Thank You Mike.

Thank You Jeff.

Thank You Gerry.

Thank You Dr. Harris.

Thank You Eden Prairie.

Thank You Bloomington.

Thank You America for this incredible opportunity.


Please provide feedback to tmussari@gmail,com