Tuesday, January 31, 2006 - 12:00 AM
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TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Earl George, 92, is back behind the wheel of his Cadillac in Edmonds after driving 12,000 miles to Panama and back — by himself.
TOM REESE / THE SEATTLE TIMES
A transit sticker on Earl George's windshield serves as a reminder of his adventure to Central America.
Doing 92 from Edmonds to Panama
By Susan Gilmore
Seattle Times staff reporter
Imagine you're driving through El Salvador, hit a pothole and blow out two tires on your 2002 Cadillac.
You don't speak Spanish, have just one working eye and, by the way, you're 92 years old.
Earl George, who found himself in just that pickle, did what he often did on his 12,000-mile drive to and from Panama. He talked to himself. After all, this was a solo trip.
"OK, George, you wanted an adventure," he said to himself. "Well, George, this is an adventure."
George just got back from his five-week trip, where he visited a nephew.
"Since my wife passed away, there was no one to tell me, 'You're too stupid, you're a lousy driver and I won't go with you. You can't speak Spanish and you can't make it,' " said George, who was able to navigate through eight countries knowing just three words of Spanish: mañana, muchacha and sí.
So when he found out that his nephew in Panama was ill, he pulled out a map.
"I could drive there," the Edmonds resident told himself.
"People climb mountains for adventure," he said. "My knees hurt, so I can't climb mountains, but I needed an adventure. People kept telling me how stupid the idea was. 'What if banditos get you?' I found there's banditos in Seattle."
Raised in Kansas, George moved to Seattle with the Navy and never left. He lost one of his eyes in a kamikaze attack on his warship during World War II.
"You only need one eye," said George, adding that it's never affected his ability to renew his driver's license.
George's adventure took him through Texas to Mexico where, lost in Mexico City, he saw a sign to Acapulco, took the road and was able to find the Pan American Highway.
He drove through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica before arriving in Panama, where he spent a week with his ill nephew before heading home.
While many of the roads were good, there were the ones in Costa Rica with potholes the size of manholes.
"If the roads in Costa Rica were improved 100 percent, they would still be lousy," said George, who lost a tire in that country.
But the worst was when he blew those two tires in El Salvador. As he was sitting by his car, unsure what to do, three people on horseback rode up. One pulled out a cellphone and called a local tire shop, where the owner sent a taxi to get George. He piled himself and his flat tires into the cab, got new tires and went back to the car, where George changed the flats himself.
He used to own a gas station, George explained, and it was in his blood. He said he once changed the tire on a Model T Ford — when Model T's were new.
The next blowout was in Costa Rica, where George ended up spending the night in his car, eating two-day-old pizza. After being told the closest town was about 3 miles away, he drove there on his flattened tires.
The shop didn't have any tires for his Cadillac but promised to drive him to a place that did — for $80 American. After weaving through coconut plantations, he ended up at a duty-free shop on the Panama border where he bought the tires.
George, who said he loves to drive, clocked about 400 miles a day and figures he spent about $6,000 on his adventure. And he says he has no regrets.
He said while his friends warned him against going, his two sons, who are in their 50s and 60s, were supportive. "They both thought it was wonderful," George said.
His next trip? Maybe he'll drive to Alaska.
"But I'm open to suggestions."
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company