I had to make a conscious effort to keep my recorder close to Patrick Taylor’s face. You know, close enough to get a good recording, but without making it, you know, weird.
I wasn’t sure how the noise of riding in a car would affect the quality of the podcast. Not to mention this car, the world-famous Chicken Car (not hyperbole; it’s got fans from Australia to South America) tends to make more noise than most.
But perhaps more significant, Taylor is pretty soft-spoken. Not what I expected from somebody who frequently relishes the limelight alongside his beloved ride.
If the understated Taylor hadn’t spoken up back in 2010, the car wouldn’t have become the chariot of choice for internationally acclaimed folk rockers Mumford & Sons. Heck, the gentlemen might not have even stopped over in Dixon two summers ago.
But on that fateful day, Mike Cathey, Taylor's boss and the owner of BBY Chicken, was ready to use a frontloader to knock the ginormous chicken head off the car. He wanted to scrap the 1993 Ford Mustang. Taylor, then 17, yelled out and demanded that the execution be stopped. He’d pay $500 to keep intact a relic from his childhood, the bizarre ride he’d seen in so many parades.
“It wasn’t calculated at all,” Taylor said. “I was frugal. I saved every cent I made. It’s all kind of a blur.”
For weeks, Dave Taylor thought his son was just pulling his leg that the penny-pinching youngster had sprung for the car. But then the car just never went away.
Four years later and with more cash invested than Taylor would like to think about, the “Soon to Be Famous” decals on the doors seem like prophecy fulfilled.
In addition to being the only car Taylor has owned, it has carried him to and from the University of Illinois, where he will graduate with a finance degree in May. It also has landed him on TV and brought delight to innumerable admirers. (Well, mostly delight. Some children are initially frightened.)
When the boys from Mumford were picking small-town destinations for the Gentlemen of the Road Tour in 2012, they looked over footage their team had shot of prospective sites.
Here’s what they quickly noticed about Dixon: The proposed concert site at Page Park was alongside the campus of a school that looks like a castle. And the local guy drove a chicken car.
At the time, Taylor hadn't heard of Mumford & Sons. His limited participation with the show in Dixon was capitalizing on a chance to sell T-shirts on the riverfront with such names on the back as "Local Guy" and "Local Guy's Dad."
Today, Taylor loves Mumford & Sons. He got to experience two of the band’s 2013 shows from backstage – with his aunt, uncle and sister, Erika, in Troy, Ohio; then with his mom, girlfriend, Fallon Sperling, and a friend in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
But perhaps more so, he loves the guys in the band like family. After all, when he arrived in Troy, they greeted him with hugs. Like family. Well, he had lent them the family vehicle, after all. And that escapade landed Taylor on an episode of the A&E series “Shipping Wars.”
“It was kind of surreal, but at the same time, it didn’t make me any different of a person,” Taylor said. “I’m not used to, … I almost just said I’m not used to being the center of attention.”
He has to smile, with a sort of realization that, while it’s the car has its own persona – and Facebook page, website (chickencar.weebly.com), and Twitter and Instagram accounts (follow ChickenCar1 on both) – he’s been along for the ride.
He’s the guy in the driver’s seat while innumerable fellow travelers snap pictures with their smartphones.
“I’m going to write the governor a letter apologizing for all the people taking pictures while [they're] driving,” Taylor said.
He was at the wheel when a woman with brain cancer saw the car in Dixon. He later found out at a family party that she was concerned that she was going crazy, having seen a massive chicken atop a car. So he sent her a T-shirt.
“We had to reinforce that she’s not crazy, that it’s a real thing,” Taylor said.
He’s been all over the state, seeing places and meeting people he likely wouldn’t have encountered flying solo. Or at least in a more unassuming vehicle.
“[Getting exposure] is just driving around and checking out places I haven’t been – which I’d like to do anyway,” Taylor said. “I’d like to do it while I’m young and before I settle down.”
That speaks to how serious he and Fallon are. And he’s had a lot of practice handling children, whose reactions to the car are decidedly mixed.
“Kids. … Some of them have mixed emotions about it,” Taylor said. “Some of them point and laugh. And some of have frightened faces, and they don’t know what to think about it.
"But the chicken noise brings it together for most kids."
I know my girls loved it, as did the neighbors' kids. Taylor triggered the clucking sound and waved gleefully, drawing cheers and squeals before he drove off after our interview.
But it's not all in jest. The Chicken Car has been a “résumé builder,” as Taylor puts it, having helped him apply his experiences with the car to his classes.
The wealth of experience is great, but, truth be told, the car hasn’t made Taylor a dime. And it needs a lot of work he’d like to do, from new paint, to new lights, to replacing the chicken wire (no joke) that holds the windshield wipers in place.
Taylor’s efforts are as admirable as they are hilarious. But he’s got some serious business savvy. He’s working to get a corporate sponsorship for the car in Urbana. After all, he always walks to class. So, rather than parking it on the street, why not park it in the lot of a local chicken proprietor?
That sort of forward thinking will lead Taylor to greatness. In the meantime, the merchandise he has designed is pretty cool. So hit up chickencar.weebly.com, buy a shirt, and do what Taylor did: Savor a hulking piece of Dixon Americana.