A 2000 mile road trip to drive…the 2012 Toyota Camry? Oh well. I needed a break from the world, and what better way to do it than with some quiet time and a huge tax write-off. At 5:54 A.M. I fired my ride for what turned out to be 17 hours of pure hell.
It all started in a nice quiet town in northwest Georgia. Powder Springs. A small hamlet somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. You can still pet cows and horses where I’m at. Yet it takes only 20 minutes to get on the interstate.
I give thanks to a brand new roadway that eliminates my need to use the intravenously gridlocked I-75 corridor. I have no idea why it was built since Powder Springs has only 15,000 residents. Other than perhaps as a collective thank you from our nation’s taxpayers for allowing Newt Gingrich to live in our county.
20 minutes into my travels on this pristine roadway and I was already on I-285. A circle of asphalt that completely enshrouds Atlanta. The beauty of Georgia interstates is that 80 mph won’t get you pulled over anytime soon… if ever. I went from there to I-85 and within two hours I was completely out of Georgia.
Things were looking good. Damn good. Too good. 40 minutes into my drive I got clocked by an officer doing 83 in a stretch of highway that mysteriously drops down from 75 to 65. I get pulled over by a young guy with one of those Texas sized brim hats. Conversation went like this…
“Sir, why are you driving 83 on a 65?”
Yours truly ((in an unintentionally annoying radio voice)) “Because I’m on my to NEW YORK CITY! to test drive the 2012 TOYOTA CAMRY!”… betcha never heard of that excuse before officer?
(laughs) “Can’t say that I have… are you a dealer?”
It turned out that I got pulled over less than a mile away from an auction I worked at in my younger days. Carolina Auto Auction was a brutal place to be a member of the auction staff. 100 degree heat. Near 100% humidity. 4 hours of strained vocal chords and rapid weight loss… all for a few hundred bucks. I had my dealer plate on the back of van and it turned out this guy did security for them on auction day.
It helped. But not much. I got a ticket for doing 9 mph over which means no points, but I was $81 poorer. Damn! But with so many miles to burn I sure as hell wasn’t gonna slow down a lick. I clicked it up to 85. Take that two-bit speedtrap!
The next couple of hours were spent admiring the scenery that is South Carolina. On the road, South Carolina has three claims of fame to it. The first is that no matter where you are in the state, you are no more than five miles away from a Waffle House. To the folks who have never had the pleasure of eating at a Waffle House, imagine a redneck version of Denny’s with no more than 5 edible food items.
The second is that South Carolina is the home state of Jesus. You turn on the radio and 17 variations of evangelical Christianity will pop into your life. The financially enterprising preachers for Jesus. The angry white conservative radio hosts for Jesus. The personal investment advisor for Jesus (there’s gold in dem’ old Roman coins folks!). And of course the ‘Jesus is a Republican’ three hour program.
After about 13 minutes of station surfing, I turned off the radio for the rest of my trip.
Finally South Carolina has the cheapest gas in the country. $3.29 a gallon. I filled up my car and with the leftover money bought a Subway club made by a guy who had a foo-fro about two feet high. Poor gay guy with questionable tastes. He looked like a walking cartoon character in the Simpsons. After eyeing his 11 visible facial piercings and Buckwheat inspired dreadlocks, I drove off from the Kwik-E-Mart and headed for the border.
By 10:30 I was headlong into North Carolina. A wonderful place to live, eat, and raise a family. I can say this because I used to live in a place called Carrboro which is a pedestrian friendly outlet of Chapel Hill.
North Carolina has a lot going for it. The state is home to 5 of the 50 best high schools in the country. The research triangle is the largest R&D center outside of Silicon Valley. Plus the state has a famous legacy of gifted tall people who play basketball for Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. The track record on basketball alone makes North Carolina far more marketable than their bible thumping cousins down south.
As a former resident, I can also tell you that the collective IQ of the residents also follows a steep curve as you travel northward. It rises gradually to about 25 points higher than the national average when you hit the Duke Street exit in the center, and then plummets down to near Georgia levels as you head further north.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Let’s just say that the north side of the state ‘peters out’ as you head to Virginia. ‘Nothing but trees and sunshine!’ as the old saying goes.
Virginia is the beginning of what can be aptly called the clusterscrew of modern day travel. Some call it Interstate 95. But I would call it ‘the automotive version of hell on Earth.’ Everything stays. Nothing moves. How did such a calamity of modern day transportation come to be?
Well I have a theory about this. See, some guys in Washington D.C. thought it would be a great idea to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the D.C. area without improving the transportation infrastructure. Republican. Democrat. Hired lobbyists of all colors and affiliations. They can all take the blame and the credit. What I ended up with at 2:00P.M. on a Sunday afternoon is a road completely covered in cars with no place to go.
Interstate 95 would serve as the beginning of my wit’s end. Cars drove in two speeds. Slow and reverse. No one did anything. No accidents. No ambulances. No police cars. Nothing but 5 lanes that went to four… that went to three… that went to two as you inched ever closer to the nation’s capital.
Even Buddha would have been pissed off after two hours of this. I know I was. Virginia also happened to offer enough porn inspired billboards on this journey to stimulate any weary traveler. For a few fleeting moments it was like almost being stuck in a Vegas strip without the neon lights… or an exit.
I called my wife. To say hi. Really. Besides, there were no more Jesus stations.
Maryland represented the beginning of two evil realities of northern life. High taxes and limited choices. Toll roads are well manned, and the price was about $2.00. Not too bad. But if you want a convenient exit and good food, you’re SOL. The nearby rest points are great if you want fried chicken, overpriced coffee, and candy bars.
This goes on through Delaware and all the way out to Pennsylvania.
They say that if you look at the state name of Pennsylvania hard enough, you can eventually make out the word ‘tax’. But that didn’t happen on my ride up. By the time I got to Pennsylvania it was already getting dark and the road was thankfully open as can be. From Virginia on up to New York, I can say that Pennsylvania lays claim to the best state of the bunch if you’re driving at a very high rate of speed.
What’s the worst. Without a solitary shred of a doubt it was New Jersey. The state motto may be the ‘ Garden State’. But it should have been, “Guess who owns this state?”
Not only was traffic dead, but the entire parking lot of cars was apparently man-made ordeal. Three lanes of traffic were at a standstill through Princeton and beyond while police cars accessed two full shoulder lanes.
Where we they going? Beats me. I never saw anything other than a parked group of police cars and some warning cones. No accidents. No construction workers. No kidding. But the worst was yet to come.
$6.95 in tolls with a high eclipsing $9. More than all the other states combined. Eventually I ran low on gas and came to the only rest stop within 30+ miles. The price of gas.. was $3.55. More than a quarter higher than South Carolina. But that was not the worst part.
The worst was that despite having 20 pumps, only 2 people were able to access those pumps. The wait for gas was well over 50 cars. I decided that a quarter tank would be enough to get me through after all.
More third world fun and frills were awaiting on the inside. While the men’s room only had a 20+ person wait, the ladies restroom was lined out the door. As in so many people (50+) that the line stretched completely outside the building. Prices on the inside for junk food were primarily inspired by the bodegas of Brooklyn. As I told another fellow traveler, “You have three choices. High, WTF, and OMG.”
After exactly three hours on the Turnpike and 17 hours into my journey, I finally reached Fort Lee, NJ. A town loaded with affluent Koreans and Japanese expatriates. Yet the town can’t seem to put anything other than old steel plates in place of their canyonero potholes. I got the keys from a family friend, walked into her empty condo, and called her.
“Where are you mom?”
“In traffic Steve. Welcome back to New Jersey!”
More authentic words about my state have yet to be spoken…