By on August 29, 2011

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…

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65 Comments on “Hammer Time: 17 Hours of Hell...”

  • avatar

    I avoid DC whenever possible. Hard, since my sister lives outside it and the road from Michigan to VA tends to lead through it.

    But Atlanta to NYC–is I-81 not a viable option?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s much easier to get into DC heading from Baltimore than from the south, or obviously from where-ever you come in from Michigan. I go to northern VA several times a year from Boston.

      • 0 avatar

        I tend to get tied up on I-95 in northern Virginia, and prefer to pass through the area very late at night for this reason.

        If I was going from Atlanta to NYC I’d take I-81: better scenery, less traffic. Or, if I wasn’t in a hurry, one of the smaller highways that parallels it.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I took I-81 on the way back. Cut over three hours from my ride.

      Sometimes the only way you learn in life is by getting an education.

      • 0 avatar

        @Steven Lang:
        When you were in NJ, did they let you pump your own gas? Last time I was there (Cherry Hill area, about a year ago) they said there was a law against it, and some guy (invariably a Sikh) was manning the pumps.

    • 0 avatar

      Pound for pound, Boston is the worst place I’ve ever driven – worse than New York, even. Traffic is atrocious in both places, but at least New York is easy to find your way around in. Boston, on the other hand, was laid out by a Pilgrim on shrooms. Dali paintings make more sense.

      • 0 avatar

        OK, I’m a Bostonian, and I love the place, but that is my best laugh of the week so far, and may well end up so when the week is over. The “Dali paintings make more sense” on top of the Pilgrim on shrooms… that’s just brilliant and hilarious, and makes almost as much sense as the conventional explanation–that these were cow paths. I grew up mostly in Boston, and spent the first 25 years of my adulthood away. When I came back, I had A HELL OF A TIME finding my way around any time I had to go somewhere new until I got a GPS. finding your way is complicated by the fact that there aren’t many street signs.

    • 0 avatar

      +1..Been driving ATL to Pennsy for 20+ years. I-81 is the ONLY way to go. Only if I have to go to Richmond do I take 85/95.

      Once you catch I-77 out of Charlotte and pass Lake Norman, you are clean and green all the way to Roanoke and beyond. Scenery is nice,police are few, and the road is mostly empty.

      If you want Baltimore/DC, catch I-64 or I-70.

      And Steve, I used to live in Powder Springs, and the East-West Connector (We really know how to name our roads in GA) is a godsend.

    • 0 avatar

      A another great story from a master!

      Having lived, worked and driven in Mexico City, Moscow, London, Amsterdam and Bangkok, you have not seen anything.

      Now, if it’s over a three-hour drive away I will fly.

  • avatar

    Great story. Fascinating characterizations of states. Esp the Carolinas. NC proves cigarettes’ legacy isn’t all bad. Cigarette money financed Cigarette University (Duke). The Dukes invented mass production of cigarettes, pushing daily production from 2,000 (an excellent cigarette roller) to ~160,000 (machine). You can see it all at the Duke estate, and buy a hat that says, “PRide in Tobacco.” I have mine. It’s a lot of fun to wear around politically correct Cambridge MA.

    • 0 avatar

      I lived in North Carolina for two years and have wanted to move back ever since I left. I love that state. Great place to drive too – im not sure there is a straight road anywhere (unlike my native large mid-western city) and outside of a couple of “cities”, the roads are all in great shape and not years behind when they ought to be resurfaced. No salt, few potholes, nice hills, nice people, the BEST beaches, mountain river rafting, bluegrass, sweet tea sweet leaf and sweet ladies, urban tree canopy, fall colors, fluorescent green dust in spring, several styles of barbeque… the list could go on all day.

      Ive lived in Chicago, Santa Cruz, Seattle, DC, and Tucson and id take a number of places in NC over any of those (which were all fine places)

  • avatar

    It’s a long time since I read anything as entertaining and funny on TTAC. You just hold the article on the new(-ish) Camry, but make sure you tell us how your trip back home was!

  • avatar

    It is for stories/accounts like this that make my day!

    Maybe next time you’ll take Amtrak’s Crescent!

  • avatar

    Pretty damn funny.

    But as a NJ resident I have to ask when you wrote this, because regular gas near me is at $3.25 +/- a couple pennies. It changes every day and I didn’t pay attention this morning.

  • avatar

    Just a few miles north of ya’ll is the 407 tollway in Toronto, Canada, where a trip of say 40 miles will run you $17. $20 dollars if you don’t pay the annual membership fee. We also pay 13% sales tax, so make that $22.60, each way. Just complainin’… thanks.

  • avatar

    Certainly agree with your characterization of the North Carolina. I am in Hillsborough, not far from Carrboro – great place.

  • avatar

    The next time get off 495 at route 50 and head towards Annapolis. Only a 2.50 toll and no traffic up 301. Jump off at Middletown De and take DE 1 to 95. Plenty of restaurants, cheap gas, and no cops.

    I never take 95 north anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      Truth. I discovered this going to NYC for New Years’ a few years ago (thanks to an enterprising Greyhound driver) and have used it ever since. Slower than if 95 is empty, but cheaper, less stressful, and if there’s ANYTHING that happens on 95 it’ll save time, too.

      Unfortunately, it wouldn’t have helped our valiant hero with half of his journey, because it still would have brought him through the Virginia I-95 corridor. I hate DC-Richmond trips because there is no good alternative, and it can take from 1.5 – 4 hours.

      • 0 avatar

        It adds 20 miles to the distance over 95, but a better drive. They are going to hike the tolls on MD soon so the i95 route is going to get even more expensive.

  • avatar

    I am very familiar with the route as described by the author. Did a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend (now wife) for 3 years, between ATL and Henderson, NC. Although I can’t recall ever seeing a 75mph speed limit on I-85 in GA or SC. When I lived in NC I would also road trip home to the parents in southeast PA, right through the maelstrom that is I-95.

    Had to laugh about the airwaves in SC. Every time I would cross the border, I would say “Not this time!” before hitting my FM autotuner. But alas – every time, 5 out of 6 stations would be religious babble.

  • avatar

    I live in NC, just north of Raleigh, I drive 23 miles into Raleigh everyday to work. The roads are about 10 years behind the needs. Since 1975 when I got my drivers license, to now, the amount of traffic has increased like the nat’l debt! If I win the Powerball, I’m moving so far out in the sticks that the Clampetts seem like city folks.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      One friend who enjoys being far away from civilization has a simple metric for habitation requirements: if he can’t walk out onto the front porch to pee, there are too damn many people around.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    The first time I encountered two people from NJ as they met, they cemented the stereotype for all time in my mind. Upon learning each other hailed from the Garden State, they simultaneously exclaimed, “which exit?” They immediately realized their gaffe and quickly looked around the dormitory lounge to see if anyone had noticed. I kept my face buried in a text book – but my ears had already stamped the audio clip with “remember forever” and sent it to the grey matter storage system.

  • avatar

    All that to drive a Camry, huh? I hope all that high tensile strength steel made it worth the trip.

  • avatar

    I live in Northern Virginia (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and I avoid I95 like the plague. Here’s a tip: Get off I95 in Fredericksburg VA and take US 17 (Warrenton Highway) west. Then take US 29 (Lee Highway) to US 15 North (James Madison Highway – see a pattern in the names? Northern VA?). US 15 will take you all the way to Fredrick MD and I70 East to Baltimore’s I695. Go north on I695 and it will take you to I95. You avoid DC (and the infamous Springfield Interchange) and the Baltimore tunnel. It’s also a pretty drive through the contryside.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    Even though you didn’t explicitly say it, from your description it sounds like you took I-85 up to Richmond where you joined with I-95, correct?

    I-85 from the Virginia line to Richmond is a great stretch of road — just a tunnel through the trees and very little traffic. Surprised you did not mention that.

    One thing I like about the NJ turnpike is separate lanes for trucks and cars, separated by a New Jersey (natch) barrier. Of course it’s been at least 10 years since I’ve driven through there so maybe it’s gotten worse, but I don’t remember the traffic being that bad in the car lanes. Ahhh, the perks of a pilot’s license and the freedom of General Aviation….

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Disagree. That segment of I-85 is almost all uphill going north. The police have some of the best hideouts if you want to get some speed. Plus whatever you try to do, some schmuck in a truck will be on the left lane keeping up with his friend on the right. Going 65 the whole bleepin’ way.

      I would rather be in Tennessee.

      • 0 avatar

        hey Steve, I love your writing. BTW, I lived in Carrboro for a while too…met my wife there. Guess where I live now…South Carolina and your observations are spot on. I like to think of SC as NC’s slightly retarded cousin.

    • 0 avatar

      I85 joins I95 at Petersburg actually. Then it’s Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike which isn’t as bad as it used to be before I295 was built around the two cities.

  • avatar

    I’ve done the northern half of that trip before many times. Some tips:

    1) Stay off of I-495 if at all possible. Seriously, it doesn’t clear up until like two in the morning, and fills up again by five thirty.

    2) Also stay off of the segment of I-95 between DC and Baltimore.

    3) Stay off of I-695 and 295 if it’s near any time of day that could possibly be construed as rush hour.

    4) If you’re going to any point north of NYC, don’t go through Jersey at all unless you’re particularly masochistic. From Baltimore to Albany, NY, aside from the “quality” of drivers in NJ and DE, it’s over twenty dollars in tolls. Or you can go by way of Scranton, PA (I-83 to I-81) and Binghamton, NY (I-81 to I-88) and the roads will be mostly empty the whole way and you can pump your own gas. It’s more miles but the lack of tolls probably makes it cheaper. This is not efficient to go to NYC unless you absolutely need to drive there at 7 AM on a weekday, however.

    5) Pennsylvania cops don’t use radar or lasers. They’re old-school, they time you between two (really obvious) painted white lines, often from aircraft. The implications of this on nighttime speed enforcement are left to the reader. Downside: your expensive radar detector, laser jammer, and/or ECM suite that you were hiding through Virginia is useless in this state.

    6) If you want to eat in the northeast, look for Wegmans. Yes, it’s techincally a grocery store. You can buy dinner there and it’ll be better than any other place you find on a rest stop.

    • 0 avatar

      Good summary, but two points need clarifying:

      1. The Pennsylvania State Police can use radar. It’s the municipal police departments that do not have the statutory authority to use radar. And please note that the State Police are not limited to patrolling interstate highways. I haven’t heard much about the use of aircraft for speed enforcement anymore…it’s too expensive for cash-strapped municipalities, and the State Police simply stick with radar.

      2. While traffic generally doesn’t stop on I-81 and I-83 unless there is an accident, both roads are major trucking routes. Combine this with rush hour traffic, and there are times when the slow lane is moving at 65 mph, and the passing lane is moving at…68 mph. On the other hand, at least you are moving.

      • 0 avatar

        1. I did not realize that; I guess I’ve just been lucky. Do note in any case that nighttime speed enforcement is sometimes done by local deer.

        2. This is true, but the trucks generally get over afterwards and at least there isn’t usually a row of cars behind it, you get slowed down for only five minutes or so. Much better than trying to fight your way through New Jersey.

    • 0 avatar

      The tractor trailers take care of a fair amount of the deer along I-81 and I-83. The mating season is approaching, which is when the deer tend to be on the move, so I expect to see a fair number of dead deer along both roads within 2-3 months.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent point Geeber about PA radar, allow me to add:

      1) The State Police do not have 2-way radar. Unless they’re following you they’ll always be sitting, pointing their radar gun at traffic.

      2) As you noted, municipal authorities don’t have authority to utilize radar. That’s where the two white lines come into play for the VASCAR method the local/county patrol uses. The white lines used for aircraft patrol are spaced much further apart than the lines used for local VASCAR. That said, I too have heard very little about aircraft for speed enforcement.

      3) Wegmans is a Rochester, NY based grocery store chain with stores between Erie, PA and Syracuse. Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle’s brand-new “Market District” stores are the nicest grocery stores ever in Western PA, yet they pale compared to a ten-year-old Wegmans. Really. Aristurtle’s assessment here is spot-on. And they’re not frighteningly expensive like Waldbaum’s in NJ/Metro NYC.

      4) Deer absolutely do constitute part of nighttime speed enforcement throughout PA.

  • avatar

    Modern folks are such wussies…

    Potholes the size of a Fiat 500? – Unchecked.
    Hostile locals at gas stations? – Unchecked.
    Struggling to find _any_ gas in the 300 miles radius? – Unchecked.
    Car broke down or did not digest local gas? – Unchecked.
    Stopped and searched by cops? – Unchecked.

    Meh, it was a nice and relaxing cruise…

    Oh, I presume Mr. Lang made emphasis on “hell” simply to stirr attention of commenters.

  • avatar

    I-95 is to be avoided at all cost everywhere! I live in FL and its pretty much the only choice on the east coast and from West Palm south its a parking lot most days/times.

    I once missed a flight out NYC and HAD to get home ASAP… so we took 95 the whole way back down. The only really bad part was around DC due construction. However I left NYC at 11PM and drove all night, thus avoiding 90% of the traffic. I had no map (pre cell phone/GPS days) but knew if I kept following the “95 South” signs I get to FL at some point.

    In addition to Waffle House SC has fireworks, lots of fireworks. And isn’t Jersey unofficial name the Toxic or Garbage State, kind of a play on the Garden State shown on their plates?

  • avatar

    I am convinced that New Jersey’s official unemployment rate would be well over 15% if they went to self-service pumping.

  • avatar

    • This is why a post-car society sounds like such a good idea.

  • avatar

    I just got back from a 3000 mile tour of the eastern seaboard so I can relate to this trip! Driving anywhere north of Baltimore is pure hell. you can’t win… if it’s not traffic it’s tolls. Sure, DC is bad but at least you have options for roads. I will never drive north of the Mason Dixon line again.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I’ve driven the Miami to NY route many times beginning in the early 70’s and 95 just gets worse with more traffic everywhere, I can barely use the cruise anymore. I did the trip once at night and it was much much better, going through DC and Baltimore in the wee hours of the AM saved us a ton of time and aggravation.

  • avatar

    The timing of this story is pretty good. I just left Friday at 3:45am Central to head to WI -> Chicago -> Blacksburg, VA -> Lynchburg VA.

    I just LOVE 460 in va, the AA Highway in KY and the WV turn pike. So much more interesting, well kept & less traffic than the major roads here in Chicago….

    I came back from this trip on Sunday. Total miles over 61 hours -> 1590

  • avatar

    That was great, Steven. Great ‘travel-log’ observations and lots of chuckles.

  • avatar

    I drove from Philly to just south of DC and back on 95 this weekend, and had no trouble at all with traffic. In fact, it was a breeze. Well, maybe a bit more than a breeze, it was actually in the middle of a hurricane, so perhaps these were not the typical traffic conditions!

  • avatar

    We drive from the Philly area to South Florida every year. Wild horses could not make me drive through Washington again. We pickup US301 South in Delaware and take it all the way down to near Bowling Green, VA. Brings you back to 95S just north of Richmond which I’ve found easy to get through even at rush hour. Reverse on the way home. Much less stress even going through some of the towns on 301.

    Oh, and to answer an earlier question, you still cannot pump your own gas in NJ. Not as bad as it sounds, especially in crappy weather.

  • avatar

    In ’86, I had to go to Northern FL as fast as I could, and so I decided to avoid the whole Atlanta mess that a friend of mine had just gone through a week before. I don’t remember the number of the route, but it went through some of the most pitiful towns I have ever seen, then I would pass through really nice areas, and back to houses with dirt floors, etc. I was driving my ’85 Caravan, with it’s “mighty” (weak) Mitsubishi 2.6L engine in it. With just me, and a couple of six packs of pop and some ice, it was slooooowwww going up any kind of grade, and on top of how gutless it was, the AC would quit because I had it floored and the vac doors in the dash would go back to the “off” position, and if I got anything out of the vents it was heat. I would get AC for a while, then heat, and this pattern continued for hours. Opening the windows wasn’t much better, since the humidity was about 100%. Then it really went bad.

    I was poking along about 50 or so, at full throttle, climbing a grade, and there’s a cop in the road, directing traffic. He stops me, and allows pickup after pickup to come out of some factory, each with a new mobile home attached. I think there were 15 or 16 of them. With all 106 HP (I think that was it), it took about half an hour to pass two of the trailers and trucks. They began talking about me on their CB’s, telling each other to block me. Eventually, I got into it with them on the CB, and it got nasty. Finally, I had a nice flat section, with 2 lanes, and I got by them as fast as the thing would go. I had gone about 60 miles, in 3.5 hours! I began making up time as best as I could. I still only has air about 60% of the time, and then I decide to start looking for gas and something to eat.

    I grabbed McDonald’s, shoved it down and looked for gas. In the middle of some little town, I’m about one block from the station, and the cops are putting out barricades. I pull up to see what’s up, and instantly, I’m blocked from backing up and going forward at all. I’m stuck, so I ask the cops if I can get through, and they said “No sir, not until after the parade is over!” It hadn’t started yet! All he had to do is let me through, I would have bought gas, and gotten the hell out of there! No way. The people blocking me in are getting chairs and grills out and so I sat there, for about an hour and a half, watching the set up for the parade, and then the parade itself. There’s no way out, and I started talking to the people grilling stuff, and they ended up giving me a great meal and they refused to let me pay them for it, but that was the only positive thing. Just as the parade was ending, it started pouring rain. I finally get the ok to move, and the gas station is closed! I had to drive about 25 miles to find one open on Sunday, and I just made it. At this point, I was close to the FL border, and so I started heading for I75. And ran into another parade! This one only cost me 20 minutes.

    At this point I was so tired, since I had driven non stop from Toledo, that when I got to Panama City, FL, I was in no condition to drive, but I took my mother to dinner someplace, went back to her soon to be ex condo (marriage went kaboom!) and slept for over 14 hours. The next morning, I got up, and we loaded up, and took off. The trip back wasn’t bad, mom couldn’t ride more than 8 hours, so it took 3 days. It was peaceful and totally uneventful, except for mom’s complaining about the lack of AC several times. At that point, the Caravan’s days were numbered! In 1988, I took the same basic trip in my then new 1988 S10 Blazer with the 4.3, and it was like a rocket compared to the Caravan. Just having AC all the time was a huge improvement.

  • avatar

    Isent the link to my future father-in-law, who lives in Baltimore and is a transportation-oriented person, by occupation and interest. They went to North CArolina (or Virginia?) beach for a week, and I thought I should post his reply regarding the drive:

    It’s interesting to compare the author’s impressions with I-95 to others, including my own. His trip through MD and DE were clearly in an off-peak period. The Baltimore Sun transportation reporter has periodic reviews of the ride north on I-95, frequently recommending that travelers bypass I-95 through Delaware, due to their long term bottleneck due to reconstruction of their tollbooths. The good news is the tollbooth construction is now complete, which added high speed EZpass lanes and should ease the bottleneck there. MD always thinks the bottleneck is worse in Delaware because they toll in both directions and they were much slower to add hi-speed EZpass lanes. In a couple of years MD may double their tolls, so the homestate perceptions may change.
    Our expectations of our ride are so subjective. if we get on the Interstates, we expect freeway service, and if we don’t get it, it drives us crazy. Heading south from Baltimore, we can take I-95 with its Interstate expectation or we can take US 301, which is not a limited access highway and heavily commercial for 20 miles through southern Maryland. It’s a slower ride due to all the stoplights and the bridge crossing the Potomac into VA is only one lane in each direction, but it moves more reliably. When we went to NC a couple of weeks ago, I opted to take I-95, thinking that because we were starting relatively early, that we’d get not too much congestion. We sailed through MD and DC and the first 15 miles of VA, only to hit the bottleneck where 2 HOV lanes merge into the 3 general purpose lanes. We crawled at 15 mph for an hour, then sped up to 70 before braking again at another bottleneck where I-95 goes from 3 lanes to 2. Arrgh! I failed to factor in the thousands of others who were beachward bound on I-95. We got off I-95 onto a parallel road and averaged about 35 mph for about 40 miles, finally getting back on I-95 where it was again 3 lanes near Richmond. After Richmond, we lost those beachgoers who were bound for VA Beach, and I-95 was relatively tolerable. Then we got off near Wilson NC for lunch at one of our favorite barbeque joints. From there to the beach it, there’s no more interstate although NC is consistently adding new expressways, which gives each trip a few more miles of faster travel.
    For the return trip, we better managed our expectations, opting to avoid I-95 through northern VA. The steadier route home was interrupted by stops to fill the cooler with shrimp, barbeque and VA produce. Despite these planned hunter/gatherer stops, we arrived home to reunite with [our dog] at the time we expected.

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