Hammer Time: 17 Hours of Hell

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time 17 hours of hell

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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  • Nrd515 Nrd515 on Sep 01, 2011

    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.

  • Eddie_515 Eddie_515 on Sep 02, 2011

    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.

  • Legacygt Great review. I've only driven one Wilderness model (an Outback provided as a dealer loaner) and I found the handling a little sloppy on-pavement. It's good to hear they managed to give the Crosstrek the Wilderness treatment without hurting the on-pavement experience.And this is the first time I've read a review that dared to criticize Star Tex seats. I find the material interesting and low maintenance and fairly comfortable but I totally agree that it rates very poorly for breathability. It's so bad that I think Subaru should offer it with some sort of ventilated option. 5 minutes on a hot day and you're sitting in a pool of sweat.
  • Analoggrotto Too bad they don't sell Kia Telluride, the greatest selling vehicle in it's class over the pond in the UK who burned Washington DC down but that's ok.
  • Analoggrotto Kia Telluride never faced such problems and now offers a superior offroad trim for those times where soccerdad needs to go get the white claws from costco.
  • Zerofoo There's a joke here somewhere about Tim's used car recommendations, Tassos, and death traps.
  • Tassos Subaru really knows how to take fugly to ever higher levels, and sell every one of the (of course very few) it makes. As if the number of sales negates the fugliness.Don't hold your breath. I bet this will NOT be the vehicle James Bond arrives at the Casino in Monte Carlo with in his next flick. (if any)