Notes On A Road Trip
Dotty and I were recently offered a stay in the home of the now deceased Dr. Roy C. DeLamotte in Augusta,GA. Our good-hearted friends suggested that we use the house in Augusta as a “home base” and explore Augusta as well as Savannah, GA and Charleston, N.C., both of which are just a couple of hours away in either direction by car.
Checking our schedules, we found a 10 day period at the beginning of April when we could get away for some much needed rest and so we picked up the keys to the house, gassed up Dotty’s 16 year old Volvo and set out for a whirlwind southern sojourn. This trip, though short in duration would prove to be long on lessons for each of us.
Road trips require many skills other than the ownership of an automobile (purchased or rented) and a little spare time. The act of highway driving in the 20th century takes patience, stamina and at many decisive moments, nerves of steel. As you attempt to navigate your automobile and it’s contents from point “A” to point “B”, 18 wheelers with treacherous cargo, fellow automobile drivers fueled with rage, overconfidence and alcohol or distracted by texting cell phones, blaring radio or dashboard GPS, and the occasional motorcycle all seem intent on occupying the space beginning one inch in front of to one inch behind your vehicle. Yes, that means the space where you currently are and some make no attempt to hide malicious intent. Please observe the spikes on the truck shown above.
Then there is the issue of navigation. Woe be it to the person who is going it alone. Dotty and I survived the journey by dividing our responsibilities. She drove the whole way, both days, about 20 hours all told. My job was navigation including internet research, printing and organizing all Google maps, backup Map quest maps, inquiring from concierges about local destinations, and at moments when our whereabouts were unknown to us, finding our way using a combination of GPS services available on my Blackberry. This is one time where separation of church and state is essential for the well being of all. Note to navigators: sound confident even if you’re not perfectly sure. Note to drivers: believe your navigators, except when they’re wrong.
Our trip took a folder filled with over 200 pages of notes, maps, brochures and miscellany to guide us through the maze of highways and byways to our assorted destinations; a red folder 2.5 inches thick with data. One would think with that much accumulated information the roads would be smooth sailing however that would not take into account how much damage even 2% of misinformation by any mapping service, or GPS for that matter, could do and certainly wouldn’t address the criminally wretched signage on our nations highways. To observe by experience that one can take an exit onto a new highway and go 20 minutes or 20 miles before there is a road sign affirming that they have indeed made the right choice is both chilling and ridiculous. The fact that one can look to ones left and see a sign for US95 North and look 200 feet to the right and see an exit for US95 North is preposterous and potentially fatally dangerous. Simply put, directional confusion at 70 mph is a recipe for disaster and God only knows how many lives could be saved if our roads had intelligible and clear markings at regular intervals.
Then there is New York. Understand this… Those who know where they are going, which means most everyone except you, have no mercy, even seeming to take pleasure in the knowledge that through their refusal to let you in, you will miss your exit and spend an additional hour trying to navigate to someplace where you can rejoin your intended highway. If you are absolutely sure that you must make the exit 200 yards away on your right as you cruise the left lane at breakneck speed, you can earn your NY “Road Cred” by yanking the wheel to the right as you mash the accelerator to the floor, defying the laws of physics while wearing a “Death Wish” grin. This however is not for the faint of heart or those with poor bladder control. Oh, and did I neglect to mention our outbound trip was all navigated in pouring rain?
Think that this couldn’t happen to you? Please look at an excerpt of the directions below through NY, paying careful note of the 486 ft at number 13, 0.3 mi at 14 and 18, 0.9mi at 19 and 0.6mi at number 20. It is very telling that for 0.3mi they don’t even bother to give a time. In other words, blink and you’re hosed.
Also for many navigation steps, you may encounter signs for your target road well before the time and mileage markers given. Don’t jump the gun. Time the number of minutes that have gone by and take no exit (no matter the distance between) before it’s time.
OK. Having addressed some immediate road mechanics there are other observations of which you should be aware. First the Vince Lombardi Service Plaza of the New Jersey Turnpike is absolutely spooky at late night hours. It is huge and dark. Trucks outnumber automobiles 15 to 1. Folks hanging out at the food court are from all walks of life but most are not of the landed gentry, 80% are long haul truckers and I spotted a few non truckers that could make interesting case studies for homeland security. As for food choices make no mistake, the burger from the golden arches in your local neighborhood probably well surpasses the one you’ll get at Vince’s place although if you’re hungry enough you may not care.
Second, from NJ southward you will see more trucks than you ever imagined existed on the face of the earth. So much so that certain sections of 95 are divided into 4 lane “cars only” with a huge divider median strip and 100 feet to the right a 4 lane trucks (and brave locals) parallel road. After Washington DC you’ll begin to see more and more billboards flanking both sides of the road advertising 24 hour diners, some with nude dancers, fireworks stores and gun shops, discount tobacco outlets and in South Carolina hundreds of billboards along surrounding highways, starting over 150 miles away for something called South Of The Border, a combination amusement area, shopping mall, dining and hotel accommodations that claims a history tracing back to 1949. As the miles go by, the billboards become so numerous and large that they almost stretch from horizon to horizon and are the visual equivalent to someone shouting at your eyes.
Last but not least, there is evidence from roadside to interior that what we define as poor here in the North is palatial elegance in some areas of the South by comparison. Struggle and hard scrabble life is well in evidence and is a vivid illustration of the extraordinary gap between the haves and the have nots.
By now I’ve painted a slightly dark picture of our adventure but I assure you that there were equal parts of beauty as well and some enlightening social interactions that were truly uplifting. I’ll try to touch on some of these bright moments in coming posts.