Life’s like a road that you travel on when there’s one day here and the next day gone. Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand, sometimes you turn your back to the wind.
“Life is a Highway,” Tom Cochrane 1991
Aaaaah, the open road … the wind in your hair … the freedom … the independence … the possibilities. Then again — the traffic … the potential break-downs … the questionable food … the loneliness …
Having registered for a long-anticipated writing workshop this summer in eastern Pennsylvania, I determined to make the 750-mile journey by car since I had opted not to fly. I had not made a solo long-distance driving trip for many years, and figured that, with proper planning, I could pull off this 12-hour journey in a single day.
I set out weeks in advance to plan every nano-second of this adventure, leaving no detail un-neurotically considered. Clad in a blue t-shirt and Wonder Woman cut-offs, I departed from Chicago at 5:45 am, armed with my ten-pound Rand McNally road atlas, my AAA disaster-response guidelines, a printed Google Maps route, an emergency road kit, a new dashboard mount for my cell phone, a multi-device charger to ensure a permanent battery supply, a stash of Cliff Bars, and a couple of apples. I was the poster child for Severely Over-Prepared Long-Distance Drivers. I had a list of family and friends whom I would text throughout the day to plot my progress.
The goal was to stay overnight in my destination town and travel the final 7-8 miles to the workshop location the next day. I had made reservations at an “historic inn” on the main street of the small town, planning to return there at the end of the weekend before the return trip home.
The first challenge was to survive the early morning rush-hour traffic through downtown Chicago, which involves taking your life in your hands and swearing to God and the Universe that you will never do another thoughtless act for the rest of your life, if you will just be granted safe passage to the Indiana border.
Once out of the city, traffic diminished. It is at this point in the journey where I sprouted Turnpike Legs, increasing my speed and moving across lanes of traffic like a champion water skier. I was surprised at my lack of boredom, finding myself perfectly happy to divide my time between listening to the radio, playing CDs, and singing some favorite songs a cappella.
An early, if unexpected, annoyance was the wobbly action of my new phone mount, which repeatedly pulled away from the dash board, throwing the phone into a rag doll slouch, requiring me to correct it every several minutes. Note to self: repair attachment job upon arrival.
Having already acknowledged to friends and loved ones my girl crush on Siri, this trip only intensified my feelings for her. Gently prodding me to take proper exits, warning me ten miles in advance of their location, and occasionally suggesting faster routes, her auditory alerts comforted me, but were an uneasy reminder that I had developed an unhealthy dependence. How could this have happened, after so many years of using street maps to get around?
I can quit any time I want.
The journey took me along the turnpikes of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with the final destination coming within an hour’s drive to the New York border. My average driving speed was 75 miles an hour, with posted speed limits in most areas at 65 or 70. I suggest this qualifies me as a ” LFL” (Lead Foot Lite), because I drove with the flow of traffic, usually in the middle lane, yet was passed by several motorists clocking 85 or higher.
I pulled into rest stops for the obvious necessities of gas and bathroom visits, and over the day, noted major differences in their set-up and quality. As a friendly service to my readers, I offer the following chart to summarize the driving experience in each state. The analysis is based on standards of general road conditions, turnpike signage, and rest stop services. A 4-star rating system is used: 4 stars = pretty darn good; 3 stars = good enough; 2 stars = I give you a pass; 1 star = you’re kidding me.
State Road Conditions Signage Rest Stops
Indiana ** Frequent cracks, * Weathered, ** Some potholes missing words variety
Ohio *** Smooth *** Frequent *** Variety, clean rest rooms
Pennsylvania *** Smooth *** Frequent * None warnings RE steep curves
Things were moving along pretty swimmingly until late afternoon, when a fierce thunderstorm hit.
Stay Tuned for Part 2.