Monday, June 19, 2006

Thoughts from the Road

I gathered up a ton of change and threw it in my console compartment because I knew most of my trip would be spent on toll roads. Ha-ha. That shows how long its been since I travelled toll roads. Tolls have gone up so much, I should have collected ten dollar bills instead of quarters!

Although I have to say that the service areas on the toll roads have gotten a lot nicer. Used to be, there'd be a Sunoco station and a McDonald's. Now the buildings are spacious and airy with clean restrooms and information booths and you have four or five different eating places including restaurants, bakeries, ice cream stands and coffee shops and just about every one included an outside wagon that sold sunglasses as well as a machine peddling their state lottery tickets and a gift shop where you can buy mugs or sweatshirts or key chains featuring the particular state you're in. In other words, they have all the bases covered for providing anything a traveler might be convinced to spend money on. I bought a $1 scratch off ticket in each state I went through to see if any place was luckier for me than Indiana. Nope, losers all. Made me feel right at home.

I forgot that once you get to a certain point in upstate New York, you don't just get down off the highway to find a strip of eating places, motels and convenience stores. I bitch about these boring, generic fast food alleys in other places I go but, man, would I have been glad to see one that night. Where I got off, there was nothing. It was late Sunday. There was no place to ask directions to a possible place to stay. Going through the downtowns of old New York cities like Amsterdam and Schenectady, which I would have considered picturesque during the day, only looked gloomy and seedy and unwelcoming at 9 o'clock on a Sunday night. I finally forged on to Albany although that was farther than I needed to go on the grounds that the capital of the state was bound to have a known motel. I finally found a convenience store open on the outskirts of Albany. The clerk there told me under no circumstances to stop at any of the motels until I'd passed the K-Mart because they were all "rent by the hour" places. I have never been so glad to see a Comfort Inn in my life.

It is sort of surprising to discover what music holds up on a long trip by yourself. I could barely stand to listen to an entire c.d. by some musicians I thought were my favorites. I frequently found myself hitting "next" to by-pass a song that couldn't hold my attention. I would not have predicted that Joe Cocker, Aretha Franklin, George Michael, Eric Clapton and Credence Clearwater Revival were the c.d.s that were good all the way through. You realize when you listen to one c.d. after another, for hours on end, that there was usually a good reason that the songs that became hits became hits and the rest were filler to finish out the album/tape/c.d. Every now and then you find a "b" side that never made it on the charts that becomes a personal favorite but it is rare.

You have to go fast on the toll road or you will simply be run over by semis and aggressive motorists. I used to stay in the middle lane on six-lane highways but after traveling so far with Bryan Cox, I now head directly for the fast lane. I mostly kept my speedometer on a steady 80 miles per hour. The troopers on the toll road must understand the situation because they just flew past me without hesitation. I saw a few cars that had been stopped and I can't imagine how fast they must have been going to get a speeding ticket.

I bonded with the truck on this trip. When you travel a long distance together and a vehicle is faithful and reliable, you develop affection for it. Twenty-four hours on the road together turned us into partners.

As always, a long trip proves what a changeable, wonderful country we live in. Relatively flat farm fields turn into the grape vine-covered hills of wine country which turn into steep wooded slopes and then steeper mountains, dotted by antique villages. The highway almost kisses a great lake then crosses and, sometimes runs beside, broad rivers. If you had the time, you could get down to visit historic sites and museums dedicated to rock and roll or baseball or railroads or the Erie Canal or women's suffrage....but of course, I had no time and so I sped on.....

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