lundi 1 novembre 2010

Rally to Restore Toll Booths, Gas Stations and other Highway Robbers

Anyone who's ever known me for even a day knows that I hate interstate travel. The last time I drove for more than a couple of hours was in 1989 when my ex-girlfriend and I drove from western MA to Mississippi. Then, a few months later, we had to drive back when the glorious family reunion with her two grown kids didn't turn out so glorious, after all. Eight days after we arrived, she was whining about missing MA. In my paranoid state of mind, highways are built expressly to kill people and over the course of a 500 mile road trip and back, there are literally countless possibilities for becoming road kill.

As Mike Flannigan says in American Zen:
The ride to Connecticut was thankfully uneventful. I don’t know why a man my age, with three decades of safe driving under his belt, can’t take a safe little trip from Rhode Island to Connecticut for granted but the fact is I don’t. If I have to go some place that’s further away than the convenience store down the street, I think it’s somewhat surprising that I get to my destination. If it involves swinging onto a highway onramp, I think a safe trip is like a Biblical miracle.

That’s my biggest failing, if I have to pick one: My occasional obsessive/compulsive need to analyze shit down to its atomic structure. It may serve me in good stead as a political journalist/blogger since looking at things from differing viewpoints is crucial to understanding and explicating a thorny issue. However, it can be cumbersome for me and others when my OCD is applied to real life.

Take, for instance, my fear of driving. While other people zip by me at 70-75 mph, I’m thinking of how fast I could get killed, at how absurdly easy it would be to not have a death-free and satisfactory journey. And, to be fair to me, think about it for a minute:

Consider all the perfectly-timed, impeccably executed decisions that one has to make, a flawless string of pearls that one has to make to get to where they’re going in one piece. Don’t tailgate, look before you switch lanes, get in the proper lane before turning off, look out for erratic drivers, pay attention to strange sounds that your or someone’s car may make, keep an eye out for signs, be alert for people who legally and especially illegally pass you…

There’s so much to think about, it freaks me out when do I think about it. I envy those who can brainlessly take their safety for granted.

Mike and I differ in several ways but that's pure JP talking.

Ergo, when Mrs. JP and I got sucked into the Stewart/Colbert rally hype like a pair of over-the-hill lemmings and debated whether to take Arianna's buses from Boston, we'd decided the best way to go in the interests of freedom was to take our new/used '98 Ford Taurus to Arlington, VA where she had a friend who'd put us up for the w/e.

So we packed the Ford Friday morning and began an 11 hour odyssey that Mapquest told us would take a mere eight hours and three minutes. What Mapquest can't anticipate is bottlenecks in traffic for no earthly reason. At least six times just on the way down, traffic had slowed to a crawl or standstill even when there wasn't an accident, major exit, lane merge, toll booth, construction or for any other reason. It was as if one driver in each of the three lanes just decided, "Fuck it. I'm going to stop here and jerk off all over my windshield."

But toll booths certainly were the most egregious reasons for the parking lots we had to sit in, especially in Manhattan at the George Washington Bridge (aptly shortened to the GWB). On the way back home last night, we sat in traffic for literally an hour while apathetic toll booth drones extracted $8 from each of us. With a dozen toll lanes open, only four were dedicated to those with cash. It's inconceivable that so many thousands of people would find themselves trapped on I-95 in Manhattan at 7 o'clock on Halloween night but there we were.

(A word of caution for those of you on the east coast who may be planning a long road trip involving I-95- Avoid Delaware like the plague that it is. Reader Diva Dillon texted me on the way down to get out of Delaware ASAP and I found out the hard way what she meant. The entire state is a mere 10 square miles but they have more toll booths than they do papers of incorporation and will charge you top dollar for the privilege of crawling along their miserable little roadways at 15 miles an hour. I was barely aware that Delaware was a state and, after importing Joe Biden and Christine O'Donnell (whose campaign signs we had to endure along the roadway), we ought to have a Act of Congress that officially allows us to forget Delaware's statehood. As it is, it's barely fit to be a suburb of fucking Trenton, NJ.)

So even though we left around 9 AM, we didn't roll into Arlington until about 8 that night. The next day, thinking that the rally would last until 6 PM, we left the house around noon and tried to get on the DC Metro. Once again, incredulity reigned. We paid $14 for round trip tickets for the privilege of standing on the platform for (I shit you not) almost an hour and a half. A total of five trains stopped at Ballston MU and, even though we were at the edge of the platform, we couldn't get on. The people on them were packed in like cigarettes and every time the doors opened, they'd scream, "No!" It didn't make sense for the trains to stop because literally 2-5% of us on the platform could squeeze in. Meanwhile, the platform got more and more crowded as people kept streaming down the escalator.

I can;t believe the Metro authoreities didn't plan on there being an extra 200,000 people in the Metro area because of the rally (Read Joe of Joe. My. God. for his own account of the DC Metro.).

So, while I was having Charles Bronson fantasies and watching one train after another take off without us, I just grabbed Mrs. JP's hand and practically dragged her up the disabled escalator. We stopped at an IHOP next door for a quick pancake breakfast while I loudly railed for anyone to hear about the benefits of eugenics. Afterward, we took a cab in front of the Hilton to the rally. It cost us $20 plus the tip but it was worth it (or so we thought). I was not going to drive nearly 24 hours to get to a rally that we'd miss.

Well, as else anyone who was actually there can tell you, you'll know the rally ended after Tony Bennett sang at about 2:30. The cabbie dropped us off a few blocks from where the rally was between 3rd and 7th streets and it took us until after 2:30 to get to the head of the cordoned-off area. I got a glimpse of Jon Stewart and Tony Bennett on the Jumbotron and by the time we got to the cordon, the event staff was already breaking down the massive stage.

Luckily, we were able to get a Capitol cop to kindly give us directions to the nearest Metro station on 3rd street and we took a thankfully uneventful and comfortable train ride back to Ballston where out friend took us home.

The timing on the 30th was our fault but it can't be said that the DC Metro did anyone any great favors by not factoring in what turned out to be an extra 200,000 people (according to the CBC) in the DC area. They sold well over 800,000 tickets but who knows how many were worthless because of the crowding? And idiotic drivers and rapacious and mobbed-up Turnpike authorities needlessly holding up traffic was also beyond our control. Thank the Powers That Be that our 12 year-old girl faithfully navigated us through nearly 1000 miles of hostile highway without a single hitch.

As you can see from the pictures I'd already posted, we saw some great signs, met some really laid-back and nice fellow liberals and one incredible guy in a dress made up entirely of candy bracelets (to his mortification, I stuffed a dollar into it but failed to save the picture I took). Cigarettes are literally half the price, it being tobacco country, and it was nice meeting my SO's best friend from Rhode Island.

But with the 11 hour trip back last night, that meant we drove just over 22 hours to attend the final hour of the rally without actually seeing any of it. 22 hours, almost $50 in tolls and about $120 in gasoline. No, it was so incredibly not worth it. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, Mrs. JP and I will be homebodies regardless what Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and our overlord Markos cook up. It was a needlessly expensive, frustrating, infuriating and exhausting road trip.

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