We had a solid strategy (or so we thought) when we set out on our roadtrip this past Friday: we had waited out the morning rush hour, and we were going to take an alternate route we hoped was sufficiently off the beaten path, still involving interstate highways (mostly I-81) but avoiding the tolls and congestion of I-95. The alternate route was a bit out of the way, not exactly a straight line, but we still deemed it worth a try. Even when the traffic started to slow down a bit, and we saw signs indicating that all cars were being detoured, we still reasoned that it was far preferable to follow said detour and eventually get back to our planned route rather than turn around and resign ourselves to another slog up 95.
Unfortunately, the detour was a bit of a disaster, in the sense that a three-lane highway was being diverted onto a one-lane backroad, and even at non-rush hour volume it slowed all progress to a stop-crawl-stop pace. What should have been the first hour or so of a six hour drive took over three hours. An inauspicious beginning, indeed.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, part of our strategy hinged on not only waiting uot morning rush hour but waiting until reasonably close to the baby’s usual midday naptime, figuring that once we got on the highway he would be lulled to sleep and hopefully stay that way for a good two or three hours. The bigger kids could watch a couple movies, the baby would snooze, and we would cover at least half the distance we needed to in relative peace and harmony. Sure enough, the baby did fall asleep as predicted, but that was before we hit the massive slowdown. Without the humming and rocking of traveling at speed, the baby woke up after only about an hour, and then was doubly cranky from the combination of a truncated nap and being bored out of his gourd and strapped into a carseat when all he wants to do these days is toddle around exploring the world. So the baby threw a horrible tantrum and was screaming and gasping for breath and screaming some more until the stress caused him to literally toss his cookies (and other various snacks we had tried to mollify him with). So right about the time we were poised to start making good time on the other side of the hellacious snarl of traffic, we pulled over at a KFC to clean up the baby and his car seat as best we could and grab some late lunch.
Things were better after that, meaning relatively uneventful even if we were hopelessly off-schedule. We stopped again for gas, then detoured around a major city because it was nearing the evening rush. (Again, the original plan would have had all the driving concluded in the window between rush hours, but that got pretty well scuttled.) And we stopped for dinner some time after that, before making the final push.
And of course that leg proved arduous in its own way, as I found myself driving (a) in the dark (b) in the pouring rain (c) on roads I had never been on before (d) which were under construction and therefore reduced to a single extra-narrow lane with a Jersey barrier to the left and orange traffic barrels to the right (e) with cars and sometimes 18-wheelers tailgating me. It left me a bit tense, and when we finally got to the hotel I would have liked nothing better than to collapse, except I had to hump in the suitcases from the car, through the rain, as well as the pack and play we had brought as a backup, and thank goodness, because the hotel which listed “cribs” as an amenity on the website apparently only had one, and that one turned out to have a broken wheel.
None of the above, I readily admit, is anyone’s fault. Can’t help the rain, or the fact that budget-minded hotels in relative backwaters like Middletown, NY don’t have five-star service. Even the inciting event that caused the domino effect of chaos, an accident ahead of us on the road, was just that, an accident, caused by bad weather and tragically resulting in at least one fatality, which is too sad to be properly irritating. (My wife and I, once she accessed some news about the traffic jam on her phone, were both actually quite thankful that it could have been worse, since there was a fuel tanker involved in the crash but it never ruptured.) Just one of those things (or convergence of things) you take your chances on when you head out on the highway. And we all survived and made it where we were going in one piece, so there’s that.
Just to be clear, the whole reason we were off on a roadtrip was because my wife bought me tickets to Hedwig and the Angry Inch for Christmas. So we left on Friday morning, to arrive at a hotel close to my dad’s place in Connecticut Friday night. Then we were able to get up Saturday morning and reach my dad’s in a reasonably short jaunt, unload the kids and spend a little time with my dad, stepmom and sister, brief them on all the kids’ needs/wants/customary routines, and then proceed, just my wife and I, to New York City, where we could check into another hotel and then go see the show and then catch up with some college friends who live in the city, and spend the night, and get up and get back to my dad’s on Sunday morning and pack up the kids and get the whole family home by Sunday night.
That was the plan and everything from Saturday morning forward went off more or less without a hitch, which is still a big deal to me because of the part that involved me driving into Manhattan, which despite my ever-advancing age and lifelong love of at least three of the five boroughs was something I had never done before. In fact, I often incorporated that factoid into any explanation I gave on the subject of my feelings towards NYC: fantastic place to visit, hang out, see and do amazing things, but I would never want to have to live there, or drive there. And really, there’s no need when the public transit options are so diverse, accommodating and reliable. I’ve ridden school buses and coach buses into the city, been driven by my dad many times, rode shotgun with a friend, taken Amtrak trains, taken PATH trains, but never gotten behind the wheel with a destination on the island in mind. Until now.
It was surprisingly not that bad. Or maybe, honestly, not that surprising. All I had to do was follow my dad’s suggested directions, and as I indicated he’s no stranger to the driver’s perspective on the city himself. My wife had booked the hotel, all as part of the gift package, and she had specifically chosen someplace both close to the theatre and easily accessible. All we had to do was get on the Henry Hudson Parkway and, after it became 12th Avenue, turn onto 42nd Street and go about two blocks to the hotel, which had its own parking garage. (Parking our hybrid SUV in that cramped little concrete puzzle box was its own challenge, but at least it didn’t involve multi-point turns with midtown traffic screaming by inches from the bumper.) If you count 12th Avenue as more of the boundary of Manhattan than interior, I really only drove “in” the city for a total of 1000, maybe 1500 ft (each way). But still, that was far more than I ever had before, and I admit to being excessively pleased with myself for it.
The return trip was much better. We had planned all along to come home by way of I-95, if only because we had less margin of error in terms of getting home at a decent hour Sunday in order to get everyone to bed and then me to work and the little guy to school on Monday morning. Fortunately, I-95 was moving about as optimally as it can, as was every other road between my dad’s place and mine. We only stopped once, halfway home, for gas and snacks, since we had lunch at dad’s right before we left and had dinner once we got home. The baby fell asleep shortly after leaving and mercifully snoozed for three whole hours, so just about everything went according to plan. Also, my wife did all of the driving on Sunday, which was a nice break for me. I appreciate her more than words can possibly say.