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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Big Country Little Car Tour II, Day 22: Northwood, OH to Brooklyn, NY

Submitted by on August 23, 2011 – 10:44 AM20 Comments

I had a hotel room reserved, near Williamsport. It seemed prudent. I wanted to get home, but not to push too hard. The little wrench that appears on the dashboard when it’s time to bring the car in for service had appeared for the first time the day before; today it got more insistent. Hard to say what she needed — more synthetic oil, perhaps, or just a nice long sit. The hills swelled up again closer to the Pennsylvania border, and I started thinking, I could make New York today, right? It’s only another three hours? Let’s see how it goes?

I didn’t need to see. I already knew. It was the “2:45 on Friday afternoon” phase; nothing to do but do it. In Vermilion, pulling into a rest stop under heavy, juicy clouds, I took a moment to gather myself for the sprint for cover. One row over and seven cars down, another Campbell, tomato red with gray trim, covered in armed-forces stickers. Beside me on the left, a minivan full of Amish and their English driver; everyone in the car, the driver included, threw his shoes out of the car to put them on. A little boy in his stiff town shirt and too-big black pants watched me carefully as I collected my things, following the bird inked on my wrist. I smiled. He winked solemnly.

Back into the hills. I don’t mind Pennsylvania’s I-80 terribly much (not compared to I-76, which I loathe out of proportion), and on a weekday, your fellow drivers settle into it quickly, trucks climbing patiently on the right, everyone else filing respectfully past on the left. Weekends can get stupid — you can tell the people who didn’t think to sort out the wipers on the rental back in the city, herking about in the left lane and ignoring the queue of pros gritting their teeth behind them — but Monday was all business, 70 mph and best wishes for trooper-free living. Rain came and went, construction came and went, and then my hotel’s exit came and went, and I let Annie suggest U-turns or alternate state roads for a few minutes, to make sure I was sure, before tapping her screen: set directions / type destination / select from list / starred home.

Dry roads in the eastern half of the state, and then a junction that seemed familiar, like I’d dreamed it, perhaps — a tube of trees overhead that created a pensive gloom, then opened out for signs to the I-380 junction. …Of course it was familiar; I used to ride through it from the 380 side half a dozen times a year, coming down from Toronto. I’ve seen it in the snow, in the starlight, in the middle of a speakerphone convo about movie science. It’s about half an hour, forty minutes to the Water Gap, and about two hours to Brooklyn. I didn’t need Annie even a little, because I’ve done this drill dozens of times: coffee and gas-up past the junction where you can still pump it yourself, shoot the Gap, one last pee in Mt. Holly, then hang on to your axles for the 280 jump-in through Kearny. I left Annie on anyway; you have to respect your veteran players.

“One more state, Cam,” I said in a WaWa parking lot, firing her up for the homestretch, and if you’ve ever talked shit about Jersey drivers without actually becoming one for yourself for an hour or two, may I recommend Jersey 80 at twilight on a weekday? Try to get a V6 engine (no offense, Cam). Mount a camera on your dash and set it for periodic horizon shots, then stand on the gas and swoop up and down the boomerang hills, out of the Gap to Eisenhower Parkway. Five whole lanes to choose from, so you can show off at 85 or putter at 60, and when the hills break and show you the city, it’s the best of everything.

Or it’s merely nice, or not unpleasant, or you’ve got a Parkway section you feel that way about instead. Sure you do. That’s yours. Mine is this. This is the light left on for me.

I hadn’t expected Chris Christie to switch it on of all people, but after a decade of rattling over 280 in Harrison spitting out fillings through that horrendously short Turnpike merge, NJ-DOT had fixed almost everything. The pavement was like glass; the merge lane seemed longer. “About goddamn time,” I said, and then I said, “You know we’re probably going to pay for that remark,” and sure enough, on the Turnpike feeder ramp, an Appalachian cavern worthy of a horror movie. Crunch!

“Jesus. You all right?”
“Well, if you want to break down again, I’m with that — we can see the house from here.”

The Goethals was the emptiest I’d ever seen it, maybe ten other cars going to the Isle of Staten. The BQE was more bunged than usual with a lane cut off near the Verrazano, but with nobody around, that was interesting instead of maddening — and the dipshit with the souped-up Hyundai who rode up my dupa so far I couldn’t see his headlights was a welcome home of sorts. Everything was. NYPD eating crullers in the Lily Pond turnout, All-HVAC vans with the game blasting, the stern Verrazano itself.

Brooklyn. A little fog; a lot of double-parking.

“Your destination will be on the riiiiight.”
“Thanks, Annie.”
“Your destination is on the riiiiight.”

Thanks, Campbell.

I sat for a moment in the Hollywood parking spot right in front of Far Thill, just big enough for a little Smartie, and rested my forehead on the wheel. Then I got out and went into our front yard and capered around in front of the window until Mr. S and Gen looked up, and when they did, then I was home.




  • Chris says:

    Such an amazing journey. Thanks for sharing it with us, Sars.

  • JF says:

    *bursts into applause*

    welcome home, Sars, and brava, Campbell! excellent work all ’round!

  • Anna C says:

    That was mine too until I moved to the midwest. Thanks

  • attica says:

    Wow. I’m sniffling here. Welcome home. I could hug!

  • rayvyn2k says:

    There’s no place like home. ;) Thanks for sharing your trip!

  • Mary says:

    There’s no place like home. Thanks for bringing us along.

  • doriette says:

    Welcome home, Sars!

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  • Kitty says:

    Gee, I’m a little misty-eyed over here. What a great diary of an amazing journey. Thanks so much for sharing it with all of us.

  • Robin says:

    Thank you, once again, for being such an amazing writer and sharing your trip with all of us.
    And, I’m glad you got safely home. Been lost at least once in that stretch of Northern NJ just next to PA, and it felt Very Lonely, and finally kicked me to get a cell phone because there weren’t any pay phones that worked (not even in the Pennylvania Turnpike Visitors Center!) And that’s just here on the East Coast, nothing like the vast empty areas you’ve just gone to. There and Back Again, what a trip!
    Did the cats act glad to see you?

  • Linda says:

    Glad you are home safe! It has been exciting to read about all of your adventures.

    If you ever feel like writing about it, I’d be curious about how or why you decided to make your epic trip…

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Welcome home Sars, and good night, Cam and Annie. Have a nice long nap and let Brookyn sing you to sleep.

  • Kat from Jersey says:

    This was awesome, Sars! Please think about putting this into book form. Oh, and mine is the Parkway north just before the Driscoll Bridge. At the top of the bridge, you can see both the Outerbridge and the tops of the Verrazano towers [used to be able to see the twin towers :( ]. This is my home stretch.

  • Mer says:

    Dude, everyone hates i-76, and if you don’t have to live near it, you don’t know real hate.

  • Liz says:

    There is nothing like getting home after a long trip. Glad you made it home safe, and shared the journey with us.

  • Bo says:

    I don’t mind the Turnpike part of 76, but the Schuylkill part is the pits.

    Thanks for a great set of reads, Sars. I’d really like to do my own Blue Highways kind of trip someday, with the time and the means.

  • Bea says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this series! Thanks! My gentleman friend wants to take a big cross-country road trip (You know…SOMEDAY) and I’m not sure. But maybe we will. Who knows.

    I so agree about PA 80. And those creepy, empty rest stops with the silver bathroom stalls and rows of vending machines lit like a nuclear blast? I’ve always felt those are serial killer bait and wonder why more slasher movies aren’t set in them.

    You were in Mt. Holly, NJ? Eeee! So close to me!

  • Cyntada says:

    I can’t tell whether that sound I hear is the ecstatic meowing/headbonking/purring of a trio of “neglected” felines… or the icy silence of you being studiously ignored by a trio of “negelcted” felines.

    In any case, welcome home, and well done to all of you.

  • jane says:

    This was really great to follow along with. I experienced a range of emotions and got goosebumps on reading the last sentence (had to read it a few times!). Always good to be home. I’ll read anything you write!

  • Kizz says:

    Welcome home.

  • cayenne says:

    Oh, the route from Toronto via the Delaware Water Gap – I know it well. My father had a pathological need to avoid the NY State Thruway, so on the annual visits to see the fam in Morristown, we learned all the little check-box towns travelling NY 17 to 81 or 97, then down to one end of the Gap or the other, thence somehow to the I80. It was fun, and the truck stops were an education.

    Glad you & Cam had a great trip and made it back intact, thanks very much for allowing us to ride on the roof.

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