Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Road Trip!
(Well, OK, Road Trip II)

Regular readers will recall my post last year describing how I defied the tyranny of air travel and drove a Hertz car 900 or so miles from Raleigh to Chicago, and then back home again! The long overland journey required my full attention and was slower than flying, but it surely thwarted the airlines and airports from working their usual misery on me. The nice Toyota Avalon provided by Hertz boasted more comfortable seating than domestic airlines' first class, too.

So, reflecting on my fond memories of the 2007 road trip, I jumped at the opportunity last week to make another, albeit, shorter drive: Raleigh to York, Pennsylvania, a distance of 386 miles. I was scheduled to facilitate a meeting in York on Friday morning, and to attend a get-together the night before.

This, I thought, would be a snap. A quick run up I-95, scoot around Washington, D.C. on I-495, rejoin I-95 north to Baltimore, and dash up the last 80 miles on I-83 direct to York. Far better to drive, I thought, than to fly RDU to BWI and rent a car. Heck, I'd already flown to Chicago early on Monday morning and returned Wednesday from O'Hare. Those flights (on AA) had gone off OK, but why push my luck? Stay out of the air, I thought, and relax while listening to NPR. Catch up on the nonstop gabbing about presidential contenders.

After an early Thursday morning conference call, I left Raleigh in my wife's Camry just after 10:00 AM, trusty new Magellan GPS suckered to the dashboard. The day was gorgeous, sunny and cool, and the traffic was mild. I zoomed north and reached the Virginia border in one hour flat.

That's when I hit the first trouble. The first small town north of the border, Emporia, Virginia, was a notorious speed trap in the pre-Interstate days (1950s) when U.S. 301 was a main north-south route between the Northeast and Florida. I sped past the first exit for Emporia reminiscing about how the narrow two-lane highway wound its way through every tiny burg in the old days and how great it is nowadays to fly along at 70 MPH on I-95.

Suddenly I saw nothing but red tail lights ahead. I slammed on the brakes just in time and came to a full stop. No indication; now warning; no nothing. Just stopped, with the traffic barely creeping in fits and starts. So much for the wind in my hair, I thought.

Time spent waiting in crawling traffic, much like time on hold on the phone, does not pass at the usual velocity. Time slows way down. Minutes seem like hours. At least when left on phone hold, you can just hang up when you've had enough. When stuck in traffic on an Interstate highway, one has to resort to craftier means of escape.

I noted with some irony that traffic was flowing along nicely on old U.S. highway 301, which could be seen through the trees off the Interstate, and suddenly 55 MPH on that ancient artery didn't seem so bad. I crept toward a merging lane to my right, the northbound I-95 on-ramp from the last Emporia exit. When I finally reached the ramp, I pulled off the highway and onto the right shoulder, and then reversed slowly and carefully up the ramp with my 4-way flashers on.

If caught backing up the wrong way on the ramp, I figured to explain to the local constabulary that upon seeing the stalled traffic I had changed my mind about entering I-95 (not the whole truth, but certainly not a Bill Clinton parsing of the facts). Anyway, it was worth a citation to get out of the parking lot and on my way.

I had no trouble completing my escape maneuver, however, and in minutes I was tooling along U.S. 301 past the traffic jam. I rejoined the Interstate about 20 miles north, and was pleased to have the road virtually all to myself, having left a massive volume of cars knotted up miles behind me. For all I know, they are there yet.

Washington's Virginia suburbs hove into view in the early afternoon, and I imagined this would be an ideal time of day to sneak past the city and avoid DC's legendary traffic snarl-ups. But I was wrong.

Traffic slowed, and slowed some more, until it was barely moving at city street speeds as I approached the I-395/495 interchange. Things improved briefly on I-495, the west side beltway, but then congealed at several interchanges short of I-95 north to Baltimore. I kept looking at the time, about 2:00 PM, and thinking how truly horrible it must be traversing these miserably congested yet majestically constructed thoroughfares during morning and evening rush hours.

A brief period of fairly fast driving once on I-95 north came to an adrupt halt at the I-83 interchange. 45 minutes went by while creeping from one Interstate to the next. Even after merging onto the new highway, I made very slow headway until I was well clear of Baltimore's northwest suburbs.

I arrived York, Pennsylvania at 4:45 PM thanks to exceeding the speed limit by a wide margin on those few highway spaces where velocity was at my discretion. Truth be told, even pushing the Camry to 75-80 MPH, I was never a leader. Instead, I was barely moving at what law enforcement officers call the "speed of traffic." Cars were literally flying past me.

My return trip the next day (Friday) was marked by many similar fits and starts: bombing along over 70 for most of I-495 south, then stalled in a miles-long traffic jam in northern Virginia, finally speeding up again for no apparent reason, then slowed down again before Richmond.

Just when I thought I was in the clear back in North Carolina, I got word of a major accident (an over-turned tractor-trailer with its load strewn across I-95) 10 miles ahead of my location (I was just south of Weldon). Thus I left I-95 at the very next exit for a meandering path on local roads the last 90 miles to Raleigh. The drive home took an hour longer than the drive to York.

You get the picture: There is no way to beat the devil getting anywhere in this great country of ours any more. Sure, driving is a nice change from flying. You feel more in control even if stuck in traffic. If nothing else, it's nice to have an alternative to the thugs at the airports once in awhile. But our country's three hundred million souls are dependent upon their automobiles, and the Interstate systems are over-taxed.

Despite the sometimes harrowing traffic conditions and the need to stay super-alert, I enjoyed this road trip as much as I did last year's to Chicago. I did indeed get caught up on all the latest gossip about presidential wannabees, and I had the chance to reflect quietly while driving. I intend to look for more opportunities to substitute driving for flying, and also to take the train once in awhile.

Lastly, I am very pleased to report that my wife's Camry averaged 31.9 miles per gallon going north and 30.9 MPG coming home. It was a hot day last Friday, and I used the A/C the entire trip, which undoubtedly cut the mileage.


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