Just like the saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” there’s more than one way to get to Maine. You can fly (for about the cost of flying to Las Vegas – twice), you can take a post on a WW2 battleship stationed there (my grandfather’s preferred means), or you can drive. For nine hours.
Seeing as how WW2 has been over for some time now and I can’t, with a good conscience, spend plane money on Maine when it could go to Vegas, The Girlfriend and I decided to rent a car and drive to the upper reaches of Maine (aka: If-You’re-Not-From-Here-You-Don’t-Come-Here Maine).
Yes, the yellow line is Canada.
When you live in a big city and you take a subway or a bus everywhere you need to go, you tend to think of driving as something that’s fun. Rolling the windows down on a nice day, blasting music, speeding past a handicapped vehicle doing 50 in the middle lane. A nine hour drive somehow becomes a fantasy of free and open road, like those perfect scenes in movies that show people driving off somewhere into the sunset for ten seconds before cutting to the next scene. Well, if this were a movie, this is where we would cut to the scene of me in bumper to bumper traffic on I95 somewhere in Massachusetts screaming to the woman in front of me that she has “no right to live, let alone drive.”
It started as a well laid out plan: pick up the rental at 10:00, go home and load in my bags, swing around and pick up The Girlfriend, be in Boston by 3:00, missing the rush hour, and cruise up to Maine, free and clear after that.
This is how it really went:
I get to the rental place at 10:30 and wait in a small, plexi glass enclosed enclave in a parking garage filled with two guys playing video games who seem to work there and an old man chewing on his gums who seems to hang out there for the sake of air conditioning. It’s one of those places where people talk about you as though you can’t hear them, - i.e. “Chantal, this guy here’s waiting to pick up his car, why don’t you get off the phone and help him so he can be on his way,” followed by my awkward introduction to Chantal as the guy who interrupted her phone call.
Twenty minutes later I get out of there and see my car parked at the curb waiting for me. The first thing I notice is the license plates. They’re yellow. Somehow, I just made a two month lease payment on a Dodge Neon just to rent it for four days, only to find out that it has jersey plates. When I finally get over to picking up The Girlfriend, as she walks out the door towards the car we have this exchange:
TG: “Why does the car have Jersey plates?”
Me: “I guess that’s where it’s from.”
TG (fearful): “But we’re not from Jersey. People are going to think we’re from Jersey.”
Me: “Maybe we can find a bumper sticker that says, “It’s a rental – we’re from New York.”
After that we go to Lencrafters to have The Girlfriend’s sunglasses adjusted (apparently her sunglasses are constantly crooked) and stop at Dunkin Donuts for iced coffees for the road. On line in front of me at Dunkin Donuts is a psychotic old man, obviously bent on making me as late as possible. I walk in on this conversation between him and the cashier:
Crazy old man: “What flavor of iced coffee do you recommend.”
Cashier: “I don’t like iced coffee.”
Crazy old man: “Well I’ll get whichever one you think is best.”
Cashier: “I don’t drink iced coffee.”
Crazy old man: “Oh . . . well which one do you think I should get then?”
Finally I tell him that the hazelnut is the best just to stop this Abbot and Costello routine from hell, leading to this conversation between me and the crazy old man:
Crazy old man: “Hazelnut? What’s that taste like.”
Me (to myself): You’re an asshole, Dan. Why did you talk to him? This is why I don’t like you.
Me (to him): ‘Hazelnuts.”
Crazy old man: “Nuts, eh?”
I stopped it there knowing that I could never overcome the humor of the pun, ordered my drinks and left the crazy old man trying to decide if he wanted iced coffee or hot coffee. It brightened my spirits knowing that though we may have been an hour and a half behind schedule at this point, this man would still be picking out his coffee while we were entering New Hampshire.
About two hours in, and an hour and fifteen minutes after driving stopped being “fun,” the traffic starts. Mostly it was due to short strips of pointless construction, but every so often it was a stretch of mysterious “why the hell is everyone slowing down?” traffic. If I had to pinpoint precisely why driving can sometimes make a normally sane person want to stab himself in the leg, it would have to be these instances of inexplicable traffic. I have a theory that it is caused by bad drivers who get too close to the person in front of them and then hit their brakes, causing the person behind them to break, and so on and so on until it escalates into a mass braking situation. Then again, I also have a theory that it should be legal for you to force other cars off the road if they are either driving too slow or too fast, which is determined solely in comparison to how fast I am driving. I’m not saying I’m ready to be a legislator – that’s not the point. The point is; I’ve got ideas, and at least 50% of them are good.
Driving to Maine falls in the other 50th percentile.
(Stay tuned for Part II, where we drive some more and then drive some more!)