The Great American Road Trip

Posted: August 1, 2011 in Rants
Tags: , , , ,

The great american road trip – its dead.  Or rather, the romanticized vision that I read about in books, that’s dead.

Replaced is a highway system crawling with police intent on generating revenue as opposed to increasing safety – choked with left lane bandits who stubbornly refuse to move over, and sometimes react aggressively and violently at the suggestion of such, and most importantly, the sprawl of cities is growing to the point where we’re reaching extended suburbs as opposed to rural portions in between.

I started my wonderful trip at 4 a.m. on Saturday.  This isn’t how I wanted it to start, mind you – in fact, I went out drinking that evening and I might have even been enticed to partake in a cheeseburger shot after drinking what I had told myself was enough in preparation for my 8:15 flight.  Alas, upon coming home I received a notification via email via my wonderful Blackberry that my flight had been cancelled.

Actually, I should preface this to the week before when once again I came home a little tipsy and drunkenly bid on a 1991 BMW 850i.  You see, I wasn’t really looking for one of these cars – in fact, I was more interested in a 928 S4 but it just so happened that in my research the 928 was constantly compared to the other paragon of German grand touring vehicles – the 850i so I was looking at them as well.  All of the 928s that I had looked at so far had failed any Pre-Purchase Inspection miserably – resulting in intense frustration at finding a good car, and the price on this auction was too good for my inebriated mind to pass up, and so I bid, was quickly outbid, and went upstairs to pass out.

Little did I know that the next morning I would be offered a “second chance” at my original insanely low price.  I said, what the hell – I had a hole burning in my pocket from the profitable sale of my 80s era 911 (absolutely NOT a grand touring car) and I figured at this price what did I have to lose?

So, here I am up at 4 a.m., dragging my wife and kid out of bed to dump me off at the airport for a bright and early flight to Madison, Wisconsin.  Passing through security, the TSA dude seemed completely unconcerned with my locked briefcase containing a radar detector, GPS, phone charger, and many thousands of dollars cash money – all he wanted to know was if I had a video recording device, a DVD player or a lap top.  I sailed through security and onto my flight, landing in the Land of Cheese.  My first observation was that these people were obviously well fed.

Out to the car I went, the shady deal being completed in the air port parking like and to my surprise, the car was quite good!  Let me go back in time a bit to almost every other car I’ve purchased on eBay – they’ve all been basket cases.  I would fret and worry about finally take the plunge and bid on a car, hoping upon hopes it would be a nice vehicle only to be disappointed time and again.  This time, I was actually expecting a bucket that would barely get me back to Rochester, but to my surprise I came upon a time capsule from 1991.  I mean, this thing even came with the original tape deck and car phone!

I will be sure to write a full, wonderful ode to my 850 in time – but suffice to say, this is the ultimate grand touring vehicle.  The Germans know what they’re doing and this thing is built like a tank and powered by a V12 engine that produces a limitless wall of torque at any RPM range, all with smooth, buttery delivery of that power coupled to a chassis that masks its 4123 lbs of steel and leather.  This was the perfect weapon for the task at hand.  Ahead of me – 500+ miles to Columbus Ohio, followed by 450 miles from Columbus to Rochester.

The road trip is one of the experiences that, as a child, was something to dread rather than enjoy.  Imagine, being stuck in the back seat (next to my sister of all people) with nothing to do but interact with the three human beings I liked least – my family.  I wasn’t one of those fortunate, spoiled little kids who had a Gameboy (gameboy wasn’t even available until I was 10 anyways) or a van with any type of entertainment center.  Nope.  I was usually crammed in the back of my dad’s 5-series praying for death or arrival at the destination, whichever came first.  For him, however, I imagine things were a bit more interesting behind the wheel of a BMW on the open road.

One of the things I always remember about taking a road trip are the comments my elitist parents would make at every rest area.  They were appalled at the way people dressed,, how they ate – how they simply existed as hoi polloi that I imagine my father imagined had few thoughts in their brains other than when the next feeding or bowel evacuation would occur.  Now, every time I stop at a rest area his words echo in my mind – “Marcus, look at all these people around you with their slack jaws and dead eyes – now, think about this – they all got here the same way you did.”  My god.  It only hits me with the impact it should now that I’m on the road – these lackwits are the same people clogging up the roads – they all got here by driving – on the same highway as me!  Such is the low threshold for driving in America – it is not so much a skill or a privilege as it is a right to be handed out to the lamest brained individual.  I hear some states don’t even make you parallel park anymore.

Nonetheless, I blazed through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana with the rapidity only afforded to a V12 powered SuperTurismo.  More often than not, the leering visage of a rapidly approaching black coupe was all that many drivers needed.

But then, keep in mind – most drivers aren’t paying attention to anything around them, particularly anything approaching from behind.  Frequently, in order to avoid a fuel-economy-killing braking followed by acceleration, or a dangerous pass from the right side, I would be required to use my “flash to pass” lights – which usually moved them out of the way quick enough by notifying them of my trajectory.

Of course, flash to pass worked 99% of the time.  Its that one time in the middle of Indiana where it didn’t work that made this leg of the trip interesting.  Apparently, the redneck in the big ‘Merican truck didn’t take so kindly to being informed that he was hogging the left lane with no traffic in the right and presenting a general hazard.  As I flashed again I realized, nope, he’s not going to move.  I did make the pass safely on the right side and stayed in that lane – only to find out that this guy didn’t like being passed by no Furr’n automobile.  His efforts to catch me were amusing.  Armed with both my Valentine One on the windshield and an integrated K40 Sonaradar in the front and rear I opened her up to a speed which I shall not disclose but which I assure was 100% absolutely legal and not incriminating.  On a side note, I’m told this car will do 186 mph, bone stock.  I doubt his speedometer went up past 85.

Of course, once making it through The Drive Through State (Indiana) and into Ohio I dramatically curtailed my speed, as the Ohio Highway Patrol are notorious enforcers and it was the end of the month.  I arrived at my destination of Columbus, Ohio without incident and averaging 18.34 mpg.

The next leg to Rochester is the one that made me realize the romanticized road trip from novels and movies is dead.  Simply put, driving through Ohio, into Pennsyltucky and back into New York involved far too much traffic, far too much urban and suburban landscape, and far too many bad motorists.  I’ve talked about the left lane bandits, but they are truly killing our highway system – if they kept right except to pass a large portion of traffic would simply disappear.  But even so, there is simply too much volume on our highways right now to engage in outright speed anymore – plus the drivers on them are just too unpredictable to make it even a task someone would want to attempt – a wrong move by someone chowing down on their burger and you’ll have a fiery death explosion.

It was on this leg that my Valentine One really came into its own as well – never failing to detect a radar equipped officer and saving my ass when encoutering an instant-on laser equipped officer by detecting the laser bouncing off the cars in front of me.  But the enforcement is the other element killing the high speed long distance trip.  No longer are police focused on safety – if they were they would cruise the highway and hand tickets out to left lane slowsters.  Instead, they exist solely to raise revenue for cash strapped towns, counties, and states.  The emphasis is simply on production and has nothing to do with safety – otherwise speed limits would be raised to the speeds that traffic is actually travelling at, rather than the artificially low limits that they currently are.  One need only look at the German Autobahn to see how efficient, safe, high speed travel can be achieved.

With that said, I’m glad I’ve had this experience.  The mania and psychosis that sets in after hours upon hours of solitary road travel with the only company being the other depraved mutants on the road results in some interesting thoughts.  And to be honest, I couldn’t have had a better car to do this with.

  1. Alex says:

    Nice purchase. Auto or Manual?

    I’ve wanted an 850 ever since getting one of those 1/32 pullback models as a kid (still have it). My friend’s cousin bought the real one some years ago for $25k… Would you share how much this thing cost you, for reference/perspective? (I’m in the middle of postgrad, so obviously I haven’t been keeping track…)

  2. ChrisE says:

    The roadtrip is dead, long live the roadtrip is how I feel about your comments. I agree, at any but the least convenient hours the highways are full of… obstacles. But if you had some time and no hurry, take the by-ways. That’s what makes a roadtrip. The local foods, the odd statues in town squares, historical markers every hill and dale, and of course the world’s largest (ball of string, corn cob, etc). So if you’re simply looking to get somewhere, the highways do suck. But that’s no road-trip.

  3. […] cow.  That means my beater 2011 GTI would get 51.2 mpg instead of 32 mpg on the highway, and my gas guzzling 12 cylinder GT car would get 22.4 mpg average instead of 14 mpg […]

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