By Joe Schneiderman
Mileage Start: 164452, West Hartford, CT
Mileage End: 164800, Gettysburg, PA
For I don’t know how many years, I talked about wanting to visit Civil War battle sites. For even more years, I’ve been a fan of and wanted to meet “The King” Richard Petty-he led me to NASCAR-now, all I do is root for the 43-NASCAR has gone bad corporate. In August, I found out that The King has his own day in his hometown. The King is also now 82 years old-I may not have another chance.
So, planning started. Phone calls were made. Checks were written. Finally, today (October 10), much later in the day than when I wanted to start, my first official was to affix a Petty Blue No. 43 to Theresa, my beloved Mercury.
For I don’t know how many years, Waterbury, Connecticut has been the bain of my driving existence. Waterbury was a daggum bottleneck-and corrupted construction that never ended through three different Governors (including one who sought to make remake all of Connecticut into Waterbury onto Connecticut, he later went to prison not once but twice…)In classic New England tradition, I started by…shunpiking. MMMM shunpiking. Well, actually, I started with Avon Prime Meats’ Signature Chicken Salad Wrap and proudly announcing my trip to them while eyeing the steaks…MMMMMM Cowboy Cut Ribeye.
What is shunpiking? Literally what it sounds like-avoid a turnpike! Route 202 to Route 8 usually worked to spit me on the other side of Waterbury. Tonight it backfired. Route 202 was under construction-Sigh. But I reached Route 8 and cranked the Phil Collins to get right on going—whom I had recently seen. (More on that in another post.)
Route 8 brought me to I-84, which eventually brought me to I-684, to the Saw Mill River Parkway and then the Tappan Zee Bridge. And I had perfect musical timing. I reassembled the Phil Collins “Singles Collection” from childhood on my iPod in Law School-and started my ride with that. First, Don’t Lose My Number…Who Said I Would through Thomaston and Watertown…Sussudio into Danbury. In the Air Tonight into New York State….Take Me Home as I finally passed through Mount Kisco. (At least, I think that’s how it went.)I have made the drive since childhood so many times it’s second nature.
The Tappan Zee Bridge remains just as interesting today as it was then…albeit with a very new structure. Wind buffets you on the gorgeous cable stayed structure as you rise high above the mighty Hudson at its widest-Tappan Zee and Haverstraw Bay to the north. As I pass Exit 12, I say hello to my cousins Ryan and Shelby. I would add my Aunt Celeste-but I know she’s not home. And the whole time, Studio 360 kept me company on WNYC….When I started, the car felt light.
Theresa has always been a quiet and gentle drive, but, today, when we started, the wheel felt lighter than usual. I saved Theresa from a cracked rim yesterday-and I think she knew that I was on vacation and my Yeehaws excited her!I had never read Angelou. I had read Morrison’s Sula in high school. As the Tappan Zee came down to the landing at South Nyack-Grandview, she insisted on Ms. Angelou to a child….But her book turned out to be so relatable to so many people…Fascinating. I wish I had more opportunity to relax to listen to Studio 360- but here I was.
Fifteen miles of Rockland soon gave way to Bergen County New Jersey-and Liz Phair. I was aware of Liz Phair through one of her most explicit songs anecdotally…What an interview that kept me going south on Route 287. Liz Phair started as an indie artist and rocker-she went popular, and she turned an image on its head, and she now fosters new musicians… I am intrigued enough to want to listen to some of her music after this vacation-she was incisive in her interview. Such kept me going to Morristown.I tried to carry on through Snap Judgment….But it was not holding my attention. Back to Q104.3-which I listened to as long as I possibly could. BROOOCE! BORN TO RUN! CRANK IT! So…So…Fitting…I was trying to get the hell out of New Jersey!
As Liz Phair transitioned into BROOOOCE, I saw the sign for I-78-and almost exited. I-78 was what I wanted…but, not that direction. It was East 78. I wanted 78 West. I smiled-Mom and Grandpa’s old adage-All Roads Lead to New York. 78 East did.
Finally, I guided Theresa seamlessly onto 78 West towards Easton PA. I was heartened at the signs for 24 hour diners. We need those back in Connecticut. FLEMINGTON. Danny Frederici’s hometown. The exits wound down…Tolls after the Delaware River.
Pit stop time in Pennsylvania. I exited…but gas was not obvious at my exit. It took some time to find gas…But I did…In Bethlehem, near Freemansburg. And Hershey Swiss rolls and Champagne Cola. But as I put Ringo back on, the ride would not come easy. I-78 would turn into 40 dragged out miles of lane closures and construction-and Ringo kept skipping-peril of an old iPod hookup.If I-78 had a median rather than a jersey barrier, I wouldn’t mind. But distended construction often with minimal notice of lane closures? Distended traffic (like Boston’s hellish traffic) is the worst, especially when you and try and reach a destination on your deadline-I was pushing for midnight in Gettysburg. I was annoyed. And people were not heeding me as I tried to make room for them to merge. GRRR…Peace and love.I-78 finally became a countdown. Unlike New Jersey and Pennsylvania (and I-84 in New York, now), we do not have mileage based exits in New England. The first reassurance was near Hamburg…27 miles to I-81, 24 Minutes. The off-ramp and the high barrier reminded me of a similar exit off Route 2 in Leominster, Massachusetts…another narrow and dark highway separated by jersey barriers. I’m sure during the day there was some scenery, Charles Kuralt notwithstanding, but, I was not seeing much of anything-I-78 felt like a dark confined valley of bunched traffic.So on with the countdown. Lenartsville. Shartlesville. Hah. Shartles. Straustown. Fredericksburg. There’s one this far north? Finally….Exit 1AB. Interstate 81. Harrisburg and Hazleton.Harrisburg. That’s where I want to go. And I-81 opens up, there are passenger cars among the tractor trailers. Signs for Hershey and attractions there! MMMM…Hershey. Terry Farrell who portrayed Jadzia Dax lived out here. And countryside gives way to suburbia and billboards-including one for a gentleman’s club off I-83…WHaaa?
Then…On the horizon, I-83 to South Harrisburg. I-81 diverges for North Harrisburg? What? I go for it. I have to end up on U.S. 15 somehow…and my gut is that I-83 is the way. All I need is to go on I-86 and I’ve driven every interstate between 80 and 96. But I have to make another Frostian choice…I-283 or I-83….
Briefly, it’s I-283…But, then, I-83 it is. Into Harrisburg-another State Capitol to pass through!There’s the Susquehanna River…Yay! Crossing the Susquehanna is my goal as the skyline of Harrisburg passes behind me…Yay! I’m still looking for Route 15 and on time….11:37…I can make it I can make it…Route 581. GETTYSBURG! GETTYSBURG! And….finally,GETTYSBURG?! YEEHAW!
And a 270 degree turn with a traffic light…D’oh…U.S. 15 echoes Connecticut 15 -the Berlin Turnpike-Homer Simpson’s “…Miracle Mile where value wears a Neon Sombrero and there is nary a church nor cultural institution to offend the eye…” Well, there were actually some cultural institutions-Asian churches…But, wait..27 MILES TO GETTYSBURG??? D’oh! again- I’m going to miss midnight.
But Route 15 opens up in the countryside-soon, I’m only the car around for a while. And I make up time. Counting miles down as a tractor trailer appears…I did not realize I had to go this far south into Pennsylvania-and how Gettysburg is as far south from Harrisburg as Greenfield, MA is north of Springfield, MA.
Well, not quite…but…Same thing. I prefer the fields to match the burgs. Finally my hotel and exit-just in time, Ringo’s Weight of the World came on…One of my new favorite songs off Time Takes Time…The perfect time to stop at the end of that Anthology, So Far….