What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Ten hours, 500-ish miles, and three states later, I think I could be forgiven for not immediately checking in to the hotel and sitting down at the keyboard… still, that’s exactly what I’m doing – A) Because WAJTW is a weekly standard that is near and dear to my heart and B) The universe doesn’t stop pissing me off just because I’m on the road. Those two feel like reason enough to sit down and get this done. So, as always, in no particular order, here they are:

1. White Marsh. The area at and surrounding the I-95/I-695 interchange has been under construction since just after the earth coalesced from stardust. There are places where the interstate in that area is at least 20 lanes wide. At the same time traffic flow has never actually gotten any better there. I don’t know if it’s crummy engineering, worthless drivers, too many people trying to cram through too little geography or some combination of the three, but the only time I’ve ever had a good experience traversing that mess is between the hours of midnight and 4AM. For some reason, that strikes me as less than ideal for one of nation’s premier north-south arteries. I’d love to offer a brilliant suggestion for making improvements, but I’ll defer to the hundreds of professional engineers who are working on that never-ending project to come up with something in that part of the highway network that doesn’t suck so hard.

2. Interstate 81. I-81 gets bad press because of the heavy volume of truck traffic it carries on a daily basis. My experience is that 81 may just have some of the most disciplined drivers in the nation. The left lane was kept clear except for passing and even with trucks and passenger cars intermingled, the average speed never dropped much below 70. It was one small slice of the American highway where everyone seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Everyone except the asshole in the powder blue Scion who couldn’t for the life of him find the accelerator but insisted for driving for mile after mile in the left lane. People like him are the reason I’ve not put a push bar on the front of the truck. If I wasn’t worried about scuffing the bumper I’d be too sorely tempted not to give them a helpful nudge in the right direction.

3. Glory days. As few as 4 years ago I use to jump in the truck and drive the 14 hour, 800 mile run from Baltimore to Memphis while only making two stops for fuel and to give back the coffee I’d rented earlier in the day. When I got there I was ready to unpack, make dinner, and enjoy the evening. Today I drove a little more than half that distance, took 2/3 the total amount of time, and made three stops. When I arrived at my destination, I limped to the front desk nursing a bum shoulder and a sore knee and utterly unable to stand up straight. Honest to God, if I remember my 30s for anything it’s going to be as the decade when my body started to completely disintegrate before my eyes.

Return Leg…

Let’s just say that my desire to climb in the truck at 6:00 tomorrow morning and drive 13 hours back to West Tennessee is less than total. The last day is always the worst part of a vacation and particularly so when you’re leaving so many good friends and family on this end of the run. All-in-all, it’s been a great and much needed week. I wish it could have been three or four. For those I managed to see, it was awesome. For those I didn’t, I’m sorry the timing didn’t work out. And for everyone, remember that the interstate system runs in both directions. See ya in Memphis.

Stupid dichotomy…

There are few things better in life than a full tank of gas, an open road, and new songs on the iPod. Those things are less good when your road trip takes you from Memphis to Mobile, Alabama. My drive today could have been a case study in rural poverty. Almost 400 miles of nothing dotted with trailers, closed storefronts, and the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia fluttering over it all. Having grown up “down the crick,” I thought I knew something about the indigenous redneck subculture of the Eastern United States.

Clearly, I was wrong on that score. Sure, I know intellectually that there are examples of crushing poverty easily within a few miles drive of where I grew up, but I really hadn’t ever given much thought to places like that still existing… but there they are. Right there on the roadside somewhere, almost anywhere, between Memphis and Mobile. Once you manage to overlook the scenery, or the distinct lack of scenery, it was a hell of a drive. I think on my way back to Memphis, I’ll plot an all-interstate course to avoid the unpleasantness on my way back to suburban bliss.

Things unexpected…

There are a lot of thing I expect to see lying along the side of a major highway. Mufflers fall off, I understand that. Tractor trailer tires explode and are left where they fall. Occasionally whole bed liners lift out of place and end up on the shoulder. Trash, animal carcasses, all manner of refuse of the civilized world ends up there at one time or another.

What I never expected to see on such a list is an entire steering wheel. Now, I know that the most likely explanation is that it fell of a truck hauling cars to the auto graveyard, but I can’t quite shake the image of a frustrated commuter finally pushed over the edge, pounding on the wheel, tearing it from the column, and flinging it from the car in a fit of traffic-induced rage. I can almost feel the singular moment of ecstasy and freedom just before the car slammed into the guardrail, nearby tree, or under the wheels of the neighboring 18-wheeler. The final scene of Braveheart comes to mind.