Travel: Starting My First Road Trip with a Pinch of Drama

On Monday morning I finally brought myself to pack my suitcase, book a hotel room online, get into the car and start driving towards Upstate New York. After I had said goodbye to Canavar and my trunk was filled to capacity (oopsies, but I do have a lot of photography gear, a small camping chair, etc.), I refueled my car and left. It was great timing because on Monday around lunch time the roads were relatively empty so that I left Boston behind fast. I still don’t understand why the speed limit on a perfect interstate is 65 mph (= 105 km/h). Needless to say that I drove a little too fast for most of the time. I blame it on the German in me, and I am aware that the police will eventually catch and order me to pay a fine. Besides, I had to cover a distance of 515 km, and I didn’t want that to take any longer than necessary. What I also don’t get is why trucks are allowed to overtake each other on a two-lane highway. It is ridiculous and it takes hours. Although that definitely helped me to not go too fast at all times. And to enjoy the scenery more.

At one point even my Google GPS reminded me that I left Massachusetts and entered New York State. The first obvious change was a toll plaza on the interstate. In Massachusetts they tore down all plazas and replaced them with automatic camera systems. In New York real people still collect the money. But I am smart and have an E-ZPass, which is an electronic toll collection system that works in 16 states. There is a little transponder on the inside of my windshield. So I drove into the E-ZPass lane and waited for the green signal. Instead it said I should call E-ZPass. I had to stop my car. A nice man explained to me that for some reason my transponder doesn’t seem to work. Instead he gave me a little ticket which in New York you pay when you finally leave the highway. So much for feeling smart … Also, of course, I didn’t have cash on me. Well, I did have two dollars of cash. Since Monday had obviously turned into my extremely lucky day, toll booths in New York State only accept cash. So I had to take the next exit because I was pretty sure that I had to pay more than $2 when I left the interstate later on. I paid 45 cents, lucky me. The worker there also tested my transponder, which was supposed to work fine. Apparently, there isn’t any money on it – even though I had applied for automatic payments. I’ll have to look into that when I am back home.

Then I was stranded somewhere in the countryside. At least there was a gas station where I refueled (my car is a little gas tippler) and saw that they had an ATM. But my bank didn’t allow me to withdraw money from this ATM that didn’t belong to any bank in particular. I also couldn’t reach my T-mobile internet network because I was in the middle of nowhere. So I first drove to the next spot where I could reach my network and then googled for the closest Bank of America. It was a mere one hour drive away and I got to enjoy so much more of the ordinary roads with potholes than I had planned to. Plus the late afternoon rush hour started in between. But I managed to withdraw cash, ha! I entered the interstate once more and stepped on the gas.

Shortly after the check engine light went on. I swear, I almost had a fit. My first thought was that my car was going to explode any second. Also, I had so many things with me that I couldn’t even take a bus home. Then again, I am not known for keeping a cool head when stressed. I stopped at the next service area, considered crying, but then thought of the owner’s manual in the glovebox. It said that a steady amber light indicates a minor fault. I afterwards googled and read that you can still drive with the lamp on. There were still 222 km ahead of me and I didn’t want to stop in the middle of nowhere once more. I cautiously went back on the interstate, but nothing weird happened. Except for the fact that the light was and stayed on, my car worked as well as it had before. I reached my destination on the outskirts of the Finger Lakes Region, continued reading more online about the light, and thought it would be the dumbest thing ever if I simply hadn’t screwed on the gas cap properly. I closed it again, went to a supermarket, but the light kept on shining. So eventually I accepted the idea that I had to go to an auto shop first thing on the next morning. I simply couldn’t continue driving around and even to Canada when my car might break down any minute.

When I started the car on Tuesday morning, the check engine light went off immediately. I hope it wasn’t the stupid gas cap. Wrong, I hope it was.

I learned these things from this journey:

  1. Always always have cash on you. And that means $10 minimum. Make it $50, just in case. Because your specific bank won’t be anywhere close when you really need it.
  2. Always arrange more time than you normally would. Something stupid is bound to happen.
  3. Take a lot of coffee and water with you. You need breaks. Many breaks. I bought a Thermos bottle last week and it has come in very handy.
  4. Have a road atlas because there are remote places where your GPS won’t work. I bought one on Tuesday.
  5. Always take your car’s owner’s manual with you. It actually does explain things well.
  6. Keep in mind that a steady and yellowish check engine light only indicates a minor fault. No need to jump off the car.
  7. Keep on smiling. You’d have nothing to talk about if your trip didn’t have any glitches.

© janavar

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