Saturday, August 26, 2006

I-90 E: Boston & Back

As it happens, my first week of fall semester classes (to begin on Monday) is bookended by loooong drives from Syracuse on the scenic NY Thruway, aka I-90. The first leg of my interstate exploits took me to Boston on Thursday, returning today.

As luck would have it, some of the friendly folks of Beantown were quite taken with the stereo I just purchased for my car (bought so I would have a clock display that works while driving) and saw fit to rip it from poor Dimples's dashboard Thursday night - welcome to Boston!

Blessedly, the clever crooks knew what they were doing and merely punctured the passenger-side door and pulled out the lock rather than busting in a window, and for that I am truly appreciative.

Anyway, my real point is that I had a lotttt of time to ponder during the 5-hour drive home today, so I wanted to share some of my incredibly deep thoughts - this wisdom is free, folks. First, the mental playlist of song snippets that cycled through my head as I drove, sans radio - what exactly this says about me I'm not sure - then a critical look at the I-90 experience...

Radio Kathleen (in order of appearance)
- Selections from Under the Iron Sea, Keane (not entirely sure which ones)
- Roly Poly, The Little Willies
- Prototype, OutKast
- Bend and Break, Keane
- Runaway Train, Soul Asylum
- Song for Athene, John Tavener (as performed by the ASO Chamber Chorus)
- She's so High, Tal Bachman (don't ask)
- Brotherhood of Man, from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
- There were Three Jolly Fishermen,
traditional (camp song)
- Life Wasted, Pearl Jam
- Put a Lid on it, Squirrel Nut Zippers
- Jesusland, Ben Folds
- Rockin Chair, Oasis (tragically, the last song I heard on my stereo. But not such a loss as it was a burned cd and not one I purchased...)

As you can see, my mind is a strange place when left to its own devices. I will say, though, that time passes surprisingly quickly on the road without CD's or clock radios to mark the time. I was a little worried I'd be a) bored out of my skull or b) falling asleep with no soundtrack, but it's possible the drive seemed to go even faster in solitary silence. Isn't that weird? You should try it sometime.


Without any further ado, I give you my brief assessment of...

Mass Pike & NYS Thruway, East
I hate the thruway. HATE. For many, many reasons. First, the exit numbers don't correspond to mile markers (though, to the state's credit, the miles are quite meticulously marked, which I do appreciate). Second, it's EXPENSIVE. $7 just to leave the state! Third, there is noooothing fun to do on the way - and, more important, even if there were roadside diversions, you couldn't get to them because the exits are few and far between. I'm the sort of roadtripper who likes to pull over at cheesy truck stops or whatever kitschy tourist attraction happens to pop up, but on a restricted toll road like I-90, you don't even get the chance. Boo!

As you can see, the odds are pretty well stacked against I-90 in my book. But it's not all bad, especially when you cross into Massachusetts. Both times I traveled this road, I was struck by how much nicer things seems in Massachusetts. Maybe it's the Appalachian Trail footbridge you cross under at mile 14.7 that makes me like that side of things more (generally anything involving the word "Appalachian" or any variant thereof will go over well with me).

Somehow the landscape of Western Mass. is more appealing and familiar than that of eastern and Central NY. In Massachusetts, the roads seemed busier - but not in a trafficky way, in a stuff-happens-here kind of way - trees seemed greener, the hills hillier. Or maybe the light was just better there today. At any rate, looking at the road stretched out before me, gentle, hazy ridges marking the distant horizon, I was reminded of the rolling Appalachain foothills of western North Carolina or East Tennessee, only on a smaller scale.

But once you cross back into New York, things seem to flatten out. Now, if you've ever talked to me about my time in Chicago, you know that my biggest issue with the Midwest was not the weather, or even the funny accents, but the bleak and boring landscape. FLAT. So dull. The NY portion of I-90 doesn't come close to Illinois in terms of utter lack of geographic features, but it is a bit uneventful for my taste.

I remember talking to a Midwestern woman once who had moved from Illinois to Kingsport, TN, where my folks are from. When I admitted that the cold didn't bother me as much as the lack of landscape, she told me that the lay of the land in Tennessee got to her as well - she felt claustrophobic because of all the trees and hills. So, I must be the opposite...not necessarily afraid of open spaces, I just have a particular distaste for flat boringness.

[Sidenote: Passing through Becket, MA, motorists see a sign marking the highest point on the Massachusetts Turnpike, at an elevation of 1,724 ft. It also indicates that the next point on I-90 (heading west, naturally) with a higher elevation is in Oacoma, South Dakota, at 1,729 ft. above sea level. So it's pretty much all downhill from Massachusetts on I-90...literally!]

But that's not all Massachusetts has going for it, oh no! Not only is there less of I-90 in Massachusetts than from Syracuse to the state line, there are also more frequent exits and, most important, WAY better rest stops. And a lot more of them. They're cleaner, they have better and more fast food options, Bank of America ATMs (for whatever reason I trust bank-name ATMs more than I do the generic Plus/Star card ones), and gas stations with cheaper gas and real convenience stores attached, carrying a plethora of caffeinated beverage choices and such roadtrip delights as circus peanuts and Combos (neither of which, for the record, I indulged in this go-round). New York's rest stops are darker and not as modern, with fewer, less appealing options for sustenance and information - overall not as friendly or as inviting as their counterparts across the border.

However, the New York Thruway will have another opportunity to win my affections this coming weekend, as I journey to Pittsburgh, PA, for a reunion of my Freiburg friends. Perhaps the westside has more to offer, but from the thruway travel plaza brochure I picked up today it looks, unfortunately, to be more of the same. With luck I should have a replacement radio in my car by then, so at least I'll have that going for me...

Tune in next week for more adventures from the open road: I-90 Westbound into won't want to miss it!

1 comment:

Dave Ernst said...

Kathleen, I really enjoyed this post. I'm from western mass so I thought it was funny. Also the way you described your stereo getting stolen was hilarious. Sorry though. Best of luck at Syracuse!