This is the first Easter since 1999 that hasn’t involved some quality time on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Interstate 95, the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. My mom recently moved from northern New Jersey to the suburbs of Boston, and so our holiday pilgrimage took place in the sky instead of on the roads.
That is good overall. Those drives from D.C. to Bergen County for Easter and Thanksgiving routinely got bogged down in traffic, prolonging what should have been a four-and-a-half-hour schlep to six, seven, or eight hours. It was maddening, soul-crushing and usually inescapable.
I soon learned to break up the trip by segmenting it according to the sights. Beyond the service areas and the signs counting down the distance to NYC (what ever happened to the 100-mile sign?), my mental mileposts include Ripken Stadium, the Susquehanna River, the Our Lady of the Highways statue of Mary, the Delaware-toll detour (sometimes with a stop at what must have long been the northernmost Waffle House in America), the “Cruiser in a Cornfield” Navy testing facility, the NJTP’s split into car-only and car-and-truck lanes, the handful of crossings above or below Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line, and the urban gash the Garden State Parkway cuts through the Oranges.
(If none of this description resonates with you, please read Randy Kennedy’s December 2000 New York Times feature on I-95 in the New York Times and Hank Stuever’s fantastic August 2001 Washington Post essay on the Turnpike.)
But even with those mind games and slight improvements over the years–EZ-Pass, highway-speed tolling in Delaware and New Jersey, the widening of the Turnpike between exits 6 and 9, and Google Maps routing us around traffic–the prospect of this trip still filled me with dread.
And then my last three trips on this route weren’t all that bad. Hauling some of Mom’s furniture back to D.C. in a rented SUV in November was less punishing than I expected (I outright enjoyed paying my tolls with cash, Tony Soprano-style, to dodge Budget’s EZ-Pass surcharge), and early-morning departures around Thanksgiving allowed for two traffic-light journeys.
In particular, the drive north for the holiday that began when we hit the road around 7 a.m. Wednesday was almost miraculous in its ease. And when Google advised we stay on the Turnpike instead of switching to the Parkway to save a few minutes, the magnificent hellscape of industry and transportation that is the NJTP around Newark Airport led to some unintentional hilarity when my wife asked “What’s that smell? Is it something with our car?”
That’s no longer a possibility, and our holiday travel won’t be the same without it.
Flying is safer and more scenic–especially going in or out of National Airport. But it costs more, and it’s not immune to disruptions of its own. Friday morning, American Airlines canceled our nonstop to Boston and re-routed us that afternoon through LaGuardia. That delay and the unplanned connection at Joe Biden’s favorite airport meant we arrived in Boston some nine hours after we left home, or about what it would have taken us to drive had the traffic gods smiled upon us… which they almost never do.