“We can’t stop here – this is biscuits and gravy country!”
I’ve been moulded into a product of New Jersey. By which I mean I love diners, drive like a lunatic and don’t know how to re-fill my petrol tank. I learned to drive in the States, and have done one 4-hr road trip during my time as a PhD student. As you can imagine, driving from NJ to Atlanta sounded like a challenge. It’s over 800 miles (14-hrs according to Google Maps). At one point I was stupid enough to consider making the trek in a U-Haul with my car clipped on the back. After some reflection I realised that was idiotic – I’d overtake a lorry at 80 mph and forget I was towing a car behind me, or something like that.
Therefore. A two-day road trip in Saxon (aka my ‘Wheels of Steel’). I’d been told that the journey was (i) really scenic and iconic, a fun experience you had to try at least once (ii) an awful soul-destroying grind that you’d never want to repeat again. It was the same person who told me those two things, before then after they actually did the trip. I decided to stop over in Burlington NC (just over halfway there). Armed with 4 pages of Google Map printouts and several bottles of water I prepared myself for an early start.
The key to long-distance driving is the radio. “Adult variety” is my first choice, but I’m not too fussy. The Top Hits stations are too repetitive: I must have heard the opening to “Havana” by Camila Cabello at least ten times over 2 days, and I kept switching stations. RnB/Hip-hop is fine, but I cry to 70% of country songs (it’s embarrassing – I was even tearing up at the overblown ones about two alcoholic lovers shooting themselves). Conversely, when I started my engine at 6.30am and heard Solisbury Hill blasting over the speakers it had a better awakening effect than coffee ever could.
Which is just as well, because I was severely under-caffeinated for the whole trip. I bid farewell to NJ with breakfast at a 24-hr diner. I was reminded why I don’t eat breakfast there more often: omelette was greasy, the coffee was brown water. Says a lot that my last hours in NJ were spent eating bad diner-food.
I decided that under-caffeination and mild dehydration was preferable to bladder discomfort and restroom hunting at high speeds. By the time I got to my sleazy motel (if you’re after a proper road trip experience of course you need to stay in sleazy motels) I was too exhausted to drive out and look for food/coffee. When I set out on a walk around the neighbouring strip malls, people in the car parks gave me weird looks (what’s that chick doing walking around HERE?), and after making note of my surroundings I could understand why. Following greasy diner food I was craving a salad or some fresh fruit, but perusing the local southern eateries I could see that wish was impossible. It was all “biscuits” (which as a British person I can assure you aren’t what I’d call biscuits) and waffles. So I crashed asleep at 7pm, vaguely hoping no one would try and break into my room. They probably could, if they wanted to. Only 30% of the electrical sockets in my room worked and despite its Non-Smoking designation…it smelt of smoke.
By Day 2 I was on the home strait. Despite exceeding the speed limit by an average of 20mph I made it into Atlanta without getting pulled over once. There was a steady scattering of busted cars in motorway ditches along the American coast, I suspect left there as a warning to cocky drivers such as myself. Still…faster speed = better fuel efficiency, right?
I made it to Atlanta. As soon as I pulled off I-85 I stumbled into an Ethiopian restaurant only a couple of miles from new apartment. Veggies and strong coffee – I demolished everything. Part of my sadness of leaving NJ involved parting with things I couldn’t replace. Knowing there’s stellar Ethiopian food in the Atlanta metro area had an instantly reassuring effect.