Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mi Vida Paseo

I’ve done five* truly crazy drives in my life. In no particular order, they are:


·        Roundtrip from Albany to Baltimore. by back roads (more fun than the interstate), for a party in a Corolla FX16 with two passengers—one 6’6”, one 6’4” (right, Val?). This was not a large car.

·        Roundtrip from NYC to Deal’s Gap in a Caterham. See 1,700 by Se7en.

·        Commuting, every weekend during the summer of 1996, from upstate New York to somewhere in the vicinity of Ashtabula, Ohio, with Merdwin the Mediocre. The best part was when the Plymouth’s engine seized on the Thruway.

·        Leaving Heathrow in a brand new rented Cougar and entering London rush hour traffic, then driving over 3,000 miles though Scotland over the next month. The rental car company had never had a car returned with like mileage, and when I reported it, could at first not be convinced I wasn’t adding an extra zero.

·        Altamont to Mississippi, and back:

Back around 1994, I worked briefly for a dude who scraped out a living selling flatbed trailers, snowblowers, what-have-you. Well, now having his first employee, he decided he’d make a trip to a trailer manufacturer, cutting out the middleman. Wild Bill’s (it was on the sign) shop was in upstate New York, near Albany; the trailers, in Mississippi, near Tupelo.

The tow rigs were an 11-year old flatbed GMC Jimmy with duallies and 1-ton running gear; and a 14-year-old (c. 1980) 1-ton GMC Rallywagon van. We took the driveshaft out of the Jimmy, hitched it to the Rallywagon, and started flat-towing south.

The ride down wasn’t too awful; while I couldn’t sleep in the Rallywagon because of the ever-building heat, at least we could switch off driving, stopping about every six hours to refuel.

Wild Bill did not know about Deal’s Gap, which still doesn’t explain why he decided to go through Asheville, and then turn west from there. We hit it at dusk, about 14 hours after leaving New York at 3 AM, driving a GMC Rallyvan, flat towing a 1-ton Jimmy. Wild Bill drove, and I can still remember the sensation of looking down at the hairpins, wondering where the hell we were, and if the last person I’d ever see was Wild Bill. Brakes smoking, we crept through, with 300 more miles to go.

After 22 hours, we stopped in Red Bay, Alabama, right on the Mississippi border. After putting the Jimmy driveshaft back in, we Motel 6-ed it for about five hours of sleep.

The next day was the hottest that I, a Yankee, ever remember. Driving the now-separated rigs, we were at the plant when they opened, at 8 AM. Then we loaded the trailers. “How,” you might ask, “do you bring back a dozen trailers with two vehicles?” A tottering pyramid of trailers will do: Put a 24- or 22-foot trailer on the bottom, then a 20-foot trailer, then a 16, a 12, a 10 and an eight. Simple! The best part was crawling around on, and in between, the unpainted steel frying pans of the trailer beds in the burgeoning heat of a Mississippi July. Did I mention it was the second week in July? Needless to say, the tow rigs weren’t air-conditioned, either.

My next memory is taking the Rallyvan across a causeway near Knoxville, sticking my right leg out the window to ease the cramps from dehydration, and some release from the infernal heat of the GM 350 in the hump an inch from my foot. I started pouring ice water over my head, both in an effort to stave off heatstroke, and to stay awake.

Night brought some release, thundering up 81. It also brought weigh-ins. I was waved in, then through, mostly; the Jimmy had to stop at most, although it was a Class V vehicle. At some point, we made a 45-minute stop for sleep, but it was the middle of the night when we reached Binghamton, New York, and the Rallyvan’s wiring harness started to melt.

My first sign of trouble was when the dash lights died. I radioed (I used callsign Yellowjacket) Wild Bill; he said “keep driving.” The brake lights went next (I couldn’t see them reflected in the trailers any more); and then more exciting things started to happen, like losing trailer brakes. About 45 minutes out from Altamont, about 2 AM, I lost all lights, including headlights. Wild Bill agreed to pull of the highway—and have me follow his brake lights on the secondaries.

We did the whole trip, 2,500 miles, in around 54 hours. I collected my ($300) check from Wild Bill that night. A couple of days later, he called me to ask when I was coming back to work. I did not elect to return to his employ.


*Honorable Mentions:

  • Bennington to Grand Manan, Canada, and back, for vacation, with a boat on the roof of an Impreza OBS. Three ferries, I think.
  • Burlington literally until we ran out of road in Millinocket, then onto a float plane.
  • The Day of the Lobsters, Best, New York, to Lake George, for lunch.
  • Picking up a dog hitchhiker somewhere near the Massachusetts/Vermont/New York border, and driving it, apparently, to where it wanted to go.
  • Bennington to DuBois, Pennsylvania, with George Mattar.

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