It is said that hindsight is 20/20. It is also said that if you have a hunch on something, go with it because it’s probably correct.
These words, and other more colorful ones, would be said in the cab of that big yellow Penske truck both aloud and in my head for the duration of the drive south. This drive, according to Google Maps, Apple Maps and my Garmin GPS secured to the windshield of the truck, would take just over nine and a half hours. This was good for my sanity, nerves, the 12-hour sedated cats, the dogs, the nervous 45 year old woman driving my Jeep and my wife, whose tolerance for long distance travel by car is thinning.
I have driven all types of vehicles. From 5,000 gallon tractor-trailer tank trucks and Airport Firetrucks to a manual transmission Toyota Corolla circa 1976. So, driving this large cracker box on wheels was nothing I wasn’t familiar with. It handled like….. well. Kinda like imagine putting a steering wheel on a whale. It was ungainly and it felt as though it wasn’t in the mood for what lie ahead. It had enough power though and I didn’t “Feel” the weight of our house in the back. When I stepped on the gas, I could hear the turbo whining up but the power to move it from a standstill wasn’t there. It sounded as though all the power intended for the rear wheels was just being dumped on the ground below the truck. When it got up to speed, it was fine and moved along nicely, although I couldn’t know if it was the power of the engine or gravity making it go. It wouldn’t be until I hit any sort of incline on the road would I notice that the truck struggled under the load. Cruising at 65 mph was fine until I hit grade and then the truck would slow to 55, 45, 35 as if I lifted my foot off the pedal and I hadn’t. I’d hear Captain Kirk yelling…. “Scotty, you’ve got to give me more power!”. The reply would come in the form of a groan from the big V8 and its automatic shifting to a lower gear. “I’m sorry Captain, that’s all that she has.”
We’d take the Garden State Parkway north for 15 minutes, the I-195 West for 40 minutes and then the New Jersey Turnpike/I95 South. This would take us to the end of New Jersey and across the Delaware Memorial Bridges. At this point the rats nest of roads would intermingle and the constant peering out the windshield for the Interstate 95 shield on the overhead signs would be my never ending chore during this portion of the ride. We had already stopped once for a pee break for the girls in the caravan and while at this first stop, I took this as an opportunity to get additional munchies for the road.
The GPS said we were on track to get to the Washington DC area in just a few hours and based on what I had seen up to this point, it was on the money. Our forward progress was steady and I had almost put my doubts away when we hit a backup. Our speed adjusted to just 40 miles per hour and we held this pace for nearly 30 minutes and I watched the “arrival time” on the GPS move further into the day. But the slow-downs would come and go for the next few hours.
And then it gets worse.
I got a call from the Jeep for a bathroom break and they were going to get off, use the bathroom and then get back on. My wife would continue to follow me. They would catch up. Fine, we weren’t going very fast anyway. Traffic slowed more, now we were on a Stop-and-Go ride. The arrival time pushed further into the evening. We just reached the outskirts of Washington DC and I had decided it was time for me to stop and gas up the whale. My wife would use this opportunity to walk the dogs as well. We got off of 95 and pulled into the first station off the exit and sadly, the canopy over the pumps was at 12 feet. The truck was at 12 feet 9. After a dog walk and Jeep fillup, I did a quadruple “K” turn and exited the station, made a right turn and went to another station across the road up on a hill. Oddly enough, I recall stopping here for fuel once before on my Harley on the way back from the Keys. I would clear the canopy here and the truck would take a huge drink at the pump.
The arrival clock pushed into the night time hours now.
Back on 95, we entered the area of Alexandria, Virginia and the road construction and traffic volume did nothing to ease things at all. Our stop and go progress dragged us down into a more miserable state and repeated phone calls to the rear of the caravan to check on everyone proved that our patience and tolerance for the situation was all but gone. I could hear fatigue and frustration in the voices of those in the following the yellow whale.
For the next 3 hours, traffic would have us crawling through a maze of traffic cones and drums, bumper to bumper traffic, brake lights, signals and flashing lights. Finally, the slowdowns vanished. As if a wizard snapped his fingers, the traffic was gone and we were going 65 mph again. There was no indication of what the cause of the backup was. None. Was it all because of the construction that was not happening? Was it just the traffic cones? Was it volume? Was it just stupid people? I shook my head and mumbled it was likely just stupid timid drivers behind the wheels. Whatever the case, we were doing the speed limit, almost and we were making better time. Although now our arrival time has been pushed well into the night, we’d still arrive in a few more hours.
We hit the I-295 split or the 295 bypass. This would be a location where 295 would go around Richmond Virginia to the east and bypass the madness that is approach and departure from its urban center. Having been trapped in this before, I knew better. Within 50 minutes we’d be back on 95 and sailing along. Before we knew it, the sign we had been waiting for was in front of us and we couldn’t be happier.
We needed one more stop for fuel and pee break before getting off of I-95. Our exit approached but the fuel stop was just a mile before our exit but we took no chances and got off, filled up, used the facilities, got a drink or two and got back on 95 for that last mile.
By this time, the cats had woken up and they were groggy, barely alert and starting to cry. I got the report that Itsy Bitsy (my cat) came out of his crate, used the litter box and rested on Joe’s lap for a few minutes before returning to his crate to hide. Jack, who was in Deb’s Honda with the dogs, cried a little, used the litter box and settled on the floor in the front.
Finally off of I-95, the barren roads and darkness took over our surroundings and the countdown of miles to go, hours to go lessened. The Whale rocked and rolled and would give the appearance that it was going to fall over with each bump and dip in the road. In the cab I would be bouncing up and down as I had been the entire trip, unaware that the big yellow whale was rocking side to side as if it were in the midst of flopping over on its side like its beaching counterparts. I called my wife to let her know that we had less than 2 hours to go. Joe and April in the Jeep were happy but frustrated to hear that. I repeated the call when we crossed the one hour to go mark and spirits seemed a little improved. Though by now the inevitable question of where there was a Dunkin Donuts came up to which I replied “There aren’t any”. Sadly that was met with disapproval.
Then we saw the sign that we’ve been waiting for……
The town was asleep as we drove down Main Street past all the closed stores and fast food places. We were dragging ass to say the least and we were ready to get out of our vehicles…. me especially. I was tired of bouncing.
We turned off of Main Street and into onto the home stretch. Just a few miles to go. I felt obvious and noisy in the truck. I felt as though that with each house we drove past, its occupants would be shuttered awake by the clunking and bumping, the loud engine and rushes of air each time I stepped on the brakes. I tried to be quiet but how does one keep quiet when navigating a 26-foot box truck down a rural neighborhood after midnight?
I turned on to our new street and slowly drove the winding road to our crooked mailbox. I swung the truck to the left edge of the road and then hard right to the ditch on adjacent to our mailbox to back the truck in the driveway. After a couple of adjustments to my alignment, I backed the truck up to within 20 feet of the garage door, put the truck in park, pulled the button out for the parking brake and shut the truck off.
I climbed out of the truck and breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I looked at my home. We made it. 15 hours and 35 minutes. It was 1:30 a.m., Thanksgiving morning. We were home.