College Summer Tour 2011

            Josh is about to enter his senior year in high school, what the “cool” college folks call a “rising senior.” That, of course, necessitates the process of heading out and visiting college campuses hoping to find the perfect match.
            Part of Josh’s hunt took us to Washington, DC where there are two schools in particular in which he is interested. After the trip one of those has taken a higher place on the wish list but the other isn’t completely ruled out.
            Even though it’s an eight hour drive, we decided to load up a car and hit the highway. We haven’t done this kind of lengthy trip in a long time, tending to fly off to vacations and other destinations. But the idea of driving sounded like a great idea and so we tossed a couple of duffel bags full of clothes in my Mitsubishi SUV and took off. This decision led to a few regrets along the way.
            In hindsight I shouldn’t have chosen the Mitsubishi. It’s not the most comfortable riding vehicle I own and neither is it the most fuel efficient. But it is roomy (that’s why I bought it for my business back in 2001, to schlep around the camera and lighting equipment I use to shoot documentary films) and I’ve found that I like it better sitting up higher, especially when I’m in an area with which I’m not all that familiar.
            The trip out on a Sunday we made great time, stopping for gas and to grab something to eat. I felt this would be an easy drive with limited traffic and even with a couple of small rain showers that seemed to just wash off the dirt more than anything, we had a very pleasant drive.
            One of the benefits of driving on a Sunday was the fact that there was very little traffic on some of the sections of highway. That allowed me to let the accelerator pedal get a little more acquainted with the floor board than its use to. Especially through those sections of West Virginia where the speed limit is already set at 70 mph. Plus the section of I-68 that winds across the mountain tops of Maryland let me glide through the turns, using both lanes the way a skier uses a fall line.
            The return trip wasn’t quite as smooth and that, dear readers, is grist for another blog.
            When we arrived in DC we parked the car and relied on two forms of transportation, our feet and the public transit system. Being very familiar with New York City (where my daughter goes to college and I regularly visit for fun and business) I felt pretty confident in our abilities to ride these rails.
            Unlike New York, DC’s subway system is neat, clean and new looking. Not that NYC has a dirty subway system any more, just that it shows its age. To New York’s advantage you always know exactly how much it will cost to ride. In DC, the cost varies depending on the time of day. But after one blunder we managed quite well.
            We took a day to check out the city and to see some of the sights, including a number of the Smithsonian museums. Another blog featuring the American History Museum’s car exhibits is in the offing as well.
            One thing we did notice while wandering around DC was the number of people wearing casts and supports and boots on their feet and ankles. It was an unusually high number. All I can figure is that these people hurt their feet while kicking the politicians in the ass trying to get them to do something about the economy. I might be wrong.
            Normally I feel as though I’m pretty much able to find my way around a city, at least to reach my destination. My driving problems in DC began when it was time to head home. I had a little under a quarter of a tank of gas and I wanted to fill up before I hit the highway. So I asked the kind folks at the hotel where the nearest gas station was and they told me it was about 15 blocks away. Not a problem.
            Out of curiosity, I did a Google search and found an Exxon station that was a few blocks closer. So I mapped it out as well as a route to get on the highway from the station.
            As I neared where Google said that Exxon station was I noticed that, instead of a gas station, there was a government building. OK, I get it, the government is pretty much full of hot air and gas most of the time but that wasn’t going to do anything to fill my tank.
            So we drove off to where the folks at the hotel said there was a station. Again, there was no gas station there or on any of the blocks surrounding it. I looked my gauge and said, “screw it,” and decided to just hop on the freeway and find a station.
            Next, the directions we got from Map Quest weren’t quite accurate. First off they instructed us to drive down Pennsylvania Ave. I should have realized when I got them that this would take us directly through the lawn of the White House. I’m pretty sure that the White House gardeners wouldn’t have been all that happy with tire tracks through the grass. And for some reason I’m guessing that some people with guns who talk into their sleeves wouldn’t have liked it either.
            So we worked around that minor obstacle and found our next street which abruptly ended in a permanent barricade. Oh for two; now I wasn’t feeling all that confident with the rest of the directions.
            Our destination was to get to the Beltway, I-495. And in our driving around to try to find a gas station and the correct road to get us out of DC, I’d seen a sign pointing in the direction of that highway. I backtracked and followed that route.
            The route took us north, through DC and into Maryland. It was a long trek with plenty of stop lights and no, I repeat, no, gas stations. Even the Google Maps feature on my I-Phone wasn’t being any help in locating a station. Don’t people in DC need gasoline? Where the hell is the petroleum lobby when you need them?
            Finally we saw a sign that said I-495 was just a half mile away following a left turn at yet another red light. As I made the turn I saw not one but two Exxon stations. That’s right, two Exxon stations, directly across the street from each other. Why the hell couldn’t they put one of those a mile or two down the road.
            Anyway, we filled up the tank and managed to get out of DC later than what we thought. And that led to a few other adventures which I’ll talk about in an upcoming blog.

            In the meantime, hope you enjoy the pictures from around DC. And I promise, I’m back to the true car talk in the next blog.


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