Escape From New Jersey

When it’s 24 degrees and windy in the Texas Panhandle, stepping out of the car becomes a major decision. How badly do you need that bathroom?

If you’ve never been on the Midwest plains in winter, you may not appreciate what “windy” means. The wind tears through your skin and freezes your soul.

I’d planned on doing this a couple weeks sooner, but owing to a work obligation, it ended up being the second week in January that I made my escape and my first cross-country drive in a few years. Those weeks make a difference as winter gets underway.

When I left, a storm was threatening to dump snow as far out as St. Louis the following day, so the fun kicked off with a banzai run to Missouri to beat the storm. Later, as I approached Flagstaff, another snowstorm loomed; I raced to get past the area, thought I’d gone far enough, and went to sleep—and awoke to an inch of snow and more coming down hard. I’d only miscalculated by about ten miles, though, so it was easy to get out. I didn’t see the sun at all between Pennsylvania and western Arizona.

I left New Jersey on Saturday afternoon, and arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday morning. Not exactly a speed run—I’ve done it faster—but there wasn’t much incentive to do sightseeing in the brutal winter weather. I’ve done this drive many times, but it’s been a couple years and some things have changed.

Oklahoma has deteriorated in the past decade. It began several years ago with the closing of the picnic areas on the Turnpike and I-40. Now, they’ve closed the last rest area on I-40, the one just before the Texas border. No rest for you. Some new pavement notwithstanding, the roads are crumbling in places. One fears for one’s tires, and one’s suspension. I used to enjoy the drive across Oklahoma, but I have to admit I just don’t any more. It’s nothing some investment wouldn’t fix, but that’s single-party Republican rule for you.

The War on Rest Areas isn’t confined to Oklahoma, though. Several more in New Mexico, Arizona, and elsewhere have succumbed. The nice one west of Albuquerque, across from the Sky City Casino, is closed. Even roadside picnic areas with no services are an endangered species.

Speed limits are rising across the land. Even Pennsylvania has part of its Turnpike posted at seventy. Ohio is no longer a sixty-five mile per hour, saturation-patrolled annoyance. Texas has abandoned its split day/night limits. Some of these changes I knew about, and some were pleasant surprises, but the result is that there wasn’t a single state on the entire trip still adhering to the Sixty-Five Religion, except the one where I started, and no one gives a crap about goddamn New Jersey. Unfortunately, the condition of the highways is declining, so it’s harder to enjoy the higher limits when the road surface forces you to slow down anyway.

Gas Price

Gas prices are plunging, making this a great time for a long drive. I paid $1.699 at one point. With prices so shockingly low, and the infrastructure crumbling, now would be a great time to increase the federal gas tax, with the Highway Trust Fund set to run dry in a few months. But the Republicans won’t hear of it—nor the sensible approach of just paying for highway construction out of the general Treasury. They want the infrastructure to crumble, so they can realize their nightmarish vision of all-private, all-toll roads, lining the pockets of their corporate masters, with privacy policies promising to sell your movements to anyone they want. Hey, if you don’t like it, no one’s forcing you to leave home, right?

One F-35 would pay for all the rest areas in the country. The whole embarrassing, useless F-35 boondoggle would pay to fix the nation’s entire surface transportation infrastructure. A plane that doesn’t work is more important, though.

But it’s 55 degrees and sunny here in Las Vegas, in January. I feel like I’m cheating.