"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Farewell, New England

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America
-Paul Simon

I've always known that the route along the US northeastern seaboard between Boston, New York, and Washington DC is the busiest and most congested transportation corridor in the country, but I got to experience this firsthand this week as I began my long drive back to Texas from New England. After stopping off to say goodbye to my sister in Woodstock, this was the scenic view from my windshield for most of the way into DC:

After spending the better part of fifteen years fighting traffic in Houston, I thought I would be prepared for congested road conditions, but I was nevertheless surprised at the monumental gridlock I encountered. Much of it seemed to be caused by the toll plazas along the highway that are ubiquitous in the Northeast. I frankly have never understood this. While the rest of the nation seems to be able to finance road construction and maintenance through highway taxes, the northern states prefer to nickle-and-dime motorists to death on the pay-as-you-go plan. Oops, did I say nickle and dime? Excuse me, I mean "dollar". Gone are the 25-cent and 35-cent tolls I remember from years ago; now a typical toll is two or three bucks every 30 miles or so, even to $6.00 at one particular bridge crossing. And of course, at each toll booth, traffic was snarled for miles as motorists were forced to crawl to a stop and dig out their wallets.

But eventually I made it to our nation's capital, a place I have not visited since I was a very young child. Since my ability to get around is somewhat limited by the mobility restrictions of my lung condition, I decided to take a guided tour of the various monuments and government institutions on something called the Old Town Trolley. I opted for the "Monuments by Moonlight" tour, which promised "entertaining anecdotes and historical information along with a sprinkling of bewitching ghost stories of the spirits who haunt our nation’s capitol". While waiting to board the bus at Union Station to begin the the tour, I spotted this interesting juxtaposition between a replica of the Liberty Bell and one of Washington's many homeless persons:

The tour began just as the sun was sinking over the Capitol Dome, and our guide and bus driver Dave was a humorous fellow who spun some highly entertaining stories as we drove around. The bus stopped at a couple of specific destinations for a few minutes to let the 20-30 or so people on the bus get off to visit the site in more depth. Because I have difficulty walking distances, I stayed on the bus and chatted with Dave, and during our conversation, learned he was quite an interesting fellow; he worked as a tour guide in his spare time, and had a master's degree in history (with particular emphasis on the civil war period). As if this wasn't ambitious enough, he was also working on his doctorate at Cornell University -- not something you'd expect from your average bus driver.

Near the end of the tour, I got a special bonus: our last stop of the evening was to be a 45-minute break at the FDR memorial. Because there was no place available to park the bus, Dave let everyone off (except for myself) at curbside and said he'd be back to pick them up at the allotted time. He then proceeded to drive me around, alone on the bus, for my own personal private guided tour of spots that no one else got to see! I was delighted, and have to say that this is one occasion when being semi-disabled turned out to be something of an advantage!

The next day I whipped out my little blue "Buzzaround" travel scooter and spent a couple of hours cruising through the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. I have always wanted to go here, and was thrilled to see such historic artifacts as the Apollo space capsule, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers first airplane, and many more.

All in all, this has been a fantastic extension to what started out to be a more or less "ordinary" vacation. I could never have imagined making this trip a year ago, much less doing it by myself. My lung disease had me thinking I would be drearily housebound, with nothing to look forward to but the spectre of a lung transplant which may or may not be successful. Most of you take for granted your ability to drive from town to town, stay in motels, and sight-see, but the fact that my health has improved enough to allow me to do this has been a phenomenal accomplishment for me. From here I have about another week or so to meander casually through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia and Mississippi before returning home to Texas, and I'm having the time of my life.


  • At 8/28/2006 10:57:00 PM, Blogger Chandira said…

    Good for you!!! :-)

    I'm glad you're having such a great time.

    (Have been housebound myself today, but that was more due to a dodgy meal I ate last night, that unate itself a few hours later..) Blah.
    Living vicariously through your travels tonight though. :-) Thanks for making me smile.

  • At 8/29/2006 09:26:00 PM, Blogger bossann said…

    It's an adventure! I'm so glad that you're getting to see so much of America. Independence is a great feeling.


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