"For better or worse, we are what we learned as children." -- Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Notes from the American Road

     We just got home from a road trip -- three weeks from Philadelphia to Madison, WI, then back through Canada and upstate New York to a family gathering near Boston. We drove 2,500 miles in all. Oh ... my aching back!

     Aside from the reminder about my arthritic back and knees, here are a few things I noticed about being on the road in America.

     People are still speeding. There are stretches of road in Michigan where the speed limit is 75 mph. That seems awfully fast to me. But there are plenty of places around metropolitan areas and construction zones where the speed limit is 55 mph -- and people are still driving 75 mph!

     And when some people are driving 75 in a 55 zone -- or even 65 in a 55 zone -- they're passing on the right, cutting in and out of lanes, and generally making the road less safe for all of us. They're also using up a lot of gas, and spewing out more than their share of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from their car exhaust.

     Yes, there are a lot of construction zones. That Joe Biden bi-partisan infrastructure bill is hard at work everywhere we went -- widening roads, replacing bridges, repaving streets.

     We saw a few Teslas. But by far the majority of passenger cars are actually SUVs. Most people don't seem worried about the price -- or the consumption -- of gasoline. What does this mean for our environment?

     The trees are dying. It's hard to miss all the dead trees lining our highways. Is there some connection between and trees and SUVs? I don't know. But something is wrong.

     America grows a lot of corn.  As you drive through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, you see acres and acres of corn growing in the fields. I mean . . . a lot of corn! I'm told most of it is not for human consumption, but feed for the animals. There must be a lot of cows out there, a lot of beef being consumed by the American public.

     But ya' know, red meat's not all that good for you . . . or at least, too much red meat. Maybe we'd all be better off if we cut out the middle man, skipped the cow, and just ate the corn ourselves. (I admit my bias. I love corn, especially corn-on-the-cob in the summertime.)

     The worst traffic is . . . where? My sister-in-law who lives in a Boston suburb told us that Boston has the fourth worst traffic in the world. The world! My sister-in-law is prone to exaggeration. We drove through Boston twice, and both times sailed right through, no problem. I maintained that Chicago has the worst traffic in America. I drove through Chicago in 2021. It was miserable. And I vowed never to do it again. Instead, on our way to Wisconsin, we avoided Chicago by driving to Muskegon, MI, and taking the ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. It's a fun boat ride.

View of Milwaukee from Lake Michigan

     From my experience, after Chicago, it's Washington, DC that has the worst traffic. But anyway, I looked it up. According to U. S. News, Chicago does have the worst traffic in America. Boston has the second worst. Washington, DC, comes in 8th worst.

     The worst highway traffic we found outside of cities was on Route 287 in New Jersey, and surprisingly, Routes 402 and 401 going through southern Ontario from Port Huron, MI, to Toronto. The traffic is 80% trucks. Or seems like it. We felt like an ant among elephants. 

     It's expensive to travel! We like to stay in a Hampton Inn. It's the cheapest nice hotel, I like to say. On last year's trip to Wisconsin, the various Hampton Inns were averaging about $120 a night, plus taxes. On this trip, they averaged $190 a night, plus taxes. That's more than a 50% increase in one year. Our nightly hotel bill was typically over $200. (We stayed in an Airbnb for a week in Wisconsin; that wasn't cheap either.)

     The other thing is that for the extra money, you get less service. Admittedly, it's hard for hoteliers to get people to work for them. Still, the hotels were not as clean or as well-kept-up as they were last year. Our Hampton Inn in Muskegon had mildew in the shower, caulking that was falling apart, a refrigerator they had neglected to plug in, a scaled-back breakfast . . . and for that they charged $195 + tax for a total of $216.47. 

     In Canada I had booked the wrong day, and when I went to change the reservation I was told: You missed the cancellation deadline. They charged us the full amount for the extra night. So we stayed one night, but had to pay for two. Arghh!

     Was it all worth it? Of course. My credit-card bill will be astronomical. But I got to spend time with my daughter and granddaughter in Wisconsin. We saw old friends in Canada, another friend in Buffalo, and we got to attend the 80th birthday party of my brother-in-law in Boston. Travel is rewarding. It's an adventure. It can be fun. But it's not for the faint of heart.


RetirementCoffeeShop said...

Sounds like you had a great trip! I have noticed how high the hotels have gotten also. It seems a pretty steep price for one night! It seems we used to pay $100-120 for a room. Now it is hard to find one under $150.

Hjack said...

Very interesting. We live in Charleston, South Carolina. We are leaving for our annual fall journey- this time to Cajun Country and the surrounding areas. St Francisville, LA, Natchez, MS, Vicksburg, MS, and Oxford Mississippi.
We NEVER use the Interstate System. We travel the old “Blue Highways” our parents used before we had the “system.” Yes, much slower, but what is “time” when you are in your eighties? Can still drive 70mph in many areas but why? We are that old couple in the far right hand lane doing the speed limit.
Yes, things have gotten more expensive but when you ask the “locals” when getting gas or at a B&B where is the best place to stay or eat or visit, we have never been led wrong.

ApacheDug said...

Hey Tom, it's nice to see a fresh post here and glad to hear you enjoyed your time with family and such. And as always, an informative read--I'm honestly shocked at those motel prices! I've been doing a little traveling this past summer with an old high school classmate, but they've just been day-length road trips, no overnight stays. We were talking about doing 2-3 day trips to places like Gettysburg, but I'll have to show her this post and ask if she's aware of the costs.

Bobi said...

We drove that 402/401 Canadian route last year and, like you, were absolutely shocked at the amount of traffic. Silly us thought, rural area, no traffic! Bahaha! We actually drove the opposite direction and spent over an hour trying to get back into the US in the one lonely car lane while literally hundreds of trucks whizzed by in their multiple lanes.

As for hotels, good deals still exist if you're not brand conscious. I scour reviews on TripAdvisor (looking for key words like 'clean' and 'no bedbugs' and then look for the best price. I agree prices have skyrocketed and I feel your pain at your booking mistake. It's hard to believe that they wouldn't have offered some kind of compensation even if it was your mistake. Shame on them!

Glad you had a good time. I enjoyed your report.

Tabor said...

Spending time with loved once is essential and if you can find the money, worth it. I think corn may be grown for corn syrup with is put in most pre-processed foods.

Anvilcloud said...

Did you drive across southern Ontario to Michigan? Where did you cross, coming and going?

Ed said...

Sounds like a great trip and similar to one I have taken in the past so I can sympathize with most of it. I do have to take issue a bit with your statements about corn. Most corn these days goes to ethanol added to our fuel, not feeding animals as stated though they are certainly close behind. And many people tend to get lost in assuming that the corn produces red meat. It does, but it also produces milk and a wide array of dairy products and a lot of by products of the ethanol industry go towards creating pork and chicken products too. There is also its use as a sweetener, oil, starch and alcohol in thousands of other products.

The corn we humans eat is much different than the corn farmers grow by the billions of bushels. I grew up on a farm that grew corn that back then, went mostly to cattle feed. Had we grown sweet corn, the kind you buy from grocery stores on the ear, we could have supplied everyone in a 50 mile radius with all the corn they could eat for at least three weeks a year. What they would eat for the other 49 weeks is anybody's guess.

Tom said...

AC -- We crossed at Port Huron, drove to Toronto ... with all the trucks. Tabor and Ed -- You're right, thanks for the reminder. I bet I consume a lot of corn in its other forms as well.

gigi-hawaii said...

I rarely eat corn. What am I missing? But there are cornfields on my island of Oahu. I saw them on my way to the north shore in August. I admire that you can drive across state lines via car. Much better and cheaper than flying.

DJan said...

It sounds like it was expensive but worthwhile. I have become a homebody and don't enjoy traveling much anymore.

Linda Myers said...

Sounds like it was a great trip in spite of traffic and hotel costs. I love road trips but my back isn't crazy about it these days.

Wisewebwoman said...

I loved road trips but yours gave me a bit of a nightmare. Wowser on the cost of hotels and a reminder of my travelling that vast 401 every day for years when I worked in downtown Toronto.

I am glad that you have a lovely time with your daughter, though. It was all worthwhile.


Kay said...

I have to say Chicago traffic is not for the faint of heart, especially at rush hour. However... Hawaii might be even worse. There's a LOT to see and experience in Chicago though and I did enjoy going to the museums there. I'm glad you made it safely home although with a lighter wallet.

Tabor said...

Yes, travel is essential as we age and I fear will do less. It is expensive, but what else can you spend money on, other than food?

Beth said...

Boston traffic depends on where you are and what time.
We moved west of the city because there are many routes to the city.
If youre not going at rush hours there is no traffic. Easy peasy
If you live in a suburb south or north of the city, it can be terrible traffic especially at rush hour and even other times. Southeast expressway, 128/95 can be brutal.
Luckily neither of us commutes to Boston.

Anonymous said...

Anotherpossibility for travel from Phily to WI would be Amtrak. You could also travel to Toronto & through some of upstate NY by train. Might've taken longer but rail travel is energy efficient. Unfortunately the GOP's been trying to kill Amtrak for years & has been fairly successful in worsening the food available en route & preventing the planned replacement of some of the older trainsets. Still, rail travel can take people through some of the most beautiful & dramatic landscapes in the US --and if you're not driving you have more time to look & possibly will be spared the back aches. A roomette or larger on a sleeper isn't inexpensive either & some of the sleepers aren't in the shape they should be again due to budget cuts.

you can meet some interesting people too.

Barbara Torris said...

There truly is nothing to renew or enthusiasm for life in general like good road trip. Lucky you!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Wow what a long car trip. We have not done any in quite some time. Our 401 in Ontario is known for issues as many trucks use it to transport goods between our countries. We have to use it for east Weat travel. We take it to go to Stratford to see plays. And yes prices on everything even cars are way up . We pay way more and then we are told our spending is causing inflation. Not sure how that is true.

Marian @ the Retired Alchemist said...

I had to smile when I read this post. We just got back from a long trip as well. And while my take-a-ways were a little different than yours, I can certainly relate to most of the ones you identified, particularly the speeding, construction and high cost of travel. And just for the record... I have to agree with you SIL. After Pisa, Boston is one of the worst cities to drive in.

Diane Stringam Tolley said...

Courage, mom ami!

Kay said...

Well... we used to go even cheaper with Motel 6. Hampton Inn would be quite a step above for us. LOL