Never Again: NY roadtrip weekend to Rhode Island

Pounding the steering wheel in the face of grinding traffic, my fears of a miserable roadtrip weekend from NY came all too true. For five years of trying to avoid living in NY through massive commutes (Beijing, then Atlanta, finally, surrender), I successfully warded off spousal requests to drive out to see the city’s surroundings, especially in summer. I visit places in off-season or that never have a season.

We really wanted to go somewhere and Delta continued to disappoint to the last minute with mid and high awards, even Avios on AA let us down. A few times previosuly my wife had gone off to Boston on the Chinatown buses and always enjoyed herself, meaning she loved the lobster, so she stepped up a campaign for that. Boston hotels, though, were packed and I did not want 4 hour+ bus rides for some crustacean dates.

The Rhode Island of my imagination was quaint and quiet. Nearer to NY than Boston, with a good hotel deal at the Omni via Priceline, and some Hertz points to burn, I signed up for a two day rental departing from the Hertz Penn station location. Neither the bus or train options were particularly convenient or cheap. I worried about the return the moment I booked. We purposefully did not pick up the car until 7:18 pm. I wanted the buffer Sunday evening for the return. The agent said she would give me till Sunday 7:40 pm. The rate for an extra day would be nearly $200 with insurance.

The drive out Friday evening was a smooth 3 hours with light traffic as predicted by Google. The Omni is functional rather than attractive, only the central location in its favor. $28 dollars a day for parking is insulting. I dropped my wife off and hunted around for street parking. Meters are enforced 8 am – 6 pm Mon-Sat and many have tight time restrictions, which many people ignore.

Providence has the grittiness of Philadelphia, a historic core ringed by blue collar ethnic neighborhoods. Saturday lunch we went to Italian neighborhood Cranston for Mike’s Kitchen, which operates a few times a week out of the local VFW.  We sampled Rhode Island specialties snail salad and stuffed quahog clam along with traditional Italian dishes. Everyone knew each other except us infiltrators. Wife very happy.

Mike's Kitchen, Cranston, RI 01

Mike's Kitchen, Cranston, RI 03

Mike's Kitchen, Cranston, RI 02

We continued on to Newport. Probably a great place in the off-season. In-season it is like Key West with less caked booze on the sidewalks.

Sunday we took a spin around the Providence historic center and Brown University, headed south to Narragansett. Instead of beaches we saw a sea of parked cars and massive ferries sending the crowds to Block Island. Nice lunch at George’s of Galilee, acquired lobsters from a small stand and left at 2:30 for the return to NY. We were half an hour behind plan and in the interim traffic reports went from light to heavy.

Narragansett, RI

George's of Galilee, Narragansett, RI

The race was on, me to return the car by 7:40, my wife to get lobsters to the pot before the ice melted.

Then the agony of I-95, a jammed, vital artery only two lanes of traffic in each direction in large stretches, with few alternate routes. We crawled toward New Haven, traffic briefly alleviated as Connecticut plates left the road, them slammed with an influx of NY plates. At nearly 6 pm we reached the junction for CT-15 and took a desperation lunge onto it, jammed at first, too, then loosened up into a twisting sprint of cars desperate to reach NYC.

About 6:45 we crossed into Manhattan and I took a gamble to fill up the tank at the Hess on 45th St, not wanting to get dinged for refill charges. This was my first time driving in Manhattan so I drew on years of pedestrian fist-waving at NY drivers to employ every skill and trick to wind my way down to Penn Station and the Hertz drop-off.

7:30 we turned onto 34th St and could see the Hertz sign behind gridlock. We inched forward and finally brushed past a van within millimeters to pull in at 7:38. The same women as Friday was standing there smiling as if she had never left.

Victory!

My prize? Lugging bags of seafood over to Herald Square on on the PATH back to our apartment.

Crawling into bed, all I would say was “Never again. I will only leave Manhattan by wings and rails.”

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  • jay

    I drove 60 blocks through Manhattan the day Irene hit. Streets were deserted and frankly the Manhattan driving was the best part of the whole trip back to Boston.

  • Joel

    I’m unsure of how much lobster costs on the East Coast, but your post reminded me of this recent article.

    http://m.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2013/08/26/130826ta_talk_surowiecki

  • Julian

    Well, why never again? Sounds like a nice little adventure and different from your usual dash to far away places. And keeping the wife happy is important too 🙂

  • aadvantagegeek

    Wow, 2 minutes from $200 – what a triumph!!

  • @Julian – Delta will get my 40k to get me to Prince Edward Island again over this. Wife happy is indeed the key. Thank goodness Boston has such convenient Chinatown buses. I am still curious to see upper New England, though will be starting with a flight!

  • @Joel – thanks, my copy of that issue just arrived and wife and I will check it out on our flight to Myrtle Beach this weekend. Already scoped out seafood options for her!

  • JB

    I have had a car in NYC for the last 5 years (though I am in the process of selling it) so I have all kinds of traffic avoidance strategies. Cab it to Laguardia or subway to JFK to pick-up a rental car (airports are usually the cheapest rental car deals). You can use the new Hailo taxi hailing app to get taxis in the outer boroughs. Chase URs transfer to Amtrack which allows pretty cheap redemptions on North East Corridor trains – then rent a car when you get there. Leave on Friday early from work – 1:30 is the sweet spot OR early Saturday morning. Return to the city by 4pm Sunday or after 9pm – one caveat- don’t try a late Sunday return on a major travel weekend like Memorial/Labor day – the traffic can go on until 2am. Relayrides is a crowd-sourced rental car replacement similar to airbnb. They were recently banned in new york state BUT not in Jersey. There are plenty of cars in Hoboken for example – the cars are generally cheaper than rental car companies and you can just buy extra time if you are late.

  • progapanda

    “Never again. I will only leave Manhattan by wings and rails”

    Amen to that…unless the Water Taxi to LGA gets restarted or something.

  • Al

    Btw if you are looking for another road trip, just saw an article on someone racking up 7k of Hyatt pts for under $100 in old greenwich ct. http://therewardboss.com/2013/08/20/how-i-scored-7000-hyatt-points-for-98-staying-1-night-at-hyatt-old-greenwich-ct/

  • MidCentModFan

    With an Amex Platinum Card reservation, Hertz provides a 4-hour grace period. Hertz actually has a 29-minute grace period for all rentals. Technically, you had until 7:47pm to return the car without a penalty.

    Quick Summary of Grace Periods (http://hackmytrip.com/2013/05/car-rental-grace-periods-can-save-you-money/)

    Avis matches National by charging a half-day rate for each additional hour. Alamo charges a slightly lower hourly rate of one-third the daily rate, and Enterprise charges one-quarter the daily rate. Hertz actually has a 29-minute grace period for all rentals, as does Budget. Payless and Fox offer 59-minute grace periods but are among the more serious discounters; I sometimes only find them at off-airport locations.

  • Rob

    CT-15 to Henry Hudson parkway toll. It’s an extra 5 bucks but on a bad day can save you 30 mins. I-95 from Conn in a Sunday is torturous.

  • @JB – thanks for all the great suggestions. I have heard of Relayrides but not yet tried them. In my last minute rental the airports were just as expensive and the Providence rental locations convenient to downtown and their hours made it a bit of a hassle to go that route, though I endorse that approach for many trips. It occurred to me that I have riden Amtrak, lots of NJT, but never Amtrak.

    @Al – interesting story, only by rail will I try it!

    @MidCentModFan – thanks for all the detail on grace perdiods. I did use my Amex Platinum but since the rental was using points I figured it likely that Amex would not pick up the 4 hour grace period, like how it typically invalidates credit card CDW to use points/free days. At least I did not want to risk it with that amount at stake.

    @Rob – fortunately I ended up that way by accident. I had meant to have Google Maps navigate with the “avoid tolls” setting but I missed it when I reloaded the route. I hate paying tolls and that one toll will trip Hertz’s toll charges of $4.95/day as well for both days, but it probably did save me the precious minutes I needed.

    Incidentally my rental came with Hertz’s GPS which never updated times for traffic conditions.

  • LarryInNYC

    In your location, my first choice would be a local Enterprise location with pick-up service. If you have to rent from a specific company, I’d go to Newark. I used to travel from Brooklyn to Newark to rent cars just due to price.
    .
    As far as destination, if you want a nice New Englandy vacation that really IS closer to New York than Boston, let me recommend the shoreline east of New Haven (Branford, Guildford, Stony Point, Madison). You won’t find a lot (any) large hotels but it’s an easy drive, very beautiful, and has good eating choices.

  • Yea . . . next time, better to Amtrak it to Boston.

  • Jen

    Wow, as a RI native you did pretty well! Mike’s Kitchen is awesome and a bit of a local secret. 🙂

  • @Jen – it was the highlight, my wife particularly loved the snail salad. We swear by roadfood.com to find places like that. Any secret RI spots you are willing to share?

  • Shannon

    But did you remember Mrs. Rapid Travel Chai say no more driving last time in Middle East? I was thinking that should apply thereafter, not just one time only 😉 So you live in Hoboken or JC? Hopefully one day you will have a meet up for readers like Ben. I am that far away. Also, don’t forget about Fuji Mt. Ok?

  • @Shannon – Mrs. RTC later qualified it that no more driving overseas, she is still fine with US and Canada as long as it involves seafood. 🙂 I have gotten way behind but haven’t forgotten Fuji!

  • Muerl

    Sorry to be late to comment. Finally Catching up on RSS.

    If by “Northern New England” you mean Portland or Southern Maine, its actually a pretty good deal on UR points with Amtrak. If you are content to take the regional from NYC and not the Acela, Its 4000 points each way within the North East Region.

    What that means is you can take the regional train from NYC, and then connect in Boston to the Downeaster and take it all the way to Portland or Brunswick. One Caveat, this MUST be booked over the phone, the amtrak award booking engine on the internet does not work with connection.

    You could rent the car there if you wanted to venture deeper into Maine and if you do I can pass advice 😉

    I did it for my little brother all the way from PHL to Portland and I believe that 4000 points will get you all the way from DC to Brunswick .

  • @Muerl – thanks for the detailed tips, I will incorporate that into future plans. Maine looks to have a great mix of scenery (for me) and seafood (for her) so I do look to explore it and will seek your tips.