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.
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.
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.
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.”