The first leg of my Ann Arbor to Houston to Vegas to Ann Arbor adventure was as taxing as I could ever hope. Here’s a short summary, in logbook format.
0 miles: There’s a gentle rain while I load up our long-term 2006 VW Passat 2.0T test car. Its gas tank is full, but after just finishing up an eight-hour work day, mine most definitely is not. Am I ready for 1300 miles of driving? Hey, why not? Erin, my co-pilot for this first leg, arrives, and we hit the road.
32 miles: Passing through Jackson, MI, we hit our first construction-induced slow-up, and it’s pouring. Both will be themes for the next 23 hours, as we hit dozens of construction zones and the skies continue to fall until somewhere in the middle of Arkansas.
105 miles: With a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich digesting in my stomach, my keen eyes get lazy. An Indiana State Trooper pulls alongside the VeeDub, then cuts in behind me, lights blazing. Where the hell did he come from? He must have carved a cave into an overpass or something. From what I know of Indiana, he would have had plenty of time to do so. The cop gives me no chance to give my puppy dog-like “I’m sorry” look, but Erin gives me one. 82 in a 70. $140. Must be paid in the next 30 days.
243 miles:; We stop at a rest stop somewhere in Illinois, where I help Erin grab an apple juice from a vending machine. The label looks faded and I don’t trust it, but she drinks it. When we turn around, there’s a gray cat with a wide, furry face sitting on his back, legs sprawled, in the corner. Its dirty coat and sitting position make it look like a hobo. Erin wants to pet it and I tell her that the cat probably has rabies, which seems to change her mind. It’s still raining as we merge back onto the freeway.
448 miles: As we cross the border into Missouri, all I can think about is the World Series game we couldn’t hear on the radio because of the weather. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as it would become) my roommate Mike text messaged updates to me. Those stupid Cardinals. I turn one certain finger in the direction of St. Louis and head toward Arkansas.
519 miles: I’m not going to make it to Arkansas. I’m exhausted and that state scares me too much to be able to nap there. Erin told me from the beginning that she wouldn’t sleep unless I did. She was serious and that’s just awesome. What a gal. I only plan to sleep for a few hours, so it isn’t worth paying for a room. I park in a Best Western parking lot and grab my comforter from the trunk. Tecnically, we stopped for the night at a hotel. A few hours of napping turns into four, and I squeal the tires pulling away as the sun begins to rise.
844 miles: Passing by the first cotton fields I’ve ever seen, I’m inspired to hunt down “Cotton Fields” by Creedence Clearwater Revival in my iPod. The Harman/Kardon docking station I’m testing allows me to do so in record time. I sing along and tap the dashboard. Erin thinks I’m a complete loser, and she’s right.
1190 miles: Texas has a Sonic Burger approximately every 4.2 miles. In Ann Arbor, we have commercials on TV for the chain, but the closest on is somewhere in southern Indiana, hundreds of miles away. This huge tease has created a mystique for the not-so-impressive restaurant. My friends and I once vowed to stop at the first Sonic we saw on a Spring Break road trip to Florida. We finally spotted one in Sarasota, and we were served burgers by beautiful girls on roller skates. There were no girls at these Texas Sonics.
For every Sonic that Texas has, it has about 45,000 pickups. I understand how Ford sells 900,000 F-150s every year. Eighty percent must be in this state that cannot be messed with.
1306 miles: The Passat has averaged 28.3 miles per gallon for the trip. Not too impressive, in my mind, for an aerodynamic sedan with a small four-cylinder and a six-speed stick. It was comfortable, quiet, and smooth, and I don’t hate it so much anymore, despite the fact that it lacks character.
I settle in, shower, and head to Chick-fil-a in my friend Katie’s Mini Cooper. That’s a car with character. Just like my delicious chicken sandwich.