Big Apple, Little Car

by Alan J. Claffie

This probably will go down as one of my top ten worst ideas ever.

I was visiting Ma and Pa in beautiful downtown Dalton, Massachusetts for a long weekend. I showed up Friday night and planned to leave Tuesday morning. It was a good visit, with some quality family time and a nice bonus of a few romps up and down Mount Greylock in our fine Mazdaspeed Miata.

On Monday, I saw someone selling a hard boot cover for older Miatas on one of the Facebook buy/sell groups. I have no use for these myself, but others do. After mocking the guy who posted it for having poor grammar in his ad, I noticed that Zoli, one of the Goober Crew, expressed an interest in the boot cover. He asked about shipping options to get it from northern New Jersey.

I buzzed Zoli and said that there was a pretty good chance that I could alter my route home so I could pick up the part, saving the seller from having to package it up for safe shipping and saving Zoli from having to pay shipping costs. Next thing you know, I'm talking to the seller and making arrangements to pick it up.

We were both flexible about pick-up times. He is retired, and I wasn't going to be in a hurry to get home since I planned on leaving Dalton earlyish in the morning. The only requirement on my part was that I didn't want to traverse any toll roads, since I am philosophically opposed to pay for the use of roads that should be paid for through gas taxes. But that's not today's debate.

The seller sent me his address, and I looked to see if I could get there without paying tolls. It was possible, with a route that involved taking the Taconic State Parkway far further south than I usually do. The route would take me very close to New York City.

This elicited a new question: can one actually drive into the city itself without using toll roads?

A quick search's results hinted that such a thing wasn't possible. But Google Maps, set to avoid toll roads, showed that not only could it be done, but it wouldn't even involve a particularly convoluted route. It was very possible.

Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to post a picture from deep inside the city with the caption "I'm lost!" and chuckle to myself at my cleverness.

Me being in Gotham is very unlikely. I don't visit the city regularly; I've only been there once and it was in the spring of 2001. I'm not really a big city guy. I dread having to drive into Washington DC. I don't care to be in heavy traffic. I would just as soon not be in a situation where I might get lost, or have to deal with (or be the cause of) rude, impatient drivers.

Filled with the sense of irony, I set out. Tuesday morning. I had a handful of NYC landmarks - Times Square, Freedom Tower, and Yankee Stadium - pre-programmed into Google Maps on my phone, as well as the address of the guy selling that boot cover. The goal was to get into the city, see if I could tolerate being in the city long enough to get a photo or two at various locations, and get out before getting arrested, murdered, or worse.

The anticipation was building as I traveled on unchartered waters on the southern end of the Taconic. Would the city be kind to someone who didn't really know where he was going or what he was going to do when he got there, driving a small turbocharged roadster with a manual transmission? I figured that traffic shouldn't be that bad, being a Tuesday mid-morning. There probably wouldn't be as much pedestrian/tourist traffic, either. But what about trucks in tight confines? Are squeegee bums still plying their trade at various intersections?

It was fairly late in the route before I saw the first sight of tall buildings. That was cool: for a non-city person, I do nerd out over city skylines, though usually from a distance. That I was practically in the city before really being able to see the city was a little disappointing. On the other hand, traffic wasn't too bad, and I hadn't paid any tolls.

Driving into the guts of the city was also a letdown, because it didn't really happen. On the way to Times Square, I skirted the guts of the city by sticking to 12th Street along the Hudson River. I suppose if I had been feeling adventurous, I could have headed in sooner than my prescribed turn and gotten close to Central Park, but that's something I didn't really think of until after I left.

I headed into the city at West 50th Street and that's where the adventure began. I don't know which was worse: the double-parked trucks or the drivers who honked their horns after giving those in front a generous 0.005 seconds to get going after each traffic light turned green. Pedestrians, on the other hand, were well-behaved.

After a few more turns, I was more or less face to face with Times Square. Sitting at a red light before making a right turn - which I was pretty much forced to make since there was a police barricade in front of me - this looked like the best photo opportunity that I'd get. I tried to get my tired phone to switch from navigation to the camera, and it balked. I kept trying, but the light turned green before I had a camera. So off I went to attempt a rerun. I managed this, even without navigation, and the camera finally sprang into action as I got to the police barricade a second time. I got my picture and quickly decided that I had enough of the city for, well, ever. Time to go!

I tried to fire up navigation and nothing happened. Then the phone popped up a message saying that it was shutting down various apps because it was overheating. Shutting down? I'm trapped on an island surrounded by toll bridges and tunnels which must be avoided! I could conceivably be trapped there forever.

As I motored straight as possible down 9th Avenue while the phone decided to restart. Dodging double-parkers and taxi cabs, I hoped I wasn't driving into a place I couldn't drive out of. I did see the Freedom Tower, but it seemed to be quite a distance away and this cemented my decision to just get out of the city before this turned into an all-day boondoggle. The phone sprang into life and navigation fired up just in time to tell me to make a right turn towards the Holland Tunnel and freedom! Or, in this case, New Jersey.

My only regret was not having a separate camera. The phone is adequate for capturing images, but when asking the same device to do camera work as well as navigation, and said device isn't exactly instantly responsive to requests to switch programs, it wasn't great in either capacity.

While there is unfinished business in the city, I doubt I'll make a second trip down the road. While this trip wasn't bad, it wasn't that great either. Traffic, both in volume and demeanor, was not pleasant to be around. Photos are hard to take from even a stopped car, since so much of being in New York can't be captured in a single frame. Would that be better done with a separate camera, perhaps in Lower Manhattan where the bigger, better skyscrapers are? Perhaps, but I'm not that interested in finding out.

Send Feedback Via Email

Return to Front Page