I’ve driven all over this country, from Maine to Florida, California to Virginia and most places in between. I’ve driven from the east coast to the west coast a handful of times at least, as both passenger and driver. In the process of doing that I have, on occasion, gotten lost. Or, temporarily misplaced. But isn’t that all part of the fun? 😉 How can you say you’ve ever really traveled if you’ve never actually been lost?
Many years ago, my employer at a photography place in Fayetteville, WV offered me a job in Hunter Mountain, NY for the winter. Since winter work was hard to come by at the time, I jumped on the opportunity. My friend and I drove up there together in my car. Two broke, country gals in a Volkswagen, driving from WV to NY with about 1lb of pot in the glove box. What could possibly go wrong?
My friend and I spent much of the time chatting and singing and talking about how increasingly ugly the scenery was as we got closer to metro areas. Obviously rest areas are a necessity and not far outside of New York City, we had to make use of one. Getting back onto the highway, we noticed a sign that said we could only merge into the truck lanes, not the car lanes. At the time, I didn’t really understand and figured since we were on the same road, it would go to the same place. However, since we were but a tiny VW surrounded on all sides by very tall, very long trucks, it was next to impossible for us to see our exit in time and sure enough, we missed it. We noticed we missed it right about the time our car whizzed by the exit. No bother, I remember thinking. We’ll just take the next exit and turn around.
There was no next exit that we saw worth taking. The next thing we knew, we were being herded by these large trucks into a lane to pay a toll to go across the George Washington Bridge. A five dollar toll to cross a bridge we didn’t even want to cross, and we knew we’d just have to pay another $5 to come back across it. Given that we were flat broke, this was a major issue. With increasing agitation, we searched for any way to turn around. Surely to god they would give people the opportunity not to pay the toll and not to cross the bridge, right? I mean, what if someone didn’t have the $5? The toll booth operator said we had to go. There was no turning around, so it was with great reluctance we handed over the last bit of cash we had and crossed the bridge to a city we did not want to go into.
The next couple of exits looked like they were highway exits, so we skipped them and continued until we saw more of a smaller, city street exit that we thought could just cross right over and go back the way we came. I can’t remember the name or number of the exit we chose, but we chose poorly. We came off the exit expecting to see a re-entrance directly across, but that just wasn’t the case. Confused, bewildered, and somewhat scared we drove slowly through city streets that were oddly quiet. Looking for any signs to put us back on the interstate going the opposite direction, we commented on how dark and quiet it was even though it was NYC. Our search efforts were in vain. The road we were on just seemed to end as we found ourselves sitting under an overpass. In front of us was a scene directly out of any number of movies: fires burning in large metal containers, men and women huddled over them covered in dirty coats, blankets, scarves and hats. On the ground nearby, what appeared to be people were curled up in boxes, sleeping bags, and blankets. We stopped. We stared. Our brains tried to register this scene in front of us and within moments, the people there were moving toward our car en masse.
Two broke country gals in a VW backed their asses up fast and turned around, in our minds flashed scenes of violence and mayhem thanks to so many movies that portray the underbelly of Harlem as a place that an ignorant non-city gal did NOT want to be in the middle of the night, broke, lost, and with drugs in their possession. I remember my friend yelling, “Oh my god, go go go go!!” at me, even though I had no idea where the fuck I was supposed to go. We had missed our exit, accidentally crossed into NYC, and then picked the absolutely wrong exit to turn around on. So I just drove. Fast. Scared shitless out of fear driven by ignorance laced with some common sense and coupled with sheer confusion. But somehow, there it was… a sign toward the road we wanted to be on and the direction we wanted to go. I screamed that little VW up that ramp as fast as I could and we crossed back over the GW bridge, slapping down another $5 in fines… I mean tolls… to get out of what we were sure was the outer ring of hell. We had to count out nickels and dimes to pay that second toll, but it was worth it to get as far away as we could.
The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful, save for getting pulled over by the cops for speeding (with illicit substances in the car) and being unable to pay any additional tolls the rest of the trip. Fortunately, the toll booths take IOUs. Seriously. They do.