Wednesday, July 12, 2006

No friend to Pennsylvania

Spent 11 hours in the car the other day, driving the whole family home from Manchester, NH. I95 through NYC is too horrible to be contemplated, so we selected a more western route, which has more miles but takes less time. It was a difficult trip due to the fact that the night before I skipped dinner, but foolishly drank two martinis and a glass of wine and stayed up well past 1:00am. Even worse, we had to drive through Pennsylvania. I'm sure Pennsylvania is home to many fine people, but driving through it is no fun. Surely it's the largest state on the east coast? It always takes way more hours than you think it should to cross it. Pennsylvania has the topography of rucked-up bedclothes and it's a massive barrier between me and anywhere I want to go. I've driven through every state on the east coast, plus much of the Midwest and as far west as Colorado, and Pennsylvania must have the biggest road sign budget of any state in this country. The interstate chatter is just annoying:

BE ALERT

TARGETED ENFORCEMENT AREA

HEAVY TRUCK TRAFFIC

BRIDGE MAY BE ICY

And my favorite--SAFETY CORRIDOR: FINES DOUBLED NEXT 8 MILES


Not only are we bombarded with safety warnings, but the signs you want to see are curiously useless. For example, it was years before the Pennsylvania DOT saw fit to inform travelers that I76 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike are one and the same. Never mind that most maps label it as I76, that motorists don't realize that what they really want is the “Penna” Turnpike—that inane abbreviation drives me batty-- and will drive miles past their exits because of mislabeling. That particular issue has been rectified, but let's turn to the issue of mile markers. On Pennsylvania's interstates, there will always be signs telling you how many miles to Ptymtuning, or Minersville, or Cochranton, but you will never be informed how many miles to where you want to go, which is always the state line. Because the minute you cross the border into PA, your children start the siren-like whining: “Are we STILL in Pennsylvania?” Example: driving on I79, there's a junction with I80, and what does the sign say? I80 West, Sharon and I80 East, Clarion. Never mind that westbound travelers might have it in mind to travel beyond the town of Sharon, PA. Perhaps Sharon is a lovely town—I couldn't even find Clarion on my map—but somehow I think it's the kind of place where they hold a parade when they finally get a Starbucks. All I'm asking is in addition to listing the little towns on these signs, perhaps mention a major city somewhat beyond, like they do in New York, where you get on I90 just east of Buffalo and are immediately informed the number of miles to Albany and NYC. At least the NYS Thruway Authority understands that most travelers are not heading for Pendleton or Medina.


And now we come to the chief reason that Pennsylvania is such a pain in the ass to traverse by car: that the interstates are designed to detour travelers through as many small towns as possible. Imagine getting onto I64 from I81, only being forced to drive through downtown Staunton. That's how it is at practically every interchange in Pennsylvania. The idea is to bring money into the towns because the parade of shopping malls and fast food restaurants will entice travelers to stop. In reality, people just want to get where they're going, and they're not going to stop at some fucking shopping mall in Cranberry or Breezewood.


On this trip, driving down I81 in Pennsylvania, we got off just to switch drivers. What should have been a thirty second pause turned into a ten minute waste of time because we discovered that there was no way to get back onto the highway. Instead, we had to follow signs directing us “to” I81 South, which took us in an annoying and pointless loop through the business district of what I think was Carlisle, PA. And when we finally got back onto the interstate, we were in one of those “Safety Corridors” because we were in—ooooo—Carlisle, PA, and you can't have people driving faster than 55mph through such a busy metropolis.


My apologies to Pennsylvanians, but driving through your state sucks.



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