Thursday, July 19, 2012

On and Off I-80

Reports of the Éclair’s demise were premature. The air-conditioning continues to put a strain on the engine, but with clean oil, a new exhaust system, and new front brake pads she made it through Pennsylvania and back on I-80 during the heat wave.

I hadn’t been planning on driving to Cleveland, but I picked up two hitchhikers who wanted to go there, and one of them was my nephew, so I took them. My nephew, Pat, is from Oregon, and it was the first time he’d ever been in Pennsylvania. His vision lent interest to tired old I-80. Pat had the same response that I had had to a certain sign I first saw more than thirty years ago, when my father drove me out east to college. “Scrotum?” he said, as we passed the sign for Scotrun.

He was also amused by someone's having plastered jolly red stickers on many of the deer-crossing signs, just over the deer’s nose, making all the deer in Pennsylvania into Rudolph. He was not amused by the mile markers, which are actually tenth-of-a-mile markers. “These are going to drive me crazy,” he said. Pennsylvania is approximately three hundred miles wide, so that’s three thousand tenth-of-a-mile markers, ticking by at the rate of ten a minute. It does seem excessive.  

On the drive back, I took my usual detour off I-80 at Milesburg and headed over the mountain to Route 45, where I stopped for the night at the Hotel Millheim. Sadly, it looks like my romance with the Millheim is over. I had been hoping to sit outside on the second-story porch with a beer and a book for a few hours at sunset, and although they had the beer and I had the book, the porch had been torn off. My room was a bit depressing, with a fake bird in a birdcage and windows that didn’t open onto the porch that was no longer there. But the worst thing was waking up in Millheim and remembering that there is no coffee for miles around.

I got on the road at seven, decaffeinated. After about ten miles, I came to a McDonald’s, but I wasn’t going to settle for McDonald’s; I held out for Lewisburg, where a friend had told me about a side-street café. There was a parking spot across from it, but the street sign, uncannily, said “No Parking Tuesday 7-9”: that was exactly my window of time in Lewisburg. I turned into a convenient parking lot just past the sign, and pulled into an empty spot. The Cherry Lane Café was lively, with latte and wifi, and I stayed there for about an hour and a half and bought an iced coffee to go.

When I returned to my car, a car had parked perpendicular to me, blocking me in. Taped on my car window was a note: “This is a PRIVATE PARKING LOT. If you want your car, call 532-0527." Sure enough, there was a sign stating clearly that this was a private lot and unauthorized cars would be towed at the owner’s expense; “my” spot even had a number stenciled on it. Oops. Caffeine deprivation can make you blind.

I called the number, mildly irritated that whoever left it hadn't included the area code. A woman answered. I said that I felt very stupid: I didn’t know how I could have missed the sign, but I was the person who had parked her car in the private lot, and I was extremely sorry. The woman sounded nice enough. She said she was involved with something and would be down as soon as she was free. I stood in the hot parking lot with my iced coffee for about thirty seconds before I saw a nice bench under a tree. I thought, How hospitable of Lewisburg to provide this shady bench right near the parking lot I’m trapped in. After a while, an elderly woman limped into view. I sprang up and apologized again, but she was not easily mollified. She didn't like that I wasn't sweating in my car while I waited. “The sign’s down right now, but it could have cost you a hundred dollars,” she grumbled.

Again, I said I was sorry. I offered her the ten-dollar bill in my pocket, but she didn't want it. She wanted to keep complaining. As she got into her car, she said, “You pay to park here, and it’s not very nice when someone takes your spot.” O.K., O.K., I got it already. I said I was sorry. What more did she want? "You better never park here again."

She moved her car, but instead of pulling into the spot I had vacated, she took a different spot. I wasn't even in her spot! My car, with its out-of-state license plates and dashboard moose and Buddha-on-a-spring, had made her day. Vigilante justice on the Susquehanna.

So I escaped the wrath of the self-appointed Sheriff of Lewisburg and got back on I-80, where it was business as usual: Road Work Ahead, Bridge May Be Icy, Expect Delays, Rudolph Crossing, Left Lane Closed Ahead, All Trucks Must Enter When Flashing, Scrotum, Expect Major Delays George Washington Bridge to NYC.

We had gotten out to Cleveland in nine hours, but it took me three days to get back home.