Across the Country in a Two-Man Car


When I decided to leave The New York Times for a new career as a college professor in my hometown of Texas, I realized we had to take our cars around the country, including my 2008 Smart rattle.

I love the bulky thing that made a deposit as soon as possible back in 2007, when Smart announced it was coming to the US market, and even wrote about the experience of buying and owning For The Times’ Wheels blog.

But it feels its age – remember, blogs are from their time. The journey seems to get more difficult over time, and complaints can mean some expensive time in the shop. There was little temptation to reenact that scene from the movie “Stripes” when Harold Ramis and Bill Murray drove away after leaving their car in a loading zone. “You can’t park here!” a man shouts. “We don’t park it,” Murray says. “We’re quitting.”

But I feel my age too, so who am I to judge? Also, I only paid $14,000 for a new one and it goes somewhere between 35 and 45 miles per gallon and parking is magical. People smile when they see this. Sometimes they also point and laugh, but that’s just a mistake of etiquette.

My wife Jeanne and I decided to do this trip together. We are from Texas; We drive. When I lent the car to my daughter earlier, it had been to the Lone Star State; Late one night on that ride at a Waffle House between Nashville and Memphis, a waiter at a cigarette break shouted, “You didn’t drive that car from New Jersey!” I provided it and assured that I would drive another 800 miles to reach my destination the next day. He nodded and smiled.

This was a solo trip. It would be more of a test – for our comfort in a few long days and possibly our marriage. But we’ve been through a lot since we met a week before classes started at the University of Texas in 1975. We would take our time. We would make it work.

We set off from New Jersey with some sensitive items and clothing that we didn’t trust the shippers from our old house piled almost on the roof of the two-seater (it can hold a staggering amount). and tirelessly reached Ohio.

Driving through the Pennsylvania wild mountains on Interstate 80, I felt the familiar shudder as crosswinds tried to pull me out of my lane, and the exhilarating feeling of the occasional rough road piece was transmitted directly to my spine. We do not play music while driving; We talk and listen to the whine of the sewing machine-sized motor as we push along the highway lane at 75 miles per hour. My right leg soon started to complain because there was no cruise control. We arrived in Cleveland at 10 am and made a quick hotel reservation.

Credit…John Schwartz

The next day’s drive brought us to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. This was Culver’s country – I love the country’s regional fast food places and Jeanne enjoyed a ButterBurger and their good fries. We needed a break and a walk, St. We parked next to the St. Louis Gateway Arch and walked under the magnificent monument to the sculpture park in the city centre.

But when I stopped to get gas that evening, I realized I had made a huge mistake: I left the gas cap on the car at a gas station. Frankly, 21 years in New Jersey, where drivers are not legally allowed to pump their own gas, had fooled me. And while auto parts stores sell replacement gas caps, none of the ones I searched along our route had one to fit our odd little car. The Smart has a cap that closes the filler pipe, so it just wouldn’t be open to the world. In fact, it didn’t even affect the mileage much. The hat would have to wait.

To make a few miles towards Tulsa, St. We decided to pass by Louis. st. After I left St. Louis, I started looking for hotels on Interstate 44, thinking we’d stop by at Rolla again. a Missouri town I liked from my previous visit. It was Memorial Day weekend and the hotel was difficult to find. After a long hunt and chatting with a clerk at a booked hotel, ended up with a tip about a still vacant place, I got a room. It had the perfect look of a melted iron on the carpet, but it had beds and we thankfully piled into them.

After a morning run, Jeanne and I missed the hotel’s breakfast to walk to the Waffle House next door. I have praised the wonders of the Waffle House to my wife for years; It has been the mainstay of my reporting trips in the South and a shelter from natural disasters. Also the walnut waffles are really good.

While I loved my egg dish and hash browns (smothered and covered, thanks) and that waffle, Jeanne wasn’t impressed. He was hoping for a fruit platter but none was offered; He found the gravy of the biscuit and gravy dish tasteless compared to the sausage-rich goodness he had hoped for.

The marriage will survive.

As we were leaving Rolla, a billboard invited us to visit the “Uranus Confectionery Factory”. (“The best candy comes from Uranus!”) As a former space correspondent, I wanted to drive by and let you know that the scientists did indeed pronounce the name of the planet “YOOR-un-us,” but the billboard said other family fun at the attraction. Including a weapon range and an ax throw, we continued on our way. Nobody likes an arrogant.

Back on the road, we stopped by to see Jeanne’s father and wife at their home near Tulsa, where we had a late lunch and continued on our way; I was hoping to cross the Texas border before stopping that night. Oklahoma had changed since I last lived: Medical marijuana had arrived in Sooner State with the casinos.

Billboards in every town advertised the local dispensary, and these days I found myself marveling at the fact that they smoke marijuana in Muskogee, despite Merle Haggard’s words. We found a hotel in Denison that night and were ready to head to Austin the next day. After taking a break for the addictive Czech pastries known as Kolaches, we made our way into town that night.

Our Odyssey didn’t teach me a great lesson, but it was fun. Shortly after we arrived, I took the Smart to see what it took to pass the inspection – that is, beyond the backup gas cap. The check engine light has been on for a while; The secondary air pump had blown out. The bill was shocking—even after cutting out some unnecessary elements like the weak rear wing hinges (the hatch slides down in cold weather and it hits my head), it came to $1,500. I thought I would be stupid enough to spend so much money to keep the car on the road, which has already driven nearly 80,000 miles. But I said yes, to keep driving for at least another year. Who can explain love?

A few weeks later, I visited the University of Texas campus to get some work done. Even in summer, parking is not easy to find. But between an SUV and a dumpster, I found a place where several regular-sized cars could fit. He walked in like a smart dream. I felt that old, warm sense of satisfaction. I thought this car would serve me well in my new home.


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