Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Home again, bliggety-blog

We are home.
Home from two days down, six dazzling days of Disney, and two grueling, crueling, utterly de-fueling days back.
Home, and mighty relieved to be. More convinced than ever that many Americans are completely batshit insane; I've never been so relieved to be on native soil in my life. Details on that to follow in a day or two.

I was going to do a day-by-day blog, but what passes for reflection in my befuddled and muddled mind tells me that would look too much like a standard Disney trip report. You want to see those, check out the Disboards. We're not standard people and we didn't have a standard trip. I pride myself on a different take...and that's what you'll get, dear readers.

All that said, the beginning is probably the most logical place to start.

We left on time at 3:00 in the morning last Monday--Thanksgiving here in Canada. Even knowing that Andrea would be moving in later that day, it was unbelieveably hard to pull out of the driveway and leave our puppies behind. We have never left them alone at that hour and both of them had been on edge for days already. Their free-floating stress transferred to us (well, if I'm being honest, mostly me) and never really went away until we got home at 1:30 this afternoon.


Never. Don't even use them as a rough guideline, not on trips of any duration, because they're not just wrong, they are completely out to lunch. And forget about stopping for lunch.
For example: Bing suggests the drive from our door to Charlotte, NC is 11 hrs, 27 minutes. Google, using almost exactly the same route, says it's 12:54. I noted the discrepancy and figured the real time was somewhere between the two.
As I said, we left here at three in the morning. Care to guess what time we hit the Charlotte Northlake Drury Inn? Six o'clock, that's when. Yeah, there were some stops in there, totalling maybe a little over an hour. (That includes the border, which took about 30 seconds.) Call it 90 minutes, just in case. That means our driving time was 13:30.
Which makes the Google estimation at least kind of in the ballpark...until you consider that the first two hours of the drive were on 400-series highways in Ontario. The posted speed limit is 100 km/hr--62 mph--and while police retain the theoretical right to pull you over if you're doing 101, the reality is that 100 km/hr is the de facto minimum speed limit. The flow of traffic, especially at four in the morning, tends to be running about 130 km/hr, a little over 80 mph. We probably made up half an hour or more in that span of time, putting Google more than an hour shy and Bing a ridiculous two and a half hours wrong.
The second day, both down and back, was supposed to be an easy 8 hour drive in the park. Both were over ten, with minimal stops to take on gas and offload Red Bull.Never had that stuff before. Hope never to again. For those who have never tried it, it tastes like sweetened Buckley's Mixture: carbonated cough syrup. But just like Buckley's, it works. I am beyond tired right now and still don't think I can sleep.

There is a great deal to admire about the American Interstate system. In most places, it's much more driver-friendly than our 400-series highways here in Onscario. A few examples:
  • reflectors delineate your lane as if it's a runway, almost everywhere on every Interstate we hit. They're exceptionally rare here
  • In many places, opposing lanes are spaced considerably wider apart on Interstates, sometimes completely out of sight. On the 401 especially, often a simple concrete divider separates you from them, or more to the point, doesn't separate you from their line of headlights. This is really hard on the eyes
  • REST AREAS. Sure, we have service centers, which are in the process of being rebuilt (and whoever decided to tear all of 'em down at once should have to live at least a year without access to a toilet, is my view). But American rest areas are so much nicer. Maybe they don't have restaurants and convenience stores...why would they, when both abound at nearly every exit? Instead, they have spotlessly maintained "rest rooms" (do you rest in them? I don't); dog walk areas; welcome centers; shaded glens that are actually suitable for picnicking...
  • Interstates are much better signed, in most cases. You'll get more than adequate, at times actually kind of excessive, notice about upcoming exits. You might get four miles notice that the lane you're in is going to piss right off on you.
Incidentally, this last leads into the observation that American drivers are generally much more polite. Let's say you have a left lane that's going to disappear over the next hill. Americans found out about that five minutes ago: they've all, without exception, moved over into the right lane, leaving that left lane completely empty. In Canada you'll get half as much notice, sometimes less, and while some drivers will move over, many will take advantage of that empty space and zoom up to the merge at Mach 12, then try and butt their way into the single lane at the last possible second.
We saw a few people doing five or eight miles over the posted speed limits, and one psychotic FedEx driver barreling through the Virginia mountains, pup trailer wagging furiously. Other than that, traffic was uniformly sedate and law-abiding.

There are a few things about Interstates I don't get:
  • WHAT'S WITH ALL THE ROADKILL? On this trip, we saw three dogs and a dog head, two cats, and a whole bunch of unidentifiable guts. Does anybody clear this stuff?
  • Speaking of roadkill, I've decided that every time an American soldier dies, a truck in America sheds part of a tire in sympathy. Because American soldiers are heroes, the shedded shred of tire must remain on the shoulder for eternity as a sort of rubber memorial. Hey, if you've got a better explanation for the literally thousands of rubber scraps lining American Interstates, I'd love to hear it.
  • Can we pick a speed limit and stick with it? Please? 55-70-60-65-55-40-60-70...make up your bloody mind. Or if you have to pick random numbers, can you maybe post them a little more frequently? You've signed everything else to a fare-thee-well.
And I gotta say while I'm bitching that I HATE HATE HATE prepaying for gas. I can maybe understand it after dark--I was a gas station attendant for a couple of years, after all--but almost every station requires it 24/7. In a land of convenience, this is inconvenient as all hell. I never figured out how to pre-guess how much a fill-up would cost. So I'd intentionally overestimate, pump the gas, and then have to go in again to get my change. Annoying. I'm told this is to prevent gas'n'go's. We have cameras here trained on your license plate to serve the same function. Over my two years, I had maybe four people try to get away with theft.


None of this has anything to do with design. Walt Disney World is so overwhelming, so mind-bogglingly huge, that to even approach the subject properly requires a full head of steam. If I'm going to walk Epcot again, even in my mind, I need some sleep first.

Until Tomorrowland, this is M. Mouse, signing off.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! I hope it was a great trip and met all your expectations (and then some).

Anonymous said...

Gotta agree with you on the interstate speed limits ... kind of annoying. Apparently it varies from state to state, county to county. Also, I like the idea of the triple digit interstates for metropolitan areas. ie I-190, I-290 etc ... even numbers lead you around, odd numbers lead you in.

The interstate system is by far the way to go ... i would gladly move to the US for this reason alone.

As an aside, on our trip to Myrtle Beach, Google said it would be 11.5 hours to Fredericksburg VA for our first stay over ... it took us 13.5, but that was my fault ... I landed in Washington DC at rush hour (I wasn't thinking) Oy!

- Mark (Speedvale)

Ken Breadner said...

Catelli, thank you--in some ways it blew expectations right out of the water. In some ways it was...a bit of a disappointment. More to come. Read on.
Mark--I planned everything out to avoid rush hours. We hit a MESS twenty miles from WDW--luckily, it was MUCH worse going eastbound, a 30-mile backup. We just had standard Toronto-type stop'n'go. Other than that, clear sailing.

Rocketstar said...

Google maps, I always assume it's an approximate.

Red Bull: perfect description, I hate that crap.

U.S. Highways, good to hear they are a cut above.

U.S. Drivers more polite, really? Interesting.

Road tires: In all my 40 years I must have seen thousands of them but I have yet to actually see one explode and come off, weird.

Welocme back, can't waitr to hear any Disney tips or "stay away's" you picked up

Ken Breadner said...

Rocket, you're going to have to wait one more day, sorry. Got a blog in draft but need to add pics--and the one after that is going to be thick with Disney must-dos and must-don'ts.