MD & HT's Excellent Wedding Adventure: Mid-Atlantic Driving

Last weekend, HT and I embarked upon a trip to our friend MJP's wedding in rural Maryland. No combination of plane, train, and cab could get us to the event so we decided to rent a car, an easy proposition in theory but deceptively hard in practice. First, HT schemed that we could take a chinatown bus to Baltimore on Saturday, walk a mile along a highway and below a scary underpass dragging our suitcases behind us to arrive at the rental car location. We would then drive a half hour to the wedding and return the car the following day, drag our suitcases back to the bus depot and return home. Not the most convenient plan, but one that would work. However it turns out all car rental locations in Baltimore are closed on Sunday except at the airport. G-d said Sunday was the day of rest and Hertz was not about to interfere with his divine plan. Then HT proposes we go to Newark and get a car there. I share my experience of being quoted one price on Travelocity and then showing up at Newark airport with an NYC driver's license and being told the rate was significantly higher because of the dangers of city-driving... even though I was driving into pastoral upstate new york and not the wilds of Brooklyn. HT checks, this is true, and we contemplate our next move. When all seems lost HT comes up with a brilliant idea: Greyhound roundtrip ($20) to Philadelphia. An 8 block walk to Enterprise. A 2 and a half hour drive to Maryland. The trip to Philly is without incident despite the long line for the bus. We are separated for most of the trip but eventually my seatmate (a lovely older lady who enjoys mysteries) gets off and we are reunited. When we made the reservation, HT had said:

i had originally picked a compact car, as opposed to an economy one, because i think i have an apocalyptic/cognitive aversion to the notion of an econo car. it's the same price.
I say to her now, "You just know we're going to get upgraded to a PT Cruiser." This has happened to everyone I know. Did the rental car agencies buy all of these monstrosities after the trend ended and no one renewed their leases? We arrive at the Enterprise and after a long wait are told it's our lucky day. Our compact car is going to be upgraded FOR FREE to a lovely... PT Cruiser. Or for $10 more we can get a compact SUV or a Prius. HT and I look at each other and attempt to decide what kind of douche we really are: The sanctimonious, "environmentally-friendly brand" kind OR the soccer mom in training. "We'll take the Prius." The man behind the counter says "It's a really cool car. Very different. I'll have to teach you how to start it. So you're in town for the night -- where are you going to be going?" On the reservation it says we have unlimited mileage east of the Mississippi but I get nervous and blurt: "We're not really sure... depending on what happens we might stick around town or maybe head down to Maryland." He adds Maryland to the contract and takes us to the car. It takes him about five minutes to teach HT the process. The key fob IS the key and get shoved in a special slot. Then you hit the round power button. Then the rectangular park indicator. Then you slide the "shift lever" backward to put the car in drive and of course, forward to put it in reverse. Then the lever reverts to the neutral position. The car is absolutely silent throughout. I feel like I am in the future and half expect the car to begin levitating above the ground.We begin wooshing through the streets and onto the highway and three things quickly become apparent. 1.) We are driving through a Photoshopped image. The sky is too blue, the clouds too fluffy, and all the grass too green. The day is almost too perfect to be believed. 2.) We don't know how to work the car. It takes five minutes navigating the submenus of the control panel to get the AC on, and another five to get music playing. (See upcoming essay "Information Overload: The Prius Dashboard as Failure of 21st Century Warfare.") 3.) Mid-Atlantic Drivers suck. Or more accurately, Mid-Atlantic driving sucks. The lanes are poorly marked, making every toll plaza an exercise in frustration as drivers skip between rows trying to find the EZPASS lane. There are many exits on the left, so there is no clear lane for speeding. The left lane is as slow as the right and many drivers stick to the middle using cruise control, therefore becoming little roadblocks to the flow of traffic and sometimes two or three will end up abreast creating a temporary log jam. I began to feel like we were playing Frogger -- weaving in between hazards and finding the gaps that would get us to our goal. After passing by porn stores located across the street from Christian bookstores and huge sculptures of dragons, kings and castles, we arrived at the Forest Motel where we learned smoking rooms are not a thing of the past. To Be Continued...

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