ratpag Investigates: Life Without Transit and the Perils of Car Ownership, Part 1

Entering the Heartland:  From New York to Chicago

Our journey begins with ratpag’s departure from public transportation as we know it.  I bade farewell to New York City and traveled beneath the Hudson River to New Jersey where ratpag’s New Jersey correspondent awaited.  We walked – the last time we’d walk so far for over 12 hours – to the parking spot where the automobile that we’d encapsulate ourselves awaited and sat our plump asses upon the upholstered seats.  I had my reservations.

We traveled to a local “Wawa” convenience store for gasoline and provisions.  I was shown the price of our fuel:  $65.87.  “Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed.  “At least that should get us about halfway, right?”  I’m ashamed to admit the magnitude of my miscalculation.

We finally set out on the road just after 8 a.m. Eastern daylight time and reached near-Amtra- top-speeds of 70 miles per hour just seconds after entering the highway, which is a limited access high-speed roadway for automobiles.  I was impressed at the speed.

Moments later we encountered our first obstructed roadway.  The two lanes had been reduced to one to allow for construction on the closed lane (a comparison that our readers may understand  is that this is similar to the closure of the express subway tracks – thereby forcing all subway traffic onto the local tracks – causing residual delays throughout the line).  We had encountered our first “traffic jam.”

photo1 (1)

We soon returned to normal highway speeds and proceeded across the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania – a boring, uninspiring stretch of motorway offering few glimpses of rail networks or public transportation systems.  We encountered local residents at a Dunkin Donuts in rural Pennsylvania and I questioned them about the thoroughness and efficiency of their local transit provider.  They expressed confusion regarding my inquiry.

“Surely you both didn’t drive an automobile just to get a cup of coffee?” I asked.  To my surprise they very audibly guffawed in response and insisted that “of course” they had driven and “how else” would they have gotten there.

“But why didn’t you take the subway – or light rail – or even bus?”

“The only subway we got here sells sammiches,” one replied.  I thanked the two local residents and made haste to the automobile to record my notes and gather my thoughts:

Both residents admitted to driving themselves to retrieve their coffees.  Each expressed amusement at suggestions that they could have traveled via transit.  Very concerned about the state of transit in central PA.

Our travels continued without notable sight or happening until we reached the first national park along our tour – Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.  I anticipated relief from the rail and transit desert that we had traversed – hoping for a transit refuge similar to our discussions of transit to other national parks – but was horrified at the sight upon arrival at the Visitor’s Center:


Not one but two interstate highways traversing high above protected parkland!  I was delirious with confusion – so much so that I retreated to the automobile for refuge.  “Please, let’s continue along.  I need to see transit to remember what it was like.”  And so we returned to the highway – Interstate 80/90 – one interstate was not enough! – and traveled due west towards Chicago.

We carried on, traveling over 14 hours including stops, and finally arrived in Chicago at approximately 9:30 Central daylight time.  The automobile was stored away for the night, lodging procured, and this sight greeted your weary editor from the hotel window:

L train

The L’s rumbles and screeches soothed my ears as I lay comatose, belly full of pizza, and drifted off to visions of subway cars and express commuter buses dancing in my head.  Day 1 was trying – eye-opening – but I fear that that was only the beginning of the horror of life without transit.

Transportation Cost Calculator & NYC MetroCard Comparison:

Fuel:  $157; Parking:  $39; Tolls:  $24 = Total:  $220 = 1.964 New York City monthly MetroCards.

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