Now that Memorial Day has passed, we've entered the part of the year that the media likes to call the "unofficial start of summer." With our recent heat wave, I think it's safe to drop the "unofficial" moniker, regardless of what the calendar says. Heat and humidity don't wait around for the summer solstice. It's already here.
Summer, of course, is roadtrip season, and Pavement Ends is all about roadtrips. Here are some helpful* tips, tricks, and observations to remember before you hit the road. (Note: I might define "helpful" different than you do.)
1. The more you drive to your destination, the greater your chances of experiencing a freak disaster that the local newspaper will describe as "unprecedented" and "once in a lifetime." My suggestion: Don't buy any newspapers while on vacation.
2. On a rural road with very little traffic, you can expect to meet an oncoming car at every one-lane bridge, even if no other cars are on the road for miles. You might as well just plan on stopping as soon as you see a "ONE LANE BRIDGE" sign.
3. If you see a "PHOTO ENFORCED" sign at a stoplight, you can bet that the yellow light has been deliberately shortened to increase the number of tickets that can be issued for red-light running. If you don't stop as soon as the light turns yellow, you'll get a ticket. If you do stop, you'll get rear-ended. Pick your poison.
4. If you see an excellent parking spot that isn't occupied, it's probably too good to be true. Make sure it isn't a handicapped parking spot with faded paint and no sign.
5. In Ohio, police can issue speeding tickets even if they don't actually measure your speed. They only need to "estimate" that you are traveling faster than the speed limit and the ticket will be upheld in court. Travel too close to the speed limit and you'll risk getting a ticket thanks to the margin for error in eyeballing speeds. Travel too slowly and you'll get a ticket for obstructing traffic. Or rear-ended. Pick your poison.
5. If a motel has gone to the trouble of posting large signs stating that prostitution is illegal and that suspected patrons will be expelled without refund, it's probably a good idea to leave right away and search for slightly more upscale accommodations. (I'm looking at you, Florida.)
6. If a motel requires guests to sign an affidavit stating that they are non-smokers who have never smoked a cigarette during their entire life, get the heck out of there. Regardless of whether you smoke or not, this is a major red flag. (I'm looking at you, Buena Vista, Colorado) (No, I'm not kidding)
7. Just because a motel has a neon "VACANCY" sign doesn't mean that it actually has any vacancies. Maybe the owner is too lazy to change the sign to "NO VACANCY", or simply enjoys being rude to people who stop and foolishly try to ask for a room. (See Mount Ida, Arkansas)
8. When looking for a restaurant in a tourist town, try to figure out which places are the most popular with the locals, as these are often the best choices. Counting the number of in-state license plates in the parking lot can be a good clue. However, if you stand out like an obvious tourist, be sure to check your bill carefully to make sure you aren't being overcharged, since out-of-towners make such excellent rubes. (Another classic memory of Buena Vista, Colorado).
9. For penny-pinchers that plan to visit many national parks, the "America the Beautiful" Annual Pass can be a good deal. At a cost of $80, it covers entrance fees to national parks, national forest recreation areas, national wildlife refuges, and more. If you play your cards right, you can use it for multiple roadtrips during the year. However, read the fine print carefully. Like the IRS tax code, the rules and regulations are hideously complicated.
10. In a major work zone on a busy interstate, it's safe to assume that at least one lane will be closed, often with little warning. Also, the exit you intend to use has been "temporarily" closed by construction for the next 5 years. (Fun times in Cincinnati, Ohio)
11. Many local governments across the country believe that street signs are optional. If, by some chance, they do post signs at intersections, there's no guarantee that the street names or numbers will match your GPS, map, or driving directions.
12. When visiting other cities, you may encounter strange highway designs built by crazy engineers. Diverging diamond interchanges, jughandle intersections, and flashing yellow left-turn signals are some of the fun things that await you. If you aren't sure how to proceed, don't panic. The locals probably haven't figured them out, either, so you'll fit right in.
13. Scientists have determined that, yes, Kansas is actually flatter than a pancake. To save time, some people prefer to drive across I-70 at night, but they miss important landmarks such as... umm, the uh, well, the World's Largest Prairie Dog. Or something.
14. If you plan ahead and make reservations at a hotel, you will underestimate the amount of time it takes to drive there. Stuck in traffic and way behind schedule, you will wish that you could just crash at the nearest motel and forget the reservations. However, if you don't make reservations, you will discover that all of the motels within 150 miles are booked solid because of some major event like the National Hog-Calling Championship or whatever. Pick your poison.
15. The more expensive the hotel, the fewer services it provides. I've heard rumors that some extremely glitzy hotels require guests to pay for their own toilet flushes. Rich people can afford extra fees, and the hotels know it. Your best bet is a mid-range hotel that is expensive enough to be cockroach-free, but not so expensive that it charges for Internet access and elevator passes.
16. The next rest area, which you desperately need to visit, is closed for renovations. Bank on it.
17. Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is a royal gouge. I have proof.
18. When the guy in the car next to you is playing with his McNuggets while stopped at a red light, try not to stare. This is how road rage incidents begin. (As seen in Colorado Springs, Colorado).
19. Speaking of road rage, if (or when) you witness some idiot driver pulling a dangerous stunt, there's no need to get mad and risk a confrontation. Instead, just quietly shoot a video of their bad driving and post it to YouTube when you get back home. You can embarrass the little S-O-B in front of the whole world without the danger of getting shot.
20. Welcome centers can be great places to pick up brochures and other swag when entering a new state. When visiting Georgia, the home of Coca-Cola, the visitor center staff will be very insistent that you take and enjoy their free sample of Coke. Don't try to argue.
21. Despite all of the things I've said about Colorado, it's a very lovely state. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is worth the drive by itself.