When is the last time you pulled an all-nighter? Do college students even do that anymore? Got to say that I never did even one all-nighter during my college years. I was an all right student, certainly not dean’s list. Maybe my theory about studying for tests might explain the kind of student I was. The theory: Find out how long the exam is, and then study the right material for that length of time. Brilliant?
Having flown to Virginia with Hannah, I am part of a team of family and friends supporting our daughter Molly, her hubby Tip, and their sons Owen and Max move north. Having taken a teaching job in Massachusetts for the fall, Molly with Tip is packing the contents of their two bedroom apartment into a 16 foot Penske truck. Tip and I will team up to drive the truck/rental van while the others will head north in the Rawding’s two small cars.
A serendipitous call from my college roommate Rich makes me realize that driving a truck through the Northeast has limitations that cars do not have. We cannot do parkways; so the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in MD is out; the Garden State Parkway in NJ is not happening; and the Merritt Parkway in CT is not making an appearance. We need a plan B.
Given those limitations, Tip and I decide to leave Thursday evening to avoid driving during the day on the first Friday of the summer tourist season. Never having done such a driving all-nighter, I figure what the hey? It does make sense. On this Thursday overnight, we should have fewer vehicles on the road and some fine smooth sailing.
At a little after 8P, we set out as Washington, DC evening rush hour draws to a close. Cruising around and through the DC Metro area, we think we are so smart. Almost immediately we realize, Not so fast, my friend. It seems that State Highway Departments find that summer overnights on the Interstates are the best times for road repairs. In Maryland, three lanes go into one and we have our first delay, this one for only 15 minutes.
After Tip drives the first two and a half hours through Maryland and Delaware, it’s time for me to take a shift. So just after crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge into Jersey around 1030P, we stop for gas, stretch, and take a leak; I am surprisingly wide awake and ready to hit the road again. No Willy Nelson, no radio, just the commitment to each other that we will talk throughout the night. We tackle, Where they might live? Who they will likely keep up with from Virginia? What jobs he might pursue? What old friends in the area they will connect with? Each question leads to meandering follow-ups. I fill him in about our wedding 42 years ago and life in Arizona.
My drive is uneventful, and that is a good thing. Since we cannot use our EZ pass (a transponder on the windshield that allows us to be charged electronically for passing through the tolls unimpeded), we must stop and pay at every cash toll booth.
As we approach New York City (NYC), we have the choice to go west on I-80 through New Jersey to take I-287 to cross the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee Bridge. Or…
Or we can take the NJ Turnpike to the George Washington Bridge (GWB) for the shortest route to Maine. I mean, how much traffic could be on Chris Christie’s Waterloo at one in the morning? We do make a fateful error by not listening to WCBS 880 radio with traffic on the eights.
Approaching big bad NYC, we switch drivers and Tip takes over the wheel at 1230A. Seeing electronic signs on the highway indicating 4 minutes for cars to cross the GWB on the lower level and 45 minutes for trucks to cross on the upper level, we just don’t believe that that could be true at this hour. It’s got to be a mistake, a dated warning. We approach the upper level and see the signs for the crazy $13 toll to cross the Hudson River. As Tip pulls up to the toll window to pay, the toll taker says $34. What!!!! It turns out $13 is only for cars. With no appeal process, Tip pays up and rolls on, so to speak.
That turns out to be the least of our worries over the next three miles – and 75 minutes! Within one hundred yards, our speed of 30 mph drops to 2 mph. And then we stop dead. In the center of three lanes we are in a cargo carrier cocoon with the high sides of the semis on either side bracketing our little truck/van. Only occasionally can we see the lights of the Manhattan skyscrapers to our right.
After 5 hours on the road with five more to go, we inch towards I-95 through Manhattan and into the Bronx. We just smile and know we are indeed trapped. Construction takes three lanes to one, not once but twice, and, at times, construction trucks cross in front of that one lane so everyone is again stopped cold.
At 215A the highway opens up before us; we sit church mouse quiet as if tons of traffic will reappear if we disturb the highway gods. Has somehow my voting for Obama gotten back to Chris Christie, and he has some sort of vendetta out for me? With the reputation of having the worst traffic on the East Coast, I-95 is our only choice; the Merritt Parkway is off limits to trucks. We know traffic jams are “first world” problems. It’s not being hungry, having no clean drinking water, or the horror of war in the “third world.” We are blessed; this has been a mild inconvenience at best.
We gas up near Bridgeport, CT and I take another shift at two forty-five in the very dark early morning. More construction lies ahead as three times three lanes go into one, but the traffic is light and we pass through at 30 to 45 mph. Conversation keeps our sleep-deprived bodies going, still some four hours from Maine.
We touch on religion. What was his Sunday School experience like? I share that Hannah and I have lately been going to a Unity service in Rollinsford, NH. I talk about the Unity belief that God lies within us all and how it draws on the wisdom of all great religions.
Passing into Hartford we see the first dark blue of sunrise. The sun seems to have traveled around the world since we left Virginia and we are still rocking. Surprisingly, the tension and stress of driving over the GWB in such heavy traffic has made me more alert and awake than I ever thought I would be at four in the morning.
Our driving shifts are getting shorter. Forty-five minutes for me, an hour for Tip. When I check my phone for a little too long, he says I need you to talk to me. I “snap to” and ask about the people in the wedding he is going to on Saturday and the conversation takes off.
As dawn breaks wide open, I realize that the GWB delay has been a blessing. It means we have had a shared experience to talk about for years to come, and I have had even more time with Tip to connect and build our father-in-law/son-in-law bond. Having always felt that our daughter Molly married a lottery pick in Tip, I have been reminded this night that he was, in fact, the LeBron James of the 2011 draft (the year they were married). His focus on their marriage and their family makes Hannah and me proud. He shares his children with us and welcomes us into their lives.
In northern Massachusetts I take over with 45 minutes to go . Over the last 30 minutes Tip asks me at least ten times, How are you doing? I appreciate his awareness and attention to our safety. Morning Boston rush hour traffic is picking up as we pull into New Hampshire, then on into Maine.
As we pull into York, Maine, Molly driving one car and Hannah the other are now just approaching Delaware this Friday morning. I am fried, over easy and hardboiled, but intact. I park the truck/van, Tip heads for his childhood home in Rye for some much needed sleep, and I want to celebrate before I take a morning nap. It’s a celebration worthy of an 11 hour all-nighter from Virginia to Maine: a bowl of oatmeal with raisins.
I have had the opportunity of a lifetime spending eleven hours with Tip, the father of our grandchildren, Owen and Max, and the love of Molly’s life. I’d pull this all-nighter again in a heartbeat. What a night!