Back on the road, I discover how expensive it is to drive in the northeast. Out west, we take freeways, bridges and tunnels for granted. Here you pay by the mile. Before even burning through $5 in gas, I've spent $9 on tolls. A rough calculation of a bridge's length compared to the toll leaves me convinced that, mile-for-mile, flying transatlantic first class is cheaper. And they feed you. Twice.
Grinding away on crowded freeways isn't exactly what I had in mind, but the MINI's interior is superb and I never feel uncomfortable. The car is easy to drive in traffic and the navigation system relatively straightforward. I find it amusing to sit among the large, black, monolithic limos that fill the roads around our capital. I wonder how many of these giant barges are filled with politicians who will later preach environmentalism and conservation?
I'm halfway through Virginia before the giant, center-mounted speedometer exceeds 40 mph. This part of the country is strange to me. The roads are surrounded by giant green trees and the landscape rolls in front and behind, so you never see more than a half-mile in any direction. This area isn't as populated as California, but the lack of horizon makes me feel much more claustrophobic.
So far, heading south on the 81 has been the route. Just as night falls, I find the 40, the first real sign of heading west. With sunset comes rain--lots of it. I find myself testing the ABS and DSC much earlier than I would like. The 40 is a major route for trucking. These guys drive it day in and day out. Unfortunately, there are also cars with careless drivers and it gets ugly. A slice between trucks, a pass on the right, a slice back and suddenly a Honda is almost pointing in the wrong direction. Luckily, no contact is made, but I'm amazed by the MINI's sure-footed stance and thank the inventor of DSC as well.
Late at night, through the thick mist of water, I come upon Knoxville, Tennessee, where I'll stay the night. It's amazing (to me) how difficult it can be to find a good meal in some cities at 11pm (or any time). I decide to break one of my own rules of travel and have a seat at the bar of a chain restaurant. The gentleman to my left is concerned with my life insurance situation and to my right is a guy dating a multi-millionaire supermodel. Our bartender is dating a man she really cares about, but isn't the kind of guy she would marry. I sit, listen and wish my $12 sandwich was as interesting as the company.
I leave Knoxville early, excited about the next stop. Not only do I pick up my co-driver, but I've been dying to see Memphis for some time: `The Birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll and Home of The Blues' as the tourist bureau states. There's a lot of road to cover, but I'm hoping this part goes by quick.
Our MINI is not equipped with a direct iPod interface, only a mini jack input--a problem I intend to fix later. A trip to Wal-Mart for the appropriate cable will be a quick fix. If you've never been into a Wal-Mart in the middle of nowhere, you haven't really experienced one. Walking into this place is like walking into the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. Strange patrons walk about while even stranger employees are performing unknown rituals with pallets of unidentifiable goods. I amble out a little closer to being a Jedi, with a cable and glass cleaner.