As Linda had told me it would, the drive up from St. Petersburg took around 24 hours in all. Most of the trip was actually quite pleasant. No doubt this was partly because I took her advice about the route. But I was also impressed by the road construction idiom that most of the highways had adopted.
Not only is there an extra shoulder (next to the very outside lane) compared to Europe (where there would only be a shoulder next to the inside lane), but it’s also typical for the inside shoulder to be flanked first by a grassy verge and then by a row of trees. No doubt the trees help as a noise barrier, and perhaps they also combat some of the pollution too, while the verge provides some refuge for passengers in case of a breakdown.
Mind you, if you break down in the Florida summer, you might well be quite distraught. In which case, you’ll probably be glad that you have two shoulders to cry on.
Both verges and trees do, of course, also help to make the scene more attractive than it otherwise might be. Of course, some states manage this estate better than others. South Carolina’s verges are pristine. North Carolina tries hard, but gives the impression of being its southern neighbor’s scruffy younger brother: a bit rough around the edges. Georgia comes a distant third.
In most of Florida, it looks like the trees are losing the will to live and that someone has forgotten to plant the grass. Well, I say “grass”, but I’m using the term loosely. What Floridians tend to call grass (i.e. St. Augustine) is a plant with broad leaves so ghastly that it is considered a dreadful weed anywhere else. So maybe it’s better forgotten, while everyone just settles for sandy soil instead. Except that that’s an unattractive shade of brown that no-one wants to look at either.
I should put in a commendation for the Stetson facilities team here. They do such a good job that, if you come to our campus, you might never notice that the “grass” is St. Augustine. Just don’t try treading on it with bare feet. Apparently, that’s called “earthing”. Well, so is running electricity into the ground, and I don’t recommend you do that via your feet either.
So far as interstates go, there is a clear North–South divide where facilities are concerned. There’s no such thing as an interstate “service station” in the South; just signposts at some exits to indicate that there are various eateries or gas stations within a few miles.
Which is all very well, but they don’t tell you whether you will be able to re-enter the interstate afterwards. So you may end up well fed and with a car full of fuel, but with a detour ahead that’s going to use up a ton of gas and leave you feeling hungry again.
On the other hand, I’m not sure the North’s got it right either. There you will find dedicated service stations, with fuel and food provided alongside one another and the guaranteed ability to re-enter the carriageway from which you came. Which should surely be a good thing. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The first problem with these places is that Sunoco appears to have won the contract to supply the fuel at every such station. So, if you (or, more importantly, your vehicle) prefer another brand, you’re on your own.
But the second problem is far more serious. There’s an Auntie Anne franchise at every one.
Now I know that burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment, but that’s nothing compared to the contributions made by emissions from every Auntie Anne’s establishment. Those things pump out some odor so foul that it’s not just unfit for human consumption. I also keep the windows closed tightly to protect poor Strudel. Imagine her waking from her latest doggie slumber to that! No wonder she never asks to go for a walk when there’s an Auntie Anne’s nearby.
I suspect that the proximity of Auntie Anne also provides the answer to the question of why New Jersey forbids motorists from pumping their own gas. I also now realize that I made a terrible faux pas when I got gas at a service station in New Jersey. I got out out of the car.
Bad move! Every other driver remained firmly in situ with the windows tightly shut, leaving some poor old gas station employee to brave the fumes from Auntie Anne while he pumped the gas. He looked considerably the worse for wear, and I can’t say I’m surprised. But, then again, perhaps he’d been earthing.