While 2016 is hardly worthy of the title “throwback”, this 48 hour period during an amazing road trip will forever hold a special spot in my travel adventures.
It was September and myself and 3 work mates were in the midst of our week long express road trip from Las Vegas to New York. We were in the USA for a work conference and were lucky enough to take advantage of the opportunity to tack on some additional annual leave, hire a trusty stallion (well a Ford Escape at least) and set off into the sunset. This tale of adventure picks up at the start of day 3, in a cheap motel, somewhere in Amarillo…
We woke before sun rise in an attempt to eat up as many miles as we could early, en route to Dallas where we would be attending our first NFL game. As luck would have it, we somehow managed to get last minute tickets for opening day of the season, Cowboys v Giants, September 11. It was the 15th anniversary and many stars and stripes were at half mast along the highway. Memories came flooding back of watching the horror unfold live. The conversation fell quiet, as we each in our own way paid our respects and contemplated the magnitude in which those actions have forever changed the world..
Oh falls.. where art thou?
We arrived in Wichita Falls sometime early morning and decided to get out and stretch the old legs in the quite scenic Lucy Park. Discovering it was home to a man made waterfall, we were keen to go for a look. We then set out on what could only be described as a wild goose chase. Just as we were about to give up and settle for seeing a trickle of water run over a gutter, a savior in the form of a local convinced us to keep going. The actual falls were quite a bit more impressive, than that trickle, so i’m glad we did. We managed to captured a few shots and shortly after, were back on the road to Dallas.
Who shot JFK?
Not long after arriving in Dallas, we hunted down the historical site of the JFK Assassination. We shamelessly indulged in all the obligatory tourist things,
1. Wondered how the shot could have possibly come from the book depository window?
2. Theorised that the grassy knoll was “definitely” the more likely shooter location.
3. Avoided becoming a second ‘X’ while trying to dodge main road traffic in an attempt to pose for a photo at the point of impact.
Heading back to the car we unanimously decided we must retrace the path the motorcade took that day, to fully complete our touristy binge.
One of my more anticipated experiences of our trip was next up. We were bounding down the highway excited to experience the USA sporting ritual of a tailgating party, that I’ve heard so much about through listening to hours of ESPN radio back home. First however, we witnessed American tailgating in its purist form. 5 or so jet black SUV’s, complete with police escort, split through the middle of the traffic like a hot knife through butter. Cars were merging in haste left and right to avoid collision. After placing our hearts back in place we pulled our own more modestly sized SUV back onto the road and continued on our way. We later speculated that it was most definitely former President George W Bush running late for the coin toss. The story checked out with us four and will be our story forever more.
The Real Tailgating Experience
Before I continue, I thought i’d share this budget travel tip. While we managed to secure last minute tickets for NFL opening day, we totally overlooked where we were going to park our trusty Ford Escape. I managed to find a nifty online business called Parkwhiz. They offer very reasonable prepaid parking options close to venues for big events. They seem to charge based on how close you are to the venue. I secured us a spot in a lot approximately a mile away for a very reasonable $20 US. A very hefty saving compared to venue parking prices.
We parked along side a classic American pick up truck, and quickly began to change into our newly acquired Dallas Cowboys garb courtesy of Walmart. We looked the part and quickly caught the eye of a keen New York Giants supporter. After a brief moment of friendly banter, our new friend from New York fired up his grill in the back of his truck and cooked one of the most delicious (and only) tailgate cheeseburgers I’ve ever had. It was truly a memorable highlight of the trip and a great showcase of American hospitality.
WOW! Was the only one syllable word I could muster as I approached the entrance to AT&T stadium. Looking toward the car park was simply a sea of blue and white, music a blaring, grills a frying and cold beers a drinking. The volume of people was ridiculous. If this was the car park, the prospect of what lay inside had us salivating.,
Getting to our standing room area may have required a Sherpa, but once the crowd started roaring, we quickly realised it didn’t matter in the slightest where we were in the stadium, just as long as we were in the stadium. We were treated to a very emotional 9/11 tribute pre kickoff. The passion and national pride the USA has is definitely one of its greatest attributes in my opinion. Post tribute and anthem, the USA almost had another citizen, I was ready to pledge allegiance to the flag,
It was finally kick off! I’ll use the following cliches to summarise:
1. The atmosphere was electric
2. The crowd were on the edge of the seat
3. Any team could win
4. It was a nail biter…
You get the gist, the whole experience was utterly incredible. We left the ground and quickly made our way back to the car, we had a plane to catch!
Planes, Trains and Automobiles – minus the train
The next leg of our journey meant catching a brief flight from Dallas to Baltimore. Scheduled time for landing was just after midnight. We new all along we didn’t have a hotel booked, which allowed us time to detour to the nations capital for a late night/early morning visit. We signed the papers to our new rental, a much more luxurious Ford Edge, and set off on an unsuccessful search for a 1 am coffee fix. Begrudgingly we accepted our fate to be non caffeinated and turned to Washington DC, ETA approximately 2am.
It might not be for everyone, but there was a beautiful sereneness that came with taking in the sites in the early am. Not even the sound of sirens and a gun shot off in the distance was going to disturb that. There was not a person in sight bar a lonely security guard (and the horde of secret service I imagine) and a hauntingly beautiful glow of the street lights. The photo opportunities were simply stunning. After a lap around the main part of town, rejected from asking the President for an early morning stroll and spending some quality one on one time with Abe, it was time to take the I95 to Philadelphia.
The sun just pipped us to the post as we staved off tiredness and meandered into the City of Brotherly Love. Setting the GPS for the Philadelphia Museum, it sent us on some wrong turns (definitely not our fault) causing us to detour through the everyday streets. In hindsight, glad we did, as for a moment there we felt like we were part of a Bruce Springsteen film clip. Very cool. We eventually came to an understanding with the GPS and arrived at The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Becoming a little more cultured was not on the agenda at sunrise that morning. We were there for one reason and one reason only. The Rocky Steps. We weren’t out there to set any records, but it was an absolute must to get out, shake off the looming tiredness and sprint up the iconic staircase, all the while, the Eye of the Tiger blaring in our minds. After burning of a little steam, and cruising around to see a few more landmarks, the morning rush hour began and that was our queue to take the excursion onward to the Jersey Shore.
The Jersey Shore
Up to this point our planning had been seamless. A key piece overlooked at this juncture was the fact that Jersey Shore boardwalk took a little longer to open up than we had become accustomed to. We made the most of it, and strolled up and down taking in the sites made famous by pop culture. After indulging in breakfast, the semi famous t-shirt shop opened up which was a nice way to conclude our visit.
Next on the agenda was a short drive to Hoffman’s Ice Cream, notable from a Man vs Food challenge. There was no brave combatants that day, but after learning the size a standard scoop, I know, I wouldn’t have had a chance. The sorbet was delicious though and the cold chill gave a small reprieve to the looming sandman as we passed the 30 hour mark of no sleep.
New York is that a way..
The moment that everyone was secretly on edge about was fast approaching. Driving into New York City. Up to this point we had no major issues as first time drivers in the States. This however, was a little different. The GPS had us believe we were situated in a bowl of spaghetti and it would require some high level intuition to help navigate us out of the mess. In the end we got there unscathed. A few wrong turns and a couple of extra tolls but eventually we got to our hotel. We said goodbye to our maroon chariot, we’d be on foot from here.
We had all intentions of having a nap to recharge the batteries, but we were in New York! I was far too excited. We agreed to meet up in an hour or so which gave us some time to freshen up. After an unsuccessful attempt at removing the growing dark circles from under my eyes, I moved my attention to cleaning up a laundry liquid mishap in my suitcase caused by a baggage handler somewhere between Dallas and Baltimore.
Concrete Jungle where dreams are made of.
We reconvened and ventured out into the city. For a place I had never been to before, a strong sense of familiarity swept across me. It was surreal seeing first hand all the sites that I had only seen previously in TV and movies. Madison Square Garden, Times Square, on and on the list grew as we marched up and down the blocks. I instantly felt connected and understood how many fall in love with this amazing city.
After indulging in a classic New York pizza and beverage, we agreed to take full advantage of how clear the night was and head toward the Empire State Building. Going up to the observation deck and gazing out over the glow of the city lights confirmed our decision. After soaking in the views, we headed back down, dropped some coin in the gift shop and began the trek back to the hotel.
What did we just do?
We were all well and truly spent. Passing the 40 hour mark, there was no doubt we could all use a solid night sleep. Dragging our bodies towards a bed, we began to reflect on just how big our day had been, each agreeing it was likely the most jam packed day of our lives. It then dawned on me that the last time we had slept we were in Amarillo Texas, quite the distance from NYC. Saying out loud what we had accomplished since then was astonishing. Wichita Falls, JFK assassination site, NFL game, Lincoln Memorial, Rocky Steps, Jersey Shore and finally scaling the Empire State Building.
As my head hit the pillow that night, I knew that it would forever be one of the great memories of my life, one epic road trip.