Friday, September 30, 2011

Bomb Sniffing Dogs, Screaming Coworkers, And Power Windows That Lacerate: My Weeklong Adventure In NY With A Monster Truck

Where have I been for the past month? Why no posts? I know all 12 of the people who habitually read this blog have probably been concerned (thanks) that I blew away with Irene or something. Actually, that stupid preparing your car for a hurricane article was my most popular ever. But to the point- the reality was that I was busy working, plain and simple, on a massive project that consumed all of my time for weeks. I barely posted to Twitter or Facebook, or anything for that matter.

Last week was a killer for me at work; I knew it was going to be long days, hauling a lot of gear and people, and driving between Manhattan, NJ and Long Island. Knowing what was coming, I parked my car for the week, and went to Enterprise to rent the biggest damn car they had, a Ford Expedition EL. I usually prefer the Chevy Suburban for trips like this, but since it was such short notice, I had to go with the Ford. It worked well, as I found out the Expedition EL is actually just a Ford Excursion, Which the Blue Oval rebadged after discontinuing it a few years ago. The guy on the phone tried giving some excuse about how they can’t reserve specific cars, blah blah blah, to which I replied that the only reason I rent from them is because I can. I also let him know I would drop this $1K week long rental on another supplier if he couldn’t do it. This was a toalt bluff, because no one in town had anything bigger than a Jeep Liberty. But it worked.

I picked a hell of a week to drive a giant black SUV with tinted out windows into the City. It was UN Week, so entering any hotel parking garage usually required a wait of at least 10 minutes, a sweep from bomb sniffing dogs, and generally suspicious looks from people in suits with earpieces. On one occasion I just barely escaped the Sheraton in midtown as they let me e the last car to leave before they put the garage on total lockdown. I was although able to blend into motorcades, so that made ripping through traffic a bit easier, but no less dangerous. And ripping through traffic, that was fun. This thing had a monster 5.4L V8 with adequate torque for quick maneuvers. I wouldn’t be attempting drag race it anytime soon, but on a few occasions, I did make my co-worker/co-pilot quite nervous as we stepped on the gas for short bursts to advance through gridlock traffic. You see, my passenger was quite nervous driving in the city, and doesn’t really understand that you have to be slightly more aggressive than when encountering everyday traffic, especially when your truck is much larger. As he buried his head in his hands, closed his eyes and cried out for Jesus, I pointed out to him that we never really actually went more than about 18 MPH on any given sprint. For some reason this didn’t really comfort him. Anyway, I missed those pedestrian by at least 6 inches.

But you wanna talk about comfort? Oh the air conditioned seats…I have never tried them before, but now I think they will be standard equipment on whatever I end up buying next. But I Digress.
But you know what’s not comforting? Its how much of a douchebag I turned into when driving something this big. I think we all know that assholes lean toward large cars - H2’s, Escalades and Pathfinder Armadas are the fleet of those trying to compensate for something. This EL was a massive 18.5 feet long and weighed close to three tons. By the fourth day, I started to realize that I had turned into an overly aggressive driver. Driving and parking this truck was the equivalent of sailing a yacht through midtown.
How aggressive of a driver was I in this car? I’ll put it this way: on multiple occasions, cabbies backed down from me. I think that when you drive something this big, with full rental car insurance in a high stress situation when you have to stick to a schedule, its hard not to throw your weight around the road to get where you’re going. I felt kind of dirty driving like that, and this is while I’ll stick to my sport sedans, which allow me to be more courteous.

So now for the adventures: This thing is a bitch to park. No parking garage even wanted to attempt to place this thing in their lot. And the only one I could find made me park it for them. On three occasions, I got a few hundred yards into a parking garage only to be turned away- with no where to make a U-turn.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to back out something this big in a parking garage? It isn’t easy. Luckily though, the trucks saving grace was the standard rear view camera and backup sensors that made this whole trip possible with a lot less injuries and / or property damage. But, when you have this much torque on a rear wheel drive car, with no weight in the rear in a wet parking garage, the ass is going to kick out, and its going to be a lot of fun.
But the truck wasn’t without its injuries. While one of my other coworkers was travelling with me to an early morning meeting, the passenger side power window tried taking off his arm. It was gruesome. Blood everywhere, and at the end of the day, enterprise charged me a $250 cleaning fee for the mess. This didn’t really happen, but the window did get some forearm while going down, resulting in minor injury. Luckily my co-worker was able to man-up and walk it off, and the emergency room was averted so we could make it to our meeting.

There is one place his truck really excels, and which is why I rented it in the first place, and that’s hauling tons of crap. I had about eight massive Pelican cases full of fragile gear, many boxes, and enough photo equipment to satisfy a red carpet. And everything fit. I didn’t even have to take out any seats, they just folded down all the way. Hell, the back seats even had switches that power-folded the seats. Classy.
Of course there were some things I didn’t like about the car. It came with the basic Sync system, which puzzled me. I like to consider myself pretty tech savvy, but I couldn’t get this thing to perform any feature other than FM radio and play from the Aux port. On one occasion, I tried to pair my phone, which stuck the system in an infinite Bluetooth loop for about 30 minutes, from which I couldn’t free it. As for the rest of the controls, I wasn’t the biggest fan - not because they were badly placed, it was just because they weren’t where I wanted them to be after being familiar with other vehicles. And the final gripe is that thing was a gas guzzler. But really, you don’t buy this thing if you plan to go hyper-miling anytime soon.

So would I do it again? Absolutely. The Ford performed just as well as the Suburban and the fan favorite Tahoe with few nice touches. I look forward to the next time I get to rent a monster truck for the week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Commuting this week is going to suck.

So, thinking about driving into the city this week? You should probably think twice.

The traffic is only beginning to start. This morning I got on the northern state, and the sign says "Delays to exit 17". That's delays to Goddamn Queens. The signs should just say "Nassau County - delays." Perhaps you can find the best route by using one of those nifty signs that tell you travel times? Good luck with that, as they have all been knocked out of commission since Irene, and sit there with blank displays. Even the level traffic indicator on the GWB hasn't worked in Months, but i guess that's your tolls at work.

First, the Port Authority decided to raise tolls. Again. Now crossing rivers at PA bridges and tunnels is going to cost you 12 bucks in cash, or $9.50 with an EZ pass. Driving a truck? That’s 13 bucks. Per axle. Be prepared for extra long waiting lines at the cash lanes as confused people dig in their cup holders for enough coins to cough up the extra dough. Additionally, those pricks always stay in the EZ pass lane until the last second and then hop over, causing traffic.

Finally, the UN in is town. This means total and complete gridlock across the entire island of Manhattan. Going anywhere from 6th ave to the East River, downtown through the 40's? You should probably walk it, as you'll get there faster. Expect random street closures as dignitaries and the President are in session, and also a tour is expected of the Ground Zero site at some point as well. All those dignitaries have to stay somewhere too, so expect more closures in the AM and afternoon as they leave their hotels. So if you see a convoy of black SUV's coming your way, expect to see a street closure in your future.

Told ya it was gonna suck. Good luck.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hope you enjoyed yesterdays commute.

I hope you enjoyed yesterdays commute. Because until the next holiday pops up, Wednesday will be the last traffic free day for a long, long time.

You see, Today is Thursday Sept 1st. This means a few things. First, it's the Thursday before Labor Day. While it wont be as bad as tomorrows rush, but a lot of people take off Friday, and leave on Thursday afternoon. So good luck battling the weekend travelers on your way home. Secondly, its back to school time. I don't know what magic traffic switch is flipped at this time, but September is typically the worst month for traffic in the entire Northeast, rivaled only by January.

So I hope you enjoyed this all-too-short traffic holiday. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but its better to hear it first than be surprised.