The Freedom Only Driving Affords

I have to admit I am addicted to my car, the freedom it affords is hard to live without, yet for the last two weeks I survived, barely, but I did, I walked, rode, begged for rides from people who got sick of my asking, and just sat around and did nothing when the whether permitted. I hate sitting around biding my time, listening to tunes, watching movies, biting my nails, reading old mountain biking magazines, watching bike movies, learning , reading about the industrial revolution, etc… but I am happy to say that after two weeks of not seeing much beyond the ten miles radius of my house, I am back, back with a vengeance and a thirst for the freedom that only the a full tank of gas and 8 hours can give me.

It felt so good to drive for real, I drove a couple cars in the past two weeks, all automatic, all boring, all terrible handling, nothing with the sweetness that only a manual transmission can provide, molding the driver with the car, actually letting the driver take part in the driving experience. I had forgotten what it was like to have 4th gear, wow, I am impressed with this new clutch, it feels almost too smooth, wow 4th gear works, 3rd doesn’t bounce around, smooth acceleration, sweet hums and groans under the hood.

I decided to roam aimlessly gradually making my way west along route 85, past Slingerlands past the turnoff for the lovely Thatcher Park, past route 85A, finally having to make the decision continue south west or just west. West it is route 443 which makes starts in downtown Albany and ends up smacking into my favorite Route 30 after winding its way along the rather hilly densely forested area of southern Albany and Schoharie Counties, beautiful country indeed, pine mixes with deciduous a bunch of water falls and especially windy hilly road making for a great driving experience.

Easing on to route 443 off of 85 I noticed I had the road to myself as I quickly floored the car in 3rd quickly going to 5th and constantly switching between the two ignoring 4th  completely. The rpms raged up and down, my sweaty palm grabbed my shifter, my eyes darted back and forth taking in the amazing country flying by, white picket fences surrounding yards full of broken down weed covered pickup trucks supported by cinder blocks, with the weeds ending at the spot where the owner had mowed around the patch, tall white steeples with bell towers and signs that read Jesus Saves or Jesus Loves You, taverns, saloons, Robbies Auto Service, Ryans Salvage Yard, men with their shotguns broken at breach walked along the shoulder dressed in blaze and camo after an unsuccessful hunt, muddy ATV’s were loaded onto a rickety old flatbed Ford with the driver wearing carhart and rather muddied up, dirt bike trails led into the woods waiting for the inevitable first snows and the traditional conversion to snowmobile trail, dogs barked up and down the road as whisked by, running alongside until they were panting, browning grass, and leafless trees continued to pass by like fences on the side of the road as I drove past at 70 mph, speed zone ahead shot my rpms as 5th gear became 3rd, small towns with nothing but a sign post, with a name, no houses, abandoned mobile homes, old cars, farm equipment scattered about waiting for winters rusting, rushing rivers from Novembers rains, old abandoned roads poking through their weed filled graveyards popped up on the side of the road every now and then, as did the embankments of old bridges that have since been replaced by neat clean unadorned modern architecture- if one would be so inclined to call this modern bridge architecture when comparing it to old beauties of yesteryear that were masterpieces with their vaulted archways, and stone masonry that would make any artisan proud, Alabama sings of the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) , I continue driving my beast, hardly a beast, but my beast.

Route 443 ends and I am thrust onto route 30 south, I can go anywhere from here, I ask myself out loud, I can go north to Amsterdam and its industrial town full of smokestacks, daylight factories, old red brick textile mills along its rushing water falls, and its rather dangerous ghetto’s, or maybe south toward the stately Victorian homes of Stamford and the headwaters of the Delaware River and the towering peaks of the Western Catskills, or maybe continue west toward Oneonta and its picturesque downtown with its concrete skate park and Soccer hall of fame, hmm…what will give me some good sights, good driving and solitude?

I am going south on route 30 through the beautiful main street of Schoharie and then I see route 145 south, I turn on it, I have never been on this section, Catskill 45 miles a sign reads, I start to imagine the different routes prior to the Interstate system being created in 1956, I think of people traveling from New York to Oneonta and how they would take route 9W north to route 23 and then route 145 north to route 7 west and then they would be there, oh the complication, but the beauty that they would be exposed to, the forgotten mansions, mills, waterfalls, railroad stations, gas stations, auto shops, bars, diners, recreation areas, rushing rivers, mountains, valleys, swamps, forests and all the other things which the freeway, expressway, limited access highway, interstate has thrown into oblivion, these roads have banished the roadside café and created the rest area, the place where you know exactly what they have, gone is the diner made out of the old railroad car, or the family restaurant or the roadside custard stand, gone are these old time oddities to be replaced by corporate run franchises that cater to uniformity and anti-diversity, gone is the waitress who knew you by first name, gone are the road side specials that were only available in certain areas, gone are places with names like Joes, Bettsies, Bea’s, or Jacks Barbeque, gone are the eateries that had flickering neon signs advertising 10c for a cup of coffee, they haven’t gone you say, no they have not, they exist to be stumbled upon by the back road traveler, or vacationer who has decided to stray from the “beaten path” to gaze upon the oddities that dot roadside communities before the highway came through so to speak, the parking lots are covered in weeds and the neon signs seldom work replaced by those modern day wheel signs with big bold black lettering that reflects headlights and sticks by means of a magnet, sometimes old hulks of hot rods lie in a jumbled heap of rusted frames, cracked windshields and lost memories while they sit at mercy to the winter snows and summer rains while trying to hide in back by the dumpster long forgotten along with the rest of yesteryear.

The clouds are thick above, I am passing through a deep valley with heavily forested hillsides covered mostly in green pine with some stray oak and maple trees jutting their heads out once in a while, to the left of me is Catskill Creek, rushing silently to its eventual demise when it meets the Hudson River in the Village of Catskill some 35 miles away, here it is merely another brook, creek, river, stream, of water steadily making its way over rocks, dead uprooted trees, and occasional sand bar and once in a while a manmade piece of something that has rolled down the hillside of someone’s backyard junk yard into the unassuming clean fresh waters of this creek, or maybe a hubcap that rolled noisily off someone’s old jalopy and wound up gracing the side of the road by the guard rail for years until finally the snowplow deposited it in a huge snowdrift and upon the ending of winters wrath the hubcap found it self gazing at a rush river that eventually claimed the life of that hubcap when the river rose past flood stage in early April after some torrential downpours that were predicted by the national weather service but the warnings were not heeded to by the local residents and hence this hubcap found itself in the following year holding on for mercy as it tumbled in the churning waters making its way towards its eventual death in the Hudson where most things are known not to survive, they say the saltiness only reaches till Poughkeepsie but other horrid things exists and they will not spare a hubcap.

A quick stop for Mincha and a right turn on county road 356 toward Westerlo, another few aimless turns and I am thrust onto route 32 north that will take me in about 20 miles into Albany. Once again I am on a relatively fast road, wide shoulders, and a wide double yellow line, and smooth crack free asphalt, greet my tires as I round a turn that states the speed limit is 35 mph, one of those yellow deals with a squiggly line, I ease into 4th gear and throw the speed down from 75 to 60 and drift to the left line a bit to make the most of the banked roadway, back into 5th I switch on cruise control and ease my legs, Jimmy Smith is rocking on his organ while his big band jazz is backing him up, it is so weird having good audible sound when for so long I had rely on the finicky radios of a Ford Winstar. I am bobbing my head to the melody and amazing rhythm this organ master as he shakes it up, my pedal hits the floor as my remembered knowledge of this road kicks in and the knowledge of a stomach dropping small hill is coming up.

I hit the hill let the my stomach drop and slow down a bit satisfied with the whoop, I start think about the road, its use as an alternate route to 9W as a road that goes due south to the New Jersey border on the west side of the river, albeit a little windy and out of the way route 32 is a speedier choice for the traveler wishing to avoid the small towns and villages that dot route 9W. The main back roads that were especially busy before the Interstate System are especially interesting to me, these roads are the roads that were primary arteries prior to the suburban age, at every four cornered intersection there were roadside amenities and services for the traveler, nowadays these are still visible, usually the old gas stations with their large rounded glass windows and checkered patterns are either torn down or ill preserved and made into a café of some sort, some of these pre-interstate beauties still exist, though a truly rare find east of the Mississippi and if they exist they are hard to recognize, another interesting factor of the main back roads is that their route may have changed many times ever so slightly to reveal an old road bed on the side with weeds and small trees shielding it from the casual passerby, or an occasional abandoned bridge that originally carried the road over some obstacle before the local DOT decided on a new bridge or new route. This little hobby of mine extends to abandoned roadside architecture such as ice cream stands, burger joints, café’s, old neon signs, and old hotels and motels, furthermore with my ability to spot the old road comes the ability to spot in the woods where an old road or railroad right of way used to run, judging by lack of old growth trees, elevated surfaces, old pipes running under its weed riddled surface or just plain old jump out of the car for further inspection, I am constantly poking around on the side of the road ignoring posted signs and praying no one shoots at me for wanting to take a closer look at some old railroad building or something.

The lights of the concrete monstrosity known as Empire Plaza appear on the horizon and the stream of red brake lights shines and reflects off my hood and windshield sending me back to reality, the road widens and becomes limited access complete with those dreaded exit signs and traffic lights. Then the classic retail section complete with huge neon lit signs with famous logos and parking lots the size of cities, I am once again full of the dread that naturally fills one who dislikes city sights and suburban lights.