Many New Yorkers don’t own cars. Many more don’t even know how to drive — which is no handicap at all in a city where driving can be daunting and parking a nightmare or phenomenally expensive — but where it doesn’t matter because subways and buses go virtually everywhere, and cabs can sometimes be found when you want or need them. So it was with surprise that I read in today’s New York Times Travel Section that ‘Frugal Traveler’ columnist Matt Gross is embarking on a 12-week cross-country road trip and will be writing a series about every Wednesday.
The trip started with a New York glitch. Gross wrote, “As the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge faded in my rearview mirror last Thursday afternoon, I had only one thought in my head: Finally! I had woken up late, had spent way too long packing for this road trip and had been sitting in Brooklyn traffic. Typical. Now, however, my Volvo was zipping over what was once the world’s longest suspension bridge, heading west, and nothing could stop me. Nothing, that is, but the police officers at the toll plaza.
“’Don’t let him leave!’ shouted a transit officer. Was my 1989 station wagon in violation of some obscure regulation? Had my paying the $9 toll with a crisp $100 bill set off some alert?
“No, the officer said: I had a video camera on the roof of my car, and filming New York City’s bridges and tunnels was illegal. I pulled off to the side and bit my nails while the officers talked among themselves, deciding my fate. Another delay, I sighed. Typical.”
Starting out, Gross invoked the spirits of such American literary road-trippers as Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and William Least Heat-Moon, but I was also reminded of Jane Wooldridge, Miami Herald travel editor, who made a similar trip last year — and won the Society of American Travel Writers’ Travel Writer of the Year honors for her efforts.
Like many New Yorkers, Gross didn’t own a car, so he bought a 1989 Volvo for $1,700 and had it tubed up with the hope that it will get him to Seattle. He wrote that he was setting off with a “budget of about $100 a day, including food, lodging, occasional splurges and gas. But unlike Kerouac (who hitchhiked) and Steinbeck and Heat-Moon (who slept in their vehicles), I’m out to prove that driving across America doesn’t have to mean roughing it. The Frugal Traveler is no backpacker; he seeks out affordable comfort, skimps when possible and splurges when he spots a relative bargain.”
His first report explains his strategy, describes the beginning of the road trip and asks for readers’ input and recommendations for great roads, places to sleep, eat and see. He’ll post reports and video, and we can all vicariously become his traveling companions.