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Image by Dino Reichmuth
10 (Casual) Rules Of The Road (Trip)
By Alaknanda Mookerjee

In “On the Road,” Jack Kerouac wrote of his friend: “All he needed was a wheel in his hand and four on the road.” A Beat masterpiece, published in 1957, the novel is essentially a report of a series of four long trips that Kerouac made between 1947 and 1950.


I, too, have taken quite a few. Think: 2,600 miles in about 96 hours (through six states) and some 5,000 miles in around 120 hours (through 10 states) and many more.


I’ve driven on roads, where the toll is collected either by an agent, a machine, or a camera. I’ve driven through both stark landscapes, where you see just one car in one hour roll down the highway and urban swarms of honking cabs and enormous roving boxes, a.k.a. M.T.A. buses. I’ve driven past dunes of shimmering sands and green farmlands. I’ve had to keep an eye out for drag racers, zigzagging through lanes, without fear of either the cops or the Grim Reaper.


I’ve also driven along the legendary U.S. Route 66.




Everyone does things differently. These are just a few tips to help navigate the trip.


Take your car to the shop. Before you head out, take your car to the auto shop and have it tuned up. You don’t need it to stop in the middle of nowhere or even near an exit, for that matter. Car repair is expensive. 


Plot your route. Once you know where you’re going, sit down in front of your computer. Open Google Maps and look at the route—marked in blue—that you plan to take. Take a printout of the directions, lest you ever need it.


Trivia: Odd-numbered interstates run north and south, with numbers increasing from west to east, while even-numbered routes run east and west, with numbers increasing from south to north.


E-ZPass? Or Pass? When choosing a route, ask yourself if you want to pay tolls. Toll roads—on and near the East Coast, often called turnpikes—exist in 35 states.


Those of you in the Tri-state area know about E-ZPass. The tag with the most extensive network, it’s accepted in 18 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Florida.


So, if you’re planning to travel in the eastern half of the country, load up your E-ZPass. It’ll save you money and let you pass through the toll plaza quickly.


At the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York and is (in)famous for its congestion, tolls are collected when entering New York and not when entering New Jersey. All crossings over the Hudson are cashless. Cars, which don’t have an E-ZPass, are tolled $17.00, by mail. Those with E-ZPass pay $14.75 during the peak hours and $12.75 during off-peak hours.


There are other transponders. Texas has TxTag. Oklahoma has Pikepass. California has FasTrak. Florida, SunPass. Kansas, K-Tag. Louisiana has GeauxPass. Georgia has Peach Pass. Illinois has I-Pass.


If you absolutely don’t care to support the government in its upkeep of its roadways, well, that’s that, then. You’ll enjoy “shunpiking,” which is the act of avoiding toll roads. If you do, be prepared to travel at a gentle pace through “free,” two-lane side roads, some of which, like the New York edition of the U.S. Route 9, can be treacherous.


Download “GasBuddy.” A vital tool, this app tells you where to get gas and what it’ll cost you. 


Load a pack of bottled water and/or a cooler. You’ll need to keep yourself hydrated. Cans of soda won’t hurt either.


And mess-free snacks. Snacks are a must-have. Grub that’s to be eaten on-the-go needs to be portable, mess-free, non-perishable and packs enough calories, such as nuts, bars, Nutella-and-pretzel on-the-go, a tin of Cavendish & Harvey “gourmet drops,” snack packs of cheese squares, crackers, salami and a few bags of kettle chips. If you have grandma on board, she could enjoy a box of kaju barfi as well.


Pack some dry soap. After you’ve touched so many nozzles and pressed so many handles at gas pumps, you’ll want to wash your hands before you eat. A bottle of liquid soap can get heavy. Dry soap, which comes in sheets, in a box as big as a match box, on the other hand, slides easily into a pocket.


Rolls of paper towels. Careful as we may be, these rolls of paper towels are still handy to have in the event that you have to wipe your hands.


Keep an eye out for blue panels. As you zipper along, you’ll see blue panels along the road. They carry pictograms and/or business logos—no more than six on each—which tell you where you can refuel, eat, rest, or camp.


Eat and drink at a McDonald’s or a Waffle House. The road is not the place for molecular gastronomy. The further west you go—until you arrive in California—the number of Starbucks gets fewer and fewer until you stop seeing the mermaid altogether. You’re then left to grab a cup of coffee somewhere else.


When all is said and done—everywhere outside of Texas—you see more Golden Arches than you do the “crown,” the one worn by the Burger King, of course. (Only in the Lone Star State, you’ll see another burger chain called Whataburger.) When you’re driving through territory you’re not acquainted with, it’s safe to pull into either a McDonald’s or a Waffle House for coffee and anything solid. With a known brand, you (mostly) know what you’re getting.


As Kerouac wrote, “There was nowhere to go, but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”

Image by Evie S.
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