Saturday, November 13, 2010

Distance is a constant, Virginia

Yesterday morning I hopped in my car and drove northeast for hours and hours and hours (actually, fourteen and a half, but there was some heavy construction in Pennsylvania and I stopped every hour for five to ten minutes to stretch, so it probably should have only been twelve hours, if that), leaving behind autumn in Tennessee:

arena and fall trees

for autumn in Virginia:

montgomery white sulphur springs

(because nothing says "autumn" like a rest stop dedicated to a smallpox mass grave), West Virginia:

west virginia in fall


pennsylvania's window

and New York, which I haven't taken any pictures of because by the time I crossed the state line I was in full "must get to hotel tired of being in car" mode. I'll get some pictures here later, I'm sure.

I've made this drive a few times now. In fact, the picture I took at the Virginia Welcome Center yesterday:

deja vu

is almost identical to the one I took in 2008, the last time I drove this instead of flying:

Virginia Welcomes Me!

The only real difference is that I drove all of Tennessee in complete darkness this time, and the sun did not come up until I was well past the Virginia state line. That's the difference between a summer drive and one at the start of winter, I guess. Shorter days and daylight savings time playing havoc with your system, the same way that Virginia decided to play havoc with my bladder.

I started out kind of charmed by Virginia, even though it's a hateful place where the state attorney general stripped all protections for LGBT people from their state laws last year. I stopped for gas at Natural Bridge, and discovered this life sized concrete tiger at the gas station:

natural bridge tiger (1)

natural bridge tiger (2)

I had no idea what the Enchanted Castle was, but it kind of made me want to go back to Natural Bridge someday, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy toward Virginia for a while, until the thing with the bathroom happened.

In order to propel myself through these drives, I get myself good and wired on Diet Mountain Dew, which means that I tend to stop fairly regularly along the way for bathroom breaks. I was cruising through Virgina yesterday morning, monitoring my progress, when I passed a sign that said, "Next Rest Area 68 miles" and thought, "Oh, well, I'm doing 70, so I can be at that in an hour. That should be fine." Part of the way through that hour, I started to get that "have to pee" feeling, but I knew that somewhere, a half hour ahead, there was a rest stop available, and I continued blissfully chugging Diet Mountain Dew and singing along to the iPod.

Eventually, I saw another sign, right on schedule: "Rest Area 6 Miles". I thought, "Well, I'm doing seventy miles and hour. If I were doing sixty miles an hour, I'd be going a mile a minute, and I would be at the rest stop in six minutes. Since I'm doing seventy miles an hour, I'll be at the rest stop in... somewhere under six minutes." I'm not good at word problems, but I figured six minutes was welcome news, because "Hey, I have to pee sometime in the future" had transformed in the last half hour to "Now! Now! OH GOD PLEASE FIND A BATHROOM OR ELSE JUST JERK THE CAR OFF THE ROAD AND RUN INTO THE BUSHES AND I DON'T CARE WHO'S LOOKING OR IF THEY HAVE SNAKES HERE!"

I was feeling more cooped up than a truck full of chickens:

chicken truck

and I was ready to go, especially when random shuffle on the iPod produced "Champagne Supernova" with its intro of rustling water. After six minutes of frantic clock watching, there was still no rest area, and I started to wonder if I had done the math wrong, but then ahead in the distance, at seven minutes, I saw a blue sign and felt immediate, happy relief.

Until I read the sign, and it said, "Rest Area 2 Miles".

It is because of moments like this, when I am suddenly filled with blinding rage, that God has chosen not to grant me dangerous brain powers like an angry teenage girl in a Stephen King book.

If the rest area was six miles ahead, seven minutes ago at seventy miles per hour, how could it still be two miles ahead? IT CAN'T. It is mathematically impossible. Unless somewhere in those alleged six miles I drove over the mid-Atlantic Ridge or the San Andreas Fault or piloted the car through a Goddamn wormhole, the distance between two fixed points on a straight line is a constant, and if a car is moving along that constant at a specific speed, it will always take the same amount of time to travel from point A to point B. If a train leaves New York going fifty miles an hour and a train leaves Baltimore going sixty miles per hour some kid will always be able to tell you on his SAT where they will cross each other because Baltimore doesn't suddenly relocate to Florida in the middle of the word problem.

You can't just arbitrarily place that sign wherever you feel like six miles away might be, Virginia. People are counting on you, people who are full of Diet Mountain Dew and rage. You can't just play games with their lives and bladders and mount your signs wherever one happens to fall off the back of the sign truck.

At least in Tennessee our bathrooms are where we say they are.


10ecplayer said...
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Angi said...

sitting here at gate 4 laughing my ass off. Thanks for the morning chuckle Joel. You are too funny.....

Rod said...

The line about the SAT word problem was priceless. :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, it is entirely possible for "distance to location" and "distance traveled to reach location" to be two seperate numbers. One example would be grade. If you were traveling up and down hills on the highway (my recollection of the border areas of Virginia and Tennesee would be hilly terrain at the least)then the distance traveled by the vehicle would be longer that the direct distance point to point on the map.