As anyone with a vette will understand, part of the fun is updating the car. Some people like to add Plenty O’Bling (I think she was in a Bond movie), while others just want to improve performance and quality. Personally I like a little of both. The problem I have is limited facilities (no garage at the moment). As a result my backlog of projects has grown. When I had a chance to visit the WAZOO (Washington Area ZR-1 Owners Organization) I grabbed it – what could be better than meeting other owners and also getting some work done. Perfect!
The first part of my trip took me down Highway 69, Highway 400, then onto the 407 Expressway and finally the QEW. I timed the trip well and traffic was fairly light; the 407 is always a good option from this point of view and I use it often, despite the cost. I had an overnight stay in the Days Inn, St. Catharines, which was rather unpleasant. The room smelled terribly of smoke and the restaurant was closed – plus there was non-stop noise from the QEW. So much for the #2 choice on TripAdvisor! Luckily the experience was somewhat saved by the warmth and hospitality of the Red Onion Eatery and Bar that soon provided me with a full stomach and pleasant warmth from a few beers.
The second day drive saw me following a steady route down through New York, Pennsylvania and finally into Maryland itself, following I-190, US-15, US-22 and I-83. The scenery throughout was breathtaking and the roads weaved gently through deep valleys and around large rolling hills. In many ways it was like driving through a continuous car ad. The weather was beautiful and the sun warmed my way down.
One worrying thing: I had developed a noise. Or rather the Dragon had. Braking was accompanied by a tssk tssk. This seemed to be coming from the passenger-side rear but I had no way of checking on the road. The disk looked fine, so I decided to press on knowing I would have access to working facilities at my destination. When I drive on the street I’m easy on brakes, so I felt I could “baby” the Dragon till I could check things properly.
One of the nice things I stumbled on while in NY state was their “Thruway Travel Plazas.” All of these provide food (of the fast variety), gas and complementary wireless access. This was extremely civilized and allowed me to check email, fire off a few quick replies, as well as confirm my overall journey progress. If only all such stops were so well-equipped!
I encountered a strange transient gas shortage around Sunbury. I don’t usually run my vette low and fill up as soon as I’m getting near the quarter tank level. So as I approached this point I started keeping my eyes open for a gas station. Of course now I didn’t see any signs of one for about 15 miles (25km). The first station I came to was off the main highway and normally I would wait for the next one in hopes that it would be more accessible, but this time I thought I better take advantage.
I pulled off, found the gas station and… no gas! Or rather no “premium” gas. There was regular and mid grade, even diesel (which can be a little rare in North America), but nothing 91+. The chip in The Dragon means it should be run on 91+, and although I could get away with adding lower quality gas I wasn’t keen to try it.
Sure enough, the next gas station was the same. Then the next. And the next. And these weren’t ”no-name” gas stations, they were Esso and other “big” names. Even the Sunoco stations, usually reliable suppliers of 93 Octane, had the same combination – 87/89/Diesel.
By now I’d hit the reserve and was feeling uncomfortable. I saw another Esso perched on a hilltop just off the highway and pulled in, very happy to see the “Premium” sign on the pumps and gleefully filled up on the cheap gas. Yes, I said “cheap”. Filling up on 93 octane cost around $50 everywhere I went in the U.S. – here in Canada, filling up on 91 is never less than $70. So roughly 40% cheaper!
Arriving on the outskirts of Baltimore was somewhat of a culture shock. After living in the low volume traffic environment of Sudbury for seven years, the packed highways there were packed solid. I hadn’t seen anything like it since leaving England. I relied completely on “Jarvis”, my trusty GPS, hoping that his record of successful navigation would remain intact. Sure enough, by 2pm I was checking into my hotel. Wherever possible I stay in Marriot Hotels because of their complete non-smoking policy. The Fairfield Inn at White Marsh was comfortable and clean, a pleasant change from the previous night.
My friend David, from the WAZOO, came out to meet me as arranged and we went just down the road to White Marsh to grab some food and a few beers after the drive. David is a scurrilous influence and led me (unwillingly) into the Tilted Kilt. It’s hard to know where to put your eyes in such an environment but I enjoyed my “corruption” immensely.
Talking with David was like having a conversation with a friend you’ve had forever, but only just met. We talked ZR-1s, kilts, torrents, ZR-1s, life – did I mention ZR-1s? A fine pair of rogues if ever there were such!