Warning: this is a stream-of-consciousness post.
These posts are written with little editing and published immediately.
They are often out of context or chronology with other happenings at Half the Clothes.

How I Survived A No-Smartphone Road Trip

I’m not a huge fan of New York’s interstate system.


Non-sensical numbering.

Three billion wasted signs.

I won’t say I had a bad time, though, as I made my way from circus school in Vermont to Niagra Falls.

Read on to find out how New York punishes those who text and drive and what it’s like to travel in modern America without a smartphone.

niagra falls interstate road sign

Just when you think you can’t take anymore of New York’s I-90 (and when you don’t have to Siri to tell you just how much more you have to endure),  you’ll finally see these blissful signs. photo: wikipedia

Weeks before Niagra Falls was even a twinkle in my eye, I listened to my favorite Vermont extrovert anot a native, obviously.  New England culture produces very few extroverts worry aloud about her mother’s impending visit.  Dear Mama wanted to see Niagra Falls.  A big problem.  Why? It would require 12 total hours together in very close quarters.

My first thought?  “What?  Niagra Falls is only six hours from here?  Well that’s settled.  Clearly I can’t leave Vermont without driving to see a global icon.”

Check out my “Visit Niagra Falls on a Budget” tip sheet for secrets. Find out the DUI afflicted can still get an epic view of the falls.


Who Knew? New York Road Observations:

Here’s what I discovered as I made my way to the falls and back sans smartphone:

  • Driver Reputation Undeserved – the folks surrounding me on the upstate New York interstates were nothing like Big Apple drivers.  As in Bangkok, whenever traffic merged to one lane, people slid over and waited their turn.  None of this California/NYC road-rage.
  • State Doesn’t Trust Drivers – As in Australia, the state declares drivers unable to handle auto-shut-off gas pumps.  You have to stand there and physically squeeze the handle the entire time you’re filling your tank.  bPro tip (although you need to be super pro to use it!) – shove your gas cap in the handle gap to be hands-free while the tank fills.  Downside: this jerry-rigging doesn’t come with auto-shutoff when the tank is full.  You need to be on-hand when the last gallon starts.
man pumping gas bowser petrol station

Bowsers double as a ball and chain in New York. Wash your windows? After your tank is full and while everyone waits in line behind you. photo: futureatlas.com under creative commons license

  • Crazy Freeway Toll System – for a woman who hails from a state without tolls and isn’t being warned by a smartphone, confusion prevailed at first. I didn’t even know I was entering a toll zone until I was at the ticket window trying to proffer cash: my worldwide experience consists of pay points at the beginning of use, while New York hands out tickets and asks you to pay upon exiting.
  • Crazy Freeway Exit Numbering – Outside of seven silly north-eastern states, U.S. exit numbers are quite useful. Exit 275 is 275 miles from the southern or western edge of the state cdepending on the freeway orientation.  It is ten miles from Exit 285 – a fact one can independently ascertain with quick math.  In New York dand Vermont!  And New Hampshire!  And Massachusetts!  And Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island!, exits are numbered based on the order in which they occur.  Exit 11 could be 25 miles from Exit 12.  FYI New York: knowing your exit is the next one isn’t near as helpful as knowing exactly how soon your exit will occur.
angry exasperated man driving car

“Whaddya mean Exit 36 is 14 miles from Exit 35?! That’s ridiculous! What am I supposed to do if my smartphone dies?!” photo: john greenfield via creative commons license

  • Wasteful Freeway Signage – right in line with the brilliance it took to create the Exit 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 system is the hyperlabelling of freeways. New York is the worst offender I encountered.  Every 1/10th of a mile is demarcated with a small placard.  A proper six inch by twelve inch e15cm x 30cm delineator pole sign complete with interstate logo is posted every mile.  Now, if these signs helped drivers geo-locate themselves, I might be more forgiving of the excess.  Unless said drivers are wanting to know how far they are from the edge of the state, the signage is useless.  fI recognize that with the advent of smartphones, this is now a moot point for everyone but me (and maybe two other luddite-holdouts).
  • Texting and Driving Smackdown – NY at least gets points for being on top of their anti-texting game. Rest area signs have all been changed to say things like “Text Stop – Rest Area.”  And “Next text stop ____ miles.  It can wait.”  Additional signage warns drivers, “State Law – get caught texting three times, lose your license!”  Much better and more helpful than the usual, vague finger wagging one sees in other states.  Although it’s likely the signs will be moot inside of a decade when Artificial Super Intelligence causes us to think about hand-texting the way we now think about hand-grinding one’s own flour.
new york texting and driving highway sign text stop it can wait

Seems to me signs reminding drivers of alternatives to texting while driving are probably more helpful than abstinence-only signage seen in other states. photo: blockotoole.com

Smartphones Suck.  Sometimes.

For sure, they wasted their anti-texting-and-driving encouragement on me..  I barely use the non-smart phone I have, and I abhor texting.  I also dislike navigating with a smartphone.  I admit that it can be useful.  However, I also argue that connecting to the world via smartphone leads to disconnection in areas I think are important and ultimately fulfilling.

Without a smartphone, you have to tune in to the world around you.  You maintain an ongoing awareness of where you are in your journey.  You notice towns going by.  You pay attention, observe, and gather clues, because you have to.  You’re not being helicopter-parented by Siri.  I’d argue just the potential vulnerability of having to stop and ask for directions makes you a more compassionate person and driver.  It makes you aware of the greater whole of which you are a part.

Eyes Glued to the Real World

So what did I notice as I hummed along without the guidance of a GPS voice?

  • Farmity-Farm-Farm: I-90 and surrounding roads wind their way through what must be an ancient glacial or alluvial valley. Basically a very large, very shallow bowl.   A Midwestern or central-Europe feel in terms of the greenness and openness, but a bit more hilly.  Colonial buildings lend a back-in-time, quaint atmosphere.
upstate new york farm barn silos

A dairy farm in Brunswick, New York in the fall (opposite of the season I visited). photo: wikipedia

  • Bankruptcy Tubes: one of my favorite modern farm thinkers, Joel Salatin, speaks passionately against the idolized farm scene full of economically unsustainable features. My drive full of iconic barns nestled beside dome-top silos would have raised his hackles.
  • Amish Awesomeness: as a luddite and farm-work lover, how can I not have a crush on the Amish? My heart soared as I passed my first Amish woman tooling down the road in her horse and buggy wearing her culture’s practical attire.
  • ‘Merica: alongside the Amish farm fields, billboards for the Mormon church and McDonalds proliferated. Can’t get more American than God and God-awful “food.”
  • More Not-Really Dutch? – For years I’ve been aware of the “Pennsylvania Dutch” who are actually German. When I saw signs in upstate New York for “Dutchmen,” I immediately wondered “Real Dutch?”  Brief research seems to indicate upstate New York Dutch are the real deal.
  • Art Deco Albany – the skyline of New York’s capital surprised me. A very strange combination of gothic, art deco, and modern… as seen at freeway speeds.
Multi-tasking master! Glancing at skyline and compiling mental notes while paying attention to road being navigated sans smartphone. Boom! photo: wikimedia commons

Multi-tasking master! Glancing at skyline and compiling mental notes while paying attention to road being navigated sans smartphone. Boom! photo: wikimedia commons

I also visited “upstate” Vermont during my tenure at the acrobatic and aerial school.  Up next! ♣


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