We drove our electric car cross country this summer, and it was a great experience. We saw friends and family, talked to lots of strangers, and visited as many bookstores, ice cream shops, museums, vintage clothing and coffee places, natural wonders, and railroad-related attractions as we could.
First, some thoughts on the trip:
We did this trip to reconnect with the world after a year of COVID. We were lucky to be able to do it. And the world is still there. People are still friendly. America is huge, diverse and awesome. There’s a ton of local pride everywhere. People do seem balkanized in geographic/economic and cultural bubbles. But people are still friendly everywhere.
The response to COVID is all over the map (masks or not, etc). Retail storefronts and offices and city centers are shockingly empty everywhere. Nonetheless, people are doing the best they can, trying to live life. Working, partying, hanging out, laughing. That was great to see.
Evidence of extreme weather is everywhere (smoke, extreme heat, flooding, really low reservoirs and rivers). And also evidence that America is deeply hooked on fossil fuels (so many cars and trucks, and so much oil and gas infrastructure). It’s gonna take a lot to change that quick enough.
We tried to minimize our own carbon footprint, flying only once to the East Coast. A friend drove our Tesla model Y east (instead of renting a gas car), and we drove it back. And the car did great, barely breaking a sweat in 7000+ miles. It was steady, relaxing and fun to drive, with heat-pump AC that kept us a cool 70 even in 110 degree desert heat. And we were able to give several friends test drives – and answer a lot of strangers’ questions – in our effort to evangelize electrification.
Charging wise, there were fast chargers – and also overnight chargers – everywhere, usually at convenient places to use the bathroom and buy food. We normally drove about 200 miles between charges (the car’s range is 320). We only got in trouble once, in Iowa, and that was my own fault for not listening to the car’s charging advice. We ended up having to backtrack 15 minutes to the last supercharger… but as a result did see the “largest truck stop in the U.S.,” and an awesome vintage truck museum.
We chose our initial route based on where we had family and friends, and then got recommendations along the way (e.g. Pittsburgh). From Chicago on we basically dodged the smoke from the western wildfires, and some COVID hotspots like Missouri. The smoke was heavy in MN/WI/ND/SD, so we cut across the plains (IA/NE) to Denver (still smoky), then to fresh air in the Rockies and Arizona (after a bit more smoke in Utah).
Here’s the list of the stops we made, with highlights below from each one:
Philadelphia, PA – Manhattan, NY – Brooklyn, NY – North Adams, MA – Westminster West, VT – Tinmouth, VT – Middlebury, VT – Burlington VT – Lake George, NY – Skaneateles, NY – Geneva, NY – Seneca Falls, NY – Corning, NY – Altoona, PA – Pittsburg, PA – Sandusky, OH – Ann Arbor, MI – Grand Rapids, MI – Holland, MI – Chicago, IL – Quad Cities (Moline, Davenport, Rock Island), IA – Iowa City, IA – Des Moines, IA – Omaha, NE, Lincoln, NE, Kearney, NE – Gothenburg, NE – North Platte, NE – Denver, CO – Buena Vista, CO, Salida, CO, Telluride, CA – Moab, UT – Blanding, UT – Monument Valley, UT – Grand Canyon (AZ side) – Flagstaff, AZ – Barstow, CA – Paso Robles, CA – Berkeley, CA
- The view and party scene atop the Bok Building, a former vocational school (with Mike and Lori).
- Corned beef and pastrami from Hershel’s at Reading Terminal Market.
- The bat signal atop city hall at night; The mosaics at Magic Gardens and the murals everywhere;
- Fishtown. Narberth with Liz and Doug. Wissahickon schist. Tiger lillies everywhere.
- Hearing Louis Prima’s ‘Angelina’ playing outside an Italian restaurant during an intense rainstorm.
- The Italian market district (great cannoli) and Fabric Row. 95 degrees but still great.
- Small brick one-way streets you can barely fit a car through.
- Hearing from Roy about the innovation happening at U.Penn’s hospitals.
New York: Manhattan and Brooklyn
- Dinner at Red Rooster in Harlem, and Kevin’s Harlem driving tour from Washington through Morningside Heights.
- The new ‘Little Island’ with Jon and Allisson. The Chess Forum. City Hats. All the bikes and scooters swarming NYC.
- The Union Square farmers market. Drinks at Pier 25 on the Hudson at sunset.
- The new Poster House museum on 23rd st, and their Klinger exhibit. The fashion exhibits at the Cooper Hewitt.
- Walking the Brooklyn Bridge both ways after dark in a huge crowd at 9pm.
- Meeting the Formula E race organizers.
- Seeing a sudden thunderstorm with scary high winds from our balcony (and the commentary from the next balcony).
- The street scene in front of Forma Pasta Factory, and on Manhattan Blvd in Greenpoint.
- All the locksmiths and tattoo places.
- Pulling off the Taconic Parkway to ride out an intense rainstorm.
- Mass MOCA in North Adams and its wide open art spaces and audacious art.
- The optical illusions of James Turrell’s rooms.
- The woman with the eastern european accent running the Porches hotel so determinedly and efficiently.
- Hanging out with Pat, Linh, Adam, Sam and Susan and their Kids, Andrew and Isabel after seeing the museum.
Vermont: Westminster West and Tinmouth
- The awesome protest T-shirt and bumper sticker collections at Everyone’s Books in Brattleboro.
- Seeing a general store frozen in time since the 1950s, now part of someone’s house (friend of Johns).
- Meeting Sandy the puppy.
- Seeing Barry’s cow herd, finally, and getting the tour of his new plantings.
- Seeing the local Tinmouth self-service meat, dairy and produce co-op, in part of an old barn.
- Swimming, water skiing, and stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Champlain.
- Walking in Red Rocks, biking, volleyball and ultimate frisbee.
- Running into Bernie Sanders on Church Street.
- Walking through Middlebury’s campus and downtown; the super friendly Indian restaurant owner, the super nice people at Vermont Bookshop. The raging Otter Creek.
- Getting ice cream from the Sisters of Anarchy truck and The Scoop, served by our two favorite servers Clara and Holly.
- Taking the ferry in the rain from Charlotte to Essex.
- Talking to the big guy on the ferry wearing the Kilt, doing the Scottish Highland Games competition.
New York: Upstate
- Getting ice cream in Essex, with its great old buildings.
- The morning porch scene at the motel on Lake George; The thatched tiki lounge boats cruising the lake at sunset.
- Our morning voyage in the plastic kids paddleboat.
- Lunch in Little Falls on the Mohawk River. Walking the Seneca Lake boardwalk at night.
- Kayaking the canal near Seneca with Sina and Brenda and surviving the strong current near the locks.
- Fresh picked blueberries. Max’s Custard.
- The inspiring Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.
- The awesome Corning Glass museum, and their ‘glass-blowing’ workshops.
- Buzzing the Altoona railroad yard en route to Pittsburgh, then eating outdoors at La Fiesta Bar and Grill.
- Meeting David S. in Squirrel Hill, then driving the endless cobblestone streets near there.
- The yellow steel bridges across the Allegheny. The White Whale bookstore.
- The Andy Warhol Museum (he was from Pittsburgh). The Heinz Museum.
- The scary, creative exhibits at the Mattress Factory. Randyland.
- The Strip District (former warehouse area, now food and offices). Pane e Pronto.
- The International Vintage Car Show (and riveting vintage car Grand Prix racing) in Schenley Park.
- The awesome outdoor musical theater show at night at Heinz Field (CLO 75th Anniversary).
- Walking along the wide boardwalks on the Allegheny at night, how beautiful and peaceful.
Ohio: Sandusky and Cedar’s Point.
- The family BBQ pool scene at the friendly South Shore Motel, their great 1940’s swingset, and huge maple tree.
- Eating snacks for dinner on the beach on Lake Erie, watching the seagulls.
- Realizing the midwest has its own big brands you’ve never heard of (Meijers, Quaker Steak and Lube, etc).
- Realizing that a ‘fast pass’ at Cedar’s Point amusement park isn’t actually fast.
- Trying to take smaller roads and quickly ending up on unpaved roads.
- Maddie and Bella’s coffee shop in Perrysburg.
Michigan: Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Holland etc.
- First Bite in Ann Arbor and its incredibly friendly owner (and the student who gave up her table in the shade for us).
- Our quick stop in Ada to see our friend Jeff’s walkability redesign (and Amway’s huge global HQ).
- Learning about Michigan’s Lutheran first families (DeVos, Van Andel, Meijer) and seeing their names everywhere.
- Being thrilled to find a shaded outdoor place to eat in Grand Rapids (a common quest for us due to COVID and heat)
- Windmill Island Gardens and the DeZwaan Windmill.
- The olympic-sized Holland Aquatic Center.
- The fancy houses in private beach communities along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore.
- Meeting Amy the yoga instructor and eating BBQ with her in the West Loop.
- The Chicago Comics Exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Roberts’ Pizza, the fun night scene at the Navy Pier… and our crazy life threatening pedicab ride home.
- The Chicago Architecture boat tour, and meeting the family of Turkish architects sitting next to us.
- The 16th Street trackside murals en route to Chinatown, and eating awesome dim sum in the car.
- Doing laundry at the Easy Breezy laundromat, while meeting up with Julie at a bookstore.
- Seeing Lauv at Lollapalooza: plus Grandson, Jacob Banks, Boy Pablo, Giveon, and that bad punk band White Reaper.
- Getting a float, and chocolate covered orange peels, at Lagomarcino’s soda fountain in Moline.
- The small but spirited vintage car rally in Davenport.
- The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum with its dozens of awesome vintage trucks.
- Our quick dinner stop in Iowa City, where they were having an outdoor blues festival.
- The cast iron staircases and beautifully designed lobby of the Surety Hotel in Des Moines.
- Seeing all the new buildings and public art in Des Moines.
- Driving through an apocalyptic smoke-obscured landscape of spinning wind turbines and a red setting sun.
- Dinner at Screamers Family Restaurant and Cabaret In Lincoln. Their wait staff can really sing!
- Lincoln’s 1920s art deco skyscraper capitol building in the sunset.
- The Sod House Museum in Gothenburg, and talking to the caretaker whose own grandparents lived in a sod house.
- The scene (and super friendly people) inside Lasso Espresso.
- Watching yard operations from the Golden Spike tower at UP’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, the largest railyard in the U.S.
- The gift shop at the tower, and its frank staff (‘yes, men drag their families here to watch trains’)
- Denver’s beautifully renovated (2014) Union Station – inside and out – especially at night.
- The homemade cornbread at that farm to table place in Denver.
- All of Denver’s great old brick buildings (though the city felt kind of empty).
- Salida’s downtown food scene, from pizza to scones.
- Talking to the proprietor of Rock Mountain Guitar Co in Salida.
- The fantastic Gunnison Pioneer Museum and its 14 acres of exhibits.
- The sunset gondola ride in beautiful Telluride. Leaving Telluride after getting altitude sickness.
- Staying at The Gonzo Inn in Moab; and Nikki, their friendly front desk person.
- The scene in the laundry room at the Gonzo.
- Arches National Park in fresh air at sunset… stunning.
- The Dinosaur Museum and Visitors Center in Blanding; economic development dollars not wasted!
- Driving through Monument Valley in the smoke… eerie and haunting.
- The Grand Canyon* (except for the smoke)
- Moose families roaming around like they owned the place.
- Using the bathroom (quickly) at Basha’s Market in Navajo Kayenta before realizing it’s a COVID hotspot.
- The bookstore and restaurant scene in ‘hippee’ downtown Flagstaff.
- Our first experience at a Little America hotel, and learning about the Little America / Sinclair empire.
- The Route 66 Museum in Kingman, AZ.
- The Casinos in Laughlin, NV (across from Bullhead City, AZ)… what a very strange place.
- Extreme desert heat (110… not the 90s we’d become used to).
- More extreme desert heat.
- Seeing the airplane parking garage in the Mojave Desert, with a huge wind farm in the background.
- Factory outlet shopping in Barstow… and Chipotle. And oh, the trucks.
- Got some fresh air and gelato in Paso Robles before heading home.
And finally, a couple wildlife photos…