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Day 27: Richmond, Virginia to Washington DC

States covered so far: 14
States covered today: 2 – Virginia, Maryland

The customer lounge at service departments at car dealers in the US are pretty amazing. Fresh donuts, fresh brewed coffee, hot popcorn (!), fresh fruit, kid’s movies playing in a separate room, free wifi, free bottles of water, free computers to use, big screen TVs – I could live here quite easily.

‘Baby’ (as Tracey is now calling the Challenger, because Supernatural) gets fresh oil and filter, and a tyre, sorry – tire – rotation. Total $67. The oil filter cost a whopping $2.46.

We get away from Richmond at 1pm, and do one of our last two days of driving. Pretty sad for me as I simply love road tripping in the USA, in case you hadn’t noticed. Our last drive will be from Washington DC to New Jersey to drop the car off.

Most pointless thing seen today: A road worker at the side of the interstate, with a leaf blower, blowing leaves. This state has too much extra cash or something!

Day 28: Washington DC

I didn’t think we’d get much time driving today, going from Maryland to DC is not far, only about a 20 minute drive from hotel. But factor in rush-hour traffic and it takes us double that.

We’ve got a walking tour booked in for 830am, and miss the group by five minutes. But they are on the Mall, so a quick scout around and we spot them. Walking tours are great – we used to just wander about looking at things and reading signs at places like Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial, but having a guide with local knowledge? Priceless. The stories they tell that aren’t written on the signs make the whole visit so much more worthwhile.

No sign of Forrest anywhere...
No sign of Forest anywhere…

For instance, on the wall at the Lincoln Memorial, Becca (our guide) points out the type in the engraving. Can I just mention these marble sheets are about 40 feet high, so it’s not like the engraver can just whip another one up. The word was ‘future’ but the engraver spelled it ‘euture’, so they’ve sort of made it white over the extra part of the word to cover it up. If we didn’t know this, we wouldn’t notice. But after Becca told us about it, sure enough you can spot it.

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Find the mistake

Outside the White House (well, not right outside – from the Mall) she tells us of the pets presidents have had, like President Adams who had a ‘pet’ alligator on the second floor. As you do.

After 2 hours walking in the DC heat, we grab a ride on the $1 Circulator bus to get some lunch in the Mall. After that it’s off to the Museum of American History, which was well worth the visit. Probably my favorite after the Air and Space Museum. We latched on to a free Highlights Tour of the museum and get more nuggets of info from the guide.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

We’ve got another ‘ghost’ tour booked in for 8pm tonight, so have some spare time to grab dinner, since we’ve spent nearly four hours at the History museum. Sad fact of life: American has a huge number of homeless people. Milling outside the McDonald’s (yes, we succumbed, because we stumbled across it and our legs would not take us another foot) there was a guy outside who asked if I could buy him a sandwich (burger). Then, stepping inside another guy asked if I could buy him some food. Neither guy looked overweight or drunk. We added some food to our order for the guy inside McDonald’s, then when we eventually stepped outside the other guy was still there, so went back and got him some food. There seems to be a huge divide in the USA of middle class straight down to no home/hungry. San Diego was very much like this, we have not seen another state yet where we’ve seen the huge number of homeless people as in SD. Sad.

Vietnam War Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial

The ghost tour was as we expected. We were asked to take lots of photos in case we saw a blue orb in one later. Okay then (we didn’t, by the way). But it was the stories we came for, and we got plenty. The tales of unsolved murders, duels and love lost were incredible. Being at the houses where these things happened a few hundred years ago is much better than just reading about it.

Day 29: Washington DC to New York, New York

States covered for whole trip: 17
States covered today: 4 – Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York
Total mileage: 5,335 miles (8,585 kilometres)

A sad day – this is our last driving day. We are off from DC to NYC via Delaware and then New Jersey, where we will be dropping of the Challenger at the shipping company.

It’s a 4½ hour drive to NJ, so that’s something, but I’m going to miss those long driving days. You just don’t get the same experience in New Zealand (and that’s aside from the 100km/h speed limit!).

Dropping the car off at the shipping company was painless, except for a freak-out moment when they wanted the tear-off slip for the bank cheque that I used to pay for the car. I didn’t have it. After a while they accepted the invoice from the car dealer.

The shipping guys then did an extremely thorough check over of the car, looking for any small chips in the paint or any minor defects, no matter how small. They picked up two small stone chips on one of the wheel arches I had missed. I thought that for 5,335 miles of travelling across the USA, two very small stone chips wasn’t too bad at all.

While the Challenger is getting checked over, at the same time they are checking a red Camaro out, that’s being shipped to Switzerland. All we need now is a white Mustang and we’ll have some sort of theme going.

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Now the Dodge is parked up inside a warehouse, waiting on the title to be delivered. You may remember that it can take ages for the title (essentially the number plates and proof of ownership) to actually turn up. The shipping guy tells me that it takes 3 months for the state of New York to deliver the title!! I did not need to hear that. It’s now been about 4 weeks and the car is booked in for shipping in two weeks, so it’s going to be close. If we miss the ship to Auckland, it will need to go on the next one but I don’t want to consider that option, so don’t ask what the date is of the next ship.

So we’ve covered almost exactly the amount of miles we thought we would from the start – I guessed 5,000, so get a chocolate fish or something for being so close. Fuel economy over the entire trip? US26.4 mpg, which is NZ31.7mpg or 8.9l/100km. Am I happy with that? Totally, it’s actually better than I thought it would be for a 375 horsepower, 5.7 litre V8.

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Are we happy that we picked a Challenger over a Camaro? Yes. Sure the Camaro has a lot more power (426hp) but it also has a much smaller boot and far smaller rear seats. The Camaro is a lot sportier than the Challenger – the Dodge is seen as more of a cross-country GT car than the Camaro, so that’s perfect for what we’ve used it for. The Dodge’s suspension – even with the Super Track Pak option – rides well for what it is, even with the state of the roads.

Would I have preferred the 8-speed auto? At times stuck in traffic, 100%. But I am so glad we got a manual, even though they are hard to find. It’s just such a more engaging experience driving a manual V8. The auto has an adaptive cruise control option which would have been nice too, but we managed just fine with normal cruise control.

One thing that surprised me while road tripping this time was the state of the roads in the USA. Since our last trip 4 years ago, they have deteriorated badly. Yes, they are building new roads in places, but some of the interstates, freeways and suburban streets are SHOCKING. They absolutely hammer your car at times. Massive potholes, huge gaps in the roads, lots of undulations – you have to drive on them to realise just how bad they are.

Would we do the same trip again? In a heartbeat. While many poo-poo the USA, to do a road trip there is an incredible experience. They people you meet at gas stations or at small town diners, the cheap gas, the driving at 80mph+, the Police’s attitude towards enforcing all the road rules – not just exceeding the speed limit…it’s an awesome experience. Sure I’d love to drive on the autobahn (it’s on the Bucket List) but if you haven’t done a US road trip, you are missing out on something special.

Last thing for today was to get a taxi from New Jersey to New York City. The driver estimates it to be about $90, probably no more. However he hasn’t allowed for the traffic on a school holiday, on a Friday at 3pm. It is horrendous. It seems to take forever to actually get to the Lincoln tunnel. We unpack our bags at our hotel in central NYC and are US$120 lighter for getting here.

At this point, I’m going to cheat and use Tracey’s blog posts for our days in New York City. It means I can relax and enjoy the city more.

 Tracey’s blog posts from here:
On our first night in New York, at the last minute we decided to get discounted tickets to a Broadway show – which we did, to Matilda. We really enjoyed Matilda and the child actors, wow! Super talented.

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After the show we again got caught in massive crowds in Times Square as we walked through flashing neon madness to our hotel.

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Day 31 ~ In which #KiwiChickInUSA pays her respects and has all the feels.

Have to confess I didn’t sleep well on my first night in NYC, not used to the constant honking from the street below and the room we’re in seems to be behind the elevators which means pretty constant rattling noises. Ugh. Anyway, we breakfasted at the Tick Tock Diner which had changed quite a bit since our last visit.

Then we tried to remember how to use the subway system – took a little longer this time, but we eventually made it down to the World Trade Center stop. The two memorial pools in the plaza there are beautiful and a fitting tribute.

One of the Reflecting Pools at the World Trade Center site
One of the Reflecting Pools at the World Trade Center site

We spent a while just walking around in silence, because it’s just that sort of place. At least, it was to us – not so much to a small percentage of people who carried on loud, laughing conversations. Something that pissed me off.

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Unfortunately the line to get tickets into the museum was huge and we waited in the sun for almost 3/4 of an hour – and THEN there was another 1/2 hour wait to get into the museum. The wait was worth it, however. I didn’t realize, when we were lining up outside, that the museum went down into the remaining foundations of the Twin Towers.

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So I was already emotionally unprepared for the impact that would have on me. Seeing the bent and broken chunks of steel that the first plane had plowed into, the crushed Number 3 fire engine, the remaining steel pillar of the towers covered in notes from rescue workers…and then there was the moving exhibit with recorded memories from survivors, and the powerful and heart-breaking recordings of victims who hadn’t made it. No wonder there were strategically placed boxes of tissues around the exhibit – I needed them.

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I think the thing I took away from the museum and visiting the site was this: those ordinary men and women who died in the towers and on the planes had no idea of the scale of the tragedy that they had unwittingly become a part of. They didn’t have time to analyse who did the despicable act and why. All they cared about in those last moments were the people they loved – family, friends, spouses. And the incredible bravery of the firefighters, police and paramedics who were (and this was mentioned more than once in the audio recordings) “just doing their jobs”.

The moving tributes of the museum and memorial were not reflected in the One World observatory, however. This, unfortunately was purely about getting as many people upstairs, fleecing them for as many $$ as possible, then getting them out again. While the views were amazing, I didn’t enjoy the experience much.

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Starting with the almost obligatory green-screen group photo (which we to frowns bypassed) and then the overpriced food ($9.80 for a stale doughnut and a bag of potato chips) and ‘standing-only tables’. Very few seats where you could just enjoy the view, and a souvenir store selling 9/11 stuff that took up a large chunk of space. It would’ve been nice, considering the location, to have just ONE observatory in New York that had a more discreet souvenir shop and didn’t have the vibe of ‘we’re out to get more of your money’. Somewhere, I don’t know, that you could actually enjoy the view that you’d paid $40 to go and see.

Being in a rush to get back to Times Square and see one more show before we left town, we ended up having a hot dog and shared a pretzel for dinner, topped off with a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream for desert. We found discount tickets for Cirque du Soleil “Paramour” which was fun and in the beautiful Lyric theater.

Day 32 ~ In which #KiwiChickInUSA has a laugh in NYC

Just a short blog today because it’s past midnight and I’m stuffed! Today we had lunch at Tom’s Restaurant – AKA Seinfeld’s diner. Seinfeld is Fred’s most favorite show ever and even though this is a our 3rd trip to NYC, it’s the first time we’ve actually made it to this iconic location.

We walked around the neighborhoods in the area, which is the Upper West Side.

We got a taste of Harlem via a milkshake at Harlem Shake.

And relaxed for a little bit at the north end of Central Park.

And topped the night off at the Broadway Comedy Club with some stand-up comedy and wickedly over-priced drinks.

It was hard to say goodbye to the neon lights of Time Square one last time…

(Almost) Epilogue

So there you have it. Five weeks and over 5,000 miles across the USA in a brand-new V8 muscle car.
I say (Almost) Epilogue because as you read, the Dodge is now waiting on being shipped back to New Zealand – then we go through that process that is compliance, registration, WoF, LHD exemptions (hopefully!) and other hoops to jump through to be able to drive this car on New Zealand roads.

But that story won’t be revealed here. To find out the end of the story, you’ll need to wait until our book USA2NZ: Buy It, Drive It, Ship It (www.usa2nz.co.nz) comes out, hopefully in October this year.

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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