When I drove from New York City to Los Angeles and back last year, I largely did it by making things up as I went, so committed was I to the idea that the best road trips are spontaneous ones. That decision, in retrospect, was what some may call “stupid,” given that it led me down the God-forsaken highways of Nebraska, the highways of the damned. This year, I’m trying something new, which is “almost having a plan.”
The plan, this time, is a five-day trip with stops in Columbus, Ohio; Little Rock, Arkansas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sedona, Arizona; and, finally, Los Angeles. It looks like this:
A friend just moved to Columbus, which was enough of an excuse to go there, while Little Rock seems more interesting than Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque is more interesting than both. Sedona, I’ve been told, is straight-up beautiful. Google seems to confirm this, while also suggesting that Sedona consists mainly of retirees and recovering drug addicts. Let’s be honest, I’m closer to both than I care to admit.
Then it’s on to Los Angeles, which is a beautiful city full of young drug addicts. It’s where I’ll be staying for December due to complicated reasons stemming from a gas explosion in the East Village in 2015 and subsequent local legislation that has had the net effect of my apartment not having cooking gas for a month and a half this year. It’ll be out all of December while they replace gas pipes and, hopefully, ensure that my building doesn’t explode.
Could I survive without cooking gas for a month-and-a-half in New York? Of course, but I was looking for an excuse for a long drive, and this was excuse enough.
So: road trip, starting on Thursday, with a manifest that consists of just my name and four legs of driving, of which only one — from Little Rock to Albuquerque — I am dreading. In Columbus, I will stay at my buddy’s house, and the rest of the way I’ll be in hotel rooms I bought with rewards points that I spent the pandemic accumulating.
This past weekend, final preparations for the drive began, first with a trip to my Honda dealer — which I despise but tolerate because the service department is open 24 hours on some days — for a New York state inspection to replace my expiring one and general instructions for them to have a deeper look at the car because I would soon be driving it almost 3,000 miles across the country. They explained that their “multi-point” inspection is above and beyond the New York state inspection and that everything would take about two hours, which sounded fine if annoyingly long. After about an hour-and-a-half, as I sat in the service center’s waiting area, I got a text from the dealer, explaining that the car had passed the state inspection just fine but also they recommended I get the brake fluid flushed and replaced, and also the throttle body serviced, and also the tires rotated, all for the (not) low price of just under $460.
They are right that I do need to have the tires rotated, but there is not a reality in which I will give someone $80 to do that, and, as for the throttle body service, well, the engine idles just fine and has no discernible performance issues, so that can wait. The internet seems deeply divided about whether a brake flush is necessary, like, ever, but I defer to the manual in such situations, and the Fit’s manual suggests you do it every three years, meaning I was receptive to the idea — it has been, uh, a while — but not for $180. So I declined it all, instead intending soon to have the tires rotated and brake fluid flushed at Jiffy Lube or one of its spiritual equivalents.
Which brings me to the tires, specifically the air pressure in the right front tire, which I fill to 40 psi every few weeks before it stubbornly returns to 20 psi. Over and over. The preferred pressure in the spare, meanwhile, is 60 psi, and probably the biggest single mistake — except for driving through fucking Nebraska — of last year’s journey was not ensuring from the get-go that the spare had sufficient air pressure until about Texas or so, something I avoided this year with six quarters Sunday at a gas station. (Editor’s note: six? What is this, Perri-air?) Still, that may not be good enough, as the spare is 13 years old —- as old as the car. That’s longer than the typical guidance of changing your tires after 10 years no matter the tread wear, and some even say six.
Spare tire replacement on a 13-year-old Honda Fit is not, I gather, something that people often do, given that Tire Rack has exactly one matching tire in stock. That’s a long way of saying that I decided to accept the risk of not replacing it, given that the conditions should be warm (enough) and the tire is only rated at up to 50 mph anyway and I would not need to rely on it much for traction if I did have to use it. It, too, could blow out, sure, but that’s what towing services are for.
One curiosity still puzzles me: As part of their inspection, the dealer rated the tread on my front tires as six out of ten, and the tread on the rear tires as eight out of ten, which makes sense, given that the Fit is a front-wheel drive car. But then the dealer also rated the tread on the spare as seven out of ten, even though the spare has never been used. We all grow old and die in time, I guess.
Anyway, aside from the issues mentioned above, the dealer said the car was good to go, which was great, except for when, as I drove away, I noticed that the airbag light was on, which the manual says indicates there could be a problem with one of the six airbags. I did not remember the light being on before taking it to the dealer, but I also don’t have any proof of that, so possibly it was; more concerning was that the dealer didn’t mention anything about the airbags or the light at all, suggesting that one of the points in their “multi-point” inspection is not checking a basic safety feature.
Now, the issue here is not that I’m worried I will crash, really, as I’m a careful, slow, highly defensive driver; it is more that I’m annoyed by my shitty dealer’s lack of professionalism. I could’ve, of course, returned and told them about the issue, but then again the last time the dealer repaired something it took them a week because they said they were waiting for parts to arrive, and that was for a goddamn recall that Honda had known about for months. I’m leaving Thursday on a tight timeline and can’t risk something like that happening, so I decided to just let it be, with the plan being to take it to a shop in Los Angeles once I get there, and the hope that the airbags won’t be required in between. The car will still be the safest car a Jalopnik writer has driven across the country in years, perhaps ever.
Next, probably sometime Wednesday night, is the packing-the-car-up-with-shit stage. If I haven’t made it to New Jersey by dawn on Thursday, something will have gone wrong, as driving in New York City during rush hour puts you in the grip of a fickle beast. I should be in Columbus just in time for happy hour. Then it’s on to Little Rock and points west.
One thing about getting old is that marathon all-day, all-night drives lose their luster. I don’t know if you’ve ever broken down in the middle of nowhere after midnight, but I have. Also, you can’t see anything at night, and, if you’re going to drive across America, you want to actually see it, so at least do it when the sun’s up. Which is my plan, too.