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July 20th, 2009:

Michigan to Manhattan: A cross-country scorecard of what makes America great (part 1)

This is the first in a two part series recapping my move to New York.

mcdonalds cardboard big breakfast The Departure

Moving day was quite the odyssey.

When I arrived at the car rental place on Tuesday at 7 AM to pick up my rental, I was informed that they did not have a car for me. No apology, nothing. The disgruntled sales clerk simply suggested I “call around” to other Hertz locations. He did not provide a list of numbers.

Fortunately Google picked up the slack and was able to provide me a comprehensive list of Hertz locations in the metro-Detroit area.

Two hours, and ten phone calls later, I had a car from another Hertz location – although not the car the sales person had promised me on the phone 20 minutes prior. But at this point, I wasn’t complaining. Not even Hertz’s European approach to customer service could stop me from moving to New York. I eagerly hoped in my Hyundai, drove thru the nearest McDonald’s for a breakfast value meal and ventured forth.

Observations/Score card:

McDonald’s breakfast makes America great.

Hertz Rent-A-Car does not.

Flying J

The Heartland

Things went quite smoothly for the first leg of the journey. My Ann Arbor engineered Hyundai was a surprisingly nice car (blasphemy from a Detroiter, I know). The Ohio Turnpike rest stops lived up to expectations, and I was able to get a few shots of espresso from Starbucks for $2, which I paid for with my credit card.

However, things went precipitously downhill once I entered Pennsylvania.  It was a solid 100 miles into Keystone State before I came across anything resembling a standard interstate rest area/fast food assemblage. By this point the gas situation was quite dire and I was forced to refuel at a Flying J Truck Stop.

The gas pumps at the Flying J had a user interface so complicated that it made your typical automated telephone support line seem refreshing and simple by comparison. After navigating through about 6 menus and entering my zip code no less than 3 times, I was finally able to refuel my car.

Inside, the Flying J was your typical full-service interstate truck stop: a gas station expanded to include a restaurant, arcade, pay showers and a full party store. This particular location also had an impressive display of Christian memorabilia, including pamphlets advertizing “Christian Brides,” who would move to the U.S. from some distant godforsaken land (probably Europe) to marry lonely Christian men.

Because Hertz had delayed my departure, I regrettably did not have much time to explore all that the Flying J had to offer.

Observations/Score card:

Buying coffee with a credit card makes America great.

Western Pennsylvania and Flying J truck stops do not.

Check back later this week for Part 2: The Garden State and the Big Apple

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