US Road Trip Travelog: 11th February 2005

Today I almost wiped-out my rental car, and myself for that matter, in my first serious driving mistake since coming to the US on Monday. I was trying to follow the directions that I'd printed off from the Alamo website showing where to return the car. As it happened these directions were complete bollocks, as I found out when I phoned them later. Anyway, I'd followed the them to another road that was obviously the wrong one so I did a u-turn and headed back. Only to find a car coming straight at me. I swerved to avoid him, cursed him, and the realised that I'd done a u-turn on a (then-deserted) piece of dual carriageway. He was in the right and I was very, very wrong. Oops.

Driving the Interstates around St Louis Airport, as I have over the last few days, has been a complete nightmare even before the above. The problem stems from the fact that they have exit slip roads off both sides of the carriageway. In a typical example you'll see a sign to exit you want 1 mile ahead, so you move over into the right-hand lane. Then you see the exit, and it's from the far left-hand lane. The game then is can you get across what if often 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic in time? More often than not, I couldn't, and so had to go on the next junction and double back on myself. If they told you which side the exit was on in the first place it would be ok, but all too often they don't.

You could argue that the above is just poor signposting, but I saw one today that was worse than that. I wanted to join the interstate just for one short junction. I joined in the far right-hand lane to see that the exit was in the far left-hand lane ½ mile ahead. Any chance of getting across when it's busy? Not unless you're driving a Chieftain Tank there's not. Now that's just poor road design. I would've tried to take a photo whilst driving but my life was in danger at the time.

Enough ranting about the St Louis road system. I returned the Cavalier - looking, it has to be said, a bit sorry for itself (but not mangled) - and got the shuttle bus to the airport. From there the MetroLink, which is a sort of light railway, back through St Louis and over the Mississippi - wish I'd had my camera out - to a place on the Illinois side where Sal could collect me.

My Riviera appears to have grown is size over the last few days. A photo of the car by itself is no use, so I'll try at some point to take a photo of it next to something recognisable. (There was a Triumph Herald at Country Classic Cars, in one of the barns. Next to the American ones it looked like a pedal car.) Anyway, the Riviera is mine so it's handshakes all around and I'm off. Straight to the petrol station, for $20-worth of Premium. I have a funny feeling that I'll be visiting quite a few petrol stations in the near future.

I mentioned yesterday the helpfulness of the Riviera contacts I'd made via the internet. I forgot to mention Tom Mooney, who gave me lots of useful advice regarding Rivieras before I'd even left the UK. It would be great to get Tom to cast his expert eye over my new purchase but unfortunately he's based up near Chicago and I've spent quite enough time on I55 in the past week. Sean Cahill from the Riviera Owners Association, through the power of the club's email discussion list, puts me in contact with Adam Martin who is just north of St Louis. Back, then, to the roads from hell.

Adam takes time out from his job to have a quick look over the car and his opinion is generally favourable. The bodywork, as far as can be seen, appears to have survived its 42 years in good condition and, though the engine bay isn't pretty, it all appears to be present and correct. He also gives me some useful advice regarding what I need to say when the car gets a quick service ('lube job'). And he points out the condition of the engine oil and suggests that the lube job is done sooner rather than later. All very encouraging and it was nice of him to take the time. What I didn't realise before I met him is that Adam's also the man behind buickpartsdirectory.com, a site that I'd already marked as a useful link.

Suitably encouraged, it's time to head south and away from the Interstates of St Louis and onto the historic highways of the US. Of course, I have to get lost and completely surprised by the St Louis road system at least twice more but eventually I break free. Now the real journey can begin.

Riviera on Highway 61
As is common with many of my photos, there's an unfortunate shadow across this one. Still, you get the idea.

At last, a picture on this page. Sorry about the abundance of text before. Highway 61 is two lanes wide at first, and a bit congested, but it soon goes down to one lane and the traffic thins out. Of course, I manage to lose it at one point (it disappears into the Interstate) and have to take a detour but I don't really care. It's a lovely sunny day, the rolling countryside is beautiful and the temperature is rising the further south I travel.

Overnight stop is in Cape Girardeau. I'm stopped by a playground in the town centre looking at a map when a black teenager - with the most amazing teeth, like Goldie - strolls up and asks me if my 'ride' is for sale. I explain that I've only just bought it and it's definitely not for sale. He laughs (probably at my accent), flashing those gold teeth again, gives my 'ride' another once-over and saunters off. Could it be that, for the first time ever, I'm driving a 'cool' car? I also noticed a few people on the roads slowing down for a look, and one guy beeping his horn and giving me a thumbs-up. I thought the Riviera would just kind of blend in on the American roads, but I may be wrong.

A cool car?
A cool car? Actually it's probably a car in a state of shock after covering some miles today straight from many months unused in a showroom.

Once in my motel I start thinking about the days to come. Next stop is Memphis and, I think, a few days off from driving. Might even splash out on a hotel downtown so I can actually use my legs for something more than accelerator and brake. May seem like a strange thing to do, having just collected the Riviera, but I think if it gets a lube job (and maybe a new hi-fi) and I get a few days off then we'll probably both benefit. I covered 750 miles in that Cavalier in 4 days - some of it on the right carriageway - and have done another 250 in the Riviera today. The rest of my road trip is a marathon, not a sprint, and a clear break might help put me in the right frame of mind for the next few months.

US Road Trip Travelog: 12th February 2005 >

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