Tags: travel

DW: Scooter

S-M-R-T

With Laura's increased need for driving flexibility in order to spend more time with family, we were considering buying a new, fuel-efficient car that she could use to get to and from work and cut back on gas. After doing a bunch of research with Consumer Reports and narrowing down our list to 3 or so options, we scrapped the whole thing and signed up for Zipcar so that I could have a spare car when I need it, but we don't end up with car payments, increased insurance, and city registration fees. Not only was this a good short-term solution to our sudden need for a car, but also, the majority of the Zipcar fleet are small, fuel-efficient cars that were on our list.

One of the biggest perks of Zipcar was the opportunity to drive a Smart Car. Ever since I went to Germany with my high school band in 2001 and saw these tiny, colorful cubes on wheels, I wanted to drive one. Even though I knew I would probably never own one, the possibility of driving one was really exciting.

Emphasis on was.

The actual driving experience of the Smart Car is akin to driving a golf cart. I was pleasantly surprised that my bass clarinet fit in the back. Actually the cargo space was significantly more than I expected. The main problem with the Smart Car comes in the "car" part. The engine has enough power to get off the line, but the transmission makes shifting between gears feel like riding a bucking bronco. Also, if you put the fan on to cool down (kind of necessary when it's 85 degrees outside) the entire dashboard shakes and I was a little bit scared of breaking the thing. The ultimate kicker was the lack of power steering or anti-lock breaks. With a decent effort, you could probably pick the car up, but it's a lot of work to drive.

Now that I've done it once, I never have to drive a Smart Car again. Fantasy realized, illusion shattered.
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One helluva weekend

So this past weekend I went to St. Louis...but not without a lot of excitement on the way.

It started snowing heavily Thursday night. Not surprising, considering it's winter in Chicago, but I am so thoroughly sick of snow and winter as a whole at this point. Bring on March! By 7 am when I wake up Friday morning, there's about 9 inches on the ground, and it's still coming down. "Well, shit," I said to myself. I shower and head out to the bus as quickly as possible, because what is normally a 25 minute bus ride to Union Station was going to take a while.

A wheely suitcase is not that helpful in 9 inches of snow, unless you're the people walking behind it as I plow the sidewalk. The most exhausting 4 block walk of my life got me to the bus stop at 8 am. I arrived at Union Station just 5 minutes before 9, yeah, that's almost one full hour on a bus packed like sardines. It's not good to be a sleepy traveler before the travels have actually begun. My megabus was scheduled to leave at 9, so I hurried across the street to be ready to go once it arrived. Unfortunately, I (and the other commercial bus customers) was informed by a bus worker that "The Government" (TM) had called just 10 minutes before to cancel all travel out of the city. "Well, shit," I said to myself.

After calling my mommy and getting no information from the megabus website, I overheard a guy on his cell phone with their customer service type people, also getting no real information. The two of us and another girl who were all planning to go to St. Louis decided to wait inside while trying to contact the people who might know something. At this point, I noticed that the Amtrak trains to St. Louis were running on time according to the departure board. So the three of us head downstairs to check on what our train options are. The guy, Justin, checks the electronic ticketing kiosk and discovers that the 2 trains I had seen leaving at 10 and 12:15 weren't available. But there was one leaving at 9:25 (less than 5 minutes away), but cost $65. "Well, shit," I said to myself. As Geo says, you're only broke once, and I need to get my ass to St. Louis. We pony up the dough and are some of the last passengers on the train. Once we were seated, we were off.

The train ride itself wasn't too bad until we crossed the river into Missouri and were no longer subject to Illinois' laws that give Amtrak trains a little more preference than they have elsewhere against the freighters that own the rails. 40 minutes after crossing the river, we were at the station.

Fortunately, after that very European-esque travel adventure, there was Laura! Too exhausted to do much of anything, we went back to her apartment for some food and relaxation.

(Note: Time for class, more to come later)