I 90 and the Time Machine

In a little over three weeks I’ve been to Cuba, Salamanca, Napoli, Antwerp, Blenheim, Dunkirk, and Yorkshire.

And I never left New York.

Were you expecting something else?

It would have been great (and a fib) to tell you I’d been to Europe and flew back via Cuba but the truth is the travel was a lot more prosaic…Enterprise rental, the mind-bending monotony of I-90 (eye-niner-zero) and a series of faceless Comfort Inns with drainage issues.


I want to discuss something with you. Here it is: is it possible that just west of Syracuse there exists a time vortex? If you’ve driven past this point you might have noticed the road bends out like Laffy Taffy and a certain desperation sets in as you search frantically for a place to pee while the numbness in your arse begins to extend inexorably toward your feet. Being polite, you will learn to refer to this as “looking for a place to stretch my legs.” But we all know what’s going on.

Which brings me to the Theory of Relativity and I-90. I was an English major so we’re not going too far with this but I believe the designers of the stretch of I-90 past Syracuse might have created this road so we can all time travel, which is another reason to drive real fast across the state. Because, if you remember what Einstein was up to around 1905, he was all about figuring out how to get to the future. Or, more specifically, by taking off from the present and going really fast you arrive in the future pronto. It also might explain why you don’t look too bad heading out west on I 90 but you look like hell after coming back east.

When Einstein developed his Theory he had no idea what 6+ hours of windshield time in a Chevy Aveo searching for coffee and a thunder hole could do to your sense of place on the space-time continuum.

As I’ve trolled back and forth across the State of New York I’ve tried to figure out why the length of I 90 multiplied by its width plus the total lack of scenery for hundreds of miles equals a form of desperate madness that causes people to clutch frantically at their cell phones risking all for a chance to talk to anyone who will answer in five rings or less. My research is ongoing.

Which brings me to “business travel”. I always thought that saying, “Yes, I travel for business” was terribly urbane. It made me part of a larger world of “business travelers”, a sophisticated group of professionals who wore suits, carried a rolled up Wall Street Journal under an arm, and had snappy luggage. The truth is business travel beats the snot out of you. Especially business travel across I 90. I’ve never really met the dark suited “business traveler” I conjured up from watching too many Gregory Peck movies as a kid but I have met a shower curtain salesman and a guy from Pensacola. Maybe I need to fly more. Why am I bringing this up? Because if you go by ground and you never get off the infernal super highway you just might miss the rest of New York.

I’ve learned to combine being a tourist with being a business traveler. It keeps me sane. This week I wound up on the Amish Trail in Chautauqua County checking out the quilts, the llamas and sheep, and the tidy farms. I made my first trip to Niagara Falls on an evening when there were only about twenty people hunkered down against the rain and the mist but it was powerful magic for me. I stopped to look at the Seneca Nation’s library, museum and education center, and admire the symmetry of the vineyards that seem to grow everywhere in backyards and neat fields in a band down the western side of the state. I really did lose my heart to western New York.

In a place where the pace of life is half the speed of light we swim in here in the eastern part of the state, it’s an argument for the physics of I 90. And for slowing it down.


About Phyllis Alberici

Hanging a few lanterns in the darkness. Let me know how it's going.
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4 Responses to I 90 and the Time Machine

  1. Having done the back-and-forth from Albany to Geneseo regularly, I share your perspective (and pain) 100%. I did, however, with a LOT of trial and error develop a route from Geneseo to Exit 34-A that managed to be interesting to the eyes and brains, while also minimizing passage through the aggravatingly slow lights/signs of the various towns along the Route 20 corridor north of the lakes. A rare happy medium in Western New York . . .

    • Phyllis Alberici says:

      Putting the route on the list. I’m also wondering why no one’s marketed a transporter room. We have cell phones, iPads, and electric can openers. Can’t be that hard. Beam me over!

  2. Greg Goth says:

    An interesting sociological corollary question: at which point along I-90 in NY does the East end and the Midwest begin in a cultural sense? I lived in Cazenovia, Oneida, and Auburn, and drove hundreds of time along 20 and I-90 between CNY and Poughkeepsie. I think the Midwest actually starts somewhere just west of Amsterdam.

    • Phyllis Alberici says:

      You might be on to something there, Greg. If I remember my undergrad days in western PA we always considered ourselves the gateway to the mid-West but maybe we were kidding ourselves and it begins further east. Maybe even Amsterdam. Once you’re off the strip that runs from Albany south and over a bit into Rockland and Sullivan counties, you’ve left New York. Thank God.

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