The most disastrous Diet Pepsi detour in recorded history
Today’s final session of sales training was quite the anti-climax. The trainers did not collect the final exam everyone had worked on last night, instead the 12 trainees all took turns reading answers. As it had been a take-home exam with the answers easily found in the underwriting manual, no one seemed to have any trouble giving the correct responses. What really took us by surprise is that no one was called upon to recite the entire sales presentation from approach to close. Instead, each trainee had to recite just one part of the presentation. I struggled a bit when I was called upon the recite the correct response to use if a prospect says “I’d like to think about it for a couple of days” (a response is necessary because if you just leave, and call the prospect in a couple of days as he or she asked, your chances of actually making the sale will be significantly less than zero). Nonetheless, I made it through, and after some inspirational words the trainers handed out certificates of completion and we were on the road a little after noon.
And I stayed on the road for FAR too long. Everything started out okay, to be sure. I took I-90 to the Taconic Parkway and was making very good time. Just as I crossed from Columbia County into Dutchess County, the good times came to an abrupt end thanks to my urge for a Diet Pepsi. I got off at the Route 199/Rhinebeck exit, figuring there’d be a nearby c-store or gas station where I could indulge the aforementioned urge. There wasn’t anything of the sort in the immediate vicinity of the exit, except a long-closed gas station, so I headed west on 199 toward town, figuring that I’d surely come across something, right? I kept driving and driving, past farms and scattered houses, and with each mile I figured that it would make less sense to turn back … after all, I’d already gone this far, and I was sure to encounter a suitable establishment around the next bend. This went on for about ten miles, including a turn from Route 199 onto Route 308, until I found myself in the middle of Rhinebeck. There’d definitely be something here, right? Wrong again! Rhinebeck is no ordinary town, but an achingly cute upscale “village” full of bistros, overpriced boutiques, massage studios (as opposed to, you know, massage parlors), antique stores, and so on. No doubt there’s some town of the same ilk near you too. People in Rhinebeck surely abhor Diet Pepsi and similar beverages as full of toxins (why people worry about toxins puzzles me, considering that poisoning ranks very, very low among causes of death in America), and in any event all the parking spaces were filled with Range Rovers and Lexus LX470’s and whatever the Mercedes SUV’s are called. So I kept driving east, my frustration level growing by the minute, until I began seeing signs for the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge over the Hudson. Having gone so far from the Taconic, and at this point not being under any time pressure, I figured I’d cross the bridge and pick up the Thruway on the other side. Which is what I did, though it took longer than anticipated to reach the Thruway, and I finally got my Diet Pepsi (actually, a Diet Coke, but close enough) at the Modena service area. I also got a “personal size” pepperoni pizza from Pizzeria Uno. It cost an exhorbitant nine dollars along with the Diet Coke, and worst of all the ‘za was basically just bread with a minimal amount of cheese and sauce, with one or two tired-looking and paper-thin pieces of pepperoni.
As I headed south on the Thruway in Rockland County, I spotted a sign for an EZ Pass service center at Exit 14. I keep meaning to get an EZ Pass, to make my passage through bridge tolls quicker (if not cheaper), and this looked like the perfect opportunity. Getting off the exit, I found myself in very heavy traffic near the Nanuet Mall, and more to the point couldn’t find the EZ Pass service center. All of the signage seemed to have pulled a disappearing act. After a few miles I saw signs for the Palisades Interstate Parkway, and decided to head south on it to the George Washington Bridge. Many moons ago, back when the Model T was just hitting the market, I commuted on the Palisades for a few months and remembered it as a pretty nice road. Indeed it was, and I also enjoyed a brief stop at the State Line Lookout with spectacular views from the top of the cliffs. There were no delays onto the George Washington Bridge, and although traffic in the other direction was horrendous I made it onto the Major Deegan Expressway and across the Triboro Bridge (on grounds of principle I refuse to use its ridiculous new name) with no trouble at all. Even with the Diet Pepsi Detour, it looked as if I’d make it home in a little over four and a half hours.
Was I ever wrong. No sooner did I get onto the Grand Central Parkway than traffic came to a dead stop. It took just about an hour to cover the next five or six miles. How slow was that? You do the math. It turns out there was a broken-down car in the left lane just past Citifield (this is one new name I will use). It’s amazing how the blockage of one out of three lanes can cause such apocalyptic delays. Traffic was heavy but moving, more or less, onto the Long Island Expressway and then on the Expressway itself … until I got a few miles into Nassau County, when the same ol’ dead stop routine returned for an encore performance. This time it took an hour to cover about ten miles. Does that count as progress? What happened is that much earlier there had been a truck crash on the Exit 41S ramp on the westbound side. Note that I said an exit ramp, no blockage of the Expressway itself, and it was on the other side. Irrelevant to me, one would think. Not quite. You see, peoples’ lives are so unfulfilled that they have to slow down or even stop their cars so they can get a good long look at work crews cleaning up some debris, in the process causing massive delays in both directions. My already minimal faith in humanity took another massive hit. While traffic sped up thereafter, the damage had been done. I got home almost seven hours after leaving Albany, utterly presposterous for a 250-mile trip. It took every bit of self-control not to get off the exit for Pilgrim State Hospital and see if the admissions office was open. Needless to say, I was in no shape for the gym. Had I resisted the urge for a Diet Pepsi and stayed on the Taconic, I probably would have made it home hours sooner.