I’m in the pickup truck, carrying a heavy load, 100 miles north of home in what’s probably the worst city to drive in, in the whole of the United States of America.1 This is about 30 hours after an interstate bridge in one of the major arteries in said town caught fire, then collapsed.
Atlanta losing a major artery is like, well, a person losing a major artery.
The gridlock on the surface roads gives me time to reflect on how it was I got here, Jenn gamely coming along with me. I’m trying to deliver my scooter to a dealer for repairs that apparently have outfoxed the crew at the only place in my hometown I can find to work on it. Meanwhile, we’re shopping for a newish used car and are trying to knock out two birds with one fossil.
The backstory is this: We’re a three-vehicle house, which we know is silly for a two-person abode. But it’s seemed like the best thing for us, environmentally. Jenn drives the fuel-efficient Corolla. I drive the fuel-efficient scooter. If it’s raining, or it’s below 38 degrees out, or I’m working on a rental property, I’ll drive the conspicuously not fuel-efficient pickup. Also, turns out the pickup is handy for taking the scooter to the shop.
The plot thickens, as the car we’re looking at to replace the Corolla is a Nissan Leaf up in Alpharetta. That’s north of Atlanta. That means we have to work our way through the collapsed interstate bridge twice. And if we buy the car, we have to figure out how to get a vehicle with a 90-mile range 130 miles home — in a town I avoid, on a route I don’t know, with a completely unpredictable amount of time to spend in traffic.
To look at this another way: I’m using my least fuel-efficient vehicle to carry my most-fuel efficient vehicle a long way up the highway, with the ultimate intent of buying an even more fuel-efficient vehicle that we can’t actually get home.
I think that covers it.
Wanna know what happens?
Drivin’ down old Dixie
The scooter shop is south of the downed bridge, mercifully. Still, traffic is choked up on the alternate routes, even on a Saturday morning. But it only takes about 30 extra minutes to get there, which is a win.
From there, it’s north to Alpharetta on U.S. 19, which, in town, I’m pretty sure is north on West Peachtree Street, which should never be confused with just north on Peachtree Street Northwest, which is east of West Peachtree. Pretty much stop-and-go every block through town, with traffic so thick that lights cycle several times before we can get through each intersection. The driving gets easier as we make it further out of town. But by the time we find the auto “lot” with the Leaf we’d been eyeing, we know there is a problem.
I mean, I’ve outlined a host of problems. But this one’s a deal-killer.
These guys are operating out of what seems to be an industrial park. They’re friendly enough folks — young, big smiles that give a certain eau de cocaine. They might also be tied to the Russian mob, as one of them is named something ridiculous, like “Boris.” We politely pull the car out for a test drive and my eyes meet Jenn’s, each with a knowing look that says, “No way are we giving them any means to perform identity theft or armed robbery.”
The traffic situation south of us and the car’s lack of a nav system give us the polite out we need. We return the car, and it’s buh-bye, Boris.
But I had a backup plan. I’d written down the address of a car place in Union City that had a big collection of off-lease
Leaves Leafs. Union City is south of Atlanta, so it’s back through town. At least this place is on the way home, though, and we can swing wide of downtown on the I-285 bypass. It’s still pretty choked up, but it’s moving faster than the surface roads were on our northbound jaunt.
Nothing much to say about this car lot, except, true to their word, they had about 30 ‘lectric cars for us to look at, mostly 2015s and 2016s. The prices are good. The cars are clean. The salespeople are hands-off and no-haggle.
We buy ourselves a car.
And what a car it is. The Corolla we’ve been driving has what our friends lovingly call the Amish package — with no power nothing, outside of starter and headlights. So, I mean, we’re easily impressed. But this thing is loaded: power locks, power windows, thermostat-based climate control, heated seats, heated steering wheel. Hell, the car will honk at you when you’ve aired up its tire to the right pressure, no lie. And stomp on the pedal and this baby will get up and go, with a 0-30 time of 3 seconds.
We found our car, alright. The only thing was, we still have to get it home. And there’s a stack of problems in our way. First there’s a tussle between me and Jenn over who gets to drive the new baby. And it’s not until after that’s resolved (King Solomon style) that we realize we’re 92 miles from home in a car that’s got about 70 miles left on its charge.
(Which eager driver is the car most likely to run out of juice on? Can crowdsourced fuel station maps really save the day for a couple without a cellphone data plan? Who’s our least favorite Nissan dealer? Hang on to your heated seats, kids. Part 2 of this stunning tale will thrill you with all these answers and more. ‘Nuff said.)
1 Technically, Atlanta ranks No. 9, with drivers spending an average of 59 hours a year in traffic, per U.S. News & World Report. The ATL ranks immediately behind Chicago and ahead of Honolulu. Los Angeles is the worst, with drivers spending 81 hours in traffic per year. Of course, these stats are from before the I-85 bridge collapse.