This story is about the first, of hopefully three, adventures shared with one of my closest friends. While a handful of the stops and activities were impromptu, most were planned based on my friend’s bucket list.
Before getting into the adventure itself, some background on the characters involved is necessary. Shawn and I (Bill) are 34 years old and have been great friends since Kindergarten. We grew up, well…perhaps aged is a better term for it, in a small Vermont town where the population of cows outnumbered the humans. Despite the fact that we grew up in the sticks, we are both huge car nuts. Between us we have owned some fun - or at least some unreliable - cars! His current stable includes a 1998 Mercedes SL600 and a 2014 Mazda6 Grand Touring. My garage includes a 2005 Volvo V50 which sits next to my wife’s Mazda CX-5, and I just sold a 2005 Mazda RX-8. In the past I’ve had nearly a dozen Saabs and he’s had a Subaru SUS, Range Rover (mid-90’s with 190k miles), and even a Lincoln Fusion..I mean, Zephyr. In this duo I have always been the driver while Shawn, “The Collector,” spends his days amassing an encyclopedic knowledge of cars as well as an amazing and ever-growing collection of matchbox-scale cars (currently totaling around 15,000).
Over the last year and a half, Shawn has been down an extremely rough road. He was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Cancer around the same time his mother learned she had cancer in her colon. After surgeries for both Shawn and his mother, it seemed things were on the mend. However, around Christmas time last year his mother went into the hospital again where she unexpectedly passed away (the cancer was more advanced than she had let on). A few months later, Shawn began having complications and it became clear that things were not well. Further testing revealed the cancer had spread and as a result Shawn was diagnosed terminal. Shawn had undergone his maximum of radiation treatments when the first cancer was found, meaning his only recourse is to get as much chemotherapy treatment as his body can handle to stave off the cancer for as long as possible. It was estimated that he has one year to live.
While hope is always among us, Shawn created a bucket list of all the things he wants to see in the time he has left. As a result of Shawn not having a passport, all of the activities on the list are in the continental USA. I was able to make nearly the entire list fit within three 8-10 day adventures that we will try to squeeze between his Chemo treatments. Through fund-raising efforts and our personal savings, we are doing everything we can to make them happen! This article is our way of sharing the fun and excitement we felt on this first trip with everyone, especially those whose support made it possible and those whose support will make the rest of the trips possible.
We fit a huge number of things into a few days, so I’ll split the article into parts to make it easier to digest. If you need to use the restroom, you should go now….it’s okay, I’ll wait.
Welcome back. It all started at my place of work where we met up to acquire the rental car that would be our travel companion for the next 8 days. Since this was a long-distance, one-way rental, my research had lead us to believe it would cost close to $1,000. When I made the reservation a few days ago - I got the first surprise of the journey. Our car would be less than half of that price and something much more interesting than a Corolla!
Pictured: Our rental car.
I’m not sure which stars were aligned for it to happen, but, for half of what it was going to cost us to rent an economy car, we got a 2015 Camaro convertible with 11,189 miles on the odo. Admittedly it was a V6 and an automatic, but, we weren’t complaining, at least not until we had to fit our luggage into the tiny trunk and consult the owner’s manual on the proper procedure for lowering the top!
Day 1: Let the fun commence
At 6:30 the following morning we had our luggage and rations packed tightly into the trunk, the top down, and the radio playing some crappy music from my phone; we were on our way.
The skies were not being cooperative and after only 90 miles we were forced to stop just long enough to raise the roof. This was followed closely by another stop, this time at McDonalds since we both realized we were hungry and hadn’t eaten anything. It was a few more miles to the border with Massachusetts and then a breeze through Mass into Connecticut just in time to find some traffic. The sun seemed to be out by this point as well - so we took advantage of sitting still on the highway and put the top back where it was supposed to be. We made it to our first destination around 11:00: Miller Motorcars of Greenwich, CT.
Pictured: Miller Motorcars’ Mclaren showroom - as seen from the Ferrari showroom.
Prior to setting off, I had contacted the dealership by email explaining the situation and that we were interested in visiting the dealership and looking at some exotic cars. Their used car manager, Daniel Mota, had responded to me promptly and said he was excited for us to come down so he could show us around. We had no idea what was in store for us.
We spent some time in the Ferrari showroom while Daniel finished a meeting he was in. It was after that meeting that the grand tour began! From the showroom we went into the ordering room where customers create their new Ferrari’s.
Pictured: The Ferrari ordering room – where you pick the color of your car, the fabric on the seats, the stitching on the steering wheel, and how bright you want your seat belts!
After that we went to the service department where I am pretty certain the floor could have doubled as a picnic table. We were greeted by two Enzos, two F40s, a LaFerrari (which I was not allowed to take photos of for the sake of the owners privacy), a 512 Boxer, a 458 Speciale, and a F430 without its engine.
Pictured: Ferrari Enzo and F40 in the service area.
After drooling over several million dollars worth of Ferrari badges, we were then shown the basement showroom and the reconditioning departments. It was then off to see what they had in store over on the McLaren side. This is where we would meet up with Evan Cygler. Here’s what greeted us at the door...
Pictured: Bugatti Veyron in black.
This car had been put in the showroom that morning (too bad we weren’t around for that!) and hadn’t even made it onto their website yet! They even let us get inside. In a world where touch screens and push button starters can be found on a base Mazda3, it’s amazing to see how relatively simple the exquisite controls are. When new, these cars sold for about a million dollars and now are selling for around twice that. They have an 8.0L, 16 cylinder, quad-turbocharged engine making about 1000hp, and a beefy all-wheel-drive system to keep it all together. This can propel the Veyron to 60mph in 2.5 seconds and for awhile was the fastest production car available at 253mph.
Pictured: Bugatti Veyron interior
After that they had one more treat in store for us. Hiding in the “basement” was one car that I had no idea I would get to see in my lifetime, let alone today...I believe “Holy Shit” was the unanimous response from both of us. Given that we’d already seen Enzos, F40s, and a Veyron that’s saying a hell of a lot!
Pictured: Holy shit, indeed. Pagani Huayra for those who are wondering.
This car is made in Italy from mountains of carbon fiber with a gigantic Mercedes AMG V12 bolted behind the seats. The exterior details are impeccable: the weave of the carbon fiber between body panels even matches up. The most striking thing about the car, however, is its interior. The aluminum components (including the key fob) are milled from solid chunks of the stuff so there are no seam lines anywhere. The interior is filled with it, laid out in the craziest mix of leather and aluminum around. The unbelievable craftsmanship and attention to every little detail is very easy to appreciate. However, with the exception of the exposed gear linkage system, the flashiness of the interior isn’t to my taste; Shawn loved it though (up to and including the seats).
Pictured: Aluminum, leather and carbon fiber, ohh my. Why yes, those are plaid seats. Top: Pagani Huayra dash. Bottom: exposed gearshift linkage.
But wait, there’s more! Shawn was given a rather nice collection of swag (shirt, hat, die-cast Ferrari 599, and a calendar), and then came the cherry on top. Once our jaws were finally able to close, we found that Evan was putting a plate on the back of a Mclaren 12C so he could take us both for a ride around the block. I can safely say that I’ve not been in a car that will accelerate as quickly or as relentlessly as that. Tunnel blasting in a 12C is a very fun and addicting game.
This was an experience far beyond what either of us had expected and we would like once again to thank Daniel Mota and Evan Cygler for their hospitality and generosity.
I’m pretty sure if we had ended the journey right then and there and just gone home, we would’ve been satisfied. But, the fun had only just begun.
Once our organs were back in place we sighed longingly at the row of Mclarens behind us as we settled back into the Camaro to be on our way. Shortly we found ourselves in Brooklyn with a great view of New York City - preparing ourselves for the worst traffic, horns, and middle fingers. At last we were on the Brooklyn Bridge and our Manhattan cherries were popped.
Pictured: The Brooklyn Bridge
Previously, the biggest city either of us have had the (dis)pleasure of driving through was Boston. Despite its width, the Camaro handled the big city quite easily and since the sun was out and the top was down - visibility was fantastic. Perhaps everyone should be introduced to this place in a convertible on a sunny day. The improved side/rear visibility is an obvious reason. Another though, is so that you can look up at the skyscrapers. These buildings are enormous and if it weren’t for the infinite head room, we would’ve missed half of it - along with pictures like this:
Pictured - One World Trade Center
Despite the fact that pretty much every street is one-way, maneuvering around wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating - largely due to the grid system. Every road runs in straight lines either east-west or north-south and are numbered accordingly. Since there’s an exception to every rule, there are a couple roads that run diagonally. I did still set the navigation t0 help reduce human-error, at least a tiny bit.
Our first stop in NYC was Battery Parking, which was the closest to our actual destination - The Statue of Liberty - and appeared to be the least efficiently designed parking garage I’ve ever encountered.
There was a pretty good breeze blowing, so the ferry ride was a bit up and down - fortunately, it didn’t bother either of us a whole lot. On the way to Liberty Island is a great opportunity to look back on Manhattan, Brooklyn and, yes, even New Jersey.
Pictured: New York City skyline.
The other side of the ferry gives you a commanding view of probably the second most prominent symbol of the United States (after the flag); The Statue of Liberty.
Pictured: Statue of Liberty from the ferry.
It takes 252 steps to reach her crown. Unfortunately, access to the crown is limited to certain days and only a handful of people even on those days. To get to the pedestal viewing area at the base of the statue is “only” 192 steps and the view out in any direction is great. From inside you can see up into the statue and the tiny, steep staircase that takes you the other 60 steps into the crown. Seeing the statue’s size from the ground is more meaningful once you’ve reached the pedestal to see how small everything is. Then comes the realization that you were only halfway up.
Pictured: Top: NYC from the Pedestal. Bottom: Look at all the little ants down there!
Pictured: Shawn’s village people impersonation.
Two expensive bottles of water topped off our visit to the Statue which meant it was time for another ferry ride - this time to Ellis Island. This is where it became apparent that on the whole, people don’t pay much attention. Clearly in the past people had a hard time getting on the right boat. Boarding and departing were both met with a never-ending barrage of “Ellis Island, folksm we’re at Ellis Island.” for the people getting off, and “New York City. This boat is going to New York.” for those leaving the island. Strangely, there was also a third option “Jersey, right here, yo.”
Our visit to Ellis Island was relatively short. The exhibits were mostly information about settlers in the area from many many years ago. There was very little in the way of artifacts, etc. We enjoyed seeing the older section of the building as well as the registry rooms. My great grandmother had come through this very room when she came to the U.S. from Poland.
Pictured: The registry room.
One more ferry ride (make sure you get on the right one, now!) returned us to Manhattan. Into the Camaro we went, up the west side of FDR to make our way further north on the island and get a drive-by peek of Central Park. For whatever reason the camera was unwilling to focus, likely due to operator or driver malfunctions, as we sped by - so nearly all of our shots came out blurry. We also got to drive down 5th avenue, which took us by the Guggenheim and Modern Art Museum. The price for riding around in a horse drawn carriage was pretty surprising, but since it wasn’t on the list anyway, we just continued on.
Pictured: The Guggenheim Museum.
Pictured: NYC Modern Art Museum.
Making our way south again we found our hotel and checked in. I parked the car in a garage across the street for a whopping $55/night. We got to our well-appointed but very small room without a view, and found spots for our belongings. Once we finished unpacking, it was off to the bar/restaurant Hurley’s Tavern next door for some pretty good grub after waiting a surprising amount of time for a menu. The night was young, the driving was over, and a little alcohol was in order!
Pictured: Where we stayed. Good people, cool lobby - tiny rooms....though, it is NYC.
Pictured: I’m glad it was just the two of us - it might have been cramped otherwise!
Pictured: Whiskey BBQ onions, bacon and a perfect medium. MMMmmmm, Burger.... That Coke may have some rum in it too...
Pictured: Crab and Lobster Macaroni and Cheese.
We stuffed ourselves and then proceeded to stumble out (because of the amount of food - not the drink) and made our way towards all the flashing lights nearby. I had purposefully chosen a hotel in close proximity to Times Square - but was surprised at just how close we really were. Fortunately, by now the sun had gone down as there is only one way to experience this place. It’s amazing how it transforms from ho-hum in the daytime to a jaw-dropping overload of lights and sounds emanating from the dark. It was pretty great to see and I am excited to go back with extra time to explore more of the stores. We did take a few minutes to step into the 3-story Toys ‘R Us complete with indoor Ferris Wheel.
Pictured: The pandemonium that is Times Square
Pictured: We didn’t take a ride on it...
What did we do next, you ask? Well, obviously since it was like 9:00 at night after a long day and with several more long days ahead, we went to bed, right? Yeah...right. To the south we walked. The objective: The Empire State Building. The charming old building may no longer be the tallest in the world - or the tallest in New York City, but, it is still beautiful and Shawn and I have both wanted to see it ever since we learned about it as children! We were not disappointed. From the street looking up the Empire State Building is impossibly high and full of beautiful old architecture. The main entrance is a huge marble room that on its own probably weighs about the same as a small moon. Once inside the details are amazing: small sculptures here, decorative trash cans there, great tile work on the floors. To get to the observation decks was a bit of an ordeal though. You walk through many velvet rope dividers and lots of small presentations about the building and how it’s going green (literally since some of the floor tiles were green). Eventually you reach an automated elevator system that whisks you up to the 80th floor. From there you get more velvet rope and more lovely tile floors to the next elevator. This one only goes up another 6 floors to where the first observatory is.
The elevator empties you into a glass-walled room with a couple doorways. Through those you step out into the night air. A high wall and overhead metal railing keep you from being too adventurous. While the holes in the metal are too small to climb through, they are at least big enough for the camera. In all 4 directions was a beautiful landscape showing off of all the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. It’s very easy to pick out Times Square - It’s looks much like a small sun even against all the other lights of the city. It was awesome being up there, though the high walls make it hard to look straight down - which is likely good for those who have a hard time with heights. I was also surprised by the amount of people there - at 9-10:00 on a random Tuesday evening, it was packed!! Once you can get a spot at the edge, it’s a hell of an angle to see NYC from!
Pictured: The Empire State Building
Pictured: The Chrysler Building from 86th floor of the Empire.
Pictured: Times Square from the 86th floor of the Empire.
Pictured: One World Trade Center from the 86th floor of the Empire.
We had also splurged for access to the even higher observatory on the 102nd floor. The best part of that was the old elevator that needs a guy inside to actually tell it when to stop/start. Other than that, the observatory was cramped, glassed in, and didn’t really offer any better view of the area than was available outside on the 86th floor. So, if you ever visit, I probably wouldn’t worry about going all the way up.
The cab ride back to the hotel was the final leg of the first day’s journey. It was an amazing beginning and we managed to fit in everything we wanted to see. Stay tuned for part 2!