Cross-Country Drive 2007

By Brendan Moore


As of yesterday, my family and I finished driving from the California Coast to the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

I’ve made the trip across the United States many, many times either as a passenger in the family car when I was a kid, or as a driver, starting with the first trip I made with a friend of mine as a 17-year old. I’ve done the trip at a leisurely pace (5 weeks) and I’ve driven coast-to coast at a high average speed (just about 40 hours ocean-to-ocean) as well. I didn’t have a good reason for either of those two extremes in trip duration; I was a young guy during those jaunts, and that’s just what I felt like doing at the time. I was an impulsive youth, what can I say?

So now I’m a responsible, taxpaying citizen, and we had a route planned out, and timetable to follow, and we pretty much stuck to it, and even though nothing too unusual happened (except for enduring a crystal meth rave in the hotel room next to ours in West Virginia), I still enjoyed the long trip. I always do. It’s been seven years since the last time I went cross-country, and I was curious to see if some of the magic of making the trip had worn off, but it was still a pleasure. I love to drive, and the U.S. is a beautiful country in lots of ways. We clocked 3400 miles on the trip as a result of some side excursions to see people we hadn’t seen for 20 years and took 5 days to go across the States.

Some observations:

The speed limit is either 70 mph or 75 mph on the interstate highway system in almost every state. Motorists usually drive 5-10 miles above the posted limit, no matter what it is.

The fastest driver I encountered on the trip was going around 120 mph in a new Mercedes S-Class.

New Mexico has some very tough speed traps, and the state troopers run you down in Dodge Charger pursuit cars fitted with the special police package. No, I didn’t get a ticket, but there was a lot of ticketing action going on as we went through the state.

Surprisingly, there were not as many morons as usual sitting in the left lane with their cruise control set on the speed limit as I went across the U.S. Still too many, but not as many in the past.

Also surprisingly, all of the tractor-trailer truck drivers seemed to going the speed limit, which was kind of weird.

Some of the western states permit tandem truck trailers with up to three trailers towed by a single truck. When those things are next to you, it’s like a freight train going by – it’s a pretty active aerodynamic environment.

There are a lot of people driving an SUV on a long trip in the United States. Sometimes one, usually two people in the SUV, and I have to guess, a whole bunch of luggage.

Lots of people on the interstate at 7 AM, but after 7 PM, you just about have the highway to yourself. If you don’t mind driving at night, you can make some serious time in the evening.

I saw very few sports cars with out-of-state plates as we went across country.

The octane rating at the pump for regular gasoline is as low as 85 in quite a few states. The octane rating for premium gasoline is as high as 93.

There is more variety of food available at the places on the interstates compared to seven years ago, but the quality is about the same.

A lot of the chain hotels are now owned and run by franchised operators. Thus, the Best Western you stay at on Wednesday may be ever so much nicer than the one you stay at on Thursday – it just depends on what the owner/operator decided to spend on his business. The individual quality of hotels that were in the same chain varied considerably (sometimes wildly) as we went across the country.

Cell phones work in more places than they did seven years ago, but there are still some medium-size holes in signal coverage as you’re going across the U.S. And in the big mountains in the West, you have no signal more often than you have a signal. And that’s with a good mobile phone and a large wireless provider that has reciprocity with other wireless providers all across the nation.

Even the bargain hotels now have free wireless internet service for their guests. So do almost all the truck stops, and also, I was very surprised at how many little towns all across the U.S. have free municipal Wi-Fi service for their residents, and of course, any visitors passing through. And many of the larger cities have free wireless access in some of their large public spaces (i.e., Taos, NM has free wireless access in their old town square district). If you have a laptop with a good battery life, or, a 12v power cord, you can jump on the internet with your laptop, right in the car, during a stop for gasoline or food. Pretty handy – I had internet access in a couple of places where I didn’t have cell phone service. It’s even handier if you happen to have one of the new cell phones that will also work off of a Wi-Fi signal.

A good car stereo that has an external jack for an MP3 player is a very, very good thing to have on a long trip. Provided, of course you have an MP3 player with at least 30G of memory to plug into the car stereo. And let us now sing the praises of satellite radio as well.

A six-speed automatic/manual transmission is also a good thing to have on a long trip because the transmission stays in the top gear for 99% of the distance. Less noise, less engine rpm, and better fuel economy. If you’re in one of the high-dollar luxury cars that have a seven-speed or eight-speed automatic, then even better.

Many, many hotels (nice ones included) now allow dogs. We took our dog along and didn’t have any problems with lodging along the way. He is 30 lbs., so he fits under the maximum weight/size requirements that some places had, but if you want to take your large dog along, there are still plenty of places that will allow the dog to stay in the room with you. All of them charge extra for a dog – some of them charge a little extra, some of them charge quite a bit extra.

Take a map, even if you have a navigational system. You’ll want to have it at night in the hotel room, and you’ll want to have it in the car for when the nav system is looking at something else. And, a map doesn’t cost much, either, so there’s no excuse to not have one.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at

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  1. Just drove from Chicago to Florida and back and I wish I could say there were less people dawdling along in the passing land, but it seemed as if there were more than ever. Just kind of loafing along there as if they decided that the passing lane was their own special lane for going 60 mph in.

  2. Here in the San Francisco bay area you’ll see a lot of left lane hoggers on the freeway. It seems to be a territorial behavior — their intention is to prevent others from passing. A symptom of too many rats in the cage… Once you get out of the urban areas people are much more cooperative.

  3. San Francisco is where I drove from, and yes, there are a lot of left-lane sleepy-time drivers there.

    Maybe that had some bearing on my perception regarding the relative scarcity of same while I went cross-country…

    B Moore

  4. I just drove across the United States going in the opposite direction and one thing I found strange is the amount of religious radio stations all across the country. They’re everywhere. They range from the really awful kind that sound like they’re transmitting from someone’s garage to the very slick.

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