By Nick Caruso
I have to drive. I feel an unending, screaming desire to turn a key and turn a wheel and modulate a throttle, to shift a gear and pass on the left and set the cruise control. Since I first piloted a car when I was fifteen years old, I’ve always found the purest combination of pleasure, clarity and control sitting in the driver’s seat and pointing my road vessel to points unknown (also points known). I know not everyone feels this way – some people dislike driving in a profound way. But I feel as though the force magnetizing me to the front left seat (at least in countries who know what’s up) is part of the same undercurrent that powers my need to like steak, shave my face, and brood (very manly, brooding). You might suggest my driving impulse originates from a childhood obsession with James Bond and his mad skills behind the wheel (that has totally, completely gone away in every sense now that I’m adult, because I’ve absolutely grown out of that… errr… phase…), but charismatic spies aside, I view driving as a treat every time I have occasion to start a car. And it doesn’t hurt that chicks totally dig a guy with wheels – hell, Ryan Gosling just made an entire movie about it. What a dreamboat.
I’d say most men love to drive, or at least enjoy travel on the open road, ‘on the road’ being the common denominator. What changes from man to man is how much he cares about what he travels in. I’m a “car guy,” so the make and model of my machine matters a great deal. It matters how many cylinders and how many gears; it matters how many miles per gallon and what color and how the exhaust note reverberates. Depending on where I’m driving and for what purpose and when and on what kind of road, vehicle needs differ – I don’t always want a sports car and I don’t always need a truck.
Before I go further, I should acknowledge the obvious – that I’m a driving-hungry car fanatic living in New York City. I don’t have a car, and couldn’t hope to own one for myriad reasons, mostly (COUGH) economic. But I am not alone! There are others like me. There must be… And for those of us city folk who need the wind on our hair and the shift knob in our grip and the long, skinny pedal underfoot, all hope is not lost. We have options, lads! In this very city of ours, in many major cities all around the nation, and even in other countries there exists a way out of our vehicle-less existence that is convenient, fun, instant, and (though costs vary) it’s affordable.
Hertz on Demand is exactly what the name implies: car rentals whenever you want them, 24/7. Membership is totally free, and gas and insurance are included in the cost of your rentals (seriously). You can choose from a stunning array of vehicles – from sport to luxury to hybrid to SUV and back again – there is a much broader selection than other similar services. Rentals are charged by the hour, and as long as you don’t exceed 180 miles per 24-hour period, there are no additional fees outside the cost of the car. Also noteworthy is that Hertz on Demand guarantees car availability during the weekday, and even offers one-way rentals, which other similar services do not. I worked closely with a couple new friends at Hertz on Demand to set up a long weekend consisting of three road trips tailor-made for men confined to NYC. Each was under 180 miles round trip, well under a day in length, inexpensive, and absolutely worth a go. For each trip I drove a different car, chosen specifically to compliment the day’s trip: a perky Italian number for bombing around back roads; an econo-cruiser for a quick shot upstate; and some pure, unadulterated, (and unexpected) modern-day muscle for a Memorial Day Americana adventure. Read on for my Memorial Day weekend itinerary, and feel free to exercise your inner copycat.
Day 1: Hawk’s Nest via NJ and NY back roads in a Fiat 500
Hawk’s Nest is a stretch of road within the 70-miles of New York State Route 97 with an eastern end that begins in the very small town of Port Jervis and terminates in Hancock to the west. The entire route is a scenic drive, and if you’re the type who enjoys wooded nature, jagged cliffs, and meandering rivers, it should be on your radar. For car and/or driving enthusiasts, the section of the road called Hawk’s Nest is most important. Hawk’s Nest winds along the side of a cliff that follows the river border between New York and Pennsylvania, and makes for some enjoyable driving. In fact, over the years many car commercials – Porsche, BMW, and others – have been shot at Hawks Nest, and rightly so. The trees and water here make for some supreme scenery, and I imagine you could spot a hawk or two if you park your car and step out to drink in the sights at one of the scenic outlooks. I was too busy driving.
What made my trip to Hawk’s Nest especially fun was the nifty little Italian sprite I was piloting. After a long hiatus, Fiat has recently made a slow comeback in the United States, and the super small, retro-styled 500 – based on the original 500 from the 1950s – is their first offering. Several months ago Jennifer Lopez appeared in many of the first new Fiat commercials, and more recent ads feature Charlie Sheen driving a high performance Abarth version around inside a mansion. I can speak from personal experience that driving a 500 transformed me neither into a sexy recording artist nor a coke- and hooker-addled former celebrity, but it sure was a lot of fun nonetheless. The new 500 is quite small (similar in size to the Mini Cooper), and is powered by a tiny 101-horsepower 1.4-liter inline-4 that is connected, in the case of my rental, to a 6-speed automatic. That’s not much power at all, but there is a saving grace (especially if you’re on some empty, twisty roads): a sport button. Press the button and the somewhat wheezy performance of the ‘normal’ 500 is replaced with more aggressive throttle mapping and more responsive steering (it’s faster and more fun to turn).
If you follow the (highway directions Google Maps provides) the round trip will be a 150-mile jaunt, though I chose to tour the back country to and from Hawk’s Nest and still had plenty of leeway before hitting the 180 mile mark. Either way you cut it, tossing around a swift little ride like the Fiat for a day is a perfect day trip to satisfy the car enthusiast and outdoorsman in you.
Day 2: Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, NY in a utilitarian, economic highway eater: the Nissan Sentra.
The second trip I took was more about the destination than the journey. I was outfitted with the commonplace Nissan Sentra for my ride up to Gardiner, NY where I visited Tuthilltown Spirits distillery, makers of the popular Baby Bourbon Hudson Whiskey (among other fantastic liquors), which is great. What’s extra great is that Tuthilltown is a family business, founded and operated by people who share blood (and blood alcohol content, I’d hope!). I met up with my photographer friend Nicole for a very informative, enlightening, and tasty tour through the facility led by the charismatic Cordell Stahl. It’s an affordable attraction too – only $15 (for adults 21 years or older). Though we learned in detail what it takes to turn grains and sugar into firewater, perhaps the most fascinating part of the experience was hearing about Tuthilltown’s rapid expansion. Due to a huge boom in popularity as of late, the Tuthilltown has needed to install massive, shiny, thoroughly beautiful stills, vats, pipes and all manner of stainless steel drums and gauges to deal with the surge in output necessary to meet demand.
After seeing the wooden barrels in which Tuthilltown ages its spirits, smelling fermenting grain, and seeing alcohol in various stages of production, we were shown the Willy-Wonka-meets-Boardwalk-Empire bottling room. The unique, vintage-style apothecary bottles move around the space on an elaborate conveyor system, a process that terminates with inspection, corking, and sealing (all done by hand). And as if the bottle aesthetic alone weren’t reason enough to pick up a several gallons of the stuff, the full tour package ends with a tasting of three alcohols of your choosing. Select your three sips from five whiskies (one is a clear, corn-based variety) and two vodkas, and you get to christen your complimentary whiskey glass with some mighty fine spirits. The tour is terrific fun, and mine was made all the more special as – quite coincidentally – I ran into a recently married couple I know from my college years, celebrating their one year anniversary. It was a great way to catch up, and evidence that this might be a grand trip for a couple (or at least a gift for a special dude).
Tuthilltown is almost exactly 80 miles away from the city, which means you’ll have enough to tool around the (barely) upstate countryside and sleepy towns. Book your tour in advance: http://www.tuthilltown.com.
Day 3: Memorial Day drive through Long Island in a Dodge Challenger R/T
I’d made a last minute decision to get a car for a Memorial Day drive out into Long Island for a taste of purebred Americana. The Dodge Challenger seemed an appropriate choice – retro heritage wheels for a very heritage-filled day. What I expected to get was a very respectable base model Challenger – cloth seats, V6 – and use its dominating American looks to chew up the roads all day. What I got was something completely different. A few moments after the garage attendant scampered off to get the car I heard a familiar, exciting sound: the controlled but violent explosion of a massive V8 coming to life as it echoed throughout the cement parking structure. Then the HEMI-powered, HEMI Orange Dodge Challenger R/T Classic (look it up, seriously) prowled around the corner and came to a stop in front of my toes. Suddenly I felt shockingly patriotic – like the ‘bombs bursting in air’ were contained in my right foot, but they were instead heat-seeking missiles that wanted to bury a throttle pedal into the carpet. Somehow I controlled my speed and driving behavior all day, but the smile never left my face. I must have looked good, because – I swear on the Constitution itself – a pretty German tourist leapt in front of me at a stoplight to take a picture of me before giving me a very enthusiastic thumbs up. The perfect car for a Memorial Day drive.
The Challenger certainly had its effect on people. My friend Erik was able to join me for the afternoon, and as I was waiting for him to meet me, I texted him, “I’m on the street in the car. Orange.” As he neared and spotted the car his text responses were: “SHUT. UP.” and “Stop it.” and “I don’t believe you.” Perfect car, indeed. It was already shaping up to be a great afternoon, and I chuckled thinking of that tourist. When she gets around to looking at her pictures she’ll see an odd pair – I had a very “dad” golf shirt on and a silly teenage grin cemented to my face, and in the seat next to me was Erik, who spent a lot of time plucking stray glitter from the previous night’s drag show stage makeup off his eyelids. Ain’t that America?
First we wound through Manhasset on back roads, and ended up getting out in Oyster Bay to touch our toes in the sand at Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park alongside the multitudes of families free from work and school for the holiday. We couldn’t stay long, as we had a couple more towns to hit. Besides, the vibe around there wasn’t quite right. After five Maseratis, two Aston Martins, a vintage Rolls Royce, and a Lamborghini I stopped counting foreign metal. Good thing I was driving enough America to make Thomas Jefferson blush. Soon we rolled through Northport, where I exchanged another thumbs up with the driver of a fine looking ’30s Ford coupe hot rod. (Finally someone gets it!) Our route took us along the northern edge of Long Island, near the water the whole way. Classic rock blasting, windows down, ice cream-only lunch eaten, we called it a day late in the afternoon. All said and done we clocked less than 100 miles driving and spent more than six hours cruising, taking in our fair share of America, which we’re all so fortunate to have. I dedicated each blip of the throttle that day to our fallen servicemen, and counted my blessings. Many of which were bright orange.
For a daytrip, weekend getaway, IKEA run, or just to put some miles between you and the city, Hertz on Demand can satisfy your need for a fix of the open road. Sign up at http://hertzondemand.com and get driving today.