West to East Coast Roadtrip
September 2, 2020 7:07 PM   Subscribe

A family member is driving from LA to DC. Any advice on the itinerary? Are these cities safe to stop in for a person of color? Any fun sights to see or eat at without adding time?

Apologies, we’re really not familiar with some of these states or cities. We just plopped the start/end in a planner and it spit out some possibilities.

Day 1: LA to Kingman, AZ (is there a good midpoint for lunch?)

Day 2: Kingman, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ (lunch) to Albuquerque, AZ (sleep)

Day 3: Albuquerque to Amarillo, TX (is there a good midpoint/stop between?)

Day 4: Amarillo to Oklahoma City (stop) to Tulsa, OK (sleep)

Day 5: Tulsa to Springfield, MO (stop) to St. Lois, MO (sleep)

Day 6: St. Lois to Indianapolis, IN

Day 7: Indianapolis to Columbus, OH

Day 8: Columbus to Pittsburgh, PA

Day 9: Pittsburg, PA to DC
posted by inevitability to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They... could do this much faster. Indianapolis to Columbus is only two hours. Columbus to Pittsburgh is less than three. I’ve driven the opposite way, Columbus to Flagstaff, in two (admittedly long) days. Does the trip have to take nine days? And if so, why the concern about added time? You could very easily do it in five: LA to Flagstaff, Flagstaff to Amarillo, Amarillo to central Missouri, central MO to Columbus, and Columbus to DC.

I’m not as familiar with the western half of the trip, but I wouldn’t worry too much about racism from Tulsa onward. I mean, these days you can’t take anything for granted, but there’s no elevated risk, at least. STL is a super racist city, but if you’re just staying in a roadside hotel there for eight hours, that shouldn’t really affect you. Don’t go out wandering around after dark, and definitely don’t read the comments sections of local media, and STL should be fine. Indianapolis, Columbus, and Pittsburgh are all racially diverse large cities. Again, times being what they are, anything can happen, but it’s not like you’d be the first person of color they’d ever seen. In fact, in Columbus at least (the city I’m most familiar with), your biggest problem will probably be that I-70 runs through some high-crime neighborhoods, so you might end up getting your car broken into or something. Unlikely, of course, but less unlikely than racial incidents.

Tulsa has a lot of really good burger places. For specifics, look at my Ask history; I asked a question about in last fall. STL has... well, it’s not good, but it’s extremely unique pizza. And Ted Drewes frozen custard, which is incredible. There are a lot of wonderful places to eat in Ohio, both in Columbus and elsewhere along I-70. I grew up in a small town along I-70 and I can give you more specific recommendations if you let me know what your family member is into.

There’s this metal fire-breathing dinosaur at a gas station in Vandalia, Illinois, right off the highway. I don’t know, I always found it enjoyable back when I was driving to STL from Ohio and back.

Eastern New Mexico, around Tucumcari, has some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the country. Try to time your trip so that you leave Albuquerque in early afternoon. The colors are distinctive and you want to see it in full daylight.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:37 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]

This advice is absent any consideration of Covid:
1. You will drive past the Grand Canyon (1 hour north of Flagstaff) and literally right past Petrified Forest National Park. It’s worth visiting Petrified Forest if you can. The Grand Canyon is of course a destination in itself.
2. Amarillo hosts the Big Texan Steak Ranch. If you dare, you can try to eat the 72 ounce steak. If you don’t dare they also have regular-sized steaks.
3. OKC to Tulsa is like 1.5-2 hours. I’ve done Tulsa to Grand Canyon in 2 days (stopped in Tucumcari one way, which was a little too far; stopped in Amarillo the other way). Mazzio’s and Hideaway are local pizza places and are OK; Braum’s is a local burger and ice cream place that’s a good fast food option.
4. Amarillo can smell like a cattle feedlot, depending on wind.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:55 PM on September 2

Oh, and you will regret going to the Coney I-Lander both during and after going there, but you should go there anyway because it’s delicious once you’ve eaten about the first 1 of your 3 and your tongue has gotten used to its specific flavor profile.

Do not attempt if you have any medical conditions that preclude you from eating multiple small chili dogs.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:01 PM on September 2

New Mexico is supposed to have a 14-day quarantine for people arriving from out of state. Plus, our dining options have limited capacity because of covid. I think the current limits are 25 percent inside and 50 percent outside.

When is this trip planned for? What is the budget per meal? What is your family member's taste in food?

If they do go through New Mexico, they should have some New Mexican food, which is different from Mexican food.
posted by NotLost at 8:26 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]

My info is not from the states your family member is planning to traverse, but I have heard of instances of racism in application of state public health orders like the 14 day quarantine requirement in New Mexico that NotLost mentions - both in terms of who gets reported for potential violations by other residents, and in terms of application of penalties. So that's something they may want to research ahead of time, which might affect planned stops.

For an avoiding people and covid-related risks (broadly defined: getting covid, unintentionally spreading covid in their wake as an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carrier, or dealing with people using it as an extra excuse to racism) trip, a decent cooler with some ice will keep food refrigerated for 2-3 days this time of year, if they have the car space. Block ice lasts longer than cubes, and you can get it at most grocery stores. A one or two burner Coleman stove is really easy to set up and cook on, doesn't take up too much space, and you can just use regular pots and pans with it. There's some decent camping along parts of the route, too (Texas State parks are nice, and there's one just south of Amarillo, the "Grand Canyon of Texas", that's pretty cool just as an interesting sight and had spacious, clean bathroom and shower facilities when I was there a few years ago), if that's a potential option for your person.

If they're making this trip soonish, they should also check the weather regularly and maybe download a notification app for their phone to get notices of any tornado warnings through Oklahoma and Texas, and again through Illinois.
posted by eviemath at 10:38 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]

Also, personally, I would combine day 6 and 7 (Google says it's around 6.5 hours total driving time, and 3 to 3.5 hour driving days are quite short), and day 7 and 8 (also around 6.5 hours total driving time). Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio are pretty boring (sorry midwesterners!), and they'll likely be getting tired of being on the road later in the trip
posted by eviemath at 10:47 PM on September 2

Yep, my advice, knowing someone of color who did almost this exact trip in reverse a month ago and having done research to help them in their journey: Look up the quarantine regulations in every state you're going to pass through. Delta Airlines has a summary page somewhere that's pretty up-to-date, since it immediately affects their customers, that can also be a good resource. It's unfortunately also worth looking up policing history in each of the major cities you might drive through or stop in specifically. In Pennsylvania, for instance, there's been some recent history of police targeting Latino folks without cause on behalf of ICE. Not to scare you! More just something that it's important to be mindful of right now especially. (It scared me to know that when they were making their journey. But they made it through fine, thankfully.)

Also, advice from multiple folks I know who have been on the road in those areas recently and wanted to camp: Definitely book any campsites well ahead of time, because spots are competitive right now with folks wanting to get away for the weekend while staying socially distanced. The advice of bringing a cooler in the car, whether you're camping or not, is solid, because it can help you stay more independent and not necessarily have to go to a drive-through for food if it doesn't seem ideal or safe at the time.

And yeah, like others are mentioning, unless you deliberately want to stretch it out, you can combine two legs of this into any given day most likely. St. Louis to Columbus, Ohio, is a good leg of the trip. Columbus to D.C. could probably also be done in a day. It's similar for the Texas/Southwest parts of this itinerary.

I'm sorry you have to ask about which cities are safe, but that is a good question to ask and realistic. Maybe someone can chime in with more Texas-specific info for that part of the trip. On the trip I mention, they avoided a lot of Texas just in case (and because of how the highways went, it made more sense to skirt it). Arizona also has some potentially problematically racist/ICE-infested areas, so I hope someone with more immediate info can chime in on that part!

I wish them well on their journey! It's also really beautiful out there right now!
posted by limeonaire at 4:54 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

Agree that you can do this in four or five long days of driving, and in these times, there are good reasons to. 15-ish years ago, I drove from DC to Phoenix, AZ in 4 days: short day DC->Indiana somewhere;Indiana->Oklahoma; Oklahoma->just across the border into AZ; short day from northern AZ into Phoenix. Those two middle days were long: 13-15 hours in the car. I only stopped for gas, restroom, and to buy more beef jerky. I did not plan my stops, and I was able to find roadside hotels/motels by looking for the signs; with a smartphone this would be easier now.

I’m not sure if current-me could handle that. I think it would depend at least partially on the car — 14 hours in the Camry I drove then worked, but 6 hours in the 350Z I got after that was enough to make me extremely sore. If I had to travel today, I think I’d try for longer days, in order to minimize contact with the outside world. If this were me I’d also look at options to avoid public restrooms. You can’t really avoid gas, though.

Agree that Arizona is a mess (“It’s a dry hate,” wrote one of my former coworkers when both of us were leaving for our-of-state). Don’t stop there if you can avoid it.
posted by Alterscape at 5:00 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

You also have the option to continue on I-40 through Arkansas and Tennessee, and take I-81 up the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. This route is likelier to be scenic (eventually); you go through Little Rock, Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, Staunton and I guess Front Royal. It's the South, but there's also more people of color in the South.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 5:12 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]

Thanks all! The trip is to move his dog, car, and some stuff over to DC. There’s no rush and he is in his 60s so we thought to take it slower if he could near the end. Though I didn’t think that maybe he would feel like just getting the road trip done by then!

If people know of safer routes (both for Covid and a person of color), please let me know. I’ll check out the quarantine info, likely he’ll just stay in his Airbnb or hotel.
posted by inevitability at 6:11 AM on September 3

Day 6: St. Lois to Indianapolis, IN

I would recommend passing through Columbus, IN on your way to Indy. That day's drive is short, so that leaves you plenty of time to do architectural tours. Columbus, IN is a hub of Modernist architecture, a real gem. And the only way to see that gem is on a road trip. It's this small American city packed with world class heavyweight architecture ordinarily only found in major cities.

In particular, try to visit the Miller House.

Even if architecture isn't really your thing, now's your chance to see in person what's in the coffee table books.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:58 AM on September 3

Oh, also, for St. Louis, the Gateway Arch reopened this week. Going up to the top is a blast, and very much a once in a lifetime thing.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:03 AM on September 3

Here is a current list of state-by-state covid restrictions.
posted by NotLost at 7:22 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

I do 2/3 of that trip 4X times a year!

Kingman kinda sucks (it's the boring desert suburb/town and is only like 5 hours from LA). Go all the way to Flagstaff, which is the nicest city on the western half.
Flagstaff is 7 hours from LA, or 2 extra hours. Speed limit once you cross into Arizona is 75mph, so it goes faster than you might think.

Amarillo has many food places, but it's hotels suck. I'd stop in one of the small NM cities like Santa Rosa instead. Do a nice lunch in Alb, Santa Rosa doesn't have many restaurants.

Then day 2 is Flagstaff to Albuquerque for lunch (also nice lunch place) to Santa Rosa NM. Then day 3 can be Santa Rosa to Tulsa.

La Quinta Hotels have no dog fees, and that is where we stay and there are a bunch of them, and most are less than $100 per night.

NM has a quarantine, but I passed through about a month ago, and it seemed to be only for people who were staying in NM, not just passing through staying hotels.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:06 AM on September 3

There’s no rush and he is in his 60s so we thought to take it slower if he could near the end.

Ah, yeah, I see. Roughly hourly stretch breaks every day are good and will help with stamina over the whole trip (kind of the same advice as for sitting at an office desk all day). Bringing my own healthy snacks makes a big difference, too, I find! There will be highway rest areas along the interstates, a lot of which, at least in the less crowded parts of the country, have dog relief areas and nice picnic shelters for humans to take outdoor rest breaks regardless of weather. In the east, the interstate rest stops tend to be more crowded and more focused on indoor areas, which is not as helpful, unfortunately.

Maybe make a list of potential alternate overnight stops along the eastern half of the trip, too, in case your family member wants to push on farther than 3-ish hours of driving, but not a full 6.5-hour doubling up of your original plan. Unfortunately I can't give much info from a safety for people of color perspective, but will have another look at the map and note places I'd be comfortable stopping as a solo female traveler, if that helps. It might be worth planning to stay at a consistent brand of chain highway hotels, and getting whichever hotel's frequent traveler membership? One thing that has also been helpful to me in cross-country road trips is having a family member semi on call to help look up info if needed (yeah, my father still worries about me traveling alone even though I'm over 40 now and have been on many road trips; but it's been really helpful to have him Google hotel options along my route a few times!).

Oddly, I had more negative experiences in Oklahoma City than in the parts of Texas along that driving route (creeper dude working the desk at the banjo museum, I'm talking about you); and some of the billboards along the interstate in western Arkansas were questionable, to say the least (I did not stop along that stretch to verify if pro- child- abuse- on- religious- grounds billboards or ads for what seemed to basically be a shrine to white Jesus in alternate reality world where he was an American translated to negative social interactions with people or not). But the highway from Gallup, NM to Amarillo, TX is empty (seriously - there's a truck stop at the state border, and that's about it), so no one to have negative interactions with. And Amarillo is a sizeable and diverse enough city.
posted by eviemath at 8:17 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you have to ask about which cities are safe, but that is a good question to ask and realistic. Maybe someone can chime in with more Texas-specific info for that part of the trip. On the trip I mention, they avoided a lot of Texas just in case (and because of how the highways went, it made more sense to skirt it). Arizona also has some potentially problematically racist/ICE-infested areas, so I hope someone with more immediate info can chime in on that part!

I've never seen any ICE enforcement on I40. I10 yes, but that is farther south, and I say avoid I10 even if ICE wasn't a problem. It's a worse drive IMO. Texas has more speed traps than CA, NM, or AZ, but again the speed limit is 75mph, so it's not that big a deal.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:18 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

No bumper stickers. No obstructed views from stuff piled up in the car. Check all exterior car lighting every day. Watch your speed. Give he cops zero probable cause to pull you over. They cannot be trusted.
posted by spitbull at 8:25 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]

Ok, between Indianapolis and Columbus, OH, Dayton, OH might be your next best stopping point? It's a small city with a college or two and a Black community. St. Louis to Dayton is around 5.5 hours, then Dayton to Pittsburgh is around 4 hours (according to google maps).
posted by eviemath at 8:27 AM on September 3

It's further out of the way, but cutting up 71 from Columbus, OH to the Cleveland/Akron area and 76, then 76 back to Pittsburgh might give your relative more comfortable feeling options for regular rest breaks/pit stops along that section of the drive.

Likewise, there's not much along 70 between St. Louis and Indianapolis - maybe Terre Haute. 72, just slightly north and passing through Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign-Urbana, IL might have more options for stops.
posted by eviemath at 8:38 AM on September 3

Yes, St. Louis to Indianapolis is extremely boring driving. Terre Haute doesn't count; it's tiny. Theoretically, if one were so inclined, one could put a book on their dashboard and read the book whilst driving. I'm not saying I've done this, but I'm not not saying I've done this.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:05 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]

One more thing my mother always reminds me about: There tend to be more speed traps and construction zones on the western half of Interstate 70 in Indiana, just after you pass the state line from Illinois. The advice to always go the speed limit is good, especially there.
posted by limeonaire at 2:14 PM on September 3

One other thing: Setting up hotel reservations beforehand can be good, if they do want a more set itinerary. A lot of camp sites right now are starting to get a bit cold at night; even in early August this year that was the case, and I ended up helping book some hotel reservations from afar after the journey started and they realized campgrounds weren't going to cut it after one chilly night in Ohio. Make sure to choose locations with secure garages if you're worried about their stuff being visible in the car, and of course, they'll want to pack the car in such a way as to minimize visibility. When I traveled from St. Louis to New York City last August for my move, we made sure to carefully pack everything in the back seat and trunk and tuck a tarp around everything that was visible, and only stay in locations where parking was reasonably secure and monitored.

Also! One of the nicest, most reassuring things that modern technology afforded on this recent drive west I described above, and that might be easy for someone to set up for them beforehand, depending on their technology available, was being able to see an Instagram Live stream of their journey, from a phone mounted on the dash, live streaming through a hotspot. It was just the most reassuring thing in the world for those days of their journey, even when the connection was choppy, to be able to get out of a meeting, for instance, and open up Instagram again and see where they were and know they were OK, especially given all the dangers out there right now from the virus, police, ICE, etc. That is absolutely going to change how I do road trips in the future, I think, because it adds almost a safety net element to things. I highly recommend it if there's time and they have the technical resources and savvy.
posted by limeonaire at 2:20 PM on September 3

« Older What meeting software do I need?   |   Do we know of people getting COVID-19 from outdoor... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments