A buzz-cutted state trooper is eyeing us a little funny at a rest area on the Jersey turnpike. We slap another yard or two of duct tape on the roof, trying to act normal, but he nevertheless walks over to ask if we're OK. I try to stand in front of the humongous crack in the windshield; Cammisa drops into his Brooklyn accent and starts pumping out the backstory, aiming for distraction.
"No, no," the cop says, waving his hands, "You guys aren't in trouble. This thing is fuckin' awesome. Who woulda thought two hundred and fifty bucks could buy something this crazy?" We have officially been welcomed by the state of New Jersey, and that welcome wagon just dropped the F-bomb. Wow. -SS
We're on the surface streets in Baltimore in search of a place where the limo can at least break down with dignity. I confess to my teammates that I'm agoraphobic, explaining that, in general, agoraphobia is a panic disorder characterized by the fear of not being able to get home. More specifically, it's the fear of dying in this filthy limo on this stupid rally. It's going to be a two-Xanax day. -JC
It's hot as blazes, but we're stranded on the harbor with a great breeze blowing off the Chesapeake Bay. We get a can of gas, then fill up. And then stall again. This time, it's Connecticut Avenue in Bethesda. We start up and off, but there's clearly a fuel-starvation problem. It's the worst feeling, swinging from "Hey, it's working!" to dead and coasting. We have an ongoing discussion about probable causes, arguing like House's medical team, but without the all-knowing Dr. House to say, "Wrong, Lame-O." Three hours later - during which time we've managed to travel just twelve miles - we cross the Potomac into Virginia.
Another group of rally participants, Team UggTruck, has attached its camo van to us as backup. A spunky little chick inside the van is shrieking out the window, "It's your exhaust!!" Jason wants her to put a cork in it. I just want her to simmer down that voice an octave and maybe twenty decibels. -JJ
The limo lurches forward on its own while sitting at a red light. Damn. The transmission just dropped into gear. When it does it again at the next light, I realize that we forgot to check the fluid level. My concern for the transmission is quickly rendered irrelevant when the engine dies and refuses to restart. -JC
There's duct tape all over the car. We are nothing so much as a rolling testament to the glory of 3M. More than twenty rolls of tape cover the roof, hold the mirrors on, close off all the blasting heater and defrost vents, and tie the car together. The red velour? It's painfully warm, and things seem to be living in it; even though it's been vacuumed, you can smack the seat and a dust cloud of nastiness will float up from the cushion. The sweat on Jason's leg has mixed with the airborne seat gunk and started to turn black. The rear floor is littered with plastic bags and empty soda bottles. Frustrated by Washington Beltway traffic, Jason leans on the horn but is met with only a lethargic ehhhh from the limo's nose and a burning smell. So much for that. Jean is asleep. Regis throws a powdered doughnut at my head, misses, and starts chucking pretzels instead. One lane over, a soccer mom in a minivan looks at me like I am Hitler. -SS
We've limped through the District and decide to go for a fat right foot, which produces a couple of exhaust farts. Then we're dead, coasting in rush-hour traffic. Please, please, please, then, Yes! We're rolling at 50 mph. Jason is cocky. We are masters of the universe. We are stumbling toward our goal - Harrisonburg, Virginia. And then we are dead on a bridge fifty miles later. We get started once more and limp into a gas station. It's 6:30 p.m. Sam crawls up under the hood, jerks on a few things, then calls his friend Jeff. Jeff says we're screwed. At 7:00, we're back on the road, and the good news is that it's downhill from here. Meanwhile, I get on the phone to the brotherhood - Yellow Cab in Harrisonburg. The dispatcher is all over it. "You need Merchant's Auto Center. They open at 7 a.m., and if they can't help you, they'll refer you," she says.
Meanwhile, back at the steering wheel, Jason is coasting, looking at his NO CHARGE light. He pulls over, expecting a thrown fan belt. The car starts up again. Jason stands on it, throwing a bag full of Regis's camera gear through the air and into my kneecap. Thirteen minutes later, we are dying at Exit 13, just to underline our bad luck. We're dead on the shoulder. Sam: "I don't want to be alone in the dark." -JJ
After pulling over for a quick underhood check, Cammisa floors it onto the freeway. The on-ramp is damn near vertical, and it's all the limo can do not to lose speed. At 20 mph.
"How much farther do we have to go?" asks Jean.
"Sixty-eight miles," says Regis.
"Sixty-eight miles," Cammisa says, tapping the speedo, "is a long time at twenty miles per hour."
Regis pitches another doughnut at my head. -SS
We discuss possible home remedies. Pack ice on the carb. Dismantle the choke. Build a giant tinfoil hat. HaHaHaHaHa. Put clothespins on the fuel line. Seriously, the boys have kept it rolling, and we're finally on I-81 South and still rolling. I don't want to even write that in our notebook, lest it jinx us!
Too late. We're dying one mile from our exit. It's 8:45 p.m., and it has taken eleven hours to limp 347 miles. Team UggTruck is still dogging us, now with their hazards on.
"Did you try changing the vacuum bags?" someone says. I call my husband. "It would be a shame if you have to call in Sherman. You'll never live it down," he says. At the mere suggestion of our technical editor's intervention, the limo, in terror, fires up.
The Union Jack is flying from its car-mounted flagpole in the parking lot of the hotel. Jason leaps from the car and shouts, "We failed to proceed - no lie - probably 300 times!" His Xanax has worn off. -JJ