Wednesday, April 16, 2014


  One thing I've learned in my 30+ years of life is that my love for McDonald's is only trumped by my love for a good road trip and free things. Recently, I combined all three of these amazing things by registering with a company called Toronto Drive-Away and flying to Florida to drive a retired couple's car back from Fort Lauderdale.

  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of "drive-away", it is a service for people who have driven their cars to various destinations in North America, yet they pay for someone to drive their vehicles back to Toronto for a variety of reasons. The two busiest seasons for this are spring (cars coming back to Toronto) and fall (cars going to Florida, Arizona, California, etc.) The idea is not new. In fact, I've done similar trips a handful of times over the past 15 years.

  Though there are a variety of drive-away companies in Toronto, the prerequisites for participating are slightly varied and so too is compensation. So please be aware that the breakdown in this post is for Toronto Drive-Away only, whose main requirements for driving are that you have a clean driver's license, are at least 30 years of age, and that you have no criminal record. The company also requires a $200 deposit from your credit card. Once the car is returned to the owner, the company will then reimburse your $200, all gas costs incurred, as well as a flat payment of $500.

  It sounds like a pretty sweet deal, and it is if you're interested in an adventure - which I was. Though, it's not a really ideal option if you're actually looking for relaxation and/or a vacation. First off, there are some catches to consider; Once the company receives your $200 deposit the only information they provide is the owner's contact information and where to drop the car off. You must also figure out how to get to where you need to go and either book a rental car or flight to get there. The cost of this comes out of the $500 you get at the conclusion of your trip. Additionally, you have only 72 hours to cross the border into Canada for cars coming back from Florida.
Somewhere over Montreal.

  So without delay, here's a condensed version of my trip ...
 *Please note that I have three rules when travelling solo on U.S. road trips:  Initially carry no cash, go in blind without the use of a map of any kind (including those on my iPhone), and subsist purely on McDonald's*
   I spent three days trying to get in touch with the owner of the vehicle in Florida to make arrangements, only to find out that he'd died a few days previous. Bad omen? Owner's widow contacted me, letting me know 
The Floridian coast.
that I still needed to pick up the car. Thought of bussing to Buffalo to save money on the flight south. Quickly realized the pain in the ass it would have been just to save only $75. Flew out of Toronto's Billy Bishop instead. My 8am flight from Toronto to Montreal was delayed by one hour. My bags were searched by Customs, at "random" as they pointed out. Arrived in Montreal with only one hour to make my connection. It seemed an ample amount of time until I was ushered into the U.S. Customs office and told to strip down to my underwear. It was a "random" search, they noted (again). Luckily, there was no bum play. Made my connecting flight with no time to spare and eventually arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 3pm. It began to rain immediately upon landing. Couldn't find a bank machine in the airport. Also, couldn't find a bus to where I needed to go. Eventually paid a limo $20 to drop me off at the gated community of Coconut Creek. 

  Spent an hour trying to figure out where to pick up the keys to the car. The information I received said "Apt. 3", though I quickly realized all apartments were preceded by a letter which meant 26 different possibilities for so-called "Apt. 3". Was finally directed to the right one after being
The infamous Ford Fusion.
surrounded by three Jewish women who I could have sworn were the inspiration behind TV's "The Golden Girls". A Mrs. Snider ushered me into her apartment only to tell me that she "couldn't find the keys to the car". "Awesome", I thought. An hour later, said keys were found. Walked down to the car where I was disappointed to find a Ford Fusion waiting for me. I was definitely hoping for something on the higher end side for what should have been my 22-hour drive. Immediately started driving north. Instead of taking the I-95, I chose to take the scenic route 1 up the Floridian coast. Construction. Construction. And more construction. Stopped to eat McDonald's (first time in nearly one year), which is basically the equivalent of visiting an old friend when it comes to road trips of any kind. Continued driving for three hours until it got dark. Only then did I realize how exhausted I was. After all, it had already been a 15-hour day of travel. 
Got a $50 room at a motel on the side of the highway called "Budget Inn of Cocoa". I drank some beers in bed while a lizard stared at me from the wall behind the television set. He clung to the wall for hours and had this face on him that looked like he just told a joke and was waiting for my reaction.

The infamous "boob" mountain.
  Woke up at 6am and waited for the sun to rise. The bastard didn't actually rise until 7am. Started raining again. Continued driving up Hwy 1 and passed by Cape Canaveral, which up until this point I'd never visited in my life. Saw some interesting signs about astronauts and stuff. I laughed. Eventually, Hwy 1 merged with the I-95 as I saw the coast slowly disappear in my rearview mirror. Eventually made it out of Florida and into Georgia. The rain was finally behind me. Stopped at another McDonald's just outside of Savannah. Was told that my "mama raised me right", when the cashier noticed that I'd wiped my rain soaked shoes on the mat at the entrance. Drove 100 miles in the wrong direction through South Carolina on the I-95 when I should have merged with the I-77 back in Charleston. I only realized my error when I ended up at a place called "South of The Border" - a place I'd never seen before. Strange, considering I'd made this drive many times before. That being said, "South of The Border" blew my mind. Was the best error I've ever made.

South of The Border!!!
  Stopped at McDonald's again. Drove five hours west to correct my mistake. Endured a crazy monsoon-type storm that led me to pull over because I couldn't see more than two feet in front of me. Saw a mountain in the shape of a giant boob. I took a picture to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, because at that point I'd driven for nearly 13 hours straight. Got caught in a snowstorm in the Virginian mountains. Had to pull over and get a motel in a town called Fancy Gap. Funny, because I was so out of it after so many hours of continuous driving that I thought Fancy Gap was a euphemism for "vagina". 

  Woke up at 7am. Broke my own rule and bought a pocket map because I couldn't afford to mess up again and wanted to get back to Toronto that evening. Drove without pants for the next 5 hours through the rest of Virgina and West Virginia. Endured more crazy snowstorms, which sucked because it was only then that I realized the car I was driving did not have snow tires on it. Can you imagine driving through the mountains on a concrete road covered in snow without snow tires?  Stopped at a McDonald's again. Put pants on. Took pants off for the remaining drive through Pennsylvania and New York before stopping to pant-up just before the border. Why? Just because. Stopped at the Duty Free because as Kramer once sang, "I like to stop at the Duty Free shop". Crossed the border without incident. Couldn't have been happier to drive on a Canadian highway again as the Toronto skyline began to take shape in front of me. Though, it must be noted that I crossed two entire U.S. states in the time it took me to travel 10 km in Toronto. It was the only traffic I'd endured during my entire 2,361 km adventure. 
Outside Cape Canaveral.
Somewhere in South Carolina.

If you're still interested, here's some websites to visit:
Driving without pants is the best.
Some interesting accidents one sees.
Safety first on U.S. Interstates.

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