The school at Buck Brook Farm had one large van for when special events were attended by multiple students and staff. In case I was ever the only staff member willing or able to venture on such events I was sent to the county DMV office to get a chauffeur’s license. Even without proper cap and livery, this lanky twenty-five year old from the hippie school managed to pass.
The only time I remember actually chauffeuring anyone in that extended van was to some event a hundred miles to the south — in the center of Manhattan Island. !
I had observed drivers in Manhattan, both as a passenger and a pedestrian. Zero to fifty between lights was the expected response to a green signal. And drivers were immediately responsive to your signal to change lanes but you better jump into that space they gave you or it was assumed you’d never mover over and the space was closed. The space was, after all, a good foot longer than your car!
By 1970 I had driven in Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle and San Francisco. What could be so different with driving a small bus filled with teenagers into Manhattan? I wasn’t even on a surface street when I found out.
The divided highways toward town turned into the West Side Elevated Highway — a crowded freeway squeezed between the Hudson River and the towering apartment buildings of the upper east side. Like everyone else I was keeping some eight feet behind the vehicle in front of me. Like everyone else I was going some fifteen miles over the speed limit, maybe 70 but it felt like 100.
And then the pavement just wasn’t there.
The car in front of the big van was still there. The car behind the big van was still there. But there was no pavement there. Just squares of rebar.
And between the squares of rebar were deep potholes of beat up concrete.
Without hesitation the van dropped some two inches off the surface of the road and began rattling out a very fancy rendition of Riverdance across steel squares and deep potholes.
This went on for some eighty feet before our tires hit the sharp two-inch edge that returned us to smooth concrete roadway, slamming the suspension hard into the van’s undercarriage.
It was Manhattan Island, folks. Shutting down the West Side Highway to fix a Manhattan-sized pothole sure would have messed up the commute.
As to me? I came away with an entirely new respect for the technology that goes into building four tires to survive city driving.
PS: Wikipedia tells me the West Side Elevated Highway was built between 1929 and 1951. In 1973, three years after our Manhattan adventure, the highway was shut down “due to neglect and lack of maintenance…” It was dismantled in 1989. Its replacement was completed in 2001.