The coughing, growling bark of engines and exhaust cut the stultifying, humid, late July New York afternoon. We were gunning the engines, preparing to drive from Hanover Square at the tip of Lower Manhattan upstate to the Adirondack oasis of Saratoga Springs for opening day of horse racing at its legendary track. Our rides were the 2013 Porsche Boxster S, an incredibly fun, surprisingly sprightly convertible roadster, and the 2012 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, a scion of British automotive power, class and supercar luxury, both of which drew the attention of bystanders even among normally jaded Wall Streeters.
Leaving the city took longer than expected. Whenever we parked the cars, a scrum of co-workers, neighbors, tourists and passers-by appeared out of cracks in the sidewalk to ask about the cars. How much did they cost? How fast did they go? Could they see the engine? Could we rev them? In the midst of the attention, the task of packing bags, cameras and tripods for four days into two-seater supercars proved, not unexpectedly, to require geometric creativity. While the Porsche's front and rear "truck" space was deep and narrow, making it difficult to pack, the Aston Martin actually proved to be relatively good at hauling luggage for a weekend trip. The truck had enough room for tripods, small suitcases and backpacks and garment bags, while a cubby behind the two seats was perfect for camera bags.
At the height of a mid-summer heat wave, getting out of New York was a blessing, particularly with the roof down in the Porsche Boxster S. Getting out of the city was an exercise in frustration with stop-and-go traffic until we crossed the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey. Both the Aston Martin and the Porsche had manual transmissions, which meant that the hour of crawling traffic provided ample time to get to know the quirks of each vehicle (the Porsche requires a light touch, while the Aston Martin has a weighty but communicative clutch). We quickly gave up on a competition of who was the better manual driver after we each stalled five times trying to merge out of traffic and into a gas station while traveling uphill, a harrowing experience in cars we had never driver before. Stop-and-go traffic plagued us into New Jersey until we reached the pristine Palisades Parkway.
The Palisades is one of the Northeastern United States' great driving roads. Traffic thins out as you move north of New York along the New Jersey Palisades, dramatic cliffs which overlook the majestic Hudson River. The open road allowed us to open up the throttles on the cars and engage in some friendly "racing" while enjoying the throaty rumble of the cars under acceleration. We shifted from the Palisades to The New York Thruway (Interstate 87) to Albany. As the sun set, we stopped periodically at rest stops to switch cars, savoring the race car adrenaline rush of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the glamorous appeal of the Porsche.
New York interstate rest stop food is typical of rest stops everywhere in the U.S. with the exception of Nathan's Famous hotdog stand. We skipped the hotdogs, but the French fries, more wedge-shaped and clearly made of actual potato than limp McDonald's fries, made the perfect road trip snack. Moreover, Nathan's fries are served with a cocktail fork, minimizing the risk of getting ketchup and fry oil on the leather interiors of the cars.
After a night in Albany, we reconvened for several days at the Saratoga Springs horse racing track. The track is its own world, essentially unchanged in its culture and ideals for almost 150 years. Money is a huge part of it, and the premium parking spaces in front of the gates were filled with Aston Martins, Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benzes and Lamborghinis. While our cars fit in perfectly, the depth of our wallets did not, so we parked several blocks away.
The Saratoga Springs race track is rife with pageantry - from colorful jockey silks, a Victorian grandstand, big hats and cigars. The combination of racing, betting, horses, crowds, dust and heat can be a bit overwhelming, like a visit to a carnival when you're five. At the end of the weekend, having won and lost $10, sampled some greasy food and watched the professional bettors grumble over their tipsheets, the track proved as worthy a destination as any. But the memorable part of the trip, truth be told, won't be the days spent at the Saratoga Race Course. It will literally be the journey.
Driving back to New York we missed the turn to get onto the Palisades Parkway and wound up taking a 30-mile detour along local rounds around Alpine, N.J. That 30 miles of driving, unsure of where we were going, was the best driving of the trip, and probably the best half hour of the trip. When we finally returned to the Palisades, we found ourselves above an unexplored gem of the Hudson: the Palisades Interstate Park. We stumbled upon the entrance to the park, a narrow track of switchbacks down the side of the cliffs to the riverfront. We descended through trees, away from the roar of traffic, until we emerged by the river with a view of the George Washington Bridge in the foreground and the skyline of Manhattan stretching out into the distance.
That view, and the meandering drive to it, defined the trip. A trip in two cars as well engineered, comfortable and fun as the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the 2013 Porsche Boxster S makes the destination feel drab, even one as colorful and dramatic as the Saratoga Race Course. The days at the track felt like a necessary but frustrating interlude in between sessions of driving, and while the track's boosters say it brings people together, we found that the cars were an even better social catalyst.
Even in Saratoga, when we parked near the track, four 10- or 12-year-old neighborhood boys approached us to look at the cars. They, like our co-workers in Manhattan, wanted to see the engines, to hear the cough of the exhaust, to take their picture with the car. When we drove, other drivers would pull alongside, either to take pictures or to exchange looks of secret camaraderie if they too had the good fortune to drive a sports car. The trip from New York City to Saratoga Springs reaffirmed the old adage that life's not about the destination, it's about the journey.