Born to rent: So, I drove a U-Haul to the Springsteen concert… | Opinion

Born to rent: So, I drove a U-Haul to the Springsteen concert… | Opinion

By Ellen S. Wilkowe At the height of the COVID lockdown, I had missed celebrating

By Ellen S. Wilkowe

At the height of the COVID lockdown, I had missed celebrating a milestone birthday in the traditional sense. That all changed this year when I was gifted Bruce Springsteen tickets as some sort of divine compensation paid in full by my husband.

I opened my birthday card and out fell two makeshift Springsteen tickets boasting an unfamiliar venue: Bryce Jordan Center and my heart embarrassingly and ungratefully sank.

“Where’s that?” State College, Pa.

Yeah, and where is THAT?”

Oh? Oh. I knew it was home to Penn State University but never entertained a road trip. Plus, I felt like a traitor traveling across state lines to State College to see Springsteen. Even Madison Square Garden would have qualified as a Garden State-ish venue.

Yet, having tussled with Ticketmaster over Taylor Swift tickets, I could only imagine what tussling my husband experienced while navigating VerifiedFan, virtual lines, dynamic pricing and possible lost hours and work productivity that has become all part of the norm of ticket wrangling.

Taking all this into account I decided to shut my pizza hole because we not only scored tickets, but were able to afford them, an aspect I would rather not know, given that this was a gift. Plus, my husband isn’t half the fan as me and was willing to go along for the ride.

We departed for State College, early Saturday afternoon. We had a reservation waiting at a brewpub as well as a hotel.

We hit Route 80 and instead of tuning into Springsteen’s music, we decided to listen to his recent two plus hours interview with Howard Stern.

As we inched further into unchartered Pennsylvania territory, we pulled into a rest area in a town called Bloomsburg, remembering that we were on self-serve turf, dutifully got out of the car and hurriedly filled up.

Back out on the road, the car began to almost humanly choke, every symbol on the dashboard illuminated in bright orange and we pulled over on the nearest shoulder to investigate. The little red Hyundai with 90,000 miles sputtered a bit and then refused to turn over.

We were resigned to calling AAA and were given the typical 45-minute wait time. I guess some things transcend state lines. As we waited, we took refuge on a grassy island complete with a concrete slab for sitting.

While waiting on AAA, we frantically investigated nearby rental car services only to discover exactly one, which was closed by this late Saturday afternoon. Two hours and several crossword app downloads later, our knight in shining steel arrived and towed us to the only repair shop in town, which was getting ready to shutter for the evening. As we glimpsed an open U-Haul, I joked about renting a truck to carry us the remaining 90 miles to the concert.

We didn’t come this far to only come this far, not to mention the undisclosed cost of tickets and the hotel room.

After explaining the onset of the car’s symptoms to the repairman, we sought shelter in a Dunkin Donuts to piece together a game plan. We first scrambled for an Uber and Lyft, then wondered (sarcastically) how any driver could possibly refuse the opportunity to transport two out-of-state tourists 90 plus miles to State College. As the search for drivers went unanswered, I checked into cab companies, with equal amounts of failure.

As our spirits sank in sync with the setting sun, my husband turned to me and very seriously proposed renting a U-Haul.

“I swear I found the keys to the universe/In the engine of an old parked car.”

Overnight bags in tow, we navigated on foot through strip malls to the U-Haul. Fifteen minutes later we were provided the keys to a pick-up truck under the guise of our other “truck” having broken down in the middle of a move.

We were back on the road, way behind schedule and the lyrics to “Born to Run” ear wormed their way into my mind “Sprung from cages on highway nine, chrome wheels fuel injected, heading out over the line. ”Wendy strap your hands ‘cross my engines.”

As we forged ahead on Route 80, a digital sign warned us of snow squalls. Really? Really? The sky opened but we kept “racing in the streets.”

As frustrating as this experience proved, it allowed me to draw parallels to the performer, who based much of his success writing about cars and the open road.

Born to rent: So, I drove a U-Haul to a Springsteen concert

The writer recaps on her very Springsteen experience while en route to his concert in State College, Pa. This included passing a town in Pa. called Jersey Shore.

As if on cue with my thoughts, a sign for a town — sit down — called “Jersey Shore,” appeared almost mystically on the side of the highway. It was a sign in more ways than one.

We arrived at the hotel at 10 past eight and explained to the clerk our unique situation and the possibility of a late, late check-in. One Uber later, we were on our way.

We sprinted across a grassy knoll, made our way through the line-free metal detector and searched for our section. Meanwhile, the band was playing “I’m on Fire,” and I had never heard them perform that at any of my past shows.

I pretty much was on fire myself, especially after I found our seats. My demeanor turned from stress to sheer excitement and gratitude.

The band — which resembled more of an E Street orchestra, particularly with a four-person brass section— was living as much in the moment as its audience. They “Proved it all night” mostly because they have nothing to prove anymore. The Boss and the E-Streeters were in this for the fun and the fleeting immortality of it all.

I left the stadium floating on a cloud only to have that bubble burst the next morning as we watched the phone for the repair shop to call. We pulled into the car repair shop just as they were taking in the car.

A rather embarrassing turn of events would reveal that the car’s near-death experience was routed to operator error. The repairman came out with “the look,” that was synonymous with expensive, and perhaps some sort of smirk on his face. He held out a gasoline-drenched arm for a sniff test.


I guess I was deserving of the smirk and his possible unspoken words: What a couple of fuel fools, spoiled by their full-service lifestyle that they failed to pay attention at the pump. Oh, but pay, they will!

Four hours later, we were gassed up and good to go. In making up for the smirk, the repairman assured us that we weren’t the first customers to have made this near-fatal fuel error.

It was back to the swamps of Jersey: The “Land of Hopes and Dreams” — and full service.

Ellen S. Wilkowe is a former journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Denville with her husband, daughter and cat.

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