Two years ago, when I decided to conquer my driving phobia, I didn't stop at earning my New York State license. I moved on to highway lessons, and from there I advanced to sessions with stick shifts and motorcycles. Next I took off for Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia, where I slalomed around a speedway with racing pros. And on real roads in my tri-state area I tested the fastest, slickest vehicles I could get my hands on.
But the automobile that excited me most I didn't get to drive. It was the Maybach, Mercedes's revival of the sybaritic, pre-war, V-12 passenger car favored by such rarefied customers as opera star Enrico Caruso. After seeing the 20-foot-long, made-to-order dream machine at its New York press preview, I longed to take the Maybach on a nostalgic journey. I imagined retracing the route Marcel Proust traveled with Agostinelli, his chauffeur and lover, from Cabourg to Versailles, or making a pilgrimage inspired by Isadora Duncan, who broke her neck on the Riviera when her trailing scarf caught in the rear wheel of a Bugatti.
When I finally received permission to try a Maybach, it came with the strict conditions that I could commandeer the car for one day only, under the watchful eye of a Mercedes supervisor. Where could I go within a scenic day's driving distance from Manhattan that was worthy of the Maybach?The only destination that came to mind was the Point, a secluded hotel 300 miles away on Upper Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Designed in 1931 by architect William Distin as Camp Wonundra, the mountain retreat of William Avery Rockefeller, it was the last compound of its kind to be built in the region. I planned to progress upstate at a leisurely pace, one that echoed the languid rhythms of the late-summer migrations to the Adirondacks made by New Yorkers a century before.
My book-editor friend Larry, who lives 2‰ hours from Manhattan in Stuyvesant, offered his house on the Hudson River as a way station. "I'll throw you a party," he proposed. I couldn't exactly refuse Larry's offer, as he had already printed up a circus poster-like invitation that read: "Come see the magnificent Maybach! Come meet Amy Fine Collins, author of the forthcoming book The God of Driving! Meet Attila, her driving instructor!"
I had asked Attila to be my copilot, but because he had to bring his dog, he was siphoned off into a separate vehicle, his navy blue, paramilitary Mercedes G500. By default, Joe, my Maybach minder, became my car-mate.
I gathered up my daughter (she would spend the night at Larry's, as the Point takes pets, but no children), and raced downstairs to my lobby. Across the street, Joe awaited me in front of a resplendent platinum Maybach—a latter-day Apollo in black shorts beside his solar chariot.
We stood for a moment in reverent silence, admiring the ethereal color; the streamlined rhomboid of the gas tank; and the formidable double-M logo etched onto the headlamps. "Seventeen miles to the gallon," recited Joe, who knew his Maybach specs. "Not bad for a three-ton, five-hundred-forty-three-horsepower road yacht that goes from zero to sixty in five-point-two seconds."
My little girl hopped nonchalantly into the right back seat, separated from its neighbor by an Indonesian amboyna-wood cupboard containing a refrigerator, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and a set of sterling-silver goblets. She faced the flat-screen TV, crowned herself with a cordless headset, and slipped The Fellowship of the Ring into the DVD player.
"Here we go, storming the roads!" Joe whooped as we glided onto the Henry Hudson Parkway.
The Maybach was the cynosure of the highway. Near Fishkill, three mustached men in a Subaru grinned giddily.
"A Maybach?" the driver shouted across the broken white line.
We lip-read his question. Joe rolled down his thick window and yelled back, "Yes!"
"I knew it! I knew it!" the man crowed, slapping his steering wheel with two gold-ringed hands. When I accelerated past them, they receded as if on rapid-motion rewind.
A balding man in a BMW X5 paid the Maybach a more furtive homage. He hovered in the right lane beside us, then crept behind us to inspect our posterior.
Maneuvering the Maybach like a show pony, I flounced over to the right lane so he could admire our left flank.
We paused to use a bathroom—the one amenity, my daughter pointed out, that was missing from the Maybach.
"Take a break, Amy," Attila advised, "and give Joe a turn."
Near Rhinebeck, I clicked on my new seat's "pulse" button. I sighed, sinking into the fleshy upholstery. "It's such a hushed, enveloping feeling, being in this car."
"Amy, there's a cop behind us. We're being pulled over for speeding."
"Then, why isn't Attila stopping?"
"Why should two of us get in trouble?"