Nine-hour commute, five stages of grief
As I drove through the storm Wednesday, I learned a few things. I learned how strong a bladder I have, that the five stages of grief are real and that nine hours is a long, long time.
I left Washington about 3:30 p.m., planning to get home in an hour or so, grab the mail and enjoy the early dismissal from work. As I drove toward Interstate 66, I ran into some traffic. But anybody who drives on 66 knows traffic comes with the territory. My GPS told me to switch to Route 50, but I-66 was moving better than I expected, so I ignored the warning. A GPS is only helpful if you listen to what it has to say. A quarter of a mile later, traffic was at a standstill. Eventually, I wiggled my way off of the Rosslyn exit and onto the George Washington Parkway.
From the parkway, I took Lee Highway, and for four or five miles traffic moved slowly but steadily. That I could deal with; at least I was making some progress. Then we stopped at a red light that didn’t change for what seemed like 10 minutes. Finally, we began to move a few feet at a time, and eventually, I turned on to Leesburg Pike. It couldn’t be any worse, right?
Immediately it was obvious that Route 7 was in no better shape. This is where I first saw the abandoned cars. People had left them in the middle of the road with their hazard lights on. I drive a Honda Accord, not exactly an all-terrain-vehicle, but I was able to handle the snow with little problem. I’d get stuck from time to time, but I would just downshift and eventually get back on track.
After an hour or so of driving maybe half a mile, I decided to change course again. I couldn’t go back, so I told the GPS to figure out another route. It had me taking a left in half a mile to connect back to Route 50.
That was unacceptable. Half a mile might be another 45 minutes. So I pulled out my trusty Droid, went to Google maps and saw that a side street also went where I needed to go. I turned left and navigated unplowed back roads toward Route 50. I made great time for a while, but then hit stopped traffic again. Out came the Droid and there were more back roads to take. All I had to do was turn right. If only the car in front of me could move 10 feet. Twenty minutes later I squeezed through, and I drove up a steep, unplowed hill. I followed these back roads parallel to Route 50 for as long as I could, then turned onto the busy road.
I was proud of myself. I had used my wits and resources to evade the traffic, and I was only 11 miles from home. But Route 50, too, was a parking lot. We moved 20 or 30 feet every five minutes. There was a flashing sign ahead. I hoped against hope that it was good news. But when have you ever known a flashing road sign to be good news?
“Massive delays ahead! Proceed with caution!”
And this is where it became something out of a horror movie. Dozens of cars left on the side of the road. More in the middle. People stuck left and right. Their problems would cause me to get stuck, but I freed myself and threaded ahead. Two hours and a mile and a half later, I turned onto Gallows Road. From there, I drove unplowed roads littered with fallen trees and more stuck commuters. I felt bad, but I just couldn’t help anyone. I had to get home. Eventually, I reached Little River Turnpike and went strong for four miles. And then boom: No movement.
But ahead! People are turning! Is it salvation? Fifteen minutes later, the cars moved just enough for me to sneak through to the left turn lane. I was feeling good. But no! Again we stopped dead. Someone a few cars ahead couldn’t get up the hill.
That’s when I lost it. My mother happened to call at this moment, and I must have sounded like a madman. “Why can’t these people just drive straight and not get stuck?” I screamed. “If I could do it, why couldn’t they?” There was more, but it’s all a blur. I was in a blind rage.
Eventually, we moved. Traffic on Braddock Road was extremely slow, but by now I was catatonic. I had come to accept my fate, whatever it was. Finally, I turned onto Shirley Gate Road, two miles from my house, and I was so close, I could taste it. But as I got to the light at Route 50, I saw it again.
But I would not be denied.
I made a U-turn, drove past the Fairfax Government Center, turned onto West Ox Road and pulled into Penderbrook Square at approximately 12:30 a.m., nine hours — and all five stages of grief — after I left work.
Denial: The roads can’t possibly be as bad as they are saying, can they?
Anger: What is wrong with people! Just drive straight and don’t get stuck!
Bargaining: Please, give me a way forward, and I’ll never put myself in this situation again. Please, just don’t let me sit in this traffic anymore.
Depression: I’m never getting home.
Acceptance: I’ll get home when I get home. There’s nothing I can do. People are idiots.
But this isn’t the end of my story. The condo association had been nice enough to plow the parking lots, but my parking space had been blocked in. So I ran upstairs, grabbed the shovel and cleared some snow. I tried to force the car in — and I got stuck.
You’ve gotta love D.C. in the winter.
Jesse Schoolnik, Fairfax
| January 28, 2011; 7:49 PM ET
Categories: D.C., HotTopic, traffic, transportation, weather
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