Sweet land of parking lots
At 31, I’ve accepted that much of life is beyond my control. But you know what’s not? My steering wheel. I’ve always enjoyed the open road: loud music with the windows rolled down; cupholders with hot coffee for early-morning adventures. Save our recent trips, I don’t actually spend much time in the car — which is probably why I still enjoy it. Extra drive time would probably cure me of that.
You see, at the risk of getting hate mail, I must have one of the shortest commutes in Southern Maryland: seven minutes, tops. And that’s if I’m stuck behind a school bus.
Having watched my mother endure her hours-long commute for decades, I’ve never aspired to work in the city. As she recently joked, Mom has used every mode of transportation possible short of lacing up her sneakers and walking to town: carpool; vanpool; driving alone; riding the bus; taking the Metro. A trip that usually takes an hour and a half, at least. Each way. Every single day.
And she’s not alone in that — not at all. Everyone has terrible traffic stories. I was a Beltway baby for three years during college, dealing with detours and back-ups before I finally got that degree and ran home to the suburbs: sweet, sweet land of parking lots.
After so many years of rarely venturing beyond a 10-mile radius, I’ve become the butt of family jokes. Mom goes to Northern Virginia daily, of course, and my sister’s work takes her to all corners of the state. My father is a city tour guide and proud Washingtonian — a man with wheels on his feet.
On Tuesday, we were all crammed in his SUV headed downtown for a tour of Washington National Cathedral. It’s fun to play tourist — especially midweek. Katie and I arranged a tour and tea months ago as a Mother’s Day gift, and it was time to gawk at some stained glass.
Our docent was an unassuming woman with a surprisingly robust voice. A longtime tour guide, her stories echoed easily down the limestone halls. She explained the cathedral’s history and future plans on an entertaining walk, leaving us later to inhale tiny squares of cucumber salad at our tea.
And scones, of course. Can’t forget the scones.
The afternoon was relaxing and reflective. Peaceful. A wonderful experience shared with Mom and Kate, and also educational — a buzzword that sends all students on forced marches of Washington fleeing, our guide joked. But I’m not afraid of learning a little something. I prefer that, actually.
And then? Well, then we had to drive back.
Life is all about checks-and-balances. We started the afternoon marveling at a panel of stained glass featuring an actual piece of the moon. It ended with us staring at a stagnant sea of tail lights, going nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere. Earthbound, for sure.
My backseat driver kicked in. All I could see were the vehicles around us inching too close, pedestrians darting into traffic, bicycles nearly clipping our mirror. Every route was too crowded. Police stopped a vehicle in the middle of a neighboring lane, prompting a disorderly evacuation of everyone around us. No one used turn signals. There was nowhere to pull off. It was hot. We weren’t moving.
Was the air conditioning even working? “This is awful,” I muttered. Dad laughed. “This is nothing,” he said.
“It’s really not bad today,” Mom agreed.
Katie nodded, fighting me for the one backseat spot within striking distance of an air vent — just like the old days. “It gets much worse,” she added.
A wall of vehicles by South Capitol Street as a Nationals game began. Bumper-tobumper traffic getting on 295. Commuters stuck in Brandywine, every traffic light burning red.
I marveled at it all, eyes bulging.
“When’s the last time you went north?” my dad often jokes. “When’s the last time you left Waldorf?”
Sometimes it’s been weeks. Sometimes months.
But I’ll tell you this: when I do? It’s probably for dessert.