9 hours to Fair­fax

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO -

What I learned about my­self on my com­mute home through Wed­nes­day’s storm — and my 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? Right? Im­me­di­ately it was ob­vi­ous that Lees­burg Pike 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 may be 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 can do it, why can’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 frommy house, and I was so close, I could taste it. But as I got to the light at Route 50, I saw it again. Traf­fic. 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 letme 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.

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

Stuck in traf­fic on Baron Cameron Av­enue in Re­ston onWed­nes­day.

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