I am certain that there are a thousand stories like this from yesterday’s snow commute disaster, but this is mine:
(Times are approximate, except for the start and stop times)
4:57 PM: I start my car and exit the parking garage at work. Boy, the snow is coming down fast and furious. It is heavy, wet and blowing. It sticks to the driver’s side window, reducing visibility out that side to zero. That will limit my shifts into the left lane, but otherwise, I am carefree.
4:58 PM: At the parking lot exit, my first decision. A left turn is quicker and closer to the entrance to Route 66, but the road is more hazardous. A right turn is slightly longer, but better traveled. I’ll go right. I’m in no hurry, so safety first!
4:59 PM: My second decision. I usually turn left towards home, but that route has tight curves and rolling hills. I am a confident Jersey trained snow driver, but not insane. I’ll go right and stay on major arteries. The pace will be slow, but the road surface should be better.
5:01 PM: Traffic leading up to Route 123 is at a dead stop in the right turn lane. Cars on the opposite side cannot negotiate up a slight incline, so all traffic in the other direction is stopped cold. My driver’s side window is buried under snow. I step out to clean it off.
5:20 PM: I have traveled about 50 more feet. Making good time. I make a bold decision. I’ll switch into the left lane, cruise to the intersection, and then make the right turn from the middle lane. There is no perceived danger, since traffic is crawling anyway. My goal is Route 66 West, a mere 150 yards from the intersection. I can smell that home cooking.
5:35 PM: I have made the right onto Route 123, and I am driving without incident along the left lane, the “fast lane” as it were. One simple slip into the right lane for the Route 66 entrance is all it will take now.
5:45 PM: It seems simple to cut into the right lane, and at speed it would be. In the absence of any speed (cars are parked trying to get onto 66), it is more challenging. There’s the issue of the snow/slush temporary median strip that have developed on the highway. Another obstacle is that once I have turned, the blinding snow is no longer on my left window. It is piling up on my right window, blocking my view of the cars that I hope to merge in between. The first seeds of frustration begin to grow.
5:50 PM: No worries. Route 66 is at a stand still. If there’s an accident on that road, I could be stuck for hours. I will outsmart everyone. I’ll continue straight on Route 123, and jump on Route 50 West. That will also be slow, but well traveled. I cross over the top of Route 66, headed south.
6:10 PM: I am sitting still on 123 wondering what the hell is going on. I fight the urge to honk the horn at no one in particular. The traffic report doesn’t even mention my location. The report basically says, “It’s bad everywhere, please be kind to people.” I think it’s the end of the world. When the traffic report is that non-specific, I think this might take awhile.
6:15 PM: My “Low Fuel” light comes on. That wasn’t good planning on my part. If I stop for gas, I could lose my place in line.
6:30 PM: I can see Route 50 now. Cars are not able to scale a simple incline in front of Tastee 29 Diner. I see cars go up, I see cars slide down. I wonder if they will allow Jersey trained drivers to give it a shot. It doesn’t look that bad, if I could just get to the intersection. I call home asking about alternative routes. I don’t like my options. I tell Cherie that I might not get home until 7:30 PM at this pace.
6:35 PM: I can’t wait any longer, I’d better get some gas in the car while I can. I cut through the intersection without watching the traffic signals (they are useless at this juncture), and glide into the Exxon.
6:40 PM: Windows cleared, legs stretched, gas tank full, I have no choice out of the gas station except a right turn onto Route 50 headed east. It is the opposite direction from where I want to go, but no one is moving west. I’ll drive east, and find a cut over towards a better road. Surely, there are roads that these Virginia drivers fear that I will not. I call home for new options. I am traveling at 30 miles per hour, and I don’t care that I am going the wrong way. The speed feels like victory.
6:43 PM: Eastbound traffic on Route 50 is at a standstill. Cars cannot climb the slight incline on the westbound side at this point either, but I have no idea what the issue is on my side of the road. I see red brake lights extend as far as visibility will allow. I am stopped dead, headed in the wrong direction, and it is still snowing at an estimate rate of 2 inches per hour. This is hell without the heat.
7:00 PM: My brother-in-law calls and helps me decide to quit for awhile. We agree that I have earned dinner at Artie’s, a fine dining experience near the Fairfax Circle. I try not to dwell on the fact that I earned this meal while driving 2 hours, and ending up 2 miles further from home than when I started. I’ll watch the Caps game and enjoy a nice meal. Traffic will be gone by the time I’m done.
7:05 PM: Karen the bartender explains to me that the reason all the TV screens have the Direct TV icon and not actual programming on. In her words, “Direct TV sucks.” That may be true, but what else is true is that there will be no Caps game for me tonight, at least not until I’m back in the car headed home.
7:45 PM: Pale ale gone, food arrives. The grouper special is magical. Another stranded motorist, Anna, sits next to me, and we share traffic horror stories. The whole bar comes alive with suggestions on short cuts, hazards to avoid, and tales of survival. Underneath all of our bravado, I think we all know we are so screwed. 50-50 chance we sleep in our cars tonight.
8:35 PM: Brimming with confidence and a full belly, I walk to the car with a plan. I am headed straight into Fairfax City. A few zigs and zags, and I’ll make it back to 123, then Braddock, then home.
8:50 PM: I am lulled into a false sense of security with my simple trip into Fairfax City. The roads are really bad, but I am a trained Jersey driver (have I mentioned that?). Home free, until this unusual stop at a traffic light near the Fairfax Library. Why isn’t anyone moving?
8:55 PM: I call home to give Cherie an update. She suggests turning around, or some other ridiculous idea, that is only ridiculous to those of us who are out here in this wintery maze. I think I might have been rude and dismissive. Mental note to apologize if I ever get home.
9:10 PM: Dope-smoking George Mason college boys think blocking intersections is a faster way to get to where they are going. I think about ramming them with my late model Honda Accord, and claiming it was the weather’s fault. Cooler heads prevail when I find a new radio station I had not heard before. Peace. Caps losing 1-0.
10:00 PM: Good bye, Fairfax City! My plan is coming together. I roll down University Blvd., make a right at the Mason campus and head towards Route 123. The sense of déjà vu I feel as I approach 123 should have been a warning sign. Never mind! There are only 3 cars ahead of me to turn onto 123. Best news yet! Caps get shut out, 1-0.
10:35 PM: A transformer blows about 50 feet in front of me. Lights up the sky like the sun. Sparks everywhere. That was a nice diversion.
10:45 PM: I have inched (literally) about 150 feet in 45 minutes. My brother-in-law suggests I bail out and stay at his house tonight. He is close by. Of course, once I am in the right lane, turning around or switching lanes is impossible. I am trapped like those race cars on the Grand Prix ride at Disney World. I kindly reject his offer. I am on a mission, and I am getting stubborn. I am also really up to date on all of the world and national news.
11:05 PM: I make a right turn onto Braddock Road. Abandoned cars litter the road. Some have flashers, most do not. I need to pee real bad. I wonder how much that water bottle holds?
11:20 PM: Hey, knuckleheads! If you don’t keep your speed, you WILL get stuck. Use the gas, redneck!!!
11:30 PM: It’s getting fun now. I am on Fairfax County Parkway North, near the Fairfax Costco. The road conditions are terrible with deep piles and very few sustainable trails. I have given up caring. I am going home.
11:33 PM: Dead stop ahead, but I will not stop anymore. I exit right before gridlock traps me again, onto West Ox Road. I can weave my way home this way. Surely, no one else has thought of this.
11:48 PM: I love West Ox Road, and I am flying past Fair Oaks Hospital. I knew I’d make it.
11:49 PM: Fairfax County Parkway South is a parking lot. No movement. Fortunately, I am on the north side, and I am alone. My feelings of guilt at my good fortune do not last. Suckers. I am almost home. HA!
11:55 PM: I am in my neighborhood. The road conditions are the best I have seen all night.
12:03 AM: I pull into the driveway, but my rear end (I should say the car’s rear end) wouldn’t make it all the way. I’m half in the street. Finally home, and now I’m stuck.
12:05 AM: Back outside, shovel in hand. Frankly, I could use the exercise after sitting in the car for that long.
12:20 AM: Car is on the sidewalk, I think, but at least it isn’t in the street. I’m home.
7 miles commute, 7 hour trip. You do the math.
7 miles commute, 7 hour trip. You do the math.