Tales of the Beltway

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I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival today and was going to blog about it, but just getting there proved to be the more interesting event. In as much as during the 17 years I've lived here I've been to the festival enough times to have lost count, whereas today was only the third time I've been on the Capital Beltway when it was closed down.

The drive started out uneventfully. I crossed the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge for the first time, and thought as I did so that it wasn't very exciting, crossing the new bridge. "Not exciting" is a bonus, though, considering that crossing the old bridge always brought on the alarming realisation that it was crumbling to ruin and could give way at any time.

I'd gone a few miles past the bridge when I came to a dead standstill. A couple hundred yards ahead of me I could see that all four lanes were closed. I was on the outer loop of the beltway--the counter-clockwise lanes. After a few minutes all four lanes of the inner loop were also closed, and I knew this was Serious. I shut off my engine and got out of the car to stretch my legs. At least a dozen emergency vehicles screamed past on the shoulder, sirens blaring. After a while a helicopter landed, and a while later, took off. I didn't look at my watch when I first stopped, but I'd say we sat immobile for about an hour.

The three closings I've been caught in have resulted from three very different causes. On the first occasion a truck spilled a load of paint across all lanes, and the beltway was closed while the mess was cleaned up. On the second occasion the WW Bridge was closed during the evening commute, and as we sat in our cars or wandered aimlessly between lanes news filtered back to us that the bridge was closed because there was a jumper on it.

Among the thousands of us who just wanted to get home from work, eat some supper, watch a little TV, this occasion brought out the latent mean person. As with one mind, we beamed an insensitive directive at the guy who had chosen the evening commute hour for his dramatic gesture: so jump already. (And you thought New York was mean.) This seems less despicable, even humorous, in retrospect, since he did eventually jump but survived and was plucked out of the Potomac by a patrol boat. If that's not the definition of a Bad Day I don't know what would qualify.

Today's delay was trite, by comparison: a multi-car accident. When we were finally able to get around it, four lanes merging into one to squeeze past an array of flares, I could see one car sitting at an angle across two lanes and an SUV up on a tow-truck. I knew another tow-truck had already left the scene along with half a dozen ambulances. As I passed the scene I took one last look back and then saw it, the one thing that had undoubtedly been the cause of the lengthy shutdown: a crushed mass of burned, twisted metal, unrecognizable as anything that had once been a car.


Haha I remember hearing news reports about that guy on the bridge...

My nightmare driving experience will forever be the day I was forced to let an entire 50+ car funeral procession merge infront of me in bumper-to-bumper traffic on 495. The guy behind me was soooo ticked off. I think it took us almost 2 hours to get to Lotte.

Oh yeah I remember that. Wasn't the guy pounding his steering wheel? lol. You did the right thing; he was a jerk. You had a permit then, right? Was that the first time you'd driven on the beltway?

Ya it was the first time I ever drove on a major interstate. Remember I barely managed to merge on? Haha, ohh... I was such a bad driver when I first got my permit.

As opposed to now of course... err... yeah.

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