Thursday, December 29, 2011

Four-hour Rush Hour

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is wonderful if you are a commuter in the DC-Baltimore Region. If you are visiting us right now, you would probably think otherwise. Then again, you visitors are the ones who stand to the left on Metro escalators and block the platforms when the trains arrive. My favorite tourists are the white ones from the Midwest who would rather stand than sit next to a black person on the train. You think we don’t notice; honey, we notice. Personally, I don’t sit next to the tourists from the Midwest because they usually smell like a combination of hash browns, Schlitz and Marlboro Reds.

Every other time of year, driving in this area is a nightmare. On the radio one morning, a DJ said this is the only part of the country where rush hour lasts for six hours. She was almost right. In reality, it lasts 6:00 am to 10:00 am every morning, and at night, it can go from 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm. So, rush hour is really four hours. Does that give you a sense of relief?

Think about this, if you live here, and you need to go somewhere, 33 percent of the time, you have to consider how important that errand is because rush hour here is like nowhere else in the world, and you won’t convince me otherwise.

There is something else I find interesting about rush hour. I get up at 4:00 am, walk Esmeralda, feed her breakfast, go to the gym, come home, walk her again, eat breakfast, get ready for work, and I am still out of the house at 6:55 am. For the first mile or two on my way to the Metro station, there is usually a heavy flow of traffic – not so bad, but not great. However, if I leave later than 7:10, I add twenty minutes to my 11-mile commute to the Metro Station, arriving 45 minutes after I left the house. If there is a drop of rain, I add another ten minutes. All it takes is one drop. That’s it. One drop. God only knows what my first snow here will do to my commute.

Granted, I live in a blue collar community, which means the majority of the people around me go to work as early as I do, so I expect to deal with some traffic. I prefer to go this early to avoid the mad dash into the city on the Metro.

When I get on the train, it is usually not packed at all. My station is on the end of the line, so I get a seat and read the paper. Then, I arrive at work at least an hour before 90 percent of the staff, who arrive after 9:30 am. After an eight-hour work day, I am back on the train, but here is where it gets weird. At 5:00 pm, the trains are packed. When I arrive back at the Metro parking lot at 5:30, everyone and his brother and sister are heading home. I discussed with my co-worker friend, Sarah, one morning, and she made the same observation. Who are these people who leave work when we do? We know they didn’t arrive eight hours earlier. Shouldn’t our commute home be the same as our commute in? Those of us who arrive on a comfortable train should be going home on one, but it is standing room only at that time. And no one will convince me that all these people came to work before I did.

Which brings me to another point.

Very few people actually work a full day. At my previous job, my desk was near the door to the office. This had several advantages. My cube and the hallway next to it were the only areas without carpet, so I could hear people approach, and within no time, I knew everyone’s walk by sound. This helps when you are watching YouTube at your desk. In addition, I knew when people arrived and when they departed. I was usually the second or third one in on my side of the office, so I could keep tabs on the majority of the staff. While the majority of the staff arrived around 9:30 or 10:00, just about everyone left before 5:00. I didn’t supervise any of them, so it was none of my business. But I saw all of them. If there were an opening for a “tab keeper,” I would be the first to apply.

I also have the uncanny ability to count how many drinks everyone has had at a party, and I have perfected the “don’t you think you’ve had enough” look to go with it.

Back to commuting. One of the reasons I left the armpit of Maryland, otherwise known as Rockville, was the traffic situation. In Rockville, rush hour started in 1952 and it is still going on. If you need to go anywhere in Rockville, forget it. Our office moved to Rockville for six months when our lease ran out. For the first time since I lived in Florida, I was within 2.5 miles from work. Did I drive to work? Hell no. Once, I drove in on my “work from home” day to attend a meeting, and it took me 90 minutes to drive 2.5 miles – at noon! Instead, I took the Metro for two stops and walked half a mile to the office, which was much quicker although dangerous because in Rockville, they don’t understand the concept of the pedestrian. People walking? What the hell is that all about? We must run them over to end this unseemly practice!

I never made plans during the week in Rockville because soon after moving there, I was to attend a volunteer training at the Washington Animal Rescue League, and I left the house at 7:00 pm on a Thursday night. After sitting in traffic for two hours, I turned around and gave up. There was no accident. Just traffic. I managed to travel 1.3 miles. I could still see my apartment building in the rearview mirror.

I have friends who throw an annual party in Virginia between the holidays. Last year, it took 3.2 hours to go 16 miles. The brakes on my 1979 Lincoln Continental went out on the way there. I had a cup of eggnog, wished everyone a Happy Holidays, and left. Otherwise, Esmeralda would have been howling. She does that if I am gone past 10:30, so New Year’s Eve should be fun.

Maybe she is the reincarnation of my mother? Will she take my keys away? At least she doesn't worry herself into a case of diarrhea.

There is a talent I have when it comes to traffic. I always end up behind a white panel van in a traffic jam, so I cannot see what is going on ahead of me. If you see a white panel van in a traffic jam, look behind him, and you will see one of two AMCs chugging along with a Gay Jew screaming obscenities and waving his arms. You won’t hear him, but you certainly will see the spittle flying from his mouth as he cusses away his rush hour.

What I don’t understand is where all these goddam people come from? It is as if we import commuters just to screw with us during rush hour. Is the planet that overpopulated? Not that I would consider it, but I can understand why people carry guns in their cars. What I don’t understand is why more people don’t shoot themselves during rush hour – that being the only way out.

And while on the subject of my not getting it. The interstates and beltways and expressways and freeways and parkways, etc. were all designed to move traffic more efficiently, but if you live in this area, you learn to say the following when giving someone directions to your home, “Avoid the Beltway.” “Avoid 95.” “Avoid the Parkway.” You then give them directions that involve a number of back roads and dirt paths and advise them to keep their doors locked and watch out for bald children with banjos.

You want to get somewhere quickly around here, avoid anything with a speed limit faster than 45 mph. Does anyone else see the irony in this?

I once asked an acquaintance whose job it was to design highways and bridges why all highways are obsolete before they are finished. His response: “If we built them to handle all the traffic, we wouldn’t be able to justify more funding to build more highways.”

In New York, when guests arrive at a party, they say, “You should see the parking space I got.”

In DC-Baltimore-Northern Virginia, when guests arrive at a party, they say, “I’ve never seen so much fucking traffic in my life.”

Yes, you have. Every fucking day during the four-hour rush hour.

If you are stuck in traffic, join my email list, follow me, tell your friends, or just scream at the guy in the next car.

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