Rush Hours

I’m still trying to come to terms with the idea of commuting in the Washington D.C. metro area. After rural Stratford-upon-Avon the chaos that is northern Virginia makes Oxford Street on a Saturday before Christmas look like a walk in the park.

My commute by US standards is short. I drive from Springfield to Fairfax via the Fairfax County Parkway for a total of 13 miles. The Fairfax County Parkway itself is a puzzle, a dual carriageway, occaisionally with three lanes per direction of traffic, plus turn lanes to the left and right, with a speed limit of 50 miles an hour, and a rate of traffic of near 70 miles an hour. In many ways it is a traditional English dual carriageway, but then somebody decides that rather than sliproads, they’ll throw in frequent traffic lights, and t-junctions from sleepy neighbourhoods. Every morning you take you life in your hands with you half-asleep cohorts, mug of coffee in one hand, cellphone in the other!

In Stratford you needed good observations and early signals to clear a swathe through the lost tourists in hire cars and the escaping pedestrians who’d dive out from behind tour buses and taxis. No such problem on the Fairfax Country Parkway, no pavements mean no pedestrians, and the occaisional tramp who may stagger down the median is such a rarity that he is as easily ignored by the driver as he is by the rest of society. Even motorbikes are scarce, which seems odd after dealing with the Bulldog Bash traffic ever since I learned to drive.

So why can it take me more than an hour to drive 13 miles? There is a popular quote bandied around that most people in Britain consider themselves “above average drivers”, which raises an interesting question, where are all the below average drivers? I’d say in the D.C. Metro area between 6am and 10am every morning. If the traffic reporter on the radio does not report an overturned SUV on 495 (D.C.’s version of the M25) I feel the morning is missing something. Every intersection has its sparkle of shattered taillight, and even the straight stretches between lights are marked with scorched rubber and crazed glass where the coffee, or the conversation, or even the article in the paper distracted the driver from the queue of stationary traffic ahead. Between those intent on not getting to their destination, and those carving through the traffic to get there as quickly as possible I’m amazed any of us arrive at all!

So what is my solution to the morning and evening commute? I don’t know, but I’m a strong believer in good observations, good signals, frequent use of the mirror (and not to straighten ones hair) and some good tunes on the in car entertainment!!!

And what do I drive while trying to raise above the hurtling mass of SUVs and pickup trucks? Something practical and sensible of course…. a 1991 Lotus Elan… well, if you’re going to be an Englishman in D.C. you may as well have the car to match!


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