Wednesday's Washington commute: longer than a drive from Boston

My trip home from downtown Washington to Herndon, Va., Wednesday took nearly nine hours. That's longer than my trip home last week from Boston.

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Except I couldn't stop for a restroom break. Or gas. Or anything to eat.

And my story was more typical than unusual for drivers yesterday. I fared much better than the dozens, if not hundreds, of drivers whose disabled cars clogged the roadways, victims of fender benders, lost traction or empty fuel tanks.

This tweet after I finally made it home made me realize many drivers endured much more:

@TBD My husband has been stranded within a mile of the exit onto 123 from GW pkwy for >11 hrs. Park police and Fairfax Police no help!less than a minute ago via web

It was actually my day off. I was meeting friends who were visiting from out of town. We gathered in the Ballston area. I took the bus and Metro train to Ballston early in the morning. We would finish in the afternoon and I'd head home before the evening rush.

But during lunch I got a text from my wife, Mimi Johnson, telling me our son had gone to the emergency room. She decided, with my encouragement, to go into the District to help him. Even with adult children, parents care more about the child's needs than the weather reports. Especially parents who have lived most of their lives in Midwestern states that are better equipped for clearing roads in winter storms.

When my friends and I wrapped up, I called Mimi. Our son had been released. She was going to pick up some prescriptions and take him home. The snow was getting sloppy, so she asked if I could come meet her and drive her home. She's an Iowa farm girl who drives well in the snow. But I know the local streets better and might be more confident improvising a route if snow or traffic clogged a route. I said sure.

I took a train from Ballston to L'Enfant Plaza, just one stop on the Green Line from the Waterfront station, near our son's home and the pharmacy where Mimi was waiting for his prescriptions. But the platform was packed and I was nowhere near getting on the first train. The next train was 10 minutes away and I doubted I could get on that one either. I called Mimi and she said she would come and pick me up. My son called at 4:06 p.m. to say they were about a block away and I stepped out into the slushy mess and climbed in the car. 

The going was slow to our son's home, but we made it there in 10 or 15 minutes. After dropping him off with parental advice about resting and taking his medicine, we set out for home. He lives near Nationals Park and recommended taking South Capitol Street to I-395. At 5:19 p.m., Mimi texted our son, "Just now got onto 395. Ugh!".

Every time we drive home from his place, we debate whether to drive Interstate 66 or take the George Washington Parkway. We had lots of time to debate as we inched along 395. A check of the TBD mobile app revealed both courses were delayed. Mimi found a link on Twitter to a traffic map covered with red routes showing severe delays. We decided to take the Parkway. If nothing else, the right-hand exit lane was moving faster than the southbound lanes we would need to take to Virginia 110, which would take us to I-66.

For the first bend or two, the Parkway was fairly clear. With the slick surface, we still moved slowly, but welcomed any movement at all after a couple hours of crawling ahead. But then we saw brake lights, right about the time we had passed the turnoff for Arlington Cemetery, Rosslyn and I-66. And soon we were stopped. I didn't check the time then. But after a half hour or so with little movement, I decided to chart our progress. At 7:35, not yet to the Memorial Bridge, I set my trip meter to zero. We didn't hit 0.1 until 8:42. But then we quadrupled our pace. By 9:42, we had gone half a mile.

Some roadkill caught Mimi's eye and she posted a photo on Twitter:

Out of boredom, or envy, I have photographed a dead raccoon. http://twitpic.com/3tq6crless than a minute ago via Twitpic

Next to catch her eye was a snowman:

Some poor soul made a snowman while stuck on GWP, @tbd http://twitpic.com/3tq8a1less than a minute ago via Twitpic

She struck up a Twitter conversation with David Heyman, stuck along the same stretch of the Parkway:

Yes they are crazy, but props to the runners and cyclists who are, comparitively, whizzing by along the river trail.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

And a little later he checked in on Foursquare:

My new home (@ George Washington Memorial Parkway w/ 3 others) http://4sq.com/fCGajqless than a minute ago via foursquare

Actually, it was more like thousands of others, but Heyman was only the fourth to decide to check in to pass the time. Heyman's situation grew more desperate:

 

Thankful I have an empty diet coke bottle #nuffsaidless than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

 

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