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If it’s possible to make an unexpected trip to Washington, this is it.

August 13, 2005, 12:14 AM

Thursday, August 11, was, to say the least, interesting. My plan was to go to Fredericksburg and to Potomac Mills via Richmond. The idea was to go to Potomac Mills first, and then to Fredericksburg on the way back down. That would take me on I-64 east from Waynesboro, and then up I-95 from Richmond. Let me just say that plans changed a bit.

I did the I-64 to I-95 thing just fine. I stopped at Zion Crossroads to get a quick breakfast at McDonald’s, and then also made a pit stop at the rest area in Goochland. Interesting there was running into a coworker from Wal-Mart. About 80 miles southeast of the store, and I run into a coworker. She was visiting family in Hopewell. After that, I successfully made the switch to I-64 eastbound to I-95 northbound.

Going north on I-95, which is three lanes each way even in rural areas, I made a quick stop in Massaponax, which is just south of Fredericksburg. Nice area, but awful traffic situation. Too many lights in too small of an area, and people often are sitting in the middle of an intersection. However, at a Raceway gas station, I did get gas for $2.21 a gallon, which is considered cheap at this time. Woo hoo. Blasted gas prices. Looking at this in the not-too-distant future, when gas has rocketed to eight or nine bucks a gallon, I’ll be like, I can’t believe that gas was $2.21 a gallon!

From there, it was off to Potomac Mills, straight up I-95. Potomac Mills is in the southern part of Prince William County, and is close to 95. I’d not been to Potomac Mills since 2001, and a lot has changed. For one, the mall is undergoing a remodel, with new floors, new colors, new decor, new fixtures, etc. It will look very nice when it’s finished. In addition, some stores were remodeled, and some were new. Unfortunately, Vans Skatepark was gone, and the space was walled off. According to information I found online, Vans Skatepark closed at the end of 2004 due to competition from free publicly-owned skateparks (Vans charged a fee). My guess is that the skatepark’s probably still back there, but now there’s no one there to operate it. I thought it was a neat attraction, but I don’t skate.

Otherwise, though, Orange Julius was still there, though it was remodeled a bit, and I had a classic Orange Julius. Now I knew about this Orange Julius since 1999, and it’s like visiting an old friend. Not like Hagerstown where I didn’t know it existed before I stumbled on it.

Now from here, after finishing at Potomac Mills (I didn’t really buy anything – just looked around at stuff), the original plan was to turn around at this point and go to Fredericksburg. That didn’t happen. Since I didn’t particularly want to spend more time on I-95 than I had to, particularly in the evening rush hour direction. Since it was just before 5:00 in the evening, the afternoon rush hour was well underway. That would have just been more fun than I wanted to deal with. So I realigned my plans a little bit. Instead of going home via Richmond, I was going to get on the Beltway around DC and take the more northerly route home, which is my regular DC route. Going home, that’s westbound I-66 to its terminus at Strasburg, where it meets I-81, which I take south back to Staunton.

An interesting property of Virginia’s interstates is that they form a square around the northern and central part of the state. The square is formed by I-81 to the west, I-64 to the south, I-66 to the north, and I-95 to the east. The cities at the corners of the square are Staunton (I-81 and I-64 junction), Strasburg (I-81 and I-66 junction), Washington DC (the Capital Beltway links I-66 and I-95), and Richmond (I-64 and I-95 junction). So this is why that little trick works so well. I didn’t intend to take Virginia’s “interstate square” the entire way around, but that’s what I ended up doing.

However, my love of trains and DC stopped that from happening. Going north on I-95, I approached Franconia-Springfield Parkway, and decided to get off, and go to the Franconia-Springfield Metro station. Yes, my love of trains knows no bounds. As I’m wondering, why am I doing this? I parked in Franconia-Springfield’s large parking garage, and bought a farecard. And I got on the train, after they “broke off a deuce” (meaning they turned their six-car train into a four-car train by uncoupling two cars). And I railfanned and took a miniature DC trip. Seriously. I accomplished all my regular Metro objectives. Ride all five lines at least once, ride all five series of cars, and visit one terminal other than the one I originated at. I rode to Rosslyn (went up topside there for a bit), then to Metro Center, to Gallery Place-Chinatown, then down to L’Enfant Plaza, all the while thinking, this is beyond obsession. That covered Blue, Orange, Red, and Green. Then from L’Enfant Plaza (“La-font Plaza” as some train operators mispronounce it), I caught a Yellow Line train back to Virginia. I was going to Pentagon City for a little bit.

So I did Pentagon City. The new Apple store opened up, and Tobacco Barn, Pentagon City Mall’s longstanding cigar shop, had reopened after closing for a minor renovation (it was walled over for renovations on my regular August 3 trip). Tobacco Barn didn’t really renovate much. All they really did was make some upgrades for compliance with the mall’s standards. The most noticeable change was a door on the front. Then they also upgraded the ventilation system and put in a new ceiling. So now they could smoke inside the store again. In fact, one of their best advertising methods was the cigar scent wafting out into the mall. And it certainly smells like a cigar in there – no doubt about it.

After Pentagon City, I took the Yellow Line down to Huntington. That’s my “other terminal”. It would have been quite amusing if Vienna was the one I chose, since I didn’t originate at Vienna for a change. But I didn’t. Then from Huntington, I backtracked back to King Street, and crossed the platform to a waiting Blue Line train to Franconia-Springfield. I ended up leaving Metro at 9 PM.

From here, this is where the adventure begins. Instead of taking the Beltway around to I-66, I decided to do something new and exciting. To preface things a bit, I should tell you that I have NEVER driven inside the Beltway before. It adds a little credence to the “My other car is a Breda” bumper sticker (which is in the process of being replaced), since I’ve only done within-the-beltway travel by Metro, plus that one ride back to the Metro that my friend Rose’s friend gave me.

So going past the Mixing Bowl (local name for the Springfield Interchange Project), instead of grabbing the Beltway here, I instead decided to stay on a straight course and navigate downtown Washington DC, and find I-66 from its eastern terminus. The I-95 designation takes the eastern side of the Beltway, meaning that the straight route becomes the Shirley Highway, aka I-395. This runs through Alexandria and Arlington, then crossing into DC via the 14th Street Bridge. I saw a lot of familiar names, and some familiar sights. There was an exit for King Street (though I presume I was well west of the part of King Street I’m familiar with), I saw signs for Washington National Airport and Crystal City, and then from I-395, I saw a very familiar sight. To my right, I saw a sign: Macy’s. Then I saw the dome of Washington Tower. Pentagon City! I found it by car! Cool! Now I know how to drive there, which is helpful for future reference. Then off to the left, I saw another familiar sight. I saw the Pentagon, with its bus bays just gleaming in the night. And then the 14th Street Bridge. It was interesting driving alongside the Yellow Line’s bridge, instead of vice versa (I usually ride on the Yellow Line’s bridge).

So I took US 1 into downtown, which landed me on 14th Street SW. I went past a number of government buildings, past the Washington Monument (going into Northwest at this point), past part of the Reagan Building, and past the west end of Freedom Plaza. Then I made a left at the northwest corner of Freedom Plaza, and ended up going north on 15th Street NW. I passed the Treasury Building, and the Hotel Washington. Near Eye Street is where I got to experience a cabbie blocking my lane for the first time. As you probably guessed, cabbies are not very prevalent in Stuarts Draft.

From there, I headed west on Eye Street. Drove past McPherson Square (both the square itself, and the station of the same name), past the AFL-CIO headquarters, past Farragut Square, and past Farragut West station. Then it was off into virgin territory (for me). I took Eye Street until it connected with Pennsylvania Avenue at 21st Street NW. This led me to Washington Circle, where I officially had to admit I wasn’t sure where I was going. The proof that I was unsure of where I was going is demonstrated in that I actually took three laps around the circle, looking kind of confused. At the end of lap #3, I saw a girl in a beige-colored convertible. Since my windows were already down, I asked a question: “Question for you: How do I get to 66?” Response: Go around the circle and take K Street. Then there will be signs. I thanked her and made lap #4, where I found the exit.

I found I-66 pretty quickly from there, and I was on my way. It was weird, too. I crossed into Virginia over the Theodore Roosevent Bridge, and drove through two short tunnels. I also had no idea that I-66 passed as close to Rosslyn as it does. All the times I’ve been to Rosslyn, and I didn’t know that. Passes right by the Rosslyn Twin Towers, in fact. Then I went past signs for Ballston and Marymount University (sound familiar?). Shortly after that, the Orange Line emerged from the tunnel to my left, and it was a weird feeling. I drove by East Falls Church, then West Falls Church-VT/UVA, Dunn Loring-Merrifield, and finally Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. Vienna, of course, is where I start my trip home on my regular trips, and so it became familiar territory again, and I was able to mentally go into “DC mode”, even though it was much earlier than usual.

However, I soon encountered traffic on westbound I-66 this late at night, just beyond exit 47. It was a long traffic jam, caused by I-66 traffic having to merge into one lane due to road work (turns out crews were moving a Jersey barrier). I’d say I was stuck in traffic for a good 20 minutes with that. A message sign further back on I-66 said that the left lane was blocked due to “moving road work”, but erroneously said that the traffic was at the Fauquier County line (where the widening project is not occurring), and not at the Manassas exit, where it actually was going on. So thus the whole thing was unexpected. Traffic is also considerably different at the two locations, since much of the I-66 traffic dissipates in Prince William County. Fauquier County begins what I consider rural Virginia. In fact, the Fauquier/Prince William County line is what I consider the boundary of “Northern Virginia” (which my phone operator training helped me define as that area which is in area code 703). Still, tiny little construction zone. Big traffic jam. By the time I saw the signs for the road work, I had already been sitting in traffic for 15 minutes. “Be Prepared To Stop” was on one of the signs. My thought: “No s—, Sherlock.”

Still, after the work area, the road widened back into two lanes, and it was smooth sailing from there.

All in all, weird trip. It was not supposed to be a DC trip. It started out like a non-DC trip. It ended like a DC trip. And I rode Virginia’s “interstate square” in its entirety, going counterclockwise. Funky.

Web site: Scott Kozel's Roadstothefuture.com page about the 14th Street Bridge complex

Song: I Am Impact, best used in Veloso's "Dash" animutation.

Quote: "This is beyond obsession..."

Categories: DC trips, Driving, Shopping, WMATA