Wednesday’s commute home was perhaps one of the most challenging driving experiences I’ve ever had…

9 minute read

January 28, 2011, 9:09 PM

It was also the most unpleasant, for that matter. Wednesday, January 26, you see, the DC area was hit by a fairly large snowstorm. I think the area got about eight inches of snow, which, by last winter’s standards would be just a dusting, but by this year’s standards so far was a major snowstorm.

I think my biggest mistake was that since I had the car with me (due to work-related errands that I needed to run), I decided to wait to leave until it was likely too late. So I ended up getting a six-hour snow tour around Washington DC, watching transformer explosions light up the sky and testing every nerve in my body in the process. And both the car and I came out just fine, thank you.

I left the office around 5:30 on Wednesday, sending a tweet to announce my departure:

I’m outta here: LSMFT @capitalweather: Heavy snow overspreading entire region
January 26 5:27 PM

It was in the early stages of being dark, and I figured I was doing fairly well. Traffic was heavy, but moving, albeit slowly.

On 16th Street NW, going northbound alongside Malcolm X Park. A cabbie driving a Crown Vic in front of me was having a little trouble keeping his vehicle pointing straight.
On 16th Street NW, going northbound alongside Malcolm X Park. A cabbie driving a Crown Vic in front of me was having a little trouble keeping his vehicle pointing straight.

One thing that I really like about my Sable, by the way, is that it does have this tendency to actually to go where I want it to go in snow. Since it’s front-wheel drive, it doesn’t wobble side to side in the snow. My previous car, a 1991 Toyota Previa, was hideous in snow, as the rear-wheel drive caused it to wobble a bit in the snow, making it really easy to lose control in snowy conditions, which led to an unpleasant situation in December 2003 when I ended up in a ditch in snow and had to get helped out of it (amazingly, the car was undamaged).

At this point, the buses were still running.
At this point, the buses were still running.

16th and Harvard Streets NW.
16th and Harvard Streets NW.

Approximately same location, facing more north. The Mt. Pleasant neighborhood is on the left side of the photo, behind the pickup truck.
Approximately same location, facing more north. The Mt. Pleasant neighborhood is on the left side of the photo, behind the pickup truck.

16th and Monroe Streets NW. The roads were still a mess, and traffic was crawling.
16th and Monroe Streets NW. The roads were still a mess, and traffic was crawling.

By the time I got to 16th and Taylor, that’s where my progress stopped. We were really starting to crawl, and I think it probably took me an hour to go one block. I was really starting to burn through my entire iPod’s contents during this time, if it tells you anything. I had gone through so many of my podcasts in their entirety. This was also when I was starting to really have to go to the bathroom. And I started tweeting about it:

Right now, I would like nothing more than to leave a little yellow spot in the snow. I have to peeeeeeee! #dcsnow
January 26 7:47 PM

Yes, I had to pee. And it wasn’t looking like I was going to get to do so any time soon. At this point, I didn’t feel comfortable about getting out and finding a tree to pee behind, and so I didn’t. I just made do as well as I could, and tried to forget that my body needed to go.

Then another driver informed me that 16th was blocked further north. As I said on the Twitter:

Was just informed by another driver that there is a tree down on 16th St NW north of Upshur St. #dcsnow @TBDCommute
January 26 8:52 PM

So at Upshur, I turned around. I wanted to go east to head north on Georgia Avenue all the way home, but I determined that it would be next to impossible to get across the line of northbound traffic that I was just in. I ended up following Park Road NW through Rock Creek Park, eventually ending at a spot where that road was blocked as well from stuck vehicles. I knew Park Road connected up with Connecticut Avenue, and so I was crossing over to try that. After sitting behind this blockage and being convinced that this area was irreparably blocked for my purposes, I decided to turn around. In reversing out of that area, however, I thought I was going to be another casualty for a moment, as my car temporarily got stuck. I managed to get myself loose, though, thank goodness. I didn’t want to be another abandoned vehicle, especially in the middle of Rock Creek Park. If I had to abandon the car, I at least wanted to do it where civilization was.

Leaving the second blocked area, I put my GPS up, and let it guide me to Connecticut Avenue. I took a number of unfamiliar roads, and traveled very slowly, eventually finding myself at Connecticut Avenue and Military Road NW. And I commented on the Twitter:

@TBDCommute At Military Rd and Connecticut Ave trying to reach MoCo. Will I ever get home? #dcsnow
January 26 9:53 PM

And I still *really* have to pee! #dcsnow
January 26 9:57 PM

Needless to say, driving on an increasingly full bladder was starting to grate on me, big time. Since I was stuck in traffic and not going anywhere soon on Connecticut Avenue, I started thinking about darting into a nearby business to answer nature’s increasingly urgent call.

Finally, I could stand no more. I asked the drivers behind me if they minded if I temporarily abandoned my car for a restroom. They didn’t mind. So I went over to a nearby CVS, store #1346, I asked the clerk where the restroom was. He said that the store had no public restroom. I explained to him the situation more completely, with the snow and the being stuck in the car and in traffic for hours and such. His response was still unwavering: “We have no public restroom.” I asked him where he used the restroom in the store, and it soon became obvious that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with this guy. I’m honestly amazed I didn’t call him something vulgar right there in the store. But that didn’t stop me from making a Foursquare check-in and venting my frustrations both on Foursquare and on the Twitter:

Employee wouldn’t let me use the restroom in an emergency. Asshole. (@ CVS Pharmacy – Chevy Chase)
January 26 10:32 PM

Yes, I said the real word, rather than minding myself like I usually do. I was mad, I still had to pee, really badly, and the clerk was behaving in exactly the way that one of those types of people might behave when that term is used pejoratively. Wikipedia has an essay called Don’t be a dick, aka WP:DICK, and this man fit the description of people acting like a dick to a “T”. Arrrrr…

So it was back to driving. After hearing a woman on Connecticut Avenue going southbound say that she was giving up and going back to her office, I decided that wasn’t that bad of an idea. Inbound traffic was moving, and I could use the full power of the Internet, specifically, along with news and other sources, to regroup and plan a new strategy for the ultimate goal: getting home.

So when I got to the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street, I hung a left, and ended up at Western Avenue, which forms the western boundary between DC and Maryland. I briefly toyed with the idea of going northeast on Western back to Chevy Chase Circle, but seeing in the distance that traffic was stuck all the way through the circle, I decided against it. So I headed southwest, to Wisconsin Avenue, in Friendship Heights.

I realize now, considering that Wisconsin Avenue was smooth sailing in both directions, that I could have probably turned north and pursued a northward course to my house in Montgomery County via Bethesda and Rockville, but at this point, my bladder was doing the thinking for me, and it wanted to find a restroom sooner rather than later, and who knew whether or not I would just end up stuck in traffic again, and this bathroom thing was getting to the point of where I was seriously starting to wonder if I was endangering my health by not immediately pulling over and finding the nearest tree. So I turned south to go back towards the office.

Then I spotted a beautiful sight: a McDonald’s on Wisconsin Avenue. And they were open. I wasted no time in pulling into their driveway, into a parking space, running in, and quickly finding the men’s room. And afterwards, I hit the Twitter about it:

I feel good now, for at last I have been to the restroom. #dcsnow
January 26 8:52 PM

Honestly, right then I didn’t care that I was sharing all of my bathroom needs with the world – likely oversharing big time. But when the bladder is driving the brain, it’s what you do, I suppose. Likewise, the space I parked in was completely covered in snow, and looked a little packed. Had I just gotten the car stuck? Who cares – I had to go. I could deal with that little detail later, and besides, there were far worse places that I could have been stuck at than a McDonald’s. At least McDonald’s has modern plumbing, while the spot on Park Road where I almost got stuck was just about in the middle of nowhere.

So I ended up having an impromptu dinner at McDonald’s. Chicken sandwich, fries, drink. It was a really crappy meal, but dammit, I was out of the car. I could have sat down to a dinner of cardboard and would have been just as happy. And it probably would have gone through me just as fast. See, like beer, you’re just renting McDonald’s food. That stuff just goes right through you (okay, you probably didn’t need to know that).

So after calming down at the McDonald’s, having a meal, and also talking with the other stranded travelers, all just trying to get home from work like I was, I went back to the car. The car easily slipped right out of the parking space, and I was on my way. And at 11:44 PM, my commute attempt was over:

Five hours later, where did I ultimately end up? Right back where I started – at the office. #fb
January 26 8:52 PM

By the way, the #fb hashtag triggers a Facebook app that cross-posts the tweet to Facebook, since I was letting all of my friends know what was going on.

So back at the office, I plugged my phone back in (it was almost dead from my trying to get as much information as I could from it, and all the tweeting while stuck in traffic), and then got online for a bit. I went to Wikipedia for a bit, since I needed to relax, and Wikipedia has a calming effect for me (most of the time). I also needed to check a few things, because while sitting on Connecticut Avenue, I had actually been editing Wikipedia from my phone. Seriously. Then I hit the traffic cameras, paying close attention to 16th Street in DC, and Georgia Avenue in MoCo. By now, the snow had stopped, and things had calmed down out on the roads. 16th Street and Georgia Avenue were clear. I also made an unpleasant discovery: the power was most likely out at home. Nothing I could do about that, but at least I knew to expect darkness going in.

I ended up getting home at 3:16 AM, and tweeted it:

We’re home! No electricity, but there is still a bed with my name on it inside.
January 27 3:16 AM

It was 60 degrees inside my apartment (I usually keep it at around 72), but I had plenty of extra blankets.

And for the entire ordeal that I went through, the sight the next morning from my balcony was beautiful:

Due to the commute ordeal and my very late arrival at home, I ended up working from home on Thursday, and by “home”, I meant a Starbucks in Olney. I had prepared to get snowed in, and expected to do a bunch of work on Thursday if I had been snowed in at home with electricity. So I just grabbed the netbook and went to work at the Starbucks.

When I got home, I had another cold night at home, as the apartment was now 55 degrees.

Then my electricity came back on at 7:30 on Friday morning, while I was preparing to leave to go to work and shower there. So I had a quick change of plans: with power, my apartment would soon have heat and hot water again, and so I got to shower at home like I wanted to do. Outstanding.

And I’ll save you the rant about what’s wrong with Pepco for now. Whenever I hear the name “Pepco”, though, it makes me think of Pepto-Bismol, especially since Pepco often makes you want to reach for the Pepto-Bismol, and drink it right out of the bottle, no less…

Web site: Wikipedia on the January 25–27, 2011 North American blizzard

Song: Snowball fight in Dupont Circle

Quote: By the way, the "LSMFT" that I wrote in that first tweet stands for "Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco". It's a subtle jab at some of the Twitter abbreviations you see, like RT for "retweet", HT for "heard through", and MT for "modified tweet". So you have RT, HT, MT, and LSMFT. Ha!