Obstacle course

I drove to the Washington D.C. area Thursday for a Friday morning technology demo with a potential customer. But apparently there were funky forces at work trying to prevent me from going anywhere, at least in a timely fashion.

It was smooth sailing on I-81 up until around mile marker 220 near Staunton. A column of thick black smoke became ever larger, and the traffic ever slower.

At mile marker 221, traffic was at a complete stop. After about 10 minutes there, it was clear that no one was going anyhere. The ominous black smoke continued to pour up from the horizon. A cascade of emergency vehicles drove past me on the right in the breakdown lane. So, I called around and eventually listened to the VDOT advisory via their 1-800 number: “Tractor trailer accident is blocking all northbound lanes. Find an alternate route.” Not much hope for progress in that recommendation! So I figured I’d pop into the I-64 exit which was right there, and find a back road to dump me out further up on I-81 past the accident. And I figured I should tell SOMEONE the news since few people there probably knew what was going on – so I did manage to tell one carload of travellers the news before fleeing on my detour. I looked at all the other cars waiting and thought, man, we live in the information age but I’ll bet no one knows what’s going on right here on the road. Giving up on the quest to spread the news, I selfishly hightailed it down I-64. But I only got about a minute into the detour before seeing yet another huge line of cars just sitting
on the interstate.

About a half hour later, cruising at about 2 MPH, I passed the root cause (a fender bender blocking one of the lanes). I found the back roads for my detour, and things started to look good again. A while later on local news stations, I found out that VDOT was expecting the cleanup job to take over EIGHT hours! Must have sucked to be sitting there the whole time.

Then, when I was near Manassas on I-66, I started to see some of those construction alert signs. One of them says “CONSTRUCTION AHEAD. EXPECT DELAYS.” The other says “I-66 CLOSED. DETOUR AHEAD.” The whole interstate is closed? Great. Well I got near the exit mentioned as a detour point, and people still cruised past it, wandering ahead into the funky construction wilderness. The hell with that – I took the detour. So, another delay, but nothing major. And I finally got to the hotel.

My hotel in Arlington was close to a mall with a movie theater, so I took the opportunity to see Serenity, which turned out to be quite good. The dialogue and sense of humor in that flick make up for the usual fare of sci-fi cliches peppered within. It was refreshing seeing some good, entertaining sci-fi for a change that wasn’t completely dumbed down and turned into garbage.

Anyway, I went back to the hotel after the movie, and added some final touches to the technology demo for the next morning. The next day, I found my way to the parking lot at the demo site and then discovered that the meeting had been cancelled! Turns out, a participant had called in sick with chest pains, so the meeting was off. I ended up meeting with Sean for about a half hour, but was back on the road in no time. It was nice being on I-66 in the middle of the morning, since it hasn’t had time yet to turn into a parking lot. The drive back was completely uneventful until I could see the Troutville/Fincastle exit, about a half hour from home. I thought, cool, I’m making good time, and I’m home free once I pass this exit. Then my engine seized up and lost power. My car started to slow down. The accelerator made the engine noisy but not faster. So I drifted into the breakdown lane and the steering wheel locked up as the engine shut down. Turning the ignition did nothing other than make a whining, spinning sound. Great.

I called AAA’s emergency roadside service and set up a tow. A while later, a motorist assistance officer pulled up and I told him everything that happened. He noticed that I was hanging around in the underbrush in the ditch on the side of the road. So after I told him I was standing down there because I wasn’t fond of the idea of idiots falling asleep at the wheel, or the visual of tractor trailer retread flying off the wheels and beelining towards my skull, the officer said, “Well, bears have been known to hang out here. Plus, I’d be worried about snakes down there. There’s nowhere safe to stand!” Wonderful.

About an hour later the first tow truck arrived. It was a flatbed type. But the schmuck couldn’t figure out how to load my car onto it. And he wouldn’t even give me a ride. On top of that, he didn’t even have the correct information about where I was broken down (though to be fair this was a communication problem between me, AAA, and the towing company). Strangely, I had been very calm and patient throughout this entire trip of delays and it wasn’t until this guy wouldn’t help me that I started losing my patience. So about two hours later, the second tow truck arrived from the same company. The driver, who co-owns the business, was surprised that his employee couldn’t figure out how to load my car, because as it turns out the procedure is not very complicated or mysterious. Anyway, this driver was extremely helpful and knew what he was doing.

We dumped ol’ Smeggy at the VW dealer and I met Kathryn and Iris there.

What an incredible way to spend a huge amount of time accomplishing absolutely nothing!

Later, I found some more information about that tractor trailer accident at Staunton. The amazing thing was that no one was killed.

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