Gather closer, denizens. Loba has a story to tell you all.
You might have noticed that I’ve done a fair amount of writing here at the lair about driving. I’ve told tales of bizarre fender benders, run-ins with police pettiness…I’ve even told you about how Sammy and I once closed down 95 South (I’ve also explained a little about why I have a car with a name; maybe one day I’ll try to explain why it’s “Sammy”).
Well, here comes another driving tale. Only this time, I was merely a passenger on this particular excursion.
So Saturday evening we had tickets to see Wanda Sykes. This might be the only time when this particular detail will ever be classified as incidental to the main story. We get to the venue a little early, find our way to our seats, and then I wander off in search of coffee. I find a wine bar instead. I’d already been drinking wine that afternoon at another social event (yes, sometimes even the solitary Loba makes exceptions and wanders out for social interaction), so I was still carrying a mellow wine happy inside from that time. I paid for my $8 plastic cup of wine and wandered back to my seat to imbibe whilst waiting for the show to begin. By the end of my cup, I was in an extremely happy mellow zone. The show starts, Wanda’s hilarious, the show ends, we scurry to the parking lot, end up beating most of the traffic trying to get out as well. Bonus.
Back on the main road, we retrace our path, find the exit that we need to get back onto the Beltway and…discover that the exits on both sides of the road for north-bound 495 are closed. Why, you might ask? Oh…we’ll get to that in a moment. We hang a U-bie (something that should be a part of the driving test for all new drivers learning how to navigate traffic in this area) and take the south-bound exit, content to simply get off at the next exit, loop around and get back on the north side that way.
First problem: The next exit is going to take us into the heart of the beast itself…the Springfield Mixing Bowl.
And now, a bit of a tangent. The State of Virginia is actually not a state. It likes to call itself the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fine. Whatever. What they then should do is give another name to its northern half: The Clusterfuckery of Northern Virginia. I hate Northern Virginia. I’m convinced that it’s the only tangible proof I have ever discovered that there might actually be a place called Hell and this is its infrastructure. The Springfield Mixing Bowl is a huge part of this horror. It’s like a monstrous earth-trapped Cthulhu, its tentacles stretched across the landscape in on-ramps, off-ramps, flyover ramps, damp ramps, camp ramps, vamp ramps….whatever kind of ramp you can imagine, it’s there. Simply put, it’s a hot rampy mess.
I will say this: Now that the nearly decade-long reconstruction is finished, the Springfield Interchange is much more navigable than it once was. It can still be confusing as hell, though, if you’re either not used to it or you’re slightly wine mellow. Yes, meet the players in your now rapidly unfolding comedy of errors: “Not Used To It,” who shall henceforth be referred to as “NUTI,” and “Wine Mellow.” Needless to say, NUTI and Wine Mellow end up taking the wrong flyover. Looking back in hindsight, I know precisely what error we made; it’s an error that I’ve nearly made several times before when completely sober, so no wonder I didn’t catch it on this night with about half a bottle of wine rolling around in my system.
Oh, by the way, note to hindsight: You’re about as useful as tits on a snake. Thanks.
We head in the wrong direction for about 5 miles before Wine Mellow starts to realize that the exits are for roads we shouldn’t be passing. Enter another off-ramp/loop around maneuver and we’re once more back onto the right side of the Beltway, heading in the right direction. Zipping along at a nice steady pace and all is once more right with the world. Quick check of the clock and we see that we’ve only lost about 20 minutes of time from when we first hit the Beltway.
You know what’s the worst possible thing you can see at 11 on a Saturday night on the Beltway? The red glare of a million taillights. Now, I’m not talking about a few slowed cars. I’m talking a glowing red snake of brake lights stretching as far as the horizon will allow us to see. Behind us? Headlights are quickly multiplying. Traffic is worse than weekday rush hour. We’re at a solid stand-still with no sign of relief.
Know what’s worse than sitting in totally stopped traffic at 11 on a Saturday night? Looking down at your console and realizing that your temperature gauge is on the rise. Oh, yes, denizens, we’re talking a notch every 10 seconds and closing in quickly on the red danger zone. We’re talking console lights are starting to flicker and the engine is beginning to shudder and make unhappy noises. We’re talking ohshitpullovernowandturnthisfuckeroffbeforeweexplode.
Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but still highly unnerving. We pull over and turn off the car. Maybe letting it cool down while we wait for traffic to break and move will be the answer?
Second problem: There is no break in traffic. Cars just keep idling in place. Headlights keep multiplying behind us. Taillights keep glaring their furious red stare back toward us. After about 10 minutes, we start the car and see what happens anyway. Not even 5 minutes later the temperature gauge is once more on the shift, this time faster than before. Lights start to flicker and dim and the shuddering seems more pronounced. And now there’s a slight chemical smell seeping through the vents. Mmm, tasty. Leaves me thinking there might be something going on with the coolant system, but I’m not a mechanic and it’s now close to midnight and I’m getting sleepy and I’m still riding the waves of that happy wine mellow. NUTI is definitely not a mechanic. She is, however, a masterful number dialer. Out comes the AAA card. We’ll get a tow.
Third problem: We’re stuck in an area with which neither of us is at all familiar, at the apex of two bits of highway coming together to form this particular stretch of the Beltway. There’s a road to our right, which we can’t see because there’s a Jersey wall right next to us. There’s a flyover ramp to our left, barrels all around us, traffic at a stand-still, and we can’t see any mile markers to help the AAA dispatcher pinpoint our location.
But, Loba, don’t you have a GPS? Yes, I do. Fourth problem: While trying to get us back on track when we were tumbling around the Mixing Bowl, I pulled out my handy little GPS, which was saving the day quite nicely…until it died. The battery just doesn’t hold its charge anymore. I do have a car charger for it. But that was in Sammy. Back at home. Parked in his spot. Dreaming happy Sammy dreams. Not really much help. So rather than having a GPS, at this point I had a lovely shiny doorstop.
The dispatcher finally gets enough information out of us that she thinks she’s pinpointed us. She sends a tow truck our way, but because traffic is as it is, she says rather apologetically that he might not get there for an hour. Okay, fine, we understand. So we sit. And sit. And sit. All the while, I’m trying to ignore the fact that my wine mellow is slowly turning into wine-induced bladder discomfort. However, I’m not going to lie to you, denizens. I was beginning to seriously entertain several different ways to set up a privacy barrier if it came down to it.
After about an hour, NUTI points out the window and says, “Hey, isn’t that a tow truck from the company they said was coming to get us?” Why, yes. Yes, it is. And it’s all the way in the far left lane. And there it goes.
We quickly call AAA back and explain that we think we just saw the truck pass us. They confirm that, yes, the truck did pass us, didn’t see us, will turn around at the next off-ramp and come back.
Almost another hour later, he makes it back. He loads the Jetta of Shame onto his flatbed, we all climb into his cab, and we’re off.
Okay, here’s another tangent. Dear Volkswagen, your NAFTA-built VWs are shit. You should be ashamed. I’d make a Hitler joke here…but you do that every time one of these abominations rolls off the assembly line. Congratulations for your holistic suckage.
It’s now close to 1 in the morning and we’re about 30 miles away from the dealership where NUTI wants the Jetta of Shame delivered, another 10 miles after that from home. Traffic, mind you, still isn’t moving much. And things are starting to get uglier. People are cutting people off. Others are refusing to let anyone merge in front of them. Horns are blaring. Tempers are flaring. Language couldn’t be bluer.
The bright spot? We’re in a flatbed tow truck. No one cuts off a flatbed tow truck.Our new BFF, Mr. Tow, barrels his way across four lanes of traffic and slips into the far left lane again (we learned at this point that he was over there the first time because it was the only lane moving, and he was under the impression that we were further up the Beltway than we actually were).
It still takes us another 30 minutes to make our way through the Clusterfuckery of Northern Virginia. We’re given a great view of what’s actually taking place: Construction crews have closed off all but one lane on the northbound side of 495. (Remember how this adventure all kicked off? With the northbound exits being closed? This was why.) Why were these lanes all closed? I’m still not sure. Nothing was going on. There were no construction crews in sight, minus one group who was setting up a flood light. Other than that, though? I really saw no reason to have decided to shut down three-quarters of this side of the Beltway for about 5 miles on a Saturday night. You know, beyond the fact that Virginia is apparently bat-shit crazy.
We finally get beyond the construction, all lanes open back up, we shift into the center left lane and once more approach a decent cruising speed. Mr. Tow is actually quite amiable, especially considering the fact that his company is located in a part of Virginia that’s about an hour south of where he picked us up and he’s now heading even further north. He’s pretty much not going to get back home until close to 3. If everything goes well.
You see where this is going already, don’t you?
First, an interlude. So we’re clipping along at about 65 MPH, chatting and listening to music and enjoying the fact that we’re moving and inside a vehicle with heat, when Mr. Tow realizes that the Mazda 3 in the lane in front of us is suddenly braking for no reason. He switches to the far left lane to pass the Mazda; as we’re going by, I look down and see that the driver is a young man, in his early 20s, and he’s behaving in a slightly odd manner. He’s laughing, looks like he’s in the car alone, and kind of slumping forward onto his steering wheel. Oookay. We get back into the center left lane once we’re past him and continue on.
About 5 minutes later, we see the Mazda 3 whiz past us in the far left lane, now doing at least 80 MPH. The car then begins to list to the left. Just as I ask, “What’s that car doing,” the Mazda drifts right into the Jersey wall that separates the Inner Loop and the Outer Loop. We all sit and watch in complete silence as the Mazda grinds against the barrier for a good 300 feet before ricocheting off and back into the far left lane. The driver straightens the car out for a moment but then does the exact same thing a few seconds later. We watch as the car grinds and bounces one more time after that before suddenly accelerating to at least 100 MPH and rocketing off down the Beltway.
How the hell someone that drunk was allowed anywhere near a car still baffles me. How he made it that far without encountering any cops baffles me even more. Shouldn’t they be all over the Beltway on a Saturday night/Sunday morning? All I can say is I hope he made it to wherever he was going. And I hope he wasn’t driving someone else’s car…because if he didn’t kill himself that night, they surely killed him the next morning.
We finally make it to the dealer service area. It’s now after 2 in the morning. NUTI and I are both well beyond tired. It’s been years since we were out this late, my wine mellow is now full-on “If I don’t pee soon, I might spring a leak,” but the good news is we’re so very close to being home and done with this entire debacle.
Remember what I said earlier about “if all goes well”? Strap in, kiddies.
So Mr. Tow hops up onto the flatbed to start disengaging the Jetta of Shame. NUTI heads over to where she’s got to fill out an envelope with what’s wrong, stick in the key, seal it, and slip it into the drop box for the service crew to retrieve when they next open. She does this and we head back to Mr. Tow. Who asks for the key so that he can finish unloading the Jetta of Shame.
Fifth problem: Do I even need to say anything here? No? Okay then.
Mr. Tow was actually quite calm about this…hiccup. He re-hooked everything, reset the flatbed, we all climbed back into his truck and headed off for the 10-mile drive to get the spare key. Bonus? I finally got to pee. All was once more right in that little corner of my world at least. We then headed back to the dealership where Mr. Tow finally unloaded the Jetta of Shame and very kindly drove us back home. He really was very easy-going and took the entire evening in stride. Thank the prophets for that, at least.
When all was said and done, it was almost 3:30 in the morning. I think I remembered to brush my teeth before going completely offline.
So…how was your weekend?