L. Ron Hubbard once described the mass of roads leading into and out of our Nation’s Capital as a maze designed to keep the citizens from the seat of power.He may have had a point. Back when I lived in Richmond, Virginia, I had a traumatic experience with our beloved capital. I can finally look back on it years later with some wit and witticism. (I only cried twice while writing about it!) It was on a Monday and I was taking a friend to Dulles Airport outside of DC. I followed the signs and got my friends to the airport without the slightest trouble. Then I made a major mistake. I tried to go back to Richmond.
The expressway to Dulles is a fabulous road. It zips along without any of those pesky exits to distract you from your main focus – survival. To be fair, there are a few exits. Unfortunately, the one that I wanted (I can even remember which one it was now) had signs that said that Interstate was coming up; however, the road never appeared. I looked for it several times and never found it. I realized that I might have been in trouble when signs to new Interstates (ones that had not even existed as far as I was concerned) began to appear.
Knowing that I needed to go east to find my way to I-95 I took this new Interstate with the vague hope of finding my way home. I-80-something sounded promising. The problem was it was telling me east was west and west was east. Those sign people really have a great sense of humor, don’t they? I got on the east-bound I-80somthing, knowing full well I was going west. It was at this point when things began to get confusing.
I was lost. Not having been lost for at least 30 hours, I decided to just enjoy it. There were decent odds I would find my way out of the DC area someday. While driving along, I saw a sign that said Iwo Jima – next exit. Not really sure if the sign referred to the monument or the island, I took a chance that it was the monument. That chance paid off. I saw it. It was BIG. I mean really big! Cruising around it and wondering how to get closer, I made another mistake. There is a road right next to the monument that apparently has no way in or out. They put cars in there to make you think you can get in. I suspect they use helicopters to airlift them in there. I, still naive about the ways of Washington, decided to try and get closer. Logic dictated that going around it long enough, I would find a way in. (Yeah, I know. Logic and DC don’t mix. I was young and stupid.) I turned right. That was when I saw the sign that told me I was crossing the Potomac River.
Crossing the river may not seem like that big a deal to you. It isn’t, unless you started you trip at Dulles. You see, Dulles airport is not in Washington, DC. In reality it right outside of St. Louis. You have to drive forever to actually get from DC to Dulles. It’s a joke they play on tourists and foreign dignitaries. By now I figured that I was an accidental tourist. Crossing the Potomac took me into the District of Columbia. I was really in Washington! “OOOOPS” was the first thing that came to mind as I watched Virginia fade away in my rear view mirror.
This was the point when all traces of sanity faded away and I began to enjoy the experience. The past two weeks had been rough and this was the crowning blow to the fragile hold I had on reality. (Some things never change.) A sign appeared that said “Independence Ave.” That sounded like a nice street to try. I got off the road I was on (which to me will forever remain the RoadWithNoName) and went on Independence Ave. I saw the Washington Monument in the distance and decided to use that as a landmark. It would have worked too if I hadn’t been forced to go the opposite direction by the escaped mental patients that drive on the streets of DC. With a tear I waved goodbye to the Washington Monument and looked forward to my next adventure in this new direction.
I found the Kennedy Center! I know. You didn’t think it was lost. If you think that, then you have obviously never tried to drive in Washington, DC. Trust me, it was lost. That is a cool looking building. Did you know that part of it just hangs over the road waiting for someone important drive by so it can fall on it? Apparently, it did not consider me worth smashing to a Doug-shaped paste. Oh well. I guess I’m not that important to the Kennedy Center. Some thanks I get. That’s the last time I’ll find it when it’s lost.
There is a sinister law in DC that says left turns are illegal. I was not aware of that federal mandate until I tried to turn around. Every intersection for 87.3 miles said no left turn. You may ask me why I didn’t turn right? It was implied by the other drivers on the road that slowing down long enough to turn would get you killed by the eighteen people who were tailgating you. Eventually I found a place to turn right and go around 5 blocks to get back to what had once been Independence Ave. It was like seeing a long lost friend. A friend who really didn’t like you and tries to make your life as difficult as possible. Still, in DC, that’s a good friend. Don’t even ask about the bad ones.
I retraced my steps and found my way back to the Kennedy Center. (They still haven’t invited me to their honors after all the trouble I went to by unintentionally helping them become un-lost. But I’m not bitter. REALLY, I’M NOT BITTER ABOUT THOSE UNGRATEFUL . . .Sorry. I digress.) It was then that I realized that I had a second chance to find more things for the city of Washington. I could find the mall! That is the place where all of the really big monuments supposedly stand as bright, shining examples of things we spend our tax money on! I thought I owed it to the American people to find these mythological places and tell the world about them. Sure enough, out of the mist, I saw the Washington Monument standing tall and proud. Like a beacon to a weary traveler (that would be me) saying come here and I will help you find your way. What a liar that monument is! There weren’t any Interstates near that thing.
As I traveled I saw several monuments and some things that may have been monuments or just buildings that looked odd. It is really hard to tell a monument from a motel in DC. All buildings have an air of arrogance that commands your attention. There was one building that looked really important. I thought that it must have been a government building where decisions are made concerning the future of the free world. When I saw the on the sign side of the building, I decided that if the decisions made there affect the free world then we are in trouble. The only decisions made there are between Big Macs and McNuggets. So much for the mystique of DC.
As I blissfully wandered and wondered around the country’s capital, I noticed a sign. It said I-395 that way. From the farthest recesses of my memory came small voice saying Interstates are good. Usually I don’t listen to the voices in my head, but as I said earlier, my sanity was questionable. I thought of home and family. Life back in Richmond seemed like such a distant memory. Could this I-395 have hope to save me from aimless wanderings? Could my quest for home be truly coming to a close? Would I be back in time to see my sons graduate from high school? Without much faith in the sign makers or DC, I decided to follow their cruel joke to the finish.
Then I saw it. The sign said “I-395 to Richmond.” Could it be true? Was there a chance? I cut across four lanes of traffic (a modest accomplishment compared to the other drivers in DC) and followed the signs to Richmond. It was true. I crossed the Potomac. I found I-95. It almost brought a tear to my eye as I thought of going home. Eventually I made it back to the west end of Richmond.
I thought back upon my day and realized that it had taken me two hours to get to Dulles. It took me four hours to make back home. I was lost and alone in a strange city. (Trust me. They don’t get any stranger than DC.) I had survived. I was going home. As I clicked my heals together and said there is no place like home, I had swerve to avoid a car that wanted to occupy the same space as my car. Oh well. At least I was back in Richmond.