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Driven to Extremes

(Nicholas DeVore - Getty Images)

At 7:40 p.m., Turner was finally beyond Fairfax, moving at 10 mph on I-66. "Going to be a bad one, I'm afraid," he said. He looked to his side at a movie theater and rows of condos. "People sometimes ask us why we don't live somewhere in Northern Virginia or at least closer to it," he said. "First, my wife has a terrific position at U-Va., and the reality is she wants to be close to the university. And Charlottesville is an awesome place; it has a small-town feel even though it's a university town. No, we're not leaving Charlottesville." He watched as a pickup truck cut in and then slammed on his brakes, forcing Turner to hit his own brakes. He was a mutterer, not a screamer: "What are you doing?" He sighed and snorted.

He moved at 5 mph through Manassas at 7:53 p.m.

"Mother of God, why aren't these people going faster?"

At 8:10, he passed the next town down, Gainesville, doing 10 mph.

"We could get out and run," he said.

Usually, he would get off I-66 and onto Highway 15 near Haymarket. But there was about a two-mile backup trying to get from 66 onto 15. He shook his head. "I'm going to go past this and find another route," he said. "I have no idea what's going on tonight. There's no accident. Just volume. Just bad luck."

He kept going west on 66 for another 15 minutes, getting onto Highway 245 South. In a couple more minutes, he was on Highway 17, a thoroughfare on which he could do 60 mph around the town of Warrenton. He crossed from Highway 17 onto Highway 29 South at 8:37, doing 65 mph now, flirting with 68, 69, pushing it, passing through Culpeper at 8:58.

At 9:09 -- one minute short of two hours into his commute -- he was 38 miles from Charlottesville -- "with clear road, thank God," he said.

He unknotted his gold tie and pushed his tan tweed jacket a bit off his shoulders. He slowed to 60 through Madison County ("A lot of speed traps around here"), before picking it up in Green County, about 20 miles from home, at 9:27 p.m. He turned up the radio a notch to listen to Herbie Hancock.

"I think Cate's probably talked to Julie," he said, his tone hopeful. "I think Julie knows I'm going to be late."

Mentioning Cate had Turner thinking about her and his other children, Will, 13, and Claire, 11. "My hours and [the commute] have been tough on them in different ways," he said. "There are the injustice calls that come sometimes: Like, so-and-so is not doing her homework or setting the table. And I'm 75 or 100 miles away in the car, and there is nothing I can do about it. That's hard. It's even harder on Julie to have to handle that on her own."

He turned Hancock louder and then settled back, quiet for most of the next half-hour. He raced along a black concrete ribbon, staring now and then into a pair of passing headlights, finally pulling into his Charlottesville driveway at 9:52 p.m., a drive of two hours, 42 minutes.

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