More tales from the Beltway, courtesy of readers who've been driving too long, their hands wet on the wheel.
Jerry Watkins of Kensington and Bill Houchins of Ellicott City both remember breaking in the brand- new Capital Beltway in brand-new cars. Bill was in a Plymouth Barracuda he'd just bought with some inheritance money. Jerry was in a red Corvette convertible that he drove around the Beltway nearly three times with his girlfriend and her friend.
"The car, being a two-seater, was a bit tight for the three of us," said Jerry. "But I don't recall any complaints as we sailed around with no traffic, smog or construction. Just us, the new Beltway and the new car. What a wonderful night it was!"
Clockwise or Counterclockwise?
About a year and a half ago, R. Brian Pinscher of Hyattsville was on his way back from playing some gigs down south with his band.
"By the time we hit the Beltway, it was well into the dead hours -- 3 or 4 in the morning, the time when the late-nighters have gone to sleep and the early risers aren't quite awake," said Brian. He and his crew were cruising north when they noticed a passing car.
"The only problem was the car was in the northbound lanes," said Brian. "I don't quite know how you get yourself turned entirely around on the Beltway, but to then continue driving in the opposite direction is beyond me."
Karle Stewart was heading home to Virginia on the inner loop after a Monday night Redskins game when he was stopped in traffic just shy of the Wilson Bridge after the span was raised. He looked to his left and saw a car making figure eights and driving the wrong way on the deserted outer loop.
"He must have been the last car over the bridge and decided to have some fun," said Karle. "Highly illegal, I'm sure, but I must admit to feeling jealous for the ability to drive the wrong way on an empty Beltway. How cool would that be?"
The Gift of the Smashi
Laura Walsh's signature memory of the Beltway is from December 2002. The Vienna resident was driving with her husband and baby to spend Christmas with her family in Ohio, their Jeep Cherokee packed to the gills.
They had just started their journey and were driving on the inner loop near the Dulles Toll Road when "suddenly, the back window became unlatched, and we could hear the sound of wrapping paper being windblown."
Laura looked back in horror just as a neatly wrapped Christmas present was whipped from the Jeep, went tumbling into the middle lane and was crushed by a fast-traveling pickup truck. After stopping on the shoulder to shut the window, Laura realized that the wayward present -- a nightgown -- had been for her grandmother.
Wailed Laura: "Grandma's present got run over on the Beltway!"
When You Gotta Go, You etc.
John Dube of Chantilly said that in his 23 years of driving the Beltway he'd seen everything, from fatal accidents to motorcycles doing wheelies, but nothing compared with the day the snipers claimed their last victim.
John had just come around the bend at the I-270 spur when he heard on the radio that there had been another shooting. As he approached River Road, he saw dozens of police cars swarm onto the Beltway and shut down every exit. Within five minutes, the Beltway was immobile.
"We all sat in our cars waiting to see if traffic would move again, but after 30 minutes realized that we were not going to move any time soon," John said. That's when the call of nature hit him -- and a lot of other people. Drivers started getting out of their vehicles and looking for the nearest suitable place to, well, you know.
"I was in the far left lane, so I followed suit," said John, "shutting off my car, getting out and walking the four lanes while hopping two Jersey barriers to get to a somewhat secluded bush."
My Favorite Beltway Story
In 1967, Michael Hoyt's fiancee, Jean, and her mother, Irene, drove down from New York to help plan the couple's nuptials. When it was time for them to go home, Michael led them in his car out on the Beltway to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the route they were taking back north. As they approached the parkway, he rolled down his car window, pointed to the northward sign, then took the exit back toward Washington.
They never saw his signal. And so engrossed in wedding plans were they that they didn't notice any of the landmarks as they drove completely around the Beltway. Three times.
"Finally, low on gas, they got off and asked the gas station attendant if they were close to New York," Michael said. "They were rather embarrassed to learn that they had never left the Washington area."
But Officer, I'm a Columnist
In my original column about the Beltway's birthday, I mentioned that I had completed my circumnavigation in a little over an hour. Washington's Jim Holway was not amused. "Sixty-six miles in 61 minutes, an average of almost 65 mph (actually 64.8)," Jim wrote. "You should be ashamed of yourself."
Alvin Guttag of Gaithersburg also did the math: "It would appear that it is important to install radar all along the Beltway to ensure that the speed laws are enforced, even against reporters."
In my defense, I drove at prevailing highway speeds. I always drive carefully on the Beltway. I don't want to end up in anyone else's anecdote.
Care to comment on my driving skills, or on anything else? Join me today at 1 p.m. for my online chat: www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.