You can't drive anywhere anymore. Nowhere. Not to Falls Church or Vienna. Not to Baltimore or Waldorf. And certainly not to Rockville.
Oh, I suppose you can drive from one end of your driveway to another, but that's hardly driving, is it? Makes you wonder why you even have a driveway, doesn't it? And a garage. And, oh yeah, a car.
Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called "The End of History." Several recent episodes have convinced me we have entered the end of driving.
One Wednesday morning a few weeks back, I wanted to drive my 1968 Datsun convertible from Silver Spring to Vienna. Since I was doing a column about a guy who worked on old cars like mine, I thought it would be fitting to drive it to the interview. I waited till 9:30 or so to leave, hoping the Beltway would have thinned out a bit.
It hadn't. It was stop-and-go as far as I could see. I gutted it out until just before the I-270 split. With the temperature needle on my car rising dangerously, I bailed, limping home on back roads. I didn't want to overheat and get stranded. (Old cars aren't quite as forgiving as new ones.)
A few weeks after that, I had to drive the Datsun to a shop in Falls Church. The outer loop was fine at first, and I thought that perhaps the big sign indicating a delay on the American Legion Bridge was a mistake. But no. At River Road, the brake lights came on and the temperature needle went up. I got off onto the Clara Barton Parkway and made my way to Virginia via Chain Bridge.
A week later, I went with my friend J.P. "Pat" McDermott to Camden Yards to watch him sing the national anthem before an Orioles game. Be there at 6:30 p.m., his instructions said, and be ready to sing at 7:35. It was just Pat's rotten luck that it was the day the B-W Parkway was closed by a sinkhole, accidents peppered I-95 and construction had robbed Russell Street of half its lanes.
It was an excruciating journey, thick with the fear that we wouldn't get there in time and Pat would miss his big performance. We got there at 7:15. How Pat was able to ignore his flop sweat and sing flawlessly, I'll never know.
If you have a car and drive around here, you probably have similar stories: the quick trip to the hardware store that took twice as long as you expected, the drive back from the beach so horrific that it erased whatever relaxed state you'd achieved on vacation.
The thing is, you used to be able to predict when traffic would be bad. You knew that certain stretches of the Beltway were bad at certain times of day. You knew to avoid this road when school let out, since it was clogged by parents picking up their kids, or to avoid that one on Sundays, when churchgoers' cars filled the curb lane.
Now, though, you can't go anywhere at any time.
The Washington region has the nation's third-worst traffic, and as my colleague Steven Ginsberg has written, there are traffic jams in the middle of the night, since that's when a lot of road work gets done.
So what we have is driving as a crapshoot. Do you leave for every appointment an hour earlier than normal? Or two?
Our cars are able to go faster and faster -- accelerating to 60 mph in the blink of an eye -- but our traffic is slower and slower. Vehicles will have to adapt. We're already seeing it. Those in-car DVD players are as much for creeping drivers as for bored toddlers. Soon well-equipped vehicles will come with inflatable leggings to prevent deep-vein thrombosis from sitting immobile for hours on I-66.
I guess we will just reach a point where the entire system collapses, like an overpopulation of lemmings that suddenly dies out.
And Another Thing
While I'm ranting about things transportational: Last month, I bought the eighth new tire for my minivan. Add that to the four the van came with when I bought it new in 2000, and that comes to 12 tires total. So, eight tires punctured in five years means I go through a tire roughly every seven months. And that doesn't even count the few times that I've had tires repaired rather than replaced.
The guy at the gas station where I had the latest new bit of rubber put on said the Washington area is bad because our roads are so full of junk. (Of course, right after he said this, I noticed an errant hose clip I was about to run over.)
I called the Rubber Manufacturers Association in the hopes that they kept detailed nationwide statistics on flat tires. How does D.C. rate?
"It's an interesting premise that you're looking at," said the association's Dan Zielinski. "I just don't know of anybody who keeps" that data.
(Why is no one interested in the same things I am? Why? Why?)
Dan did say that tire dealers report a lot more punctures in areas that are close to construction sites.
Aha! The Washington area is full of hard-hatted workers dispensing their tire-death: sharp nails, hot rivets, shards of glass.
But, no, said Dan. He was thinking more of residential construction. The sort of office building construction I'm likely to encounter on my journeys should be pretty clean, he said.
He also said that Goodyear now sells a tire made with Kevlar. It's for SUVs, and they use that material to smooth out the ride rather than to make the tire bulletproof.
Still, that might be what I need.
Drive on over to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline at 1 p.m. today for my weekly online chat.