Dear Dr. Gridlock:
As a faithful reader, I was wondering whether you were planning anything special for your column as we near the year 2000, say, perhaps, the 10 most interesting questions you've received over the past year. Have a safe and joyous holiday.
Ashburn, Loudoun County
How about the 10 most memorable items, plus a review of all the license plate riddles so you can stump your guests. Here goes:
1. The first item had to be when Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist responded to a license plate riddle, on Supreme Court stationery. The riddle was, "What car has the license plate 1 DIV 0?" The chief justice, along with hundreds of others, said the answer was an Infiniti, since 1 divided by 0 equals infinity.
Unfortunately, dozens of mathematicians then wrote to say that he was wrong--that you can't divide 1 by 0. Tough town. However, the owner of the Infiniti said he picked that license plate with infinity in mind, so the chief justice and all the rest get winning marks.
2. The Woodrow Wilson Bridge jumper, Ivin Pointer, wrote us from jail, saying he had found God and "hopes today's traffic is smooth, and everyone drives safely. Also, be mindful of the other person."
Pointer had tied up rush-hour traffic for six hours last year when he threatened to jump from the Wilson Bridge. (He jumped, and survived.)
3. The good Samaritans nominated by you folks through the year and recognized Thanksgiving day. One of my favorites this year was the Arlington man who came across a disabled vehicle near Arlington and took the driver to his home in Warrenton, 40 miles away.
4. The Prince George's County woman who was pulled over by a member of the District of Columbia Housing Authority police and cited for speeding. She couldn't believe the officer had the authority to do that and refused to produce her license and registration. She was hauled off to a police station in handcuffs, her sobbing 8-year-old daughter in tow.
Turns out the housing police have the same authority as D.C. police to write traffic tickets. In all, there are 20 or so law enforcement agencies-- everything from the zoo police to the library police--who can write moving and parking tickets in the District.
5. Books on Tape. The columns of June 21 and June 30 or July 1 carried much information and your testimony on using tapes to break up commutes. For more information, check local libraries or get a catalogue from Books on Tape (1-800-626-3333), Recorded Books Inc. (1-800-638-1304) and the Teaching Co. (1-800-832-2412), among others.
6a. The most criticism of Dr. Gridlock for one item: The recent letter from the Prince George's County motorist who nearly collided with a careless driver, then sprang from her car to pound the windows and yank on the door handle of the other driver's vehicle in order to "beat her to a pulp." Unable to do that, the wronged woman kicked out the miscreant's headlights and stormed back to her own car. Later she realized that was not a good thing to do, that she could have been shot by the stranger.
Dr. Gridlock answered that the woman was courageous to write and acknowledge her road rage was wrong. Dozens of you folks complained about my answer, saying the woman showed no remorse and only seemed to care that she could have been shot. I just missed this angle.
6b. More criticism of the doctor. At a wreck on Interstate 95, a Maryland State Police officer ordered a piece of fire equipment moved so traffic could get moving. A fire lieutenant refused, and the state policeman ticketed and arrested him and got the traffic moving.
I said, "Three cheers for the state police," and received responses from firefighters from Texas to Pennsylvania saying I was wrong, and how dangerous it was to deal with accident scenes while traffic zips by, and how their safety should come first, and how firefighters know best how to deal with a wreck in traffic.
7. Uninsured motorists. Many states require that license, registration and proof of insurance be shown at traffic stops, as a way to reduce the number of uninsured motorists. Maryland, Virginia and the District do not require proof of insurance, but maybe some legislator will bring this up next year.
8. A Bethesda man wrote to say that a pigeon was tracking him on I-95 en route to Baltimore. The bird was traveling 65 to 70 mph, staying inches in front of a car and then changing lanes. He wanted to know if anyone had ever heard of this. Not us.
Jessica Medinger found that, according to the National Audubon Society's encyclopedia of North American birds, "six racing pigeons were timed at 28, 52, 57, 60 and 82 mph, showing the great variation in flight speed of which this species is capable." You never know what people will come up with, like the following:
9. The Ghost Train. A Chevy Chase lady was awakened by the "mournful sound of a steam engine in the wee hours of the morning" and wondered if anyone knew what it was. We had lots of suggestions, including doves, steam escaping from a dry cleaner and someone intentionally blasting a recording of an old steam whistle to protest the taking of a nearby Baltimore and Ohio railroad spur for the Capital Crescent Bicycle Trail. My favorite answer was this, from James Cannon, of Columbia:
"As every devoted fan of Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone' knows, the ghost train is bound for an idyllic, turn-of-the-century town called Willoughby, a place where kids fish in the local creek, life is simple and families gather on Sundays to hear the band concert in the public square."
Dr. Gridlock is looking for that train.
10. Several people wrote in to complain that police at Dulles and National airports were cursing and pounding on hoods and windows of motorists who were trying to drop off passengers or pick them up. The police seemed to be overly aggressive in trying to keep traffic moving on the airport ramps. One wife of a pilot said a Dulles policeman pulled a gun on her, apparently because she didn't move fast enough.
Airport officials said these instances shouldn't happen and provided numbers to call to report any such incidents: 703-572-2954 for Dulles and 703-417-8560 for National.
And finally, Dr. Gridlock has been searching for Gridlock-free places to live--not immediately but in the future. Some of the recommendations, yours and mine:
* Juneau, Alaska, has only 13 miles of paved road. You come and go on a plane or boat. No suburban traffic jams.
* Flamingo, Fla., at the southern end of the Everglades, has more crocodiles than cars.
* Augusta, Maine, with only 21,000 people, is gridlock-free.
* Raton, N.M., at an elevation of 5,000 feet, offers spectacular views and has traffic jams only when antelope cross a road.
* Highland County, Va., is the size of Fairfax County but has only 2,500 people who live in a mountainous setting: crisp air, Civil War history, maple syrup and brook trout, and hardly a stop sign in view.
I'm looking for more gridlock-free places, if you dare to share.
Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.
Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.
Riddle of the Plates
Below are the license plate riddles that have appeared in the Dr. Gridlock column in 1999. The plates provide a clue to the kind of car they appear on and were actually seen on cars around the DC area.
4x4x8: Honda Accord. The measurement refers to the dimensions of a cord of wood.
BAABAA: Black Jeep. A takeoff on the children's nursery rhyme, "Ba, ba black sheep have you any wool?"
ML8ML8: White Volkswagen Rabbit. The white rabbit in the Disney movie (based on the book by Lewis Carroll) "Alice in Wonderland" who says, "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date."
WISPYCLD: Chrysler Cirrus. The cirrus cloud formation is commonly described as wispy.
JULIET: Alfa Romeo. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
ISLEOF: Ford/Mercury Capri. Refers to the song "Isle of Capri."
BEYOND: Blue Plymouth Horizon. Refers to the song "Beyond the Blue Horizon."
1 DIV 0: Infiniti. When dividing one by zero there can be no definitive answer, so the solution is "infinity."
R PFERD: Our Ford Mustang. Pferd is German for horse.
PENNY LN: Blue Suburban. Refers to the Beatles song, "Penny Lane," which mentions blue suburban skies.
IXXI: Porsche 911. Roman numerals for 9-11.
STORIES: Saab. As in SAAB (sob) stories.
EDUC8EM: Mazda Protege. A protege is defined as "someone who is guided or helped" and students are guided and helped in education.
HARK: Triumph Herald. Refers to the Christmas song, "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."