Yesterday was bad - period.
It was the second day that the bus and subway strike left city streets filled with overheated cars. It was the fourth straight day that waves of over 90-degree heat mixed with harsh air pollution to form a deadly potion. And sticky humidity draped the whole mess, making it hard to breathe.
Uncounted numbers of people simply hid from it all by staying at home or going to the beach, beginning the weekend early. But yesterday's blast furnace heat, dirty air and tangled traffic pushed to everyone's patience and good humor to the edge.
"I'm burnt out," Jessica Coles, a secretary who was running into the air-conditioned comfort of Nature's Way health food restaurant on 18th Street NW yesterday. "There are about 20 people out (at work) today, so I get to sit there and take all their calls. It's the pits, the absolute worse. And what's the use in leaving?Even getting home is going to be a headache."
At bus stops across the metropolitan area persons could be seen craning their necks looking for the vision of a red, white blue Metro bus in the distance. When the buses didn't come some stuck out their thumbs and tried to hitch a ride, as others scrambled to catch any cab they saw. And at least one enterprising young man turned his Ford into a cab, giving frustated commuters a lift for $2 a head.
"If the bus doesn't come," said Sharon Jenkins, as she and Gottfried Payne sat waiting for one, on the window sill of the Hahn shoe store at Washington Street and Ross Alley in Alexandria, "I'll call it a day and go home." Jenkins said she came out to wait for the bus only because she heard one radio station report that the buses were running.
Dedicated workers who revved up their cars yesterday morning for the drive to work found their ability to endure misery tested as they sat in traffic jams on pitch hot tar streets. Police reported several "bumper" collisions caused by short stops on packed city streets.
Interstate 95 north of the Beltway in Maryland was worse than normal because of a 1:15 a.m. crash between a truck carrying 1,5000 rubber tires and a tractor trailer packed with 24,000 pounds of furniture. The crash which caused both vehicles to explode into flames and burn beyond repair, forced Maryland State Police to reroute traffic from 1.95, near Laurel, onto Powder Mill Road and Route 1 during the morning rush hours. That resulted in traffic, already clogged by the Metro strike, backing up for seven miles, from the Beltway to Laurel.
Even though yesterday's rush hours were bad, as anyone who decided to drive to work can tell you, area police said traffic flowed more smoothly yesterday than on Thursday, the first day of the bus strike.
"(Traffic was heavy but it wasn't totally locked up," said Lt. Kenneth Sullivan of the Washington Metropolitan police traffic division. "A lot of people got an early start and that helped. There were more cars (yesterday than there were Thursday) but they were scattered over a longer period of time."
City streets were choked with rush-hour traffic by 6:30 a.m., according to officials at the D.C. Department of Transportation, well in advance of normal patterns. And the streets didn't loosen up until after 10 a.m. traffic officials said. The volume of traffic crossing the 14th Street Bridge into the District was up by about 40 percent, traffic officials estimates.
As cars chugged up the streets, their fumes seemingly coated the humid, hot air, leaving bicyclists and walkers greasy, the city's pollution alert, now in its fourth straight day, was continued yesterday after the air pollution index reached 110, the "very unhealthy" level in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government's scale.
COG officials said the pollution alert would probably continue through the weekend because the blanket of stagnant, hot and humid air cloaking the area was expected to remain.
That was enough for the District of Columbia Lung Association to swing into self-proclaimed nonpartisan action yesterday against the strike.
"It was once said that 'there was no right to strike against the public safety," read a statement released by the association. "The wildcat Metro walkout, coming in the midst of an air pollution alert, must be viewed as a strike against the public health - and we urge its immediate cessation."
There was some trouble with parking regulations on city streets too, according to the Districts police department spokesman Gary Hankins. Hankins said commuters were confused about parking restrictions because some radio broadcasts had reported that normal parking laws were lifted for the duration of the transit strike.
Hankins said all parking regulations will remain in effect during the strike with special parking allowed only where "No Parking," signs have been covered with beige plastic bags by the police department.
Meanwhile throughout the city and suburbs large numbers of persons turned yesterday into the first day of the three-day weekend and stayed at home or left for the beach.
Both the federal and District government had a "liberal leave," policy in effect which gave some workers the right to stay home yesterday without having been scheduled for the day off on advance.
At the Civil Service Commission yesterday absenteeism reached 12 percent. At the Department of Housing and Urban Development about 14 percent of the workers didn't make it in yesterday.
Restaurants in the District reported a substantial drop in lunchtime business and blamed it on the transit strike and workers who opted to spend yesterday at home. The Mariott Corp., which employs about 2,000 persons in the District, said its employes had some difficulty getting to work for the last two days.
"It's much better today (Friday)," said Barbara Van Blarcum, manager of corporate information for Marriott. "They mde plans after what happened yesterday (Thursday)."
Although restaurants reported a fall in customers, operators of the city's tourists attractions said tourists were coming in at the usual rate. But about 100 tourists called the U.S. Park Service to complain that they couldn't get downtown because of the traffic strike, according to George Berklacy, a spokesman for the Park Service.