The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The problem with telecommuting? Some shortsighted bosses despise it.

Brake lights illuminate the evening commute on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia in November 2017. Telecommuting might ease the soul-crushing experience for some.
Brake lights illuminate the evening commute on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia in November 2017. Telecommuting might ease the soul-crushing experience for some. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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You can bet there’d be some changes if I were King of America. A moratorium on pumpkin spice. Link Wray in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Waiting periods, background checks and mandatory licensing on everything from firearms to leaf blowers.

And, as I detailed in a recent column, a blanket of seamless, free, high-speed Internet over the Washington area so that working on your computer from home was as easy as working on the one in your office. I figure telecommuting would keep many vehicles off the road, easing traffic woes of the sort that make rush hour such a soul-crushing experience around here.

Silver Spring to Tysons: Is it the worst commute in Washington?

Wouldn’t that be loverly? But it isn’t only the machinery that’s the sticking point, said Sharon Segal, who for 26 years commuted to her job downtown from Bethesda, Md. “It made me a very miserable person,” she wrote. “Nothing made me happier, however, than the days I worked from home, which became increasingly easier with VPNs and video conferencing, etc.”

What my column failed to consider, Sharon wrote, was the “Neanderthal bosses who fail to see the beauty, efficiency and fairness of working from home and do not permit it on a regular basis (or at all).”

Sharon said that lack of telecommuting options in her office led her to retire early.

Tahirih Fusscas of Falls Church, Va., had a similar experience. While working at the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1990s, she published a study on telework and alternative work schedules that led to the adoption of both options.

Still, she doesn’t feel there are enough opportunities for telecommuting. “The Department of Education is actually tightening their policy to make it harder to maintain such a schedule,” Tahirih wrote. “I retired from my federal job in D.C. in 2013, partially because my agency did not support telework or alternative work schedules. Employers can do better.”

Don Carr of Woodbridge, Va., was on a team that studied telecommuting as a way to offset the projected traffic impacts of moving 23,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir in 2011. Wrote Don: “We kept running up against two brick walls: the attitude of supervisors who just can’t accept the idea they’ll get eight good hours of work out of someone sitting at home in their PJs. And IT security geeks who will not allow access to government servers via ‘outside’ (commercial) WiFi.”

Don allows that attitudes may have improved since he retired in 2014, “but, the naysayer in me says it’s still true that, if there’s a way for the federal government to gum up a good idea, it will.”

David Lindley of Alexandria, Va., said there’s a simple solution for the gnarly Silver Spring-to-Tysons commute that My Lovely Wife now faces thanks to her new job: We could move to Virginia.

Wrote David: “I know that your first reaction will be a visceral repulsion, but as someone who has lived in D.C. and Maryland (Takoma Park), I am here to tell you that there are parts of NoVa that are not only habitable but even pleasant and congenial. Sure, you would miss Rockville Pike and the East-West Highway, but you would come to love Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard just as much.”

David has a point. But for someone born in the District, and resident in Maryland 28 of the past 30 years, that river is a powerful barrier.

And not just a physical one. I mean, it’s not as if I believe the Old Dominion is populated by strange beings like the cannibalistic Anthropophagi and men whose heads grow beneath their shoulders (as Shakespeare wrote in “Othello”), but people around here tend to stay where they were planted, even if it means sitting in traffic.

Have you lived in more than one of our local jurisdictions? Was it hard deciding to make the move? What stood out to you as the main differences? Were there any surprises? Send your observations — with “DMV diaspora” in the subject line — to me at

Acid-washed genes

A photo with my column last week on the 1919 triple murder in Kalorama that’s the subject of a new book caught the eyes of several readers. Sitting with the accused, Ziang Sung Wan, was one of his lawyers, A. Owsley Stanley.

Now, that’s a name you probably haven’t heard before, unless you are a Grateful Dead fan or dropped a lot of acid in the 1960s. I suspect there is some intersection between the two groups.

Stanley was a congressman, U.S. senator and governor of Kentucky. His namesake grandson, A. Owsley Stanley III — nickname: “Bear” — was among the first to synthesize and mass-produce a potent form of LSD, more than a million doses, by some estimates. He was a central figure in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

In addition to furnishing the hallucinogen to members of the Grateful Dead (and other bands), Stanley III also designed the Dead’s famed touring PA system, a woofer- and tweeter-filled behemoth known as the Wall of Sound.

Stanley III died in a car crash in Australia in 2011.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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