If you’re in the Seattle area, you already know what I’m talking about. Last night’s commute will live in infamy. It was the worst I’ve ever seen, and I sincerely hope it’s the worst I will ever see.
The truth is, I had it easy. Monday Night Football was in town last night. The stadium is right across the street from my office building, so we got kicked out of the parking garage at 3:30 (I could have stayed if I wanted to pay the $30 football parking fee, but I passed on that). The roads were clear and dry when I left the office. The throngs of football fans converging on Qwest Field had traffic truly jammed, so it took me about 20 minutes to make it the four blocks from my office to the I-90 onramp. Just as I was getting onto 90, it started hailing or snowing or some combination — I’m not quite sure. Whatever it was, it didn’t last long. After a minute or two, it stopped and I thought I was home free. I-90 was wide open, and it was looking like I was going to have a record fast commute home. It was 3:55 PM.
By about 4:10, I’d made it onto I-405 and all the way through Bellevue. I was thrilled at how fast I was getting home. Then it suddenly started snowing. As much as I hate winter weather, a little snow doesn’t really bother me much from a driving perspective. I learned to drive in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area, where it’s snowy and icy for much of the winter. I’m pretty experienced with winter driving. That doesn’t mean I like it, but I can handle it. The rest of the Seattle area drivers, however, can not. Within 90 seconds of the snow starting, with no visible accumulation on the road surface, we’d slowed from 60 mph to 30. Less than five minutes later, we were down to 5 mph. We crawled the last four miles at speeds ranging from two to ten miles per hour. I finally got home just before 4:45. My normal commute takes about 45 minutes, and it took me an hour and fifteen minutes last night. Pretty bad, right?
Not really. My poor wife had a meeting in Bellevue (about ten miles south of home) at 5:30 PM. By then, the snow was definitely coming down, but the roads still didn’t look that bad. The meeting got done a little after 6, and by 6:20 she was on the road to get home. I don’t remember exactly when she first called me, but at some point it became clear that it was going to take her a really long time to get home. I started listening to news radio, and all they were running was traffic reports and phone calls from people stuck in traffic. Some of the stories were truly scary. There were articulated buses and semis crashed all over the place, blocking multiple lanes at a time. A few major highways were closed for the first time in over a decade. Yes, it was going to take Becky an extremely long time to get home. How long is an extremely long time? Remember, she only had to travel ten miles. It was all on one freeway. How long could that possibly take? An hour? Two hours? Two and a half?
Try five. FIVE HOURS! She averaged two miles per hour for ten miles. She got home at 11:20 PM. We normally go to bed at ten, so you can imagine how tired she was. Not only was it almost an hour and a half after bedtime (and many hours after dinner time), but she’d been on the road for five hours straight. This must be some kind of record.
The sad thing is, according to the news reports, her commute wasn’t the longest. Apparently there were people out there all night long. Some people abandoned their cars on the road (I imagine some ran out of gas — when you think you only have to go a few miles, you might not be prepared for an all night trip). Many of the bus routes just stopped running, so people who use mass transit weren’t much better off. In fact, on the news this morning, the main bus routes downtown stopped running before the football game was over, effectively stranding anyone who had ridden the bus to the game.
Today, we’re staying home.