The worst part of a vacation is returning home. The worst part about where we live is that there are no good routes home. Having recently spent seven days on a road trip, driving blue highways and visiting more rural areas, coming back to a major metropolitan area like ours is a drag.
There are two major airports in our area. Washington Dulles is the largest and is usually the easiest route home thanks to the airport access road. But once you get inside the Beltway that loops around the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, all bets are off and you are likely to hit some kind of traffic. Reagan/National Airport is a little closer to us than Dulles, but it takes about takes about the same amount of time to navigate the surface streets, the endless string of stoplights, the stop-and-go traffic.
We were on a road trip, however, and had no need for airports. Still, there is no good route home. If we are returning from the north (New York, New England, etc.), we drive down I-95 and either take the Baltimore-Washington Parkway into the District and cut through web of highways and city traffic and across the bridge into Virginia; or, we stay on I-95 to the Beltway and then loop around to Route 66 and take that in toward our house. Neither of these options are appealing, and once we pass south of Baltimore, I grow slightly grumpy at the thought of dealing with the approach to our house and the traffic that will inevitably slow our arrival.
If we are returning from the south (typically coming back from Florida), we generally have a smooth drive up the entire length of I-95 until we hit Richmond, Virginia. In rare conditions (say, early in the morning, or late at night) when there is no traffic, it takes just under 2 hours to get from Richmond to our house. I can’t remember the last time we did it that quickly. As we approach Richmond, I glance at the GPS to see what it has to say about traffic. It is never good. It is not unheard of for it to take three hours to get from Richmond to our house. It is a rotten route home, but there is nothing much better. I can easily drive 7 hours without breaking a sweat. But those last few hours between Richmond and home can leave me completely worn out.
On the final leg of our recent road trip, we drove from Youngstown, Ohio, straight through to home. This is a mostly pleasant drive through mountains, but once we got onto I-270, some 40+ miles from home, the traffic thickened. Coming home from this direction (call it northwest) means coming down I-270 to merge into the Beltway. This is no better than coming down I-95, although we emerge a little further along the Beltway. But the traffic is no less since I-270 is just as bad.
I know from experience that no all destinations are like this. Arriving at my mother-in-law’s place in Florida is pleasant. There’s never traffic. Once we are off the highway, there is an easy drive along clear surface streets. It’s a nice approach. Driving to my parent’s place on the opposite coast of Florida is almost as pleasant. It is a little busier on that coast, but there is rarely traffic.
On our trip we visited friends in Albany, and getting to their house from the Thruway is easy, and traffic free. Outside of Albany, Niagara Falls was the largest city we visited on our road trip and even that was easy to get into.
The one exception is my sister’s house. She lives in Westchester County and it means crossing the George Washington Bridge (or occasionally, the Tappan-Zee Bridge1) and then following a gnarled web of highways that gradually spiral in toward her house. That is not a particularly pleasant arrival.
I keep a list of questions to ask a realtor about a house should we ever find ourselves house hunting again. Among these are: how is the water pressure in the shower? How loud (or quiet) is it with the windows open at night? And to these I’ve added a new one: are there any good routes home?
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- Yes, I know they took it down and replaced it with another bridge, but it will always be the Tappan-Zee to me. ↩