For the past two years, commuting and (let’s face it) life in general in Charm City has been seriously disrupted over the Labor Day Weekend by drag racing. Yes, you read that right. Drag racing
. For some ungodly reason (most likely tourism dollars), the city decided that it would be a good idea to close down all the roads in the heart of the city (making an already natural bottleneck 3 million times worse), cut down more than 40 huge and aged trees along the route (in 2011), put up acres of bleachers, and invite a whole bunch of indy stock car drivers to drive at screaming high-speed through the city while tourists watch. Buses are rerouted all over the place, the lower part of the city is practically cut off from the upper portion, and locals flee the city to escape the insanity. I have yet to meet someone who lives within the Baltimore/D.C. Metro area who actually is happy about this situation. It wouldn’t be so bad if the darn thing was truly successful, but thus far it has been plagued with mismanagement, low ticket sales, and a general lack of enthusiasm from what appears to be the city at large.
Apparently, I’m not a fan. Could you tell?
But I didn’t start this entry with the intention to hold a huge bitch fest about the Grand Prix, a lovely headache that we get to deal with for 3 (Three!) more years. Instead, I want to talk about how from now on I am going to associate Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with this ill-advised and thoroughly obnoxious event. Now I’m sure you’re curious to find out what the heck a folk rock supergroup from the 1960s–best known for their use of beautiful and elaborate vocal harmonies–could possibly have to do with indy stock car racing. Well, when you put it like that, very little. But they will forever be connected in my mind with traffic jams and what is sure to go down in history as The Great Detour of 2012…
The week leading up to the drive home on Friday, August 31st had already been an interesting juggling act for my carpool. Between the bus situation, the ever-constricting road closures, and the fact that many of my colleagues are blind and therefore not drivers, led to a daily changing cast of characters in the car. But so far things had gone well, due mainly to flexibility and a willingness to be picked up much
earlier than usual. And now it was time for one more long commute homeward.
The car was packed to the gills, with bags in the trunk and crowded knees and shoulders all around. Personal space was reduced to a fond memory, but everybody made it a point to remain cheerful and endeavored to refrain from poking their neighbor with an errant elbow. Our driver had considerately thought ahead and packed one of her favorite albums by CSNY to make the trip home more enjoyable. While not everyone in the car was necessarily familiar with the band, I was pleased with the selection–you didn’t grow up in my house without hearing Suite: Judy Blue Eyes at least a few times. We pulled away from the parking garage and began to make our way along the circuitous route that would hopefully lead us all home. Making our way South around the football stadium, we swung out to the west and began making our way slowly down a West Baltimore street in stop and go traffic. Our intention was to get on to the only main artery that was heading north, and we were making ponderous progress towards this goal while listening to the sweet harmonies and folksy guitar chords. Despite the tight fit in the back seat and the frustratingly slow progress we were making up the street, everyone was in fairly good spirits. Snarky comments were flying at the blockheaded antics of other drivers around us and I seem to remember a great deal of laughter among the group. We knew that traffic would be snarled and we all settled in to make the best of the situation.
It was about 45 minutes into the commute (longer than it usually takes to get everyone home on a normal night) when our driver–the undisputed queen of route tweaking who is always on the look out for a way to avoid one more stoplight–spied a nearly empty side street. It was too good an opportunity for her to pass up and hoping to find a quicker way to the main artery, she eagerly turned up the street. Happily cracking jokes and already enjoying our second listening of Ohio, little did we know that impending doom was upon us. At first, everything seemed fine. There was still traffic on the street, but it was all moving drowsily along… until we came to a three-way intersection that left us no option but to turn left. This presented a slight problem because (of course) we wanted to turn right. There was nothing we could do but obey and hope that we could detour again farther along the road.
Well, to make a long story slightly shorter, the answer turned out to be a big, fat NO. Unlike many old cities on the East Coast, Charm City does have the luxury of roads laid out in a grid… in parts of the city. The rest is subject to the kind of haphazard sprawl that rivals even the likes of Boston, which many claim is laid out according to old cow paths (a much contested controversy, by the way). Combine this with the city’s penchant for one-way streets, and you’ve got the potential for some real messes during rush hour. Not only did our innocent little detour send us in the wrong direction, it undid almost all of our progress of the last hour. The real kicker is that we literally had to retrace our steps on the exact same route we had originally traveled. Our driver was beside herself with embarrassment, but everyone put on a brave face. The laughter may have taken on a more desperate edge, but what could you do other than get out and walk several miles north? So we all smiled and nodded and somehow managed to make it through the rest of what turned out to be a near record-breaking commute (only topped by the winter of 2010 when 3 feet of snow pretty much brought the city to a standstill for a couple of weeks).
But the funny part is that during this insane journey through the half-crippled city is that a collective hallucination took place within the confines of our car. We listened to that CSNY album from start to finish at least 6 times. Our driver lamented her negligence in bringing only one CD to share. Several of us with iPhones cursed ourselves for not bringing the necessary cords and wires to hook them up to the car. And for reasons I still can’t explain, not a single one of us remembered a little thing called the radio. No, my dear readers, instead of thinking outside the box (or in this case the CD player) we just kept listening to this album on repeat as if it was the only option left to us in a post apocalyptic world gone mad. It wasn’t until we were within 5 minutes of my house (I am the second to last drop-off) that my driver looked over at her stereo and sheepishly pressed a button. Both of us breathed a deep sigh of relief as the sounds of NPR came over the speaker system and then shared a slightly demented laugh over our amazing feat of short sightedness.
I think it is safe to say that for the rest of my life I will probably associate Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young with detours and traffic jams. And because it was the song that just seemed to keep playing, I have for you CSNY’s rocking version of Woodstock. Originally penned by none other than the awe-inspiring Joni Mitchell, who was Graham Nash’s significant other at the time, this song helped define a generation of young people looking to change the world. Somehow tying it to a legacy of pollution-spewing cars and frustrated drivers seems a bit less impressive. Oh well, either way enjoy!
Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young