I’m “The Dude”

I had a real life Big Lebowski moment today.

I was driving the kids to Como Zoo. We had just pulled into the right-turn lane from Snelling onto Midway, when some (pardon) asshole in a car next to us threw a lit cigarette butt through my window. It hit me right in the head!

I had to pull over quickly and locate the butt, since it was still smoldering. It had fallen down into the plastic well on the floor between my door and seat. There were unburned shreds of tobacco on my shirt and shorts, and the car still smelled of cigarette smoke when we returned from the zoo two hours later!

The fury I was feeling at that moment was quickly offset by my overwhelming sense of pride over the astounding parallel parking job I did when we got to the park. As usual on summer weekends, especially when the weather is nearly ideal, as it was today, parking spaces were scarce in Como Park. I managed to locate a very tight space, most certainly available simply because no one was brave enough to attempt to sqeeze in.

Now I am no great parallel parker. In fact, when I took my driving test at age 16 I got perfect scores on everything except the parallel park and hill park, both of which I failed completely (that is, zero points). Luckily it all came out in the wash and I still got my license without having to retake the test. Here we are 16 years later, and even now I get nervous when the need arises to parallel park. Fortunately, several years of living and driving in large cities have forced me to improve my skills… somewhat.

I went for it. And I made it. Sure I bumped the truck behind me a few times, but that’s what bumpers are for! In the end I was nestled tightly with about 4 inches of space on either side. I had to climb across my hood to get over to the passenger side of the car, before I realized that next time it would be easier to just go around the truck parked behind me.

I was so impressed with myself, I had to take a picture.

Parallel parking gets pwned!

Fortunately, by the time we left, both vehicles surrounding us were already gone, and their replacements gave us plenty of maneuvering room.

Addendum (July 10, 2006) — I’ve been thinking about this more, and I believe I have my Big Lebowski reference wrong in a number of key ways. First off, I knew from the beginning that a few points were different: I wasn’t holding a roach clip in one hand and a beer in the other, and I didn’t crash my car while trying to retrieve the flaming butt from my crotch. (Boy, that sounds worse than it is.) But now that I think about it, I don’t recall whether the aforementioned “flaming butt” was thrown in his window by a passing vehicle, or whether it was his own, and he was just a poor shot. I’ll have to watch the DVD again to refresh my memory.

Road Geek Rage

No, I am not experiencing road rage. I am simply a raging road geek.

A little caffeine too late in the day (not to mention curious preoccupation with discovering the mystery of eon8) has kept me up well into the night.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent trip to D.C. and Baltimore, and in particular about the roads there, as I did a fair amount of driving in my 3 days in the area.

I’ve always been fascinated by roads, in particular the Interstate highway system, and in even more particular with anomalies in the Interstate system. The Interstates were conceived as a massive public works project and also as a vision of taking America into a bold, gleaming, gasoline-fueled future. But somewhere along the way reality stepped in and many planned freeways were never built, such as I-335 in Minneapolis or whatever they’d have called Ayd Mill Road in St. Paul if it had become a real freeway.

You can see remnants of such works throughout the country in the form of blocked-off ramps to nowhere or peculiar artificial mounds where bridge embankments had been created but the bridges themselves never constructed.

One thing that’s striking about Baltimore is that, for all of its interesting history and charming neighborhoods, it also has more than its fair share of blight. That was another unexpected side effect of the construction of the Interstate system. (Well, I doubt it was that unexpected to the large numbers of mostly African-American residents who were displaced by eminent domain or who saw their neighborhoods sliced in half by right-of-way lines planned by the mostly white, crew-cutted proto-geeks working in the various state departments of transportation in the ’50s and ’60s.)

While studying the map of Baltimore in anticipation of my upcoming visit, I noticed something rather odd: an “orphaned” stretch of freeway running through a part of the city west of downtown. As it turns out, this freeway, now signed as US 40 but originally identified as I-170, was a failure on a scale that puts Ayd Mill to shame. I didn’t get a chance to drive this road (and I suspect that if I return to the area I probably won’t have much cause to then, either, unless I can convince my family that it’s worth going to an undesirable neighborhood just to drive on a pointless stretch of road), but thanks to insomnia and the wonders of the Internet, now I can feel like I did.

There were also some interesting freeways in the D.C. area, such as the long stretch identified only as To I-295 because, even though for all intents and purposes it really is I-295, it cannot be designated as such due to federal standards for Interstate-grade roadways.

On a less dismal note, I had a couple of other interesting freeway experiences. First, driving into D.C. on I-66, I was surprised to discover that, once you crossed the Beltway, all lanes of the freeway were designated as HOV during rush hour. (Yes, in other words, if you’re driving by yourself, you have no business whatsoever being on I-66 inside the Beltway between the hours of 5:30 AM and 9:30 AM on weekdays.)

The other, and undoubtedly most pleasant, discovery was the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, identified inelegantly on some signs as the “Balto-Wash Pkwy.” This is, surprisingly, a 4-lane freeway, with relatively brisk-moving traffic, managed by the National Park Service, connecting Baltimore and Washington, and perhaps sometime in the distant past actually signed as Maryland (and D.C.) 295, as shown in my 2006 road atlas. The most surprising feature of this road was that it was densely tree-lined for most of its run, completely devoid of billboards and rarely within sight of any artificial structures other than the road itself. Best of all (especially since I drove the entire return trip in heavy rain), commercial trucks are not allowed.