- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 9, 2001

The Capital Beltway undoubtedly leads the nation in tractor-trailer spills, plus motorists who suspect the apocalypse is before them.
They call this progress, living in the clutches of the big city. You can't beat the restaurants, museums, theaters and the two rent-a-pandas, as long as you are not stuck behind an overturned tractor-trailer that is carrying the hazardous hairspray favored by Gary A. Condit.
By the way, you could stick the California congressman's hair in a wind tunnel and it wouldn't budge. Did the police take hair samples? If they did, they probably had to evacuate the area and dynamite it.
Hair today, gone tomorrow.
You just never know on the Beltway.
What a day to have a tractor-trailer spill, too.
The heat index was off the charts. A Code Orange was in effect, whatever a Code Orange is.
To the meteorologically challenged, a Code Orange sounds more serious than a Code Polka Dot. Channel 4 meteorologist Bob Ryan says, "Code Orange." You say, "Where's my Michael Jackson-endorsed surgical mask?"
This is Washington in August: hot and muggy, with a 60 percent chance of a tractor-trailer spill somewhere on the Beltway.
The Beltway survivor's kit comes with a cell phone, laptop computer and a four-leaf clover. Prayers also are helpful. The traffic ninnies in the sky merely provide the background music, the same tune day after day. It is backed up out there, and there is nowhere to go.
How am I driving? That is the question, along with a telephone number, plastered on a number of tractor-trailers, as if this is supposed to make you feel better.
Perhaps it does, considering the alternative. How am I driving, because I haven't slept in 60 hours, my license has been suspended, and at the last rest stop, I made a call home and a male voice answered the phone?
The phone number that goes with the question seems kind of inane. I mean, seriously, have you ever, after jotting down the number, pulled off the road, dialed the number and reported that the guy is driving with great skill? One other thing: Is an operator really standing by to take this call, or did someone back at the main office just make up the number, knowing that no one ever would dial it?
The Beltway used to be Washington's de facto main street, reflective of the urban core's ever-burgeoning reach. Now the Beltway is a challenging obstacle course that may or may not get you to where you want to be.
The Beltway is a tractor-trailer just up ahead, and another one to the right, and a woman to the left, driving with her toes out of necessity as she applies eyeliner to her impeccably made face.
The Beltway is the ubiquitous orange cone, reader boards with bad news and lane changes intended to test your catlike reflexes.
This is not commuting. This is Russian roulette on wheels. Here's what you have to ask before you exit onto the Beltway each day: Do you feel lucky?
Yet Washington remains convinced of its vast sophistication, being able to experience things that the denizens beyond the Beltway can't possibly experience, namely how to kill time in an overheated box while the workers in spacesuits clean up the mess.
They watch the corn grow in the flyover portion of the nation. Washington watches a cleanup crew conduct its tricky business. The distinction is important. It is a Washington thing, and you have to be incredibly sophisticated to understand.
The driver who caused the mishap was charged with, among other things, driving with a suspended license.
This is one of those seemingly predictable details, not unlike what is learned after a nut goes off the deep end and neighbors describe the person as "quiet and kept to himself."
The Inner Loop wound up being closed for five hours. Officials passed out water, as well as bread, milk and toilet paper, to workers, motorists and anyone else who happened to be in the area.
It was just another routine day on the Beltway.

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