So I-270 and I aren’t friends, and probably never will be


I’m totally spoiled.

For the last five years, my commute has been . . . an excruciating, horrible, soul-crushing ten minutes. Maybe fifteen at busy Christmastime (like now), or twenty when the weather is bad (those two or three mornings in winter). My drive is a familiar one: down the same narrow streets I cruised as a teen, through the center of town, past the post office and 7-Eleven and office parks. Same parking spot. Door to door, I’m at my desk before I’ve even processed what the morning-show DJs are discussing.

Last week I was given a new adventure: training at company headquarters. I’m excited to be transitioning to new software at work — and never hesitated to get on board. I like learning new skills and challenging myself. It was fun to be taking notes again, feeling like I was in school — forcing my brain to think differently, acquiring new ways of doing what I’ve always done. After three days, I felt really comfortable with the software . . . and excited about moving forward.

Only problem?

Training was in Gaithersburg. Fifty miles — and many snaking lanes of traffic — away.

In anticipation of the journey, I covered myself in war paint — or, um, chocolate. Worried I would get stranded in the D.C. Beltway’s notorious traffic, something I know all too well from commuting to the University of Maryland years ago, I loaded my passenger seat with drinks and snacks. My trusty GPS easily got me from point A to point B, and I made great time every day. What I worried would take me two hours wound up taking just one or so, and the trek home — in rush hour traffic — wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.

I mean, it was still an hour and a half. But it could have been worse. Having grown up in Maryland and listening to a few traffic reports in my day, I’m well-versed in how awful 270 can be. So while we’re not friends and probably never will be, I’m thankful the congested roadway stayed open enough for me to get in and get out without too much bother. We only slowed a few times — and never came to the grinding halt I remember from driving to school.

After just three days of making that commute, though, I’m sipping Diet Coke at my own desk with a sparkly new appreciation for how good I really have it — and how I shouldn’t take my local job for granted. As a college commuter, I was used to running the roads, getting snarled in traffic and planning everything around whether or not I’d be able to get home from College Park — but this? On I-270? This was a whole new level of crazy. If I’d ever doubted how fortunate I am to work locally, that solidified it for me.

Though I did enjoy listening to an entire audio book — Devan Siphon’s The Wedding Beat — on my drive! Tore through that baby. And I definitely polished off more than a few of those snacks, too. Like, all of the peanut butter M&Ms and that huge bag of trail mix.

That was my early Christmas present to myself.

The things we do for love

From the time Spencer and I met last spring, he’s made no secret of the other woman in our relationship. Beautiful, talented and mean on a guitar, Nicole Atkins — a lovely musician from Brooklyn — has captivated my boyfriend’s attention. For years — years! — before he ever set eyes on me.

And, you know. Given my history with Taylor Hanson, I’m not exactly in a position to judge.

The woman’s got something, I’ll give you that. On one of our early dates, Spencer and I walked around a nearby Borders and found ourselves in the music section. That was my first introduction to Atkins: there in the middle of a crowded store in Annapolis, being handed her album “Neptune City” on a hot day in May. Had I ever heard of her?

I hadn’t, I admitted, and Spencer bought me her CD on the spot. We spent the rest of his birthday listening to his favorite singer — a woman he discovered years before and had already met. Much as I would wax on about one of my favorite singers, Spence gave me the rundown on Atkins.

And that’s when I knew I was in trouble.

She came in concert to the Rock N Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night, and it was with no small amount of trepidation that we cruised in from the suburbs and caught a cab over to H Street. I was nervous, see — because we were out late on a week night — and I’m getting old and cranky; because the weather wasn’t great; because I get anxious when I can’t easily get to a restroom. (Have I mentioned I’m getting old and cranky?)

But if I’m being honest with myself, it was more than that. I’ve listened to “Neptune City” countless times and admired her silky, unique voice; I’ve watched as Spencer hung her album — signed to him in her curly script — on his wall. I’ve looked into her face countless times, always looking at the push of a bang or curl of the mouth.

Nicole has been everywhere. Unattainable.

And I’ve been jealous.

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Seeing D.C. with Dad

To say my dad is a jack of all trades would be a terrible understatement. In the 25 years I’ve known him — you know, since I opened those brown eyes of mine in the hospital — he has been a positive go-getter the likes of which I can’t describe. Never one to sit still for long, Dad has worked in many fields and never been afraid to expand his horizons — either as an award-winning sportswriter, Realtor or, most recently, tour guide in nearby Washington, D.C.

Dad is a huge history buff, and becoming a tour guide is a natural extension of his love of all things local and historical. Stretching my web skills a bit, I recently built his website — Monumental Thoughts — where he’s writing personal essays about Washington and its people, attractions and quirks. Many of my D.C. photos are up on the site, too.

The city is a lively, crazy and exciting place, and I loved the summer I interned for The Washington Examiner just blocks away from the White House. I never would have made it down there if it weren’t for my parents’ encouragement, of course; my mom has worked in the city for decades and Dad grew up traversing the city streets, visiting often to see the sights and cover sporting events. Keep your wits about you but d0n’t be afraid, they said. Act like you own the place.

And that was sound advice.

A New York transplant, my boyfriend Spencer loves nothing more than hopping on the Metro and exploring the District on a random Saturday. We’ve visited the U.S. Botanic Garden, one of my favorite places downtown, and attended events like the National Book Festival and the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival. We pop in camera shops, grab burgers and meander down side streets filled with museums, statues and government offices.

Growing up, I have crystalline memories of visiting all the monuments with my parents and listening to my dad share interesting tidbits about each location. I’ve always loved the Washington Monument — or “the big pencil,” as my sister and I called it — and still get a thrill seeing it pop into view when we fly home. Dad’s brain is filled with more interesting facts about it and nearly every spot in the city, and I’m proud to see him turn that love into a new opportunity.

The cool thing about cities is the juxtaposition of the old and the new — the recent and the historical — in such small quarters. The boarding house of Mary Surratt, the first woman hanged in the U.S. in association with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, is now a Chinese restaurant. Near the U.S. Capitol, that enduring symbol of democracy, is an awesome market that draws locals and tourists by the droves — and has since 1873. But there’s a coffeeshop on the corner there serving up lattes, cappuccinos and chai tea . . . probably not favorites of our forefathers.

There’s all of that to see — and more. And if you’re here to see it, my dad would be the one to show you.