Thursday, November 06, 2014

Reflections on a traffic jam

Driving home last night, I passed the flashing sign above the highway announcing a car crash ten miles ahead.

What kind of moron manages to crash their car on a same-direction, limited-access highway where everyone is going the same way at roughly the same speed? You have to be some sort of special stupid to do that, I'm thinking. But then, with nine and a half miles to go, I ran into the back-up from that crash. And with no easy way around, I was forced to sit in the back-up, inching forward and hating that inconsiderate crash driver, for over an hour.

An hour to go ten miles. To say that I was pissed doesn't begin to describe it.

Of course by that time, the problem was made worse by several secondary crashes where other people sitting in that back-up were rear-ended at incredibly low speeds but still decided to keep their cars sitting in the traffic lane--usually a middle lane--while the rest of us had to manuever around them. That stupidity made things a dozenn times worse for people trying to just get home, and my throat is still sore from yelling at them all.

If you crashed your car on I-270 in Maryland yesterday and someone drove by and called you a "Non-driving dumbass", that was me.

As I crept along at a walking pace for that hour, I was reminded of the big snowstorm here back in 2010 that trapped so many people in the city or in their cars as roads became impassable, chiefly due to other peoples' stuck and abandoned cars. This served as a reminder that those of us who commute into the big cities for work may well be making one-way trips should some major incident or catastrophe strike while we're down there. Driving out in a panic with hundreds of thousand of other people choking the roads and blocking them with crashes? Probably not going to work. Once a few roads get blocked by crashes--and they will as thousands of panickers all get behind the wheel at once--the gridlock will expand and lock the surrounding roads down within minutes. During the big snow, I actually saw people fist-fighting in gas station lines, and that was just for a heavy snowfall. What do you think that people will do when the power's all out and there's rumors (or the actual detonation of) of a dirty bomb or disease epidemic raging?

This is why I never head down into the city without at least half a tank of gas in my truck. And it's why I have a plan to get out of the city and get home that doesn't involve driving my vehicle, and a back-up plan in case that one becomes impractical. I WILL get home, even if I have to walk out, and that's why there's a pack in the back of my truck with enough supplies for three days of hiking and sleeping out. I have food, a change of clothes, a good medical kit, an empty camelbak water pouch and water filtration gear, a poncho and liner, a compass and a good map of the area between work and home. And weapons. I have no intention of being easy prey once the thin veneer of civilization cracks. My plan is simply to get home, come what may, and then bunker down and subsist off of the supplies that I've got set aside already. I won't be out looking for trouble or victimizing others, but I don't intend to BE victimized, either.

I won't go into details on my plans, but I figure that even at worst case, walking all the way from the farthest place that I routinely work, I'll be back home in 2 days. (Hopefully the dogs and/or a couple of trusted neighbors will hold down the fort until then.) But I should be able to find some mode of transportation, be it motorcycle, bicycle, horse or pogo stick, in which case, I'll be back within twenty-four hours. I constantly re-evaluate the plan, especially my egress routes, but the important thing is that I actually have a plan. A few of my friends and neighbors who also work down that way have similar pans (not surprisingly) but a number of my neighbors that I've spoken to causally do not, and it's them that I feel sorry for if the bad times do catch us all downtown. On the upside, that'll probably be fewer people coming over here to see if I've got any spare food (no, I don't) or wanting to hook into my generator.

How about you? Got a contingency plan for emergencies that catch you away from your home, assuming that your home is your chosen safe place?

Oh--and come the real emergency, since many people likely will be forced from their homes in the urban areas and since there is safety in numbers, my welcome mat will be out for those of you who know where to find me. (If you've been to one of the blogshoots here, you're probably on that list.) Just bring some groceries if you can manage it, ok?


  1. It's good to have a plan and back-up plans :)

  2. This is somethingI think about a lot. My shop is in Rockville, I have the entire building ,which gives me a safe-ish place to hunker down until the initial panic passes.I have some food and water here, as well as means to prepare them in case it all goes out. I am well defended. The big But is, I want to go farther west, like MUCH farther. My kid lives in Colorado, some family in Texas, Virginia and Oregon (Not that I would GO there...) The thing I cannot solve is gasoline to get to any of those places. I have thought about a "fuel trailer" even if just w/ pre filled 5 gallon cans, but I think that would make me a target. Plus the current Ethanol fuel does not store well, even with preservatives added. I am quite open to suggestions...And I also have a way to walk or bike to at least the Shenandoah valley...

  3. There's a fun book called Going Home that tells the story of a man who has to find his way home after an EMP event kills the power grid and all electronic devices; since he has a Get Home Bag in his car, he's able to survive quite well. It's a fun read, but poorly edited, lots of grammar and spelling mistakes. Still, it puts out a lot of good information.

  4. if you want to see how people will react, go to truck stop or shelter during a blizzard in the midswest, or a hurricae shelter in the south.

    Most people are sheep and don't even bother to fill up with gas in the days before the storm. Travelers can't be bothered to ahve even a single meal in their car. and usually not enough gas to idle for 24 hours to stay warm.

    People are just animals with a very very thin veneer of (supposedly) intelligence and behavior. Really though, they are just animals.

    I see it every winter here.

  5. Yeah, glad you said something, need to change my BOB to the winter setup... sigh

  6. The thought of you pogo-sticking up 270 with a mini14 slung over your back brings an amusing mental image. Even more so when visualizing you cursing at every stopped vehicle.

  7. I think it was Will Rogers who said "How can you call it traffic when it ceases to move?"

    Not to mention that in the DC area there's a lot of dependence on things like the commuter rail and just because people are told to go home doesn't mean the system has transportation to carry them off the regular schedule. E

  8. I try to keep the truck always at least half-full, and since we don't have to go *down* the Hill to work, we avoid it whenever possible. Picked up another case of water at Costco and a couple boxes of Mountain Home freeze-dried, but I really need to get a generator rigged. We're glad to be on the outskirts and up-hill from the Metroplexes of CA.

  9. i had a fun more-than-an-hour 8 mile drive yesterday, because Baltimorons have water-soluble driving skills. and that was all local road driving...had i taken the highway, i probably would have been sitting for longer.

    the man and i have been looking at maps to figure out our best routes home if we must go on foot. i know i can get to my car and get out of the lot easily, whereas he might not even be able to do that. garages don't make things easy in times like that.

  10. My emergencies tend to be associated less with other people, and more with things like sliding down the side of a mountain road into a creek when the road shoulder crumbles. I do carry adequate supplies and communication equipment to address such issues.

    However, I have two grown kids living in a city 400 miles from here. I spent a lot more time , money and effort on keeping them up to speed in terms of the capability to get out of there and get here in bad times.