Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Relevant News? What's That?

Saturday morning at 8:30 AM, I got on the Beltway to go to my sister’s graduation in Harrisonburg (Congrats, sis!). By my calculations, I would get there with fifteen minutes to spare if I went the speed limit the whole way. Barring congestion on I-66, I expected few problems. After all – it was early Saturday morning. No one’s on the road!

As I approached the area where I-95N diverges from the Beltway, I saw Beltway traffic stopped. I turned on the WTOP traffic station just in time to miss everything but something about College Park and the fact that traffic was being diverted onto 95N. I got onto 95 North and took the next exit, which I knew was an East-West road. However, I’d never been West on that road before, so I made a brief stop to check the map. I saw the road would lead me to New Hampshire Avenue, just north of the Beltway. I figured since that would take me past College Park, where I thought the problem was, I’d be able to get back on the Beltway, having only lost about fifteen minutes.

I turn onto New Hampshire Avenue, only to see a cop car blocking the very entrance ramp I’d been planning to use. What? Okay, New Hampshire can get me to 193, which I know intersects with the Beltway.

The traffic report finally let me know that the problem was all the way in Silver Spring, where they had apparently shut down the Beltway in both directions for a “police investigation”. The radio said they were letting people onto the Beltway at 29 South. 193 West would also take me to 29 South. I’d probably lose another fifteen minutes, but at least I still knew where I was going.

Just as I was approaching 29 South, the traffic report announced that traffic was no longer being allowed onto the Beltway there. What?!? I’d just exhausted my knowledge of roads in the area. In a state of utter confusion, I turned around on 193 and ended up on 29 North. At a stop light, I checked the map again (thank you, Mom, for the map-reading genes). Sure enough, it turned out that 193 West ended at Connecticut Avenue, another road I knew. U-turn!

Finally, FINALLY, I got to Connecticut and the entrance ramp was open. As I merged onto an empty Beltway, the radio announced that the police had just started letting cars through two minutes before. Sure enough, a group of cars was coming up behind me. I’d just beaten them there. It was now 9:30 AM. Yes, I missed the graduation (but I did arrive in time take pictures and eat BBQ. Mmmmm. BBQ.)

Anyway, why the title of my post? Most people I’ve told this story to had absolutely no idea that a good five or six miles of the Beltway was closed for an hour and a half on Saturday morning. When I came back from Harrisonburg on Saturday night, I had to dig around to find out what the deal was. It just makes me wonder. It seems to me that an unplanned closure of the Beltway, a major thoroughfare in a major metropolitan area, should be a pretty big deal, especially to the local media. It affects a lot of people directly (even if it is Saturday morning) and is more relevant to day-to-day life than, say, the love lives of Bradgelina, TomKat, and Bennifer (1 or 2). Yet these things get hours of coverage over several days, even when nothing new has actually happened, while the beltway closure gets four sentences on page C03. The news ceases to be useful if it stops delivering information relevant to your life or at least relevant to a significant number of people. But does the media care? Apparently not.

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