Native Washingtonian 101: Two minutes to Timbuktu

Driving around Washington is not that hard.

That is, unless you’re behind the Lincoln Memorial. In two minutes, you can be uptown, across the river in Virginia or alongside the Kennedy Center.

You have to decide in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1. Good luck.

Maybe because my father was a local cab driver and I’ve spent 34 years as a newspaper reporter/columnist who works wherever the wind blows me that day, I’m not intimidated driving in town. After flying into cities nationwide to cover games for many years where you only had a map to navigate strange streets, Washington is easy.

No, I don’t use those sissy GPS gadgets locally, though I take it out of town now. My grown daughters use them, which saves me frantic calls when they’re lost.

Washington is a grid. Numbers east to west, letters north to south and states names in diagonal directions. Circles were created to muster troops, though it did us no good when the British burned the city in 1814. Highways going through any U.S. city begins with an odd number, hence 395. Highways encircling a city start with an even number, hence 495.

It sounds pretty logical, but that stretch behind the Lincoln Memorial can even confuse me after driving around town since 1976 and living here since 1960.

You can suddenly be on a bridge to Arlington National Cemetery or the GW Parkway, which accidently happened to me once. You’ll be up to 23rd St. and have to double back. You can get sandwiched at a stop sign heading to the waterfront.

Out-of-towners think they can merely circle the Lincoln to get to Constitution or Independence. If only it was that simple.

But sometimes you just have to experience the panic of not knowing where you are to eventually get where you want to be.

About Rick

Rick Snider is a native Washingtonian, long-time journalist and licensed tour guide since 2010.
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