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Local lingo: The Mixing Bowl

10 Dec

The newly constructed interchange map (blue), superimposed with the old interchange map (red). Thanks to creative commons user MPD01605.

Have you ever been driving on 495, 395, or 95 and suddenly found yourself on the wrong freeway? If so, I bet it was in the Mixing Bowl. Officially known as the “Springfield Interchange”, the Mixing Bowl is where these three roads collide in Virginia. It’s one of the busiest highway junctions in the U.S. (which isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s ever driven through it). On the Beltway (aka 495) the interchange is at exit 57 and exit 170 on interstate 95.

As confusing as the Mixing Bowl is, it used to be much worse before reconstruction. There used to be lots of weaving and merging as local and long-distance travelers drove around each other. Constructed in the 1960s, the interchange was supporting much more traffic than it was designed to, and accidents were common. Reconstruction started in 1994 and was finally completed in 2007. And though it’s much better now, you still need to stay alert when you find yourself in the Mixing Bowl, lest you want to be lost. I still find it amazing how intense the Mixing Bowl is but, just like with the Wilson Bridge, I really shouldn’t complain.

What’s slugging?

28 Nov

I first heard the term “slugging” when I was taking a commuter survey for work. One of the choices of transportation—along with car, Metro, walk and bike—was slugging. I had no idea what it was so I asked my all-knowing coworker. Slugging, it turns out, is when drivers pick up other commuters at designated “slug lines” so that they can take advantage of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicles) lanes, including I-66,  during rush hour.

After learning about this casual carpooling, my first thought was, “People actually do this? Like on a twice-a-day basis?” Well, turns out they do. And the website Slug-Lines.com is really well organized—there are signs that you can print out to put on your car window saying where you’re going. There’s even a lost and found! Slugging occurs in other parts of the country, but it’s biggest in the DC and Northern Virginia area.

What I find particularly great about slugging is that there’s strictly followed etiquette. If you’re the slug, for example, you cannot initiate conversation. If the driver wants to talk than that’s one thing, otherwise you just ignore each other except for saying “thank you” at the end of the trip. And no money is exchanged since both parties benefit from the arrangement.

While there is no cell in my body that has any interest in commuting this way, I certainly appreciate the creativity and cooperation behind it!

Local Lingo: Bridge and tunnel people

13 Nov

While you might not hear this specific term used all that often, the sentiment is far more frequent. “Bridge and tunnel people” refers to those of us who don’t live in the city and have to take a bridge or tunnel to get there. I recently met a friend of a friend and when he asked where I live, I said Falls Church.

“I’m sorry,” he responded. How annoying is that??!!?? There are plenty of reasons people don’t—or can’t—live in the city. For me, money is a huge consideration. I live in an apartment with two roommates and still can barely afford that. Living in DC would be even more expensive plus my income taxes would cost more and I’d probably have to buy a parking spot for my car. I’d love at some point to live in the city, but for now Falls Church is a great place for me. And I’ve met more than one person who raved about living in DC and then, a few years later, moved happily to the suburbs. Both have their pros and cons; it just depends what you’re looking for at that time in your life.

It wasn’t too long ago, 15 years maybe, when living in DC was not considered a good thing. People looked at you like you were crazy if you called the district home. Now the livability has improved, which is fantastic, but so have the prices.

So I will proudly cross the state line to and from work every day, and those who have a problem with that can kiss my bridge and tunnel butt.

Local lingo: Northern Virginia vs. Virginia

29 Sep

A friend of mine, born and raised in Northern Virginia, went to a convention during college where attendees from other states asked why she didn’t have a southern accent. She explained that no, as she said, she was from Northern Virginia, near DC—they didn’t get it. But for anyone in the DC area, the distinction is clear: Northern Virginia and Virginia are in many ways two separate states. Virginia is firmly in the south, rural in many areas and many residents, yes, have accents. Northern Virginia’s identity comes much more from being in the DC metro area. It was, in fact, Northern Virginia, that narrowly won President Obama the state in the 2008 election. Another friend of mine says one of the reasons she prefers living in Virginia as opposed to DC is the fact that her vote counts much more (DC is about 90% democratic).

Northern Virginia is the most populous region of Virginia. It is also the most diverse and has the highest income. In recent years, Fairfax County and Loudon (LOUD-un) county have been among the top—and often at the top—of the highest-income counties in the U.S. There’s no clear cut line as to where Northern Virginia ends and Virginia begins, but those most strongly associated with NoVa include Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, Loudon and Prince William.