Occupy 520 (Sorry, my bad!)

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Yesterday, I aborted a planned trip to Costco while waiting for a parking spot in front of the Kirkland location. I decided timing was too tight, plus I was super thirsty, so I went to Starbucks and happily chatted with a friend instead. As I passed the 108th Street exit on westbound highway 520 I caught sight of three pickups traveling in perfect alignment across the three lanes of the freeway behind me. They were big, white, heavy-duty construction trucks with flashing lights across the top. I thought they were leading an over-sized load and breathed a sigh of relief at being ahead of the mess. I kept glancing at the scene in my mirror as I quickly put a lot of distance between them and me. Then I realized they were no other cars behind me. So I slowed down to get a better look, because I am nosy like that.

Then things got weird, really weird.

I looked ahead and couldn’t spot a single other vehicle. Meanwhile the trucks behind me were creeping along at a literal snail’s pace.  Seriously, ambitious and physically fit snails could have outpaced these trucks.  By this time my curiosity and pity for the trapped drivers behind me had caused me to slow my car down to a near crawl as well.  Not that it mattered, I was alone…ALONE!  Alone on 520 in the middle of the day. As I lost sight of the sleepy caravan of undoubtedly grouchy drivers I wondered if any of them were experiencing the type of chest pains and anxiety that consumed me back in the days of dial up internet.  (I used deep breathing and meditation techniques to survive AOL’s shrill quest for connection) I imagined their frustration and decided to stick around long enough to see what the heck was holding things up.  I stopped my car just short of the 92nd street exit.  The trucks were out of sight below the crest of the hill near the east end of Yarrow Point, so I decided to get out and snap a few pictures to post on Twitter and Facebook.  Why not, right? It’s not every day that I get the freeway all to myself.

Caution: Rough Road Ahead

My Blackberry camera is very basic, so I walked this way and that to get better views.  I giggled to myself as I snapped a pic of the huge flashing sign that read: “Caution Rough Road Ahead.” I casually leaned against my car still parked in an awkward place just barely off the roadway.  The trucks were finally inching their way over the hill and I used my door sill as a step stool in an attempt to see the oversized load they surely must be escorting. Nothing.  Just three trucks in a row blocking the flow of a fleet of unlucky cars.  Naturally I muttered out loud about WSDOT’s terrible timing.  I bravely stood in the middle of the freeway to take a few last shots before I moved my car.  I was certainly not in any danger from trucks traveling 2mph.  By the time the trucks passed the 92nd street exit, I was parked on the overpass taking pictures as they moseyed through.

The worst parade in the world.

By then I was working on a crazy theory; what if this was some sort of protest, a brilliant spotlight on a labor dispute or maybe, maybe a new type of Occupy demonstration… Occupy WSDOT or Occupy Street…any street? I glared at the truck drivers as they rolled under the overpass. I thought of them as grandmasters of a cruel parade. I got into my car and drove towards the 84th street on-ramp. I stopped at the gas station for two very good reasons; 1) My car smelled like dog sh*t. and 2) There was a sizable back up of cars trying to get onto the freeway and I just had to get the complete photo scoop. I stood looking at the corner of Points Drive and 84th Ave NE, chatting with frustrated drivers, scraping invisible dog crap off my shoe and taking photos of the traffic jam.

Construction workers race to beat traffic...literally!

I walked over the freeway to get a better view. I peered over the edge of the overpass and was stunned to see a crew of men and trucks racing to fill a series of at least 8 giant holes in the roadway with bags full of tar rocks, tamped down by a jackhammer-like machine. The words ROLLING SLOW DOWN popped into my head. I was horrified, fascinated and deeply impressed by what I had just witnessed. The crew of workers worked at top speed to finish the repair just as the parade of trucks was rounding the final curve. By my estimate the rolling slowdown/slash gloomy caravan had given the crew a window of 20-30 minutes. Crazy. Impressive in a wow-look-what-can-happen kind of way, not in a let’s-do-this-more-often kind of way.

Back at the 76 station where I parked my car, some friends asked if I had caused the traffic jam. Ha-ha I snickered.

As if.

After taking one last photo of the stand still traffic that now Occupied 520, I drove towards the Hunts Point roundabout. A construction worker was walking along the side of the road so I stopped to find out the real story. I smiled and waved her over lowering the passenger side window.

Remarkably, she was smiling when she ducked her hard hat covered head into my car, “You! she shouted in a friendly voice, You’re the black Volvo lady!!! You were the last car I cleared before we started the rolling slowdown. I told them you were behind the city bus. But nobody saw you! They kept saying there is no black Volvo, there is no black Volvo! We had to delay the workers until we could place you. You just disappeared until we saw you parked on the freeway taking pictures!!!

Oops. My bad.

And then we laughed, oh how we laughed. The woman, who should have been strangling me, went on to ask if I had gotten some good photos.

And now she occupies a special place in my heart.

The rolling traffic jam just before it becomes a plain old fashioned traffic jam.


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