Saturday, February 13, 2010

Worst. Commute. Ever.

While I've enjoyed the time off and the opportunity to get things done around the house offered by this week's Snowmageddon, the downside was the reaction of many people. In comments to Washington Post articles and in actual articles and polls on FOX News, people were disparaging the Federal workforce and criticizing the government closures.

The reality is that closing the Federal government helped the region clean up faster (a task still unfinished), and saved lives. Every day, hundreds of thousands of government workers commute to DC via the roads, regional trains, buses, and the Metro subway system. With blizzard conditions, major roads only partially opened, and Metro stations closed because the tracks were feet deep in snow, most Federal workers literally couldn't get in to work.

Which brings me to yesterday.

The government reopened with a two hours late-arrival policy and offered unscheduled leave, which means that if you couldn't get to work, you could take your own personal leave. That's not a very good option for those who don't earn much leave or who must be at work if the government is open. I am one of the latter, so off I went.

My usual commute is to take the county bus which picks up near my house, ride to the Metro, and take that all the way into work. The total time in ideal conditions is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Unfortunately, since all of the Metro stations near me were closed, I had to take a different route.

I left home at 8:30AM. First, Carol had to drop me off at a nearby shopping center for an express bus to the first below-ground Metro station, Medical Center. I arrived, waited in a long line, and at 8:47AM snagged a seat for the typically 30 minute ride (not everyone got a seat). We hit I-270 and traffic.

We rode on the bus for 1 hour and 45 minutes.

When we finally arrived at the Metro, we discovered they were running trains only every half hour. After a 20 minute wait, I got on a crowded train at 10:50AM. Due to snow accumulation problems (according to the driver), the batteries weren't working very well so the train had only a couple of lights operating in each car and no air circulation. Still, work was now less than a half an hour away. Or so I thought.

We arrived at DuPont Circle, four stations from my office, around 11:15AM. The driver came on the intercom and said that there had been a train derailment at Farragut North, the next station, and we would be delayed. Many people immediately got off the train; their offices must have been within walking distance. Mine was not (with huge snowbanks and unshoveled sidewalks) so I stayed. The driver came on every couple of minutes and said they were going to let us move momentarily.

After 20 minutes of promises they off-loaded the train.

As usual, Metro said they were setting up a bus bridge to take us to the next station but when I arrived on the surface, no buses were waiting - just large numbers of annoyed, milling people. I decided to take a break and so went to lunch.

After about 20 minutes of lunch, I returned to the Metro station and found trains were once again running. They had reopened all the above-ground stations and a homeward-bound Shady Grove train was waiting on the tracks. I almost bailed, got on an outgoing train and went home. But I had come so far, my sense of duty kept me going. I hopped on a train and we finally moved on without further incident.

I arrived at the office at 12:30PM, four hours after I had left home.

I had a productive four and a half hours at work. Many in my office wisely choose to stay home and I don't blame them one bit. Three others did make it in, so although we had our hands full, we managed to get a lot done. I'm not sure it was worth the commute, however.

Some melting and the reopening of the entire Metro line made the commute home much more successful, if still slower than usual.

Federal workers do the work of the people. They see that you get your social security check and medicare reimbursements. They investigate and prosecute wrong-doers, not only dangerous criminals but scammers and rip-off artists who steal people's hard-earned savings. They maintain and monitor the safety standards and airways which allow thousands of planes to fly in the air for millions of miles without incident. They serve and protect our country militarily and through intelligence gathering and analysis. They care for our injured and disabled veterans. They provide science-based health information and conduct research to help you live a healthier life. They investigate our universe, and launch and maintain satellites which have immeasurably improved our lives. They maintain our good relations with other countries and try to improve our relations with our enemies. They study and protect our environment for you and your children. They work to stimulate trade, both internally and via imports and exports. For god's sake, they will deliver a letter from you to anyone in the United States for a mere 44 cents.

Whether you want to believe it or not, they work long hours for you. You can disagree with particular programs or policies, but questioning their motives or professionalism is just ignorant. I've been working amongst these people for 20 years and I can personally attest to their dedication and work ethic.

The next time you hear someone badmouthing Federal workers and belittling the closing of the government in response to massive, unprecedented snowstorms, I hope you'll tell them were to stick it.

I know I will.

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