After four years of taking the commuter train, preceded by seven years of working from home, I’m back in a car every day. My new job is based in Reston (ironically about 5 minutes from my first apartment in the DC area but at least an hour from my current home) and even with the opening of Metro’s Silver Line next spring, alas, mass transit just doesn’t connect point A to point B for me any more.
I’m doing OK with it though. I’m back to listening to full-length albums at high volumes for one thing. For another, I’ve found a series of back-roads-less-traveled that shave 30 minutes out of my commute from what Google Maps seems to think is the optimal route while keeping me moving the whole time. Part of this route takes me down a bumpy mud-and-gravel road that winds through Bull Run Park and Fairfax County horse country before connecting me to the neighborhood where Northern Virginia’s 1-Percenters live. ‘Tis a pleasant drive. Most days. And no, I won’t give you the details because I don’t want the rest of Prince William County cluttering it up.
But there was one day where things didn’t go so well. You know, the kind that makes for a good reading after the fact. Or so I hope.
The day started like any other. Get up at the crack of dark, jump in the shower and the blood start’s pumpin’, out on the street the traffic start’s jumpin’, folks like me invoking Dolly Parton. One of my backroads was atypically clogged, adding about 15 minutes of delay. Around 7:30 a.m. I arrived at the turnoff to my secret backroad to the Batcave where about five people peeled off in front of me and several more followed afterward. (Apparently sitting in traffic like that will make even a Lexus driver risk his paint job.) We didn’t fly down the road, as there was a SUV up near the front playing pace car for the rest of us.
About 80% the way through the trek I noticed several large brown objects falling from the trees. My first instinct was that the previous night’s storms must have shaken some dead wood loose and being that I was born under the Sign of Gumperson it was coming down on us right when I happened to be there. Then the tire in front of me kicked up one of these things right about the time I heard a loud BAM! But wait!!! That sound didn’t come from the front of my car, it came from the side. As I turned my head, I realized somebody was camped down an embankment five feet away and was chucking beer bottles full-force and in rapid succession at the unsuspecting passing cars.
For most people, this would activate the flight response. But I was so shaken from my peaceful, placid, Zenlike core that my Irish Temper, known by some as Minotaur, the Demon Guardian of the Seventh Level of Hell, was let off his chain for a moment. Stopping my car, I got out, darted straight for the woods, and took sight of a burly man with bushy hair wearing a bright green baseball cap, who turned and high-tailed it through the woods. As my obscenity-laden tirade unleashed itself on him to the shock of any unsuspecting passersby, it was an interesting bit of superego that reined me back into the universe of civilized behavior: right at the edge where this dirt road met the muddy embankment of Bull Run I realized I was wearing dress shoes and just didn’t want to mess them up prior to work. I’m not proud of either behavior, vascillating from a seething cauldron of rage to a vain narcissist concerned about his footwear. For the obligatory Rush reference, check out the lyrics to “Freeze” which kinda capture the emotions of the moment but aren’t the point of this story.
As the assailant-prankster fled, and as I was still assembling the pieces of what just happened together (what just took 30 minutes to write took only 15 seconds in reality) I assessed the scene and saw a small arsenal of beer bottles lined up on the roadside. Apparently this was a planned assault at the end of either a give-a-hoot don’t pollute campaign, an all-night drunken binge, or both.
I walked back to my car to find a nasty dent in the driver’s side door. I figured this needed to be reported, so I promptly called 911 and let them know what was going on. Just explaining where we were was a challenge for the dispatcher to understand through no fault of her own. I’m not kidding about how off the beaten path this drive is … all the stranger that this dude chose this place and time to commit a felony.
This took me back to an old story from my Granddaddy Butler. He was fourth among six brothers (no sisters) born and raised in rural South Carolina around the turn of the 20th century, and apparently there was no shortage of mischief and mayhem among them. In their youth, a great way to amuse themselves on a day out of school or off the farm was to scoop a handful of rocks from the railroad, hop a slow-moving, passing train, and throw them at the houses as they drove by. Apparently a popular phrase uttered among the residents of the Pee Dee valley back then was “I’ll be happy when them Butler boys move away. Maybe then they’ll stop chunkin’.” I guess the sins of the father do get punished out to the third generation.
Flash back to the present day and my shortcut to work. The gentleman behind me stopped as well and offered to hang out until the police arrived. Wearing bloused trousers in black combat boots, he handed me his card, revealing him to be an employee of the NRA. It dawned upon me that having somebody at my side with a religious zeal for firearms was probably good at a time like this. After all, my fight response activated somebody else’s flight response, somebody who was clearly not right beforehand and might come back with their own form of vengeance.
As we awaited the arrival of the police, we took stock of the area and the “arsenal” of bottles — they had apparently been filled with dirt to give them more mass. This “live ammo” was lined up along one side of the road all in a row and ready to throw, while the “spent ammo” littered the far side. Not touching the evidence, we figured Fairfax County’s Finest would arrive in full force and cordon off the road from both ends. We expected aerial reconnaissance to produce 27 8×10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each explaining what each one was. And we expected a Tac-Team who would do a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, doghouse and whorehouse in that area.
Our lofty expectations were met with harsh realities. About 20 minutes later one Fairfax County officer showed up. He didn’t block off the road so much as just block a little more of it than we did. This forced the cars that came down the road to drive closer to the shoulder, driving over the “live ammo,” destroying the best evidence in the process. The officer then started to put a few of the “spent ammo” in an evidence bag but took a second look and said “these don’t seem to have any prints so I won’t bother.”
He then proceeded to pitch these bottles BACK into the woods with a bunch of others that were in the assailant’s foxhole. I questioned the officer at this point “you’re just going to throw those back in the woods?” To which his brilliant reply was “That’s too much work to pick all those up.”
I am not making this up. The officer proceed to investigate about as far as his eyes would see and not an inch further, then handed me his card with a case number and said he’d be in touch if they found anybody matching the assailant’s description.
I’ve only sporadically watched CBS crime shows like CSI and The Mentalist, but those episodes I’ve seen always feature a run-in with some bumbling local police force whose slipshod handling of evidence and securing of crime scenes makes the series regulars look like the well-trained heroes they are while flatfoots are idiots by comparison. While secretly chuckling at the joke along with them, I always thought those scenes exemplified the worst of television writing. Seems they were right all along.
To this day I’ve not heard further from Officer Whozeewhatzitz. The bushy haired man still runs loose in the wilds of Fairfax County. My car has a nasty dent in the driver’s side door that no amount of dry ice and computer duster could pop out. And within two hours I returned to the Zenlike state I was in that morning and all mornings since I started at Akamai. ‘Cuz no matter how long the commute, the hours, or the backlog, I actually like showing up to work each day.