How “Small Town” is DC? Take the Turnpike East to Find Out

I’ve been wanting to blog about this for months and now that it’s far enough in the past, I think I’m safe to do it without the chance of the subject of my piece reading it or finding out (yeah, I know, he probably reads MBDC on an hourly basis with my luck).

We all say that DC is a small town – and it is, but this story, in as many “this is such a small town” situations I’ve been in the last five years, takes the cake.

This past Thanksgiving, I decided to take the trek up to Michigan for the long weekend – one that I typically do the orphan holiday for because it’s a long drive and only a few days. So when I decided only the week of Thanksgiving to make the trip, I knew I couldn’t get a flight and that I’d be making the trip there and back by myself – no big deal, I love doing long drives by myself. Gives me a chance to think and overanalyze everything in my life.

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I left my parent’s home in Rochester Hills, Michigan and set out south on I-75 for DC. If you’re from that area, you know you have to soon jump on the Ohio Turnpike (the most glorious of turnpikes – gag me) to get over to the east coast and drive south to DC.

Upon entrance to the Turnpike, I looked over to the entrance booth next to me and noticed my same sport utility (which, at the time, was just on the market and I had only seen one other on the road in the DC area since I had it) but in white. Mine is black, although I had considered getting it in white so after we both got our tickets I sped up to get a good look at how my ride would have looked in white.

As I approached, I noticed Virginia plates – how funny, I thought! On the Ohio Turnpike entrance in Toledo with VA plates. Although, the Turnpike could be the way you’d take from anywhere – Chicago, Indiana, Wisconsin, who knows. Like the irresponsible and unrealistic driver that I am, I whizzed by to get a look at who was in it – hmmm, a boy my age. Interesting.

Over the next hour, we ended up driving at a similar speed and were passing or staying behind or near each other on our two-lane highway. Eventually I had to pull off for gas, and as my white SUV-driving friend passed me, he waved. I laughed and thought, well, at least I had some entertainment on the highway for one of the eight hours I’ll be driving. I refueled, called a friend to tell her my funny story, and went about my way.

Forty-five minutes later as I troll down the highway, I see White SUV in the right lane, going a lot slower than before, I might add. I pull up beside him and then pass, at which point he ends up pulling out behind me and we’re now driving together again. At this point, I’m thinking this is the funniest thing ever. Until… he pulls off for gas 15 minutes later. NOT COOL!

Low and behold, thirty minutes later, White SUV rolls up next to me, waves. So there we were, driving again, in the middle of Ohio, not knowing where he’s going, but now having a travel buddy I’ve never met.

We drive for hours – through mountains, torrential down pours, stop and go holiday traffic on 70 toward DC (never again will I do that drive on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in to DC). It’s now dark, the eight hour trip was probably going to turn in to a ten hour trip, and we finally reach the toll booth on I-70 East.

I thought to myself, I wonder if he’ll wait for me after the toll booth – a little test if you will (ok, so I’m a little unfair in general). He pays his $8 toll – it was the expensive portion of the trip – and moves in front of the booth… and stops a few feet ahead of it to wait for me. Again, I’m laughing, thinking this is the funniest moment in the world – he’s waiting for me. I have no idea who this guy is and we’re driving all this way. Hilarious.

Next stop: Stacey pays her toll. I roll up, hand the man my ticket and a $10 bill, and the conversation goes something like this:

Stacey: Hi, how are you?
Nice Toll Booth Man: Good, and you? (clearly smirking)
Stacey: Great, thanks (handing the ticket and money)
NTBM: Oh, don’t worry about it, that guy in front of you just paid your toll
Stacey: I’m sorry, he did what?
NTBM: He paid your toll – the whole thing
Stacey: (Jaw agape, laughing, and most likely turning red)
NTBM: Also, he asked me to give you this (handing me a business card)
Stacey: (Nervously laughing) Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.

I take a look at the business card, and the guy is an attorney at a law firm, so I figured he at least has a chance of not being a serial killer. On the back in pen it reads: “Hi, nice driving with you. I’m bored, call me…..” ending with his number and name.

I immediately open my cell phone and txt his license plate number to my friend and say “if I’m found dead, this is who did it.” Safety first, safety first.

I called him a few minutes later, he answered laughing to me yelling, “I don’t even know you and you just paid my toll!” We continued on with an introductory conversation that was, for all things considered, not as awkward as it could have been.

We start talking about where we’re driving from, to, and the like. The similarities were insanely uncanny. Of ALL the places we could have both been driving from, our parents lived ONE MILE away from each other in the same small-ish town of Rochester Hills, Michigan. One mile.

We also went to neighboring universities in Michigan (that are literally right down the road from each other) during the same years. We also both went to post-graduate at George Washington for the same years – him in law school, me in graduate school.

Then we started talking about what we did for a living – clearly he’s an attorney, but what kind, I needed to know. He starts on about how he likes the policy issue arena he works in but that it’s so boring that I’d never want to hear about it. We find out we represent, in our respective jobs, the opposing sides of a major national policy debate in Congress – one that it full of minutia and un-fun regulatory structures and the like. Is this even possible, I thought?

When we were talking about our jobs, I took a real look at his business card (which I had before only been reading his hand-written note) and saw that he worked just down the block from my office. I mean, the same block.

We eventually got to talking about where we were driving to. He said Northern Virginia. Me too. He said to Arlington. Me too. He said to North Arlington. Wait one second, only people that live near my neighborhood say “North Arlington.” He said a specific intersection and I about drove off the road. Me. Freaking. Too. We live on opposite sides of the same major intersection – so about three blocks from one another. To break this down – our starting points were about a mile away and 600 miles later our ending points were less than a mile away.

We drove all the way back, stopping in Hagerstown for gas (my choice – well lit, 24-hour attendance, right off the highway), which was mildly awkward but at that point just plain comedy.

After the toll booth and fueling up we talked on the phone several times for most of the way back to Arlington. Overall we got along, thought it funny all the similarities – let’s not forget we even drove the same non-popularly-purchased car as well – and kept each other phone company on our traffic-lengthened drive from the North. After we got home, we emailed a few times that week and then it stopped – but I pull this story out of my pocket at every chance I get at happy hours, with friends, and people that know me, while staying it’s just one of the many crazy stories of my life, call it “Turnpike Love.” Hardly – but it’s a funny name so I don’t make too big of a fuss.

And now I blog about it, hoping that DC is a little smaller than I think it is and that White SUV doesn’t read it…

6 Comments so far

  1. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 9:19 am

    When I was a rising Junior in college, my brother and I had a similar experience driving through the midwest. I was on my way back to college, and my brother wanted to road trip with me, so my folks got him a one way ticket home from Columbus (back when such things were possible without cavity searches) and we set out for Ohio from central California. The second day, as we were driving I-70 east of Denver, we saw these two girls in an SUV much like ours (Pat, my venerable 1992 Explorer only went to the wrecker last year) and we waved. They waved back.

    We traded messages on a steno notebook for the distance between the Colorado Border all the way to just before Kearney, Nebraska. Sadly, we lost the girls in Kearney, we were hoping to take them to dinner.

    Great Story, Stacey. Any reason you’ve not called him since??

  2. Heather (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 11:43 am

    I never get sick of hearing you tell this story. :)

  3. Evil (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 12:42 pm

    He didn’t even get a date out of that?

    I bumped into a kid from my small prep school a year ago. He works in the same building, at the same large company, as me, and my school only had 100 people in it. So you could figure I had about a 100 in what, 4 million chance of meeting him? DC is a small world. It will never be a big city, no matter how big it gets.

  4. Mik (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

    Great story Stacey! A similar thing happened to me in Key West, and the guy turned out to be on the same flight back to DCA as me.

  5. Anish (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 2:25 pm

    Stacey, I grew up in Rochester Hills and now live in Northern VA as well. Did you go to Adams or Rochester? I graduated from Adams in 97.

  6. Stacey (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

    My parents only moved to RH a few years ago, so the high school years for me were spent in Troy, although (oh the complication) I went to a high school that was in Ohio for three years.

    Regardless, Troy is the home base – Troy High (not Adams!!! ;)) to be exact, is where I spent one year of high school.

    Also 97.

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