Wednesday, October 24 – Friday, October 25

The roads giveth, and the roads taketh away

A day off on Wednesday, which was fortunate as I was really run down from all the driving and greatly in need of a break.  I used the time off to get rid of some old books and junk, and made it to the gym in the late afternoon for a bench press session: 6 x 135, 6 x 185, 3 x 4 x 225, 2 x 8 x 185, 10 x 135.

Thursday and Friday could have been disastrous, but thankfully weren’t.  A 2- or 3-week construction project has started on the southbound Throgs Neck Bridge, closing the middle lane 24/7.  There’s no reprieve for rush hour traffic.  What that meant, of course, is that getting over the bridge both afternoons was a major ordeal: about 20 minutes on Thursday and (gasp!) nearly twice that long on Friday.  Using the Whitestone Bridge wasn’t an alternative because my phone’s GPS showed a very long red line heading to that crossing.

And yet … and yet … there was a whisper of hope.  It turned out that traffic on the Cross Island Parkway and the Long Island Expressway was moving very well both days.  This was especially surprising in that the bridge delays meant that I was on the Expressway closer to the center of rush hour.  Thursday’s trip home was about 2:20, Friday’s about 2:45, which is truly remarkable under the circumstances.  Combined with morning trips of under two hours, I’d have to say that the week ended on a pretty decent note.

Published in: on October 29, 2012 at 12:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Monday, October 22 – Tuesday, October 23

One big mess avoided

Monday was a typical enough day on the roads.  Long Island Expressway traffic was moving pretty well in the morning, with no more slowdowns near the Nassau-Queens line now that the rough pavement has been smoothed over with a new coat of asphalt.  Drivers no longer have to slow down to a crawl in fear that a minor bump will cause their cars to fall apart.  It’s especially amusing to see such behavior among SUV and pickup drivers, what with the fact that their vehicles are designed to handle rough surfaces.  Actually I should say just SUV drivers, as pickup drivers seem less paranoid.  Anyway, my trip into work was the usual 1:50 or so.  Getting home took about 2:30, with some sluggish traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway and, somewhat surprisingly, across the Throgs Neck Bridge.  While this made it look as if my trip home would be a lengthy one, traffic on the Cross Island and the Expressway moved better than usual.

Tuesday morning’s trip was more or less a clone of Monday’s.  During the workday, it began to rain, and I was concerned that the weather would delay my return trip.  By the time I left, however, the rain had stopped and I figured that I was in for a decent enough trip home … until I heard the radio traffic report.  A shooting earlier in the day on the Cross Island Parkway had left a Nassau County police officer and a carjacked motorist dead, and the Cross Island was closed at Jamaica Avenue.  While that was further south than where I would exit for the Long Island Expressway, it wasn’t hard to deduce that the Cross Island would be jammed for its entire distance.   Should I take the Whitestone Bridge to the Van Wyck Expressway, or the Throgs Neck to the Clearview?

I actually got off the Hutch at one of the exits in Westchester to look at the traffic mapping app on my phone.  It showed a long red line – a color you never want to see on a traffic map – leading to the Whitestone, while the Throgs Neck looked okay and the Clearview had only a couple short red stretches.  So the Throgs Neck it would be.  I had no particular trouble getting to and over the bridge, and as the map had indicated the Clearview Expressway wasn’t too bad.  The real pleasant surprise, however, is that just like the day before the Long Island Expressway was moving better than average.  The usual slowdown from exits 34 to 38, another one around Exit 49, but otherwise it wasn’t much trouble at all.  I made it home in about 2:20, even with several minutes taken up by my stop in Westchester to look at the phone app.  My fears of a repeat of last Thursday’s horror show proved unfounded.

In an interesting twist, later on Tuesday evening I went to a hot yoga class.  It’s quite a workout, especially with the room at 105 degrees (!), but despite having the flexibility of concrete slabs I made it through more or less intact.

Published in: on October 24, 2012 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Satuday, October 20 – Sunday, October 21

Some decent gym work both days.  As I try to get back into the swing of things I’ll stick with just one major exercise per session.  Saturday was bench pressing: 6 x 135, 6 x 185, 3 x 4 x 225, 2 x 8 x 185, 10 x 135.  On Sunday, I did T-bar rows: 2 x 8 x 135, 2 x 8 x 145, 2 x 8 x 135.

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 1:37 am  Leave a Comment  

Friday, October 19

See what I get for trusting a sign?

Everything’s relative.  Compared to yesterday’s agonizingly slow marathon, today’s trip home from Danbury was a breeze.  By objective standards, at almost three and a half hours it was an ordeal.  The thing is, it was an easily preventable ordeal.

Getting to Danbury in the morning was the typical 1:45 – 1:50.  Hey, leaving at 5 am has some advantages.  When I left the worksite about 3, I had some concerns, it being a Friday afternoon and all, but other than some slow traffic on the upper part of the Hutchinson River Parkway everything was moving okay.  Around when I crossed the city line, however, an electronic message sign – one of the temporary roadside ones, like the one that alerted me to yesterday’s follies – said that a lane was closed on the Throgs Neck Bridge.  Knowing what the loss of a lane during rush hour, even the early part thereof, could mean, I decided to stay on the Hutch and take the Whitestone Bridge.  Great idea, right?

You can see where this is going.  Not long after the exit for I-95 south and the Throgs Neck Bridge, traffic on the Hutch came to a standstill.  Either everyone else had the same idea or there was some major problem on up ahead.  Being still well over a mile away from the Whitestone’s (obscene) toll booths, I decided to get off at the next exit, East Tremont Avenue, and make my way to the Throgs Neck.  Surely that bridge had to be far better than the Whitestone even if it were down a lane.

I thereupon spent almost 45 minutes driving all over the Bronx before I finally found the Throgs Neck.  Yesterday I noted that even though I drive through Queens all the time, I don’t know its surface streets very well.  This is doubly – no, more like triply – true for the Bronx.  Even with the aid of Google Maps I cannot retrace my route with any degree of accuracy.  All I can say is that I went through one intersection three times; “East” Tremont Avenue does not go in the indicated direction (which would have gotten me to the Throgs Neck), but rather due south; I may have sorta somewhat gone through a red light or two out of frustration; and the bridge signage is dreadfully bad.

The irony: when I finally got to the Throgs Neck, around 5, traffic was moving just fine.  Even the Cross Island and the Long Island Expressway were better than usual.  Had it not been for my bad decision to try for the Whitestone Bridge I would have made it home in about 2:40.  Not today (sigh).

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 1:34 am  Comments (1)  

Wednesday, October 17 – Thursday, October 18


Sheer disaster

Wednesday was an easy enough day, in what unfortunately turned out to be an apres moi, le deluge sense.  My morning trip to Danbury was about 1:45, and the return 2:20.  There were still some slowdowns in the morning, caused by the rough pavement on the Long Island Expressway near the Queens line, but if they delayed me at all it wasn’t by more than a couple of minutes.  Coming home, there were the usual slowdowns in the usual places, but nothing bad at all.  Working in Danbury was actually looking pretty easy.

As I was driving in on Thursday morning, the traffic reports on WCBS-AM were saying that the eastbound lanes (in other words, the direction opposite to mine) on the Expressway were closed due to a crash in western Nassau County, and that the left lane in the westbound direction was occupied by emergency equipment.  Losing a lane would certainly mean that traffic in my direction would be very slow.  My thoughts were confirmed moments later when an electronic sign gave a 49-minute estimated travel time to the Cross Island, at least three times greater than normal.  I got on the Northern State Parkway, which was moving just fine, and made it to Danbury without any delays.

By the time I left in the afternoon I had long since forgotten about the morning’s road closure.  A rather rude reminder came in the form of an electronic sign (one of the roadside ones usually found at construction sites) way up in northern Westchester County at the junction of I-684 and the Saw Mill Parkway, which cautioned that the eastbound Long Island Expressway was closed at Exit 32.  It was very surprising to see the sign, as the vast majority of drivers passing it would be heading to destinations other than Long Island.  Things obviously were very bad.

Listening to the traffic reports made it clear just how bad things really were.  The Expressway indeed was closed at the Queens-Nassau line for an ongoing investigation of the morning’s crash, in which a police officer was squashed by a car when investigating a separate crash.  Of course this lead to some grumbling on my part about how the police were making such a long and disruptive investigation only because it was one of their own involved.  An ordinary person’s life wouldn’t be sufficiently important.

These considerations aside, it was immediately apparent that my trip home would be a very long one.  Listening to the extended traffic reports on WINS-AM (WCBS had switched to the Yankees game, thanks for nothing) I soon found out that, among much else: the Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges were completely jammed; the Cross Island Parkway and the Clearview Expressway was at a standstill; the Grand Central/Northern State Parkway was a very long, very narrow parking lot; and that even the Southern State Parkway, many miles away from the troubles, was completely stopped.  Essentially, all the east-west highways and parkways through Queens were going nowhere fast, as they couldn’t even remotely begin to handle all the alternative volume with the Expressway shut.

I figured out that my best plan was to take the Triboro Bridge* into Queens, and then use major surface streets to go west into Nassau County, rejoining the Expressway around Exit 35 after the closure.  What I figured is that traffic lights on the city’s major streets are timed in a way that you can make fairly quick progress, so long as traffic isn’t too heavy.  One thing I really wished I had was a GPS, as even though I’ve driven through Queens countless times on the various expressways and parkways, I’m not particularly familiar with the surface streets.  My phone has a GPS function that shows current traffic conditions, but obviously it’s not suitable for use while driving.  I’d just have to rely on my memory and sense of direction.

The route I ended up following was: Hutchinson River Parkway –> Bruckner Expressway –> Triboro Bridge –> Northern Boulevard –> Utopia Parkway –> Horace Harding Expressway –> Francis Lewis Boulevard –> Hillside Avenue.  Traffic was slow but moving on the Hutchinson, and was just fine on the Bruckner (a curious omission from the National Scenic Highways list), and getting over the Triboro was no particular trouble.  It was now about 4:45. I was on Northern Boulevard for several miles, and for most of the way it was moving well, with the aforementioned light timing being a major help.  Once I passed Flushing, and got closer to the Expressway follies, traffic got much worse.  So much worse that I was rarely able to make it through a light in fewer than two cycles.

Staying on Northern Boulevard into Nassau clearly wasn’t going to be an option.  I figured my best bet was to head south and pick up Hillside Avenue or Jericho Turnpike.  By this time it was nearly 5:30, two and a half hours after I’d left Danbury, and traffic everywhere was getting worse as rush hour progressed.  Francis Lewis Boulevard in particular was in very bad shape.  By this time, according to traffic reports, the Long Island Expressway had reopened, but the damage had been done and traffic was at a complete standstill.

When I got onto Hillside Avenue it didn’t seem too bad, and I decided that it would be my eastbound route into Nassau County.  If I ever got there, that is, as I kept driving farther and farther east but could tell by the numbered cross streets that I was still in Queens.  What I had forgotten is that Queens bulges quite far east into Nassau in that particular area.  Whatever elation I may have felt upon finally entering Nassau proved very short-lived, as traffic once again came to a halt.  Covering just a couple of blocks took over 20 minutes, with multiple light cycles at each intersection.  It was now 6:30.  Three hours since Danbury, 1:45 since crossing the Triboro, one hour since turning off Northern Boulevard.  Despite the lateness of the hour, I finally admitted defeat, and stopped at a nearby Panera.  Using the Panera Bread Strategy hadn’t been in my plans, but sometimes one has to adapt on the fly.

I stayed at the Panera until 7:15.  My asiago turkey sandwich was a huge disappointment, especially since Panera is usually so reliable.  It had way too many onions and was so salty I thought I was at Bossy the Cow’s salt lick.  On a much better note, when I left at 7:15 traffic on Hillside Avenue had cleared up completely.  I rejoined the Expressway at New Hyde Park Road and there were no slowdowns at all.  Still, it was about 7:50 when I finally made it home, an excruciating four hours and fifty minutes after I had left work.  If anything, this horror show starkly illustrated just how fragile our transportation system really is.  And it also shows that we urgently need a lot more telecommuting and staggered working hours!

* = I refuse to call it by its official moniker, the RFK Bridge.  Robert Kennedy may have served as a Senator from New York, but except for renting a never-occupied apartment to serve as his official residence he had no ties to the state.  He only ran for the Senate from New York because there was an open seat, that not being the case in his home state of Virginia.  Also, the city didn’t bother renaming the bridge until Kennedy had been dead 40 years, which seems a rather belated action.  But the big thing is that the name Triboro Bridge is uniquely descriptive.  It should have been kept for that reason alone.


Published in: on October 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, October 15 – Tuesday, October 16


Well I have no one but myself to blame, do I?

Monday marked the start of my second assignment to a customer’s location in Danbury.  Unlike the assignment a couple of months ago, which lasted only a few days, this one should be three to four weeks in duration.  It also comes as a blessed relief after the brutally distant North Haven assignment.  Not only is the drive to Danbury more than 25 miles shorter, but with the exception of a couple miles in the Bronx I don’t have to drive on often-congested I-95.  My route is the Long Island Expressway-Cross Island Parkway – Throgs Neck Bridge – I-95 (briefly) – Hutchinson River Parkway – I-684 – I-84.  The longest stretch off of Long Island is on I-684, which heads north in Westchester and Putnam counties just west of the Connecticut line (near its southern end it crosses the Connecticut line for a exit-less stretch of a mile or so).   When I exit onto I-84, after 27 miles on I-684, I’m within a couple of miles of my exit for the customer’s location.  When I say that I’m working in Connecticut, I am just into the state by a mile or two.

Both Monday and Tuesday morning took about 1:45.  As I can leave later than when I was in North Haven, traffic is a bit heavier on the Long Island Expressway.  Especially near the Nassau-Queens line, as some grooved pavement (resulting from overnight repaving work) causes everyone to slow way down.  Important note to drivers: you car will not fall apart if you drive on a slightly rough surface – emphasis on “slightly” – at normal highway speeds.  Coming home on Monday took only about two hours because I left the worksite shortly after noon and was home before rush hour began.

I left on Tuesday at my usual 3pm quitting time.  Everything was fine at first, with it taking me about 55 minutes to get through the (obscene) tolls on the Throgs Neck Bridge and across the span.  Traffic looked a bit heavy on the Cross Island, so I decided to take the Clearview Expressway instead.  This wasn’t too smart a move, as traffic was uncharacteristically sluggish – why, I don’t know, as the traffic report on WCBS obsessed as usual on the Hudson River crossings and scarcely mentioned anywhere else, thanks for nothing.

Still, it wouldn’t have mattered much, as the exit for the Long Island Expressway wasn’t far off.  What did matter was the fact that my car’s low-fuel warning light was on.  I had thought in the morning that I’d be able to make it to Danbury and back without getting gas, clearly I thought wrong. I decided to get off at the Northern Boulevard exit and find a gas station.  Easier said than done, as it took four cycles of the traffic light (and it’s definitely not a fast light) at the end of the ramp before I could finally turn east onto Northern Boulevard, which was itself quite congested.

Having finally fueled up, I got onto the Cross Island for the short stretch to the Long Island Expressway exit, and to my pleasant surprise found it moving well.  The Expressway itself was in good shape, some slowdowns at the usual spots but otherwise nothing bad.  As I neared Exit 56, at around 5:10, the electronic sign gave a travel time estimate of 20 minutes to Exit 64, which is my exit.  I figured I’d be home about 5:30, which would be two and a half hours since I left Danbury, but if I hadn’t had to stop for gas the trip would have been a very pleasant 2:15 or so.

And then, to my great dismay, the electronic sign changed right as I was looking at it: “Accident exits 61-62, right lane closed, delays to Exit 62.”  Oh, the joy.  What in the world was I to do?  Getting off at the next exit, Exit 57, and then taking the service road was an obvious alternative, except it was just as obvious that everyone would be doing that.  I figured that with just one lane down, staying on the Expressway would be the better choice.  Maybe it was, I don’t know, what I do know is that it took me more than 30 minutes to cover a distance that normally would have taken about five minutes.  By the time I got to the crash scene, tow trucks were starting to haul off the vehicles (one car had rear-ended another at an fairly fast clip, both are definitely off to the junkyard).  Traffic was fine after that point, but the damage was done.  My return trip took three hours almost on the nose, 30 minutes longer than it would have taken without the crash.  Had I not made such a poor estimate of my car’s fuel consumption, and not had to stop for gas, I would have been past the crash scene before it occurred and home by 5:15 rather than 6:00.

Published in: on October 17, 2012 at 12:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Saturday, October 13 – Sunday, October 14

Ugh.  A proverbial lost weekend.  I was too weak and generally felt too lousy to even consider going to the gym either day.

Published in: on October 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thursday, October 11 – Friday, October 12

Under the weather

Having felt lousy earlier in the week, I suppose the best term to describe these last two days of the week is ultra-lousy.  I actually think I’m getting the flu.  It’s funny, I was much better on Wednesday as compared to Monday and Tuesday, but had some sort of setback Wednesday night.  Driving into work on Thursday morning was an ordeal, though it didn’t take much more than the usual two hours.  My concerns about how I’d be able to make it through the day were alleviated when I managed to finish up the day’s assignments before noon and got an early start home.  It was an easy drive, being entirely pre-rush-hour, taking me about 2:15.  That’s got to be a record for the return trip from North Haven.

I was even worse on Friday.  There was some unexpectedly heavy traffic across the Throgs Neck Bridge and in Connecticut, so I arrived at the work site about 15 minutes late.  As it was our last day in North Haven I was hoping for a short day, but that was not to be … well, not quite, as by 1:00 I was in such bad shape the supervisor more or less insisted that I leave early.  Thank God.  I don’t know how I could have dealt with Friday afternoon rush hour traffic.  I made it home in about two and a half hours.  Now I have a weekend to try to regain my strength, and will be starting in Danbury on Monday.  Fortunately that’s a much more tolerable drive than the North Haven horror show.

Published in: on October 15, 2012 at 1:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Tuesday, October 9 – Wednesday, October 10

Thankfully, a short day

I got up Tuesday morning (at my usual-for-North Haven 4:35 am!) feeling somewhat more than half-dead.  What had been a mildly annoying sore throat on Monday had turned overnight into something much worse.  For a few minutes I debated whether to stay home for the day.  I decided to tough it out, for a variety of reasons: (a) my unexpected absence could be a burden on my co-workers; (b) I’m not the sort of person who thinks it’s okay to miss work unless one is in really bad shape; and (c) the nature of my job is such that if I don’t work, I don’t get paid for the day.  As you might imagine (c) was by some margin the most significant of these …

It all turned out quite well.  The trip into work was decent enough, just over two hours, but the nicest part is that due to the day’s workload requirements I was done and back on the road just a little after noon. I get the full day’s pay in circumstances like that, were that not the case I wouldn’t have said that things turned out quite well (duh).  Just as I was leaving I heard a radio traffic report of a crash on I-95, so I decided to be prudent and took the Wilbur Cross/Merritt Parkway instead.  Not too far from North Haven the parkway, known as the Wilbur Cross at that point, goes through the only vehicular tunnel in Connecticut,* as it goes under the West Rock ridgeline.  In fact I believe it’s the only land vehicular tunnel in all of New England, the “land” proviso being because there are underwater tunnels in Boston.

Despite my early departure I thought it was going to be a lengthy trip home, as I ran into some stop-and-go traffic on the Hutchinson River Parkway (itself an extension of the Merritt/Wilbur Cross) just over the New York line.  Fortunately it cleared up after just a few minutes, giving no trace of what might have caused it in the first place.  The rest of the way was fairly clear sailing, and my return journey totaled about 2:20.

While I was physically in much better shape, Wednesday morning’s trip to North Haven was distinctly less than pleasant.  For the first half of so of the trip there was an almost constant drizzling rain, the sort where you keep having to adjust the interval setting on your windshield wipers.  Just about when I crossed into Connecticut on I-95, however, the rain became much heavier.  Traffic seemed unusually heavy too, and combined with the rain made for a most hair-raising drive.

I decided to take the ferry home.  With only two days left in North Haven I’m not going to be faced with the ferry-or-drive choice for a while.  One thing I found was that a schedule change meant that the 4:30 departure is now 4:45, not that 15 minutes makes much of a difference.  It was rather cold on the top deck, but I stuck it out for much of the journey.  As it was now a clear day, I decided to take inventory of what things on land one can see from the water.  Even when the ferry is close to the Connecticut shore, 15 miles from Long Island, several landmarks are visible: the three smokestacks of the power station in Port Jefferson (the ferry’s destination), the four smokestacks of another power station in Northport, Stony Brook University Hospital, a soon-to-be-demolished highrise building at the abandoned Kings Park mental hospital (fertile territory for urban explorers), and most infamously, the multi-billion-dollar-but-never-opened Shoreham nuclear power plant.  That ridiculous boondoggle is part of the reason why Long Island’s electric rates are among the highest in the country.

When near the Long Island shore, some of the buildings in downtown Bridgeport are visible, along with the enormous smokestack of a power station located right next to the Bridgeport ferry dock.  The “Sleeping Giant” range of hills north of New Haven can be seen, though the lay of the land prevents the taller buildings in downtown New Haven from being visible.  Off to the west one can see some of the buildings in Stamford and (just barely) New Rochelle.  Manhattan is over the horizon.

Occupying myself thusly, the ferry ride was over almost before I knew it.  Best of all, my car was one of the very first off.

* = the Whitehead Highway in Hartford, a short spur off of I-91, goes through what may seem like a tunnel but is really just a very long underpass.

Published in: on October 12, 2012 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Monday, October 8

Thanks for nothing, Chris

I was so disappointed today.  As it was Columbus Day, or at least the official observance thereof, I was fully expecting that I’d have an easy time on the roads.  Sort of like the Jewish holidays in the past couple of weeks.  While not many private sector employers give their people a day off, schools and government offices are closed, and as I’ve noted it takes only a small percentage reduction in traffic to make a (very) big difference during rush hour.

During my morning trip to North Haven it certainly appeared as if my hopes would be realized.  Traffic was somewhat lighter than usual, and keep in mind I was traveling at a very early hour when few public sector workers would be on the road in any case (not too many government offices open much before 8:30 or 9).  When I left the worksite just before 3:00 I was eagerly anticipating a speedy trip home.  True, traffic was a bit sluggish when I merged onto I-95 from I-91 in downtown New Haven, but it cleared up in a mile or so and I dismissed the delay as a fluke.

What was most assuredly not a fluke was the seeming wall of traffic I encountered around Westport.  Traffic speeds went from 70 mph to at most 20 mph in the space of less than a quarter mile.  Still, I wasn’t too concerned at first, surely this must be a temporary thing due to a crash or something, right?  Wrong.  While there were a couple of semi-decent stretches, for the most part traffic was stop-and-go for the nearly 20 miles to the state line.  Time seemed to zip by on my car clock, 3:45, 4:00, 4:15, and so on.  Once I crossed the state line and the exit to I-287 things did get better, and traffic across the bridge and on Long Island was indeed lighter than usual, but the long crawl through Connecticut meant that my trip home took three hours, somewhat longer than on a normal day.  Some holiday treat …

Published in: on October 11, 2012 at 12:36 am  Comments (1)