My initial approach into D.C., was down Connecticut Ave. It included my first traffic circle. But Chevy Chase Circle was nothing like the Circle at DuPont.
At the bullseye of the circle is a huge marble column carved intricately with nymphs. The column is topped by what could definitely be a receiver dish to summon aliens from unknown quadrants of the galaxy. It also functions as a ginormous cistern from which water overflows and splashes into a big round basin below.
But I didn’t see that.
What I saw was a most confusing roundabout. We didn’t have roundabouts where I came from. We had entrance and exit ramps, traffic lights at cross streets and a very odd left turn pattern. Our streets were designed to efficiently move people to and from factories. Not to protect the capital.
Connecticut Avenue off the freeway starts as a typical suburban road and narrows to a tree lined boulevard with traffic lights timed to 30 mph and the signals inexplicably nestled near the trees on the sides of the streets. Where newcomers can’t see them and therefore blow through them.
After driving past old, ivy covered apartment buildings, the zoo and a ridge topping bridge, the road zigs past the Chinese embassy and zags by the Hinckley Hilton to deliver you at the top of the upper DuPont business district. I wrongly avoided the tunnel under the circle and found myself at the “entrance” of the labyrinth. Almost to my doom.
Rolling up to the top of the circle you can see two rings for cars. The outside ring has access to all ten street openings. Each of these openings have both an entrance and an exit. The inside ring is the express route for Massachusetts Avenue. To round out the picture, there’s also an under the road tesseract wrinkle that allows a clever driver to skip a half dozen blocks at once. But I missed that.
Instead, I merged into the circle and drove all the way around. About four times. It was like a merry-go-round that I couldn’t get off. I wanted to stay on the street I started on, but I couldn’t find it. Not that street. Not that street. Not that street. Wait…was that it? I don’t know. Drive around again. Pass where I came in. Not that street. Not that street. Yikes, did that guy just cut me off? I’m only driving five miles per hour and people are lapping me as they drive off to their destinations. Me? Just making another round.
My window was rolled down, but there was no breeze. My sweaty hands slipped on the steering wheel. I think I knew where to get off this round. No matter what, I was getting off this ride. Made it. Out. As I felt my heartbeat get closer to normal I realized that I had steamed up my glasses with my own humid air.
After that, I did whatever I could to avoid that tangle of streets. I found a good, straight route along Florida Avenue that allowed me to skip the circle. Until that time I walked it.
I had been in DC for two years when I took a job at the DuPont Metro station. It was at the patriotically numbered 1776 building, east of the circle. I normally walked the quarter of the circle to my office until this day. I crossed both rings to traverse the circle itself. It was actually a decent-sized park, with outer and inner walkways, benches, steps, and people playing chess. I walked close to the fountain that was splashing water from the big dish on the top. The wind picked up some of the water as it dropped 15 feet and sprayed it outside the bounds of the sculpture.
I walked around the outside edge and for the first time saw the streets. How they came in and wrapped around and resumed on the other side of the circle. It wasn’t a puzzle at all. From up close it was exact and knowable and smart. It just needed a closer study to reveal itself to me.