her new book by the former pastor of my church, I prepared to motor homeward. As I geared up for the long ride from Poolesville to Annandale, it was cold but manageable. The sky was clear, the air bright and tart with the cold of a December night.
It was nothing my gear couldn't handle. My little yellow VStrom is all farkled up for winter riding, and pumps sweet warm lightning through the handgrips, sending more coursing up a cable to feed my heated suit. Warm torso and warm hands make for a warm and happy me. And so, the bike murmuring contentedly to itself, I motored deer-cautious over the dark country roads of Western Upper Montgomery. It was after nine-ish, and most of the first part of my night-commute is all high-beam riding, that sweet little blue "yer-in-the-country" light glowing in the instrument cluster, the twin-beam blaze banishing the night before me. There were few souls on the road.
But the latter part of my commute has changed in the last year. That part that is Beltway suddenly includes the option of using the High Occupancy Toll lanes, four lanes of pay road that have been added on to the asphalt circlet that crowns and bounds our national capital.
These are the dreaded Lexus lanes, so named because their cost varies depending on traffic conditions. Want to drive them during rush hour? It'll cost you a Decaf Grande Mocha Caramel Latte and a banana nut muffin, or the cash equivalent thereof. That adds up, in ways that are likely to dissuade the hoi polloi from regularly using all that new asphalt.
At night, though, the lanes are utterly empty, because they're still charging a nominal fee. Why pay eighty-five cents for a toll lane, when the regular lanes are clear and flowing smoothly?
There's no reason. Paying for what you can get for free? Who wants to do that? So the lanes sit empty, as uselessly devoid of traffic as a Louis Vuitton boutique in the slums of Bangalore.
I, however, was riding a motorcycle. And motorcycles use the HOT express lanes for free, 24/7, with no Smartpass transponder required.
So for the last stretch of my commute, across one of the busiest sections of road in the United States of America, I was the only person using an entire highway.
There was traffic on the other side of the divider, sure. But the HOT lanes were mine alone. For miles and miles, there no-one else using them. They were emptier than the country roads on the front end of my commute.
Such a peculiarly profligate culture we live in.