Sunday, 3 March 2013

USA diary - day 1

It feels as if it should be really late. But looking at my watch, it's just past 8.20pm I'm writing this while fighting tiredness. I've spent much of the day travelling, and don't really want to fall asleep now and then be wide awake at 4am.

I'm back in Washington DC, with a day at NASA and a few hours at the National Archives researching ahead of me before I head north. I'm staying in a guest house north of Logan Circus; comfortable, quiet and not too expensive.

The flight out from London was blissfully uneventful - a half empty plane meant I managed to get a double seat to myself, and passed the time watching Argo (very good) and The Silver Linings Playbook (which had its moments).

All was plain sailing at Dulles and I was in a van ready to head to the city only 30 minutes after landing. Then it all went a little wrong - with a very surreal couple of hours ensuing. The van driver laboriously loaded all our zip codes into his sat nav and headed out of Dulles - only to stop on the hard shoulder a few minutes later to do it all over again. It was clear he didn't have a whole lot of English (it turned out he was from Cameroon) and became ever clearer that a) he had no idea where he was going and b) didn't know how to use the sat nav.

He came off the freeway very early and seemed to be heading on an aimless tour of the suburbs before pulling up at a bank way out west on Massachusetts Avenue....nowhere near where anyone was heading. My van-mates were an English woman, and guys from France, Spain and Israel respectively. Over the next hour and a half our  driver, who had been in the US for a month and had been given his sat nav (and job?) only the day before, managed to run several red lights, nearly run down at least one pedestrian and incur the ire of just about every other driver in DC. After a while he completely gave up on the sat nav and I directed him through the city (not hard, it's a grid) helped by two van mates whose French was better than mine. I was the last drop-off - and there were a lot of  á droite and á gauche before we finally reached the right(ish) road.

I'm flabbergasted this guy was let out on the road - seemingly untrained and definitely quite panicky as the journey started to go wrong. I don't blame him, but his employer - Supreme - are doing themselves no favours at all while putting travellers at real risk.

So my drive was an experience - but not one I care to repeat.

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