The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (or the 520 bridge to locals) cuts through the University of Washington as it connects Redmond with downtown Seattle. A good portion of 520 sits right on Lake Washington. The scenery is breathtaking during most of the year including views of Mount Rainier and Mount Baker on clear days. The blue waters of Lake Washington are dotted with sailboats in the summer and fishing boats in the fall. If you look closely you’ll catch a glimpse of the Bill Gates mansion tucked into the Medina hillside. During windstorms, waves crash down on the bridge closing it to all traffic. When the fog rolls in, it appears as if you’re driving on water.
The 520 is an impressive engineering feat. Yet it’s home to one of the most stressful stretches of interstate I’ve encountered.
When I began working at Microsoft in the mid 90’s, I was living in a small one bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill only blocks from downtown Seattle. After work, I’d jump into my black Volkswagen Passat and head west on 520. About a mile from Lake Washington, 520 intersects with HWY 405. Unless you’re paying close attention, and have begun to slow down, it’s easy to zip right past turnoff. And because of the way the off-ramp wraps its way up towards Bellevue, drivers must slow to a near crawl in order to safely navigate the corkscrew turns onto southbound 405.
Of course, the last thing I wanted to do was slow down for a herd of Range Rovers and Mercedes heading to Bellevue. All I needed to do was stay on 520, cross the bridge and fly into Seattle as fast as I could without getting pulled over. So I’d dart between slower moving cars. I’d change lanes without much regard and use my horn liberally. This resulted in drivers giving me the finger liberally.
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain
It was a game. And if the game got me home two minutes earlier than I would have otherwise, then so be it. But I would arrive home exhausted. I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. All the zigzagging through traffic wore me out physically and mentally.
Which brings me to this past week, nearly 15 years later. I no longer live in Seattle and my trusty black Passat is long gone.
But I found myself on that same stretch of 520 heading towards Seattle doing my best to keep up with traffic. Suddenly I found myself darting in and out of traffic. Maybe it’s instinct based on those many years of driving this stretch of interstate. I fight the urge to weave in and out of traffic. No way can I let anyone pass me!
Lift. Foot. Off. Accelerator.
I downshift from 5th to 4th gear and pulled BEHIND a UPS truck which is something I’ve never done before. Every impatient driver knows you can cut off UPS drivers. They may honk, but they won’t give you the finger.
Back then I would have had Alanis or Oasis blaring through my speakers. But now my iPod is playing some Chris Botti off my Jazz playlist. The drive is no longer a game. I don’t have to beat anyone home.
Maybe it’s the stage in my life. Could be the kids, or the slower reflexes. But I no longer feel the need zoom through life in 5th gear.
Sometimes life is better appreciated in 3rd.