"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them, than to travel with them."
-- Mark Twain
This space belongs to 2,482,462 people.
That's how many Marylanders commute to work, according to the 1990 census. Actually, there are a few thousand more by now.
About 85 percent of us drive. The rest of us ride the bus, the Metro, the commuter train, light rail, or just hop in a taxi. Some even fly, walk, run, or bicycle to get there.
On the average, it takes us 27 minutes each way, every day.
Taking into account weekends, vacations and holidays, we spend the equivalent of 25 full working days a year just getting to and from work.
Along the way, we battle traffic jams, dangerous intersections, crazy drivers, rude passengers, indifferent bureaucrats, outrageous repair bills and potholes that could swallow New Jersey.
Commuting is a tiring, frustrating and sometimes dangerous enterprise that most of us face in solitude.
We curse our fate, but ultimately we swallow our pride, get behind the wheel or search our pockets for exact change, and return to the road alone.
Beginning today, the Intrepid Commuter goes with you.
Why is the Beltway always jammed up at Wilkens Avenue? Are there really 117 traffic lights on Ritchie Highway, or does it just seem that way? Why is the JFX always under repair? Why are the traffic signals always timed against us?
Why does the MARC commuter train run late half the time? Why won't the bus driver take pennies? Why do they build light rail stations with no parking spaces? How come it costs so much to register my car or renew a driver's license? Why do I have to stand in line for three hours to do it? And why does the picture on my license look like a creature from a Stephen King movie?
We'll find out and let you know -- and help take your complaints to the people who can do something about them.
Columnist behind the mask
Who are we? We're a friend to commuters everywhere. We have an advantage that most commuters don't -- a crack team of journalists (well, one anyway) and a lot of printer's ink and newsprint to help us raise hell.
Each Monday in this space, we'll stick up for our fellow commuters, and point out their daily obstacles and problems.
We'll expose the ripoffs, criticize fellow travelers who make our lives miserable, and praise the average men and women who are the real heroes of the road.
Above all, Intrepid Commuter wants to give commuters a voice, a forum for their concerns, a soapbox on wheels.
Wake up, Maryland, and smell the wiper fluid.
How you can get involved?
We need your help. Our readers are our eyes and ears, reporting what's right and wrong around them.
If a road sign is confusing, let's point it out. If you have questions about why the state is widening your road, we'll get some answers. If a fellow motorist has performed some selfless deed, we want to tell the world.
In short, we want to hear about your experiences.
The best way to express your observations is in a letter. Mail it to Intrepid Commuter, The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, Md. 21278 or fax it on (410) 752-6049. Please include your name and telephone number so our staff can contact you if we have any questions.
You can also pick up a touch-tone phone and let us know what you think.
Just call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service. Callers in the Baltimore area should dial 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County) and enter 4305 when the voice asks you for your choice. When you call, you'll hear a recorded message with instructions.
We also ask for your patience. This is a new experience for this newspaper, and we'll undoubtedly have some growing pains. But we can promise you this: We shall kowtow to no elected officeholders or government bureaucrats who think they know better than the taxpayers they serve. We are answerable only to our publisher and to you, the commuting public.
Future topics: Our top 10 list of favorite things we'd like to do to rude Motor Vehicle Administration clerks and the First Annual Greatest Pot Hole in Maryland contest.