Motorists in love and at war with congested I-95

August 21, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,SUN COLUMNIST

I think I speak for most motorists when I say Interstate 95 is the most horrible, dangerous, depressing, traffic-choked, smog-ridden highway in America.

And that's driving it on a good day.

On a bad day - say, the day before Thanksgiving - you'll want to shoot yourself after five minutes of soul-sapping, bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Yet somehow Stan Posner and his wife, Sandra Phillips-Posner, fell in love with I-95, the busiest highway in the land and one that winds its way around and through six major cities.

In fact, they love it so much they wrote a book about it called Drive I-95: Exit By Exit Info, Maps, History and Trivia.

And to update the book, they drive the entire length of 95 - well, from Massachusetts to the Florida border, anyway - once a year, spending 10 hours a day on it for two to three weeks at a clip.

No, they don't do this because someone has a gun to their heads, as you might imagine.

They do it willingly.

So when I heard they were flacking the book's third edition - pegging it for parents driving their kids to colleges up and down I-95 this fall - I vowed to track them down.

And when I reached them the other day at their home in Montreal, my first question, of course, was: Are you out of your minds?!

You love I-95?!

No one loves I-95!

That's like saying you love mildew or Tori Spelling or a hacking cough that never goes away.

"We do love it," Phillips-Posner said.

"I personally have never been stuck in a traffic jam on 95," Posner said a couple of minutes later.

This astounding statement nearly caused me to drop the phone, since in the 35 years or so that I've been driving that awful road, I've almost never not been stuck in a traffic jam.

Nevertheless, the Posners sound like nice people, and they've written an informative little guide, which includes maps and a state-by-state listing of such things as 24-hour gas stations, restaurants, hotels, pet-friendly accommodations, ATMs, radar traps, radio stations and things to do off all 422 exits they surveyed.

Unfortunately, it does not list drive-in psychiatric clinics, which is what most stressed-out drivers on 95 could really use.

The book is also filled with trivia and historical tidbits about 95, and it's clear the wretched highway has somehow captivated the Posners, who say they've driven more than 175,000 miles through 45 states and nine Canadian provinces.

"People never take time to smell the roses" when they travel I-95, says Phillips-Posner. "And you can actually smell the roses at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Virginia and the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in North Carolina. "We're amazed at what people can find off the exits."

OK, fine, that's off the exits.

But let me just say something.

If you've ever been stuck in a 15-mile backup near Giants Stadium in northern New Jersey on a sweltering summer evening, right where the fetid marshlands bump up against the giant refineries belching columns of smoke into the sky, you'll be smelling something, all right.

But it sure won't be roses.

If you're curious about what the Posners say in their book about the Maryland stretch of I-95 - where I've sat in mind-crippling backups, too, but that's another story - they give high marks to Woody's Crab House off Exit 100 in North East and the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground off Exit 85.

They seem to like the Chesapeake House, Maryland House and Maryland Welcome Center rest areas, praising the "friendly tourism advice," "clean restrooms" and "motel coupon booklets."

(I don't know ... gushing about a rest area's motel coupon booklets, isn't that a bit of a reach?

(What's next, lauding the presentation of the ketchup packets outside the Roy Rogers?)

But, ultimately, even the relentlessly upbeat Posners have to acknowledge the hellish I-95 traffic in our state, which they do in a little riff motorists can read as they approach southbound Exit 59 (Eastern Avenue) and the car-choked reaches of Charm City.

"If you're caught in traffic around Baltimore or Washington D.C.," the Posners write, "and think you're going really slowly, think about the patriots who rode horseback on this road. Thomas Jefferson complained that he could do at most 3 mph."

To which I would say: Jefferson got up to 3 mph?

Must not have been rush hour.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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