Monday, August 27, 2007

The Shortest Route...

Many years ago, I had a job interview with a consulting firm outside Washington, DC. The firm even paid my expenses to fly in from Columbus for the day. I took a taxi from what is now Reagan National Airport to the firm’s headquarters in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Tysons Corner is situated along the infamous Washington Beltway, home to a dizzying variety of contractors and consultants and research outfits, all feeding at the huge federal trough. These firms are collectively known as Beltway Bandits, but I was victimized that day by another sort of highwayman.

Imagine for a moment that the DC area is a clock face. National Airport is near the middle and Tysons Corner is at about 9:00. The minute hand (for purposes of this illustration) is on the nine, so the shortest route from the airport to Tysons Corner is straight across the minute hand (or I-66 if you’re looking at a map and not a clock). I did not know this at the time. The taxi driver took a route that was, shall we say, less than optimal. He made nearly a full circuit of the perimeter of the clock (the I-95/495 beltway) from about 6:00 counterclockwise to 9:00 -- about four times as long as the direct route. On arrival, I presented the taxi bill to my generous hosts, who knew immediately that I had really been taken for a ride.

Sometimes I feel that way about our elected leaders. There is an obvious route to a simple solution, yet we are subjected to a long dull ride through the political landscape. In some instances, like Charlie on the MTA, we never do arrive. Sometimes I feel more like a hostage than a citizen.

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