You're cruising south on U.S. 29 just outside of Columbia in Howard County. Traffic is moderately heavy. Suddenly a state police cruiser with its red and blue lights flashing appears in the rearview mirror.
And it's coming fast.
Like the rest of traffic, you slow and pull over to let the officer pass. You then breathe a sigh of relief in knowing he's not coming after you.
"What ticked me off is that about a mile up the road I see he's turned around and just sitting on the side of the road doing nothing. Nothing. This is less than a minute after he flies by as though the world is on fire," said Robert A. Goins of Ellicott City. "He apparently just didn't feel like waiting with the rest of the cars."
We tend to give officers the benefit of the doubt, so let's assume that he was en route to an emergency that didn't pan out. Without a police scanner, we really don't know.
Michael McKelvin, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, ++ said lights and siren are used only when troopers are involved in a traffic stop or responding to an emergency.
The Intrepid One has often seen police cars zap past us with lights flashing only to see them minutes later at a McDonald's or 7-Eleven. No apparent emergency.
And we've also had to tell officers that their lights still are (P flashing when we pulled up next to them at a stop signal. (We can live with this because, like everyone else, officers sometimes are forgetful.)
"But too many [police officers] just use their emergency vehicles to get through traffic, and that's not right," Mr. Goins said. "They are supposed to be the law, and what they're doing is breaking the law."
Highway 'ant colony'
Want to know where, perhaps, the best place is to see your state highway tax dollars at work? Check out roadwork chaos near Pulaski Highway (U.S. 40) and Rossville Boulevard in Rosedale, near Golden Ring Mall.
But let's preface that: Don't go during rush hour. Please.
"It is the most congested area I have ever seen in my life," said Carla Reed, who works in a nearby industrial park. "It's like an ant colony with everyone acting so busy."
In the area, you'll find construction at Philadelphia Road and Rossville Boulevard, at Rossville Boulevard and Pulaski Highway, and at the Baltimore Beltway just off Pulaski Highway -- all within a quarter-mile.
"Improvements" being made at Rossville Boulevard and Philadelphia Road include adding left-turn lanes on northbound Rossville Boulevard and on westbound Philadelphia Road; the Beltway is being widened; and both directions of Pulaski Highway just before Rossville Boulevard are being widened over Stemmers Run.
Needless to say, the construction makes commuting fun.
"It's gridlock and a lot of it," Ms. Reed said. "Traffic slows almost to a crawl sometimes. My car can't take anymore."
But, looking on the bright side, we've never seen as many traffic cones set up in one place before.
By the way, the entire project costs in the neighborhood of $11 million, according to Chuck Brown of the State Highway Administration.
Stranded in the dark
We wrote two weeks ago about stranded motorists being passed by police officers on patrol. Needless to say, we got a load of mail and stories of similar incidents.
One motorist, who asked not to be named, said he had a flat tire on the Beltway and that a state trooper stopped and took him to the nearest exit, Stevenson Road (Exit 21C).
It was very dark, about midnight, and, the motorist said, he was taken to a pay telephone.
"I asked him if he was going to wait, and he said 'no' and took off. It was dark, and I couldn't even see the numbers to make the phone call," the motorist said. "When I finally did get through to the operator, I had to walk back out Stevenson Road, down a ramp and a quarter-mile back to my car, alone."
State police spokesman Michael McKelvin said troopers are obligated to assist motorists by calling assistance for them or taking them to a telephone. Depending on how busy it is and whether the motorist requests a return trip, the trooper may or may not take the motorists back to their cars, he said.
"But certainly we would not want to leave them in any danger," Mr. McKelvin said.
Hitchhiking in the city
While riding on Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore last week we saw something we hadn't seen in the city in years: a hitchhiker.
But it wasn't just a hitchhiker; it was a hitchhiker with two suitcases and a sign advertising his destination as Washington. (We assumed it was Washington, D.C., and not the state.)
Crime being what it is and hitchhiking being illegal in the city, hitchhiking is not the smartest thing to do. He was heading west, and we were eastbound. When we returned about two hours later, he was gone. Hope all went well.
Keep in touch You can mail, fax or call in questions or comments for the Intrepid Commuter. Here's how: * Mail letters -- The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, Md. 21278. * Fax line -- (410) 752-6049. * Call Sundial, The Baltimore