04 June, 2020, bare weeks before we moved from Arlington, Virginia, to Scranton, Pennsylvania. A major storm front moves into the area from the west at about 7:30 pm. It brought torrential rains.

Figure 1. Storm front in Arlington, VA. Photo: author.

The view is from the terrace atop our building, the Continental (figure 1). It is located in Ballston, practically above the DC Metro line. On the horizon toward the right is Tyson’s Corner with its mall and nearby skyscrapers; not visible but between here and there is Falls Church. The Virginia Tech building’s curved façade faces North Glebe Road, which runs from the Chain Bridge crossing over into the District down (with a change to “South” Glebe Road as it crosses U.S. Highway 50) to DCA airport. The building with the rust-colored mullions and spandrels fronts Fairfax Drive, which runs from I-66 over to the George Mason University law school. I-66 is hidden behind trees and the tallest buildings in figure 1, running to Rosslyn and thence into the District by the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Memorial.

They crazily (or craftily) made I-66 a toll road taking tolls during the morning rush hour into and the evening one out of Washington. The tolls weren’t fixed but were based upon traffic levels, electronically measured. The system wasn’t perfect, as one could see tolls of approximately $17.00 for one exit’s worth of travel close to the end of toll times with no real traffic on the road. Over time the fee structure became more rational.

I drove that road twice each day to take my daughter to school in Bethesda, but happily 1) I was driving in the non-toll direction each time, and 2) there was no toll for cars with 2 or more passengers. The tolls did have the effect of driving (heh) people over to the Chain Bridge, which made local Arlington traffic much worse.

Just at the left and just below the horizon in figure 1 is the row of buildings along the Columbia Pike, I think, out in Fairfax County. Closer to the center of the horizon you might make out two white building tops at the horizon just to the right of a prominent water tower: those are two prominent midcentury office buildings which stand a few meters north of U.S. Highway 50 (Arlington Boulevard) as it approaches Arlington County at a spaghetti tangle of intersecting roads aptly named Seven Corners.

Arlington County is an independent unit among Virginia’s several independent city states (like Falls Church, Alexandria, and Virginia Beach, for example). Arlington is not a city, though—just a county.

If you look at it on the map (figure 2), you’ll see that the county was the bottom of the diamond-shaped tract of land, with the Potomac dividing it, that originally made up the District of Columbia. In those days, it was called Alexandria County, for the large population center at its southern tip.

Figure 2. 1835 map of the District of Columbia. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

The diamond is a square 10 miles on a side, something like 14 miles between non-adjacent vertices. Oddly enough, it was not a post-Civil War repossession of the district that led to the creation of Arlington County but rather the land was disgorged by the federal government in 1847 because of (among other things) a failure of the city of Alexandria to profit from being in the district. Alexandria was incorporated in 1852, and cut loose from Arlington County, making a characteristic dent in the southernmost part of the county’s border lines, in 1870.

iPhone XS with 18 mm Moment lens.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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