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This blog covers the culture of, on and around the Web. We consider ourselves curators of the moments when pop culture intersects with virtual trends.

November 23, 2010 at 11:43 AM

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Twitter becomes friend, lifeline during 9.5 hour commute from Seattle to Tacoma

Posted by Tiffany Campbell

Around mid-Beacon Hill on Southbound I-5 last night, I began to realize what a dumb idea it was to attempt to drive home.

I didn't leave in the afternoon, before dark. I didn't pack an overnight bag. And I waved off several generous offers of a place to stay before leaving the city. At 6:45 p.m., I sealed my fate by pulling onto I-5 Southbound. I wouldn't arrive home in Tacoma until 4:15 a.m.

Things started slow and steady, but after nearly two hours, my progress slowed from a roll to parked. And with hands free to start checking my Twitter and other reports, I realized I was in for it. And to clarify: my car was in park while I was tweeting.

I had a half tank of gas, two Luna bars, my iphone and a half bottle of water. These items, plus a social media lifeline, would be my only companions for the rest of the night.

This is where I realized I was actually so far left as to be crawling along on the shoulder. I was surrounded by a wall of cars, idling, while the snow kept falling.

Finally, on Twitter, I first learned from @KING5Seattle that all lanes were blocked at the bottom of Boeing Field - a jack-knifed semi, a bus, other vehicles.

People kept calling and it was difficult to explain how trapped I was. In the far left shoulder, the wall of cars was not moving. Merging and changing lanes was not an option. I was also stuck at the North end of Boeing field, in between exits (I also couldn't see the exits, being in a smaller car and blocked in by semi-trucks, SUVs, etc.)

And so I sat. And Twitter became my lifeline.

I started tweeting updates to the Twittersphere, my @seattletimes colleagues, @KING5Seattle and others who were watching the mess and aggregating tweets from other increasingly desperate souls.

Hours passed. And I mean hours. It's hard to say what the most uneventful part was, but if I had to pick, it would be the crawl from the North end of Boeing Field to about the middle.

At the 4 hour mark, things started to get interesting. People were out of their cars, knocking on windows, waving their arms in exasperation. Many of them were walking for gas - I saw two young women trundling gas back in a milk jug.

A woman in front of me for several hours finally erupted out of her car, leapt over the guardrail and into the brush, flailing deeper behind some trees, clearly to pee. I suspected she had been eyeing that for awhile. When she emerged, she was covered in snow. She was my sister.

Finally, what had been a roll became dead stops for long stretches. I was grateful for tweets from @KING5Seattle, @wsdot and others, which were keeping me updated and also made me feel like someone else was awake, nearby and watching out for me.

Picture 17.png

The tweets let me relax a bit. If things got bad, if something worse happened, I felt like I had a major lifeline out.

Meanwhile, certain tweeters were becoming famous in the I-5 Twittershpere: @paolojr a fellow Tacoma commuter, was several miles ahead of me but keeping good humor.
Check out a sampling of his feed from last night here.

Then, it started to get creepy. It was dark, the wind was blowing, I had idled through a quarter tank of gas. I was worried about running out and having to walk. There were dozens of abandoned vehicles, strewn everywhere.

Twitter reports stated that lanes were open and the end was in sight. Then more reports of accidents at the same place, medical emergencies. Twitter was at once highly accurate and also highly subjective, depending on your location.

Eventually, I started to maneuver around the the abandoned vehicles. Some had their hazards on, some were dark. They were in the left lane or the right shoulder. As I progressed, some were in the middle of the lanes. Then, disabled semi-trucks emerged out of the darkness, stopped on the side or smack in the middle of the lanes. It looked like a scene out of any apocalypse movie, where the people abandon their cars on the clogged freeways as they escape.

I was far enough behind to the original accident that I never saw a crew or police. Around 48th Avenue South, just past the exits for MLK, things began to break free. Lanes were more theoretical at this point, with people maneuvering around several semis, in the middle lanes, who had stopped and were chaining up. The road was pure, lumpy ice at this point, but we were crawling so slow, not that many people were sliding. At about 2:45 a.m. I broke through the worst of it.

I was free! Except, I still had 30 miles to go to get home to Tacoma. I had assumed that with the epic backup behind me, the freeway ahead of me would be clear. I was wrong. For another hour and 15 minutes, I drove 25 to 30 miles an hour, gripping the steering wheel, my husband on speakerphone to keep me awake and calm, as I rumbled over snow and ice on I-5. I had not seen a plow or any other official crew in over 8 hours.

At 4:15 a.m. I pulled into my driveway, more than 9 hours after I'd left work. I'd been up for 22 hours. I was grateful to be safe.

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