If you live, as I do, Between the Beltways, WTOP rapidly becomes your best friend.  You know, the one who gives you advice during the hard times, the one who has the last-minute scoop, the one who knows, well, everything.

Several moves ago (same house I live in now), I worked at Washington National Airport (now Reagan).  I commuted through some fairly scary areas.  WTOP, then found at 1500 AM, was my favorite station because of the excellent, frequent traffic reports.  Now, I work from home and teach my children here as well.  WTOP – found now at 103.5 FM – is still my best friend. 

Today, for example, I drove to a couple of local wine shops to research an upcoming article on Spanish wine.  Since I was in Annapolis, I hit Trader Joe’s (buffalo burgers needed restocking) and a couple of other errand spots.  As I started my car, I caught the latest traffic report.  WTOP reported a complete closure of  I-97 northbound at Farm Road…second time in a week.  I was able to divert onto Route 50 and take a different road home.

Deciphering traffic reports is a life skill.  I’ve lived in several large cities (I grew up in the Los Angeles area, a real traffic challenge) and learned to translate Italian and German traffic reports, out of necessity.  “Traffic jam” is “Stau” in German and “coda” in Italian, if you’re interesed.  It’s far better to avoid the seven-kilometer Stau than to endure it, trust me.

Last summer, I drove through Chicago en route to my friend’s Wisconsin home.  I had a decent map and a car radio.  I might as well have been in Beijing, really.  I listened to traffic reports that made no sense whatsoever.  If you’re in New York City as a tourist, you’ve at least heard of the Lincoln Tunnel, but Chicago’s landmarks and major traffic arteries were, well, more foreign to me than an Autobahn.  It was downright scary.  After I reached Wisconsin, I dragged out my Chicago maps and memorized the directions of the roadways I’d heard about on traffic reports.  Next time, I’m sure I’ll do better.

Navigating unfamiliar roads is always challenging.  When you’re in a new city, driving while trying to understand roadway slang, avoiding traffic problems is a superhuman feat.  That’s why I’m grateful to traffic reporters everywhere, especially my hometown heroes at WTOP.  You make our lives a little less stressful.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Bruce Wayne, KFI-In-The-Sky, traffic reporter for KFI radio, Los Angeles, who died in a fog-related crash.  He was L. A.’s first true traffic reporting personality.