Half my life’s hourglass has dribbled on Braddock Road, and then ground beneath tires, blown into the street gutters to mix with the soggy leaves in fall, the oak pollen sediment in spring. I’ve seen every house, could drive it with my eyes closed. It’s my village road, the route to market. It’s the hanger from which my city is suspended, a pole beneath a blanket, the way home.
Alexandria is a city of about 160,000 inhabitants in 15 square miles, Virginia’s densest city. Somehow all its roads are oriented on the diagonal toward DC leaving only three linking its east and west. These three are all slow, winding through first-wave suburbs and commercial strips, beneath towering trees and acres of azaleas. There are traffic lights every 700 feet.
Braddock Road is named after General Edward Braddock, who led the British effort to take Fort Duquesne from the French in 1755. The Road follows his march west from the Potomac toward the Blue Ridge and beyond. Braddock met with disaster and his army met with the biggest British defeat of the eighteenth century. A cannon is set pointing west on Braddock Road, a memorial to the ill-fated campaign from which few returned.
The road starts at the edge of Old Town near the Metro Station named after it. It also has inspired a new small area plan in Old Town North with transit-oriented development, slightly taller residential construction, and the like. Sounds smart. The road continues past a 7-11, once the only purveyor of slushee/slurpee/icee-style bevvies in town. To the right, the playing fields of George Washington Middle School where, circa 2001 one might have seen me staring, deciphering the propagation pattern of weeds instead of playing softball.
Further on it continues through a flat neighborhood, Rosemont, a closely grouped collection of bungalows built in the 1930s as a sort of company town for railroad workers. After Rosemont, the road arrives at the cannon, situated in the middle of an intersection. The cannon looks upward as the road climbs and crests the ridge which forms the fall line, that geological split between the Tidewater and Appalachia that runs the length of the East Coast. Cars floor it to get to the top of the hill before the others while going down, if you don’t break you can coast clear to the Metro Station (watch out for the bump at the bottom).
As you continue past some of Alexandria’s only big houses, you might see where Dave Grohl grew up off to the right. Further along, azaleas and dogwoods clump together to provide a springtime show, though in the summer they are far outshadowed by the crepe myrtles. Another valley and hill later you get to Alexandria’s main intersection where Braddock, King Street, and Quaker Lane all meet a few paces away from my high school and the Safeway where we would go for “off-campus” lunch (the cafeteria in the high school was too small to fit all the students). Bradlee, this intersection and its attendant strip mall are called. Surprisingly, in 30 years, the stores haven’t really changed.
The road continues on past Minnie Howard where they had to put the ninth grade students from the high school (again, too small). It trundles past Fort Ward, a Civil War-era Union fort installed to protect the capital against Confederate attacks. To the left, Alexandria Hospital, where I was born and where my dad ends up every few years.
It takes a hiatus near the Northern Virginia Community College Campus and picks up again in Annandale, ending again on the other side of Fairfax County in front of a Bonefish Grill.