A Cross-Country Schlep, Every Week

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In today's world of commuter nightmares, consider this one for the record book. When Sen. Patty Murray goes home every Friday to Whidbey Island, Wash., it takes 10 hours to cover 2,500 miles in a Planes, Trains and Automobiles string of transports. On a good day. And for what? Well, the three-term Democrat just named to the No. 4 leadership post in the new majority isn't one of those who trade their home turf for Georgetown cocktail parties. She likes to hang with her peeps. "I can take the temperature of the country at any time just by going to the grocery store," she says. "If everybody's doing OK, they just say, 'Hi.' If things are going on, it takes me an hour and a half or two just to get through." In fact, it was during her visits to the Freeland Payless that she sensed the strong pro-Democratic mood that would junk the GOP Congress.

So, about her travels: Fridays start at 5:30 a.m. with a trip to Dulles Airport, where she grabs a United nonstop to Seattle with lots of other lawmakers. For 5½ hours, "depending on wind," she works. From the airport, she and her hubby drive two hours to the Mukilteo Ferry and wait in line for the 25-minute sail to Whidbey. She gets no special treatment. "If somebody cuts in front of that ferry line, you're dead." Then it's another 40 minutes home. A hassle? "I do this so much I don't think about it," she says. "It's just a day."