‘Long Reads’ Posts
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every resident of D.C. has a response prepared for the inevitable “I’ve got family coming in from out of town, what should they do?” and, after 15 years in the District, mine is pretty well thought out. an unfiltered look at visiting the nation’s capitol:
dear God, please fly into DCA if you can. they say D.C. has three airports, but one (Dulles) is as close to West Virginia as it is to the District, and the other (BWI) might as well be in Pennsylvania. getting into the city from Dulles or BWI is an ordeal after a long trip, and surprisingly expensive if you’re not willing to use public transportation. and let’s face it, after dealing with airports (and airport security) you’re going to decide — at the last minute, of course — to splurge on a taxi. if you can save $300 going into one of the other airports, sure, totally go for it. but if you only save $100? it might not be worth the effort.
also, for the uninitiated, the only acceptable title for the airport closest to Washington, D.C. is “National Airport.” it’s never “Reagan National Airport” and certainly never just “Reagan.” and, for what it’s worth, this has nothing to do with partisan politics. it ONLY has to do with home rule — the fact that Congress can impose its will on the city, telling them how to name their airports, is just as ludicrous for the District as it would be for you, wherever you live.
places to stay
there are no silver bullets, but obviously metro accessible is key. I would find places that look interesting to you, and then use the google maps or the metro trip planner to make sure your hotel is no more than a 15-20 minute Metro ride from Metro Center Station. if that’s the case, you’ll be pretty happy. much past twenty minutes of metro time, and I find your day starts getting pretty long because you don’t want to hoof it all the way back to the hotel just to go back out later in the day.
personally, I send people up the red line, between Dupont Circle and Cleveland Park stations. there are a ton of boutique hotels along this corridor (here’s a list from hotels.com) that give you good options, but also gets you into some of the best walking neighborhoods (Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan) in DC.
also, it’s usually worth checking out some of the big (expensive) conference hotels, at least if you’re coming on a weekend. hotels that support business travelers through the week are often pretty empty on the weekend, and that can sometimes lead to good cheap, deals on nice rooms. Marriott Wardman Park/, Washington Hilton and Omni Shoreham come to mind and are all along that red line corridor I mentioned.
there are a metric ton of great restaurants in D.C. now, and any local can give you a list of ten places off the top of their head. generally, visitors eat breakfast at the hotel, and then are fine during the day (the museums all have some type of food court attached, with the best being Natural History and American Indian). so look for restaurants closer to your hotel — part of the reason i like to stay between duPont and Cleveland Park is all the great food within walking distance.
if you’re not willing/able to ask someone for specific restaurant advice close to where you’re staying, you can get a pretty good idea from online reservation app Open Table and from The Washingtonian.
the metro is great. it’s a 15 minute walk to something like 80% of the city, and pretty much everywhere you want to go. just, please God, stand to the right on escalators if you’re not actively walking up or down them. outside of that, I’d plan on walking and splurge on a taxi every now and again when the feet get tired. rental cars are completely wasted in DC, unless you want to go to some place distant (Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Air and Space’s Hazy Center, Mount Vernon) because there is no parking, and what parking exists is horribly expensive.
your feet will get tired. WEAR GOOD SHOES. seriously, not Tivas, not those silly jelly shoes kids love these days. your sense of scale will get all screwed up, because each museum is 3-4 blocks wide. so, walking two museums over is actually an 8 block walk which — given our wide avenues — would probably be a 12 block walk anywhere else. Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol is 2 miles, even though (again, because of scale) it looks less than half that. and, don’t be afraid to take cabs. happiness is inversely tied to the weakness of your shins, and that $9 cab ride is often a worthwhile investment.
timing out your day
in general, if D.C. is a lot like visiting an amusement park, like Disney — get up early, do something great in the morning, and come back to the hotel around lunch. take a nap, swim in the pool, read a book, or wander around the neighborhood to let the heat of the day pass when everyone is cranky and all the places are packed with other miserable tourists. then, once everyone is rested at at 3:30pm, go back out for an evening shift. have a later dinner, and go straight to bed. rinse, repeat. if you try and do everything between 11am and 4pm, you’re opening yourself up to have a pretty miserable trip during the summer.
if there is one mandatory “thing to do” I would say it’s the national zoo. it’s free. it’s incredibly beautiful. it’s on a hill (see note about good shoes, above). if people don’t have a wonderful time, it’s because they’ve screwed up one of these three rules. first, go first thing in the morning (8am to 11am), or after the heat of the day (4:00pm to 7:00pm). otherwise, you’ll be miserable, and you won’t see any large mammals because they’ll be hiding from the sun. second, if you’re going via metro, travel IN to Cleveland Park station, and LEAVE from Woodley Park station. (technically, the “zoo” stop is Woodley Park, but it’s a steep hill from Woodley up to the start of the zoo — it’s about the same walking distance from Cleveland Park station, but it’s all downhill.) finally, remember it’s ON A BIG HILL. unfortunately, you end at the bottom of the hill and then have to walk up the whole hill to get back out. fortunately, there is a shuttle bus at the bottom to take you back up to the top, but most people don’t know to look for it.
some of the museums have extended summer hours, which is a great idea because if you go during “peak” times, the museums can be a bit of an elbow-fest. I’d map out when you go to which museums based on the extended hours calendar and go to as many of them as you can between 3:30pm and 7:30pm. Air and Space, American History and Natural History are must for any schedule. I’d also add National Museum of the American Indian to the list. National Building Museum and National Postal Museum are worth the trip if the subject matter is interesting to the group.
there aren’t any bad art museums. National Gallery of Art gets the most play (lots of french impressionism that’s real easy to love) but several other art museums them are great, and overlooked. National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American Art is big and wonderful. Hirshorn is very good, if you’re into modern. The Phillips Collection is great, but quirky and turns over pretty quickly (look into the exhibits before you make the trip). I’ve been to every Smithsonian museum out of the bunch, with the exception of the Anacostia Community Museum, and if you’re into the subject matter covered by the museum, you’ll have a great time at any of them.
here’s a slightly older run down of things to do with a focus on monuments but be sure to look into the Botanic Gardens and Library of Congress, too (there hard to categorize as monuments or museums, so I’ve stuffed them into this paragraph kind of randomly). Martin Luther King’s monument is new, so isn’t included in the post above, but well worth the trip and not too far from the Korean monument mentioned in the post. Vietnam is great, but the kids will need an explanation to be properly moved — Korean is interesting to kids of all ages and isn’t quite the same emotional lift for the young ones. all of them are even better at night. speaking of…
the mall at night
keep the kids up one night and wander around the mall after dark, or better yet take one of those bus tours even though I normally tell people to avoid them during the day (unless you’ve got people who aren’t great at walking). the whole mall area is 100x prettier at night than during the day, and it is WELL worth keeping kids up past their bedtimes. it’s also cooler, and emptier. If you can avoid going to the mall (outside of the museums) during the day, and just do it at night, that’s a great thing.
out of town / short-term rental cars
some of the bigger hotels will do short term car rentals, which might be interesting for a day or two. also, you don’t have to stay at the hotel to rent their cars, you can just walk in and grab one regardless — we do it ourselves when we need a rental. if you do get a car, the Udvar-Hazy annex of Air and Space is (literally) epic. it’s just a royal pain to get to if you don’t have a car. Mount Vernon is incredibly stuffy but equally awesome in an egg-headed history geek sort of way. depending on how long you’re staying, a day trip to Baltimore or even a one-night overnight (National Aquarium, Inner Harbor, B&O Railroad Museum) can be a heck of a lot of fun.
free summer entertainment
the Kennedy Center runs runs free summer shows and programs that’s worth every penny. it can be a bit remote depending on where you stay, but there are shuttles from Foggy Bottom metro. on the mall, they have the annual Folklife Festival, and during some special weekdays they project movies onto a big screen which are fun even if you’re not wild about the titles. there are a couple of other free shows and events, with Shakespeare theatre’s “free for all” as the most popular of the remaining options.
all the professional sports teams in DC are metro accessible, except for NFL football, which is such a pain in the bottom to get to I would just push that thought out of your head entirely. my favorites are D.C. United (soccer, tickets) and Washington Nationals (baseball, tickets) and it’s really pretty easy to get great tickets, often even day-of.
RFK stadium (soccer) looks like a hole, mainly because it just had it’s 50th birthday, but is one of the best places to watch soccer in America. get tickets down close on the bouncy side of the stadium. Nats Park is the exact opposite (it’s gorgeous and pristine) and has some of the best ballpark food known by man. also, if you’re into tennis, getting tickets to the Citi Open up in rock creek park can be pretty fun, too.
things to (maybe) avoid
there is nothing in DC that I wouldn’t do. that said, there are a couple of things I might avoid unless you’re REALLY jonesing to do it.
cultural tourism dc
I mentioned this before, in the “things to do post” above, but worth a reprise. the mall is, in fact, not D.C.’s best attribute — and possibly not even in the top 5. I’d think strongly about either staying (hotel) in a neighborhood or making a pointed effort to get into on or two of them on your own. for more information, check out the cultural tourism DC site — there are dozens of walking tours that you can take to get a much better flavor of the city. also, if you’re into photography at all, taking pictures of the other half of DC is a lot more fun.
public service announcement
you like don’t know this, but D.C. doesn’t have voting representation in Congress. we pay $5 billion in taxes (higher per capita than each of the 50 states) which Congress then appropriates back to us with all sorts of restrictions on how we can use our own money. we’re bigger than Wyoming or Vermont, but have less representation. we have a much smaller share of Federal land than Nevada (88%) or even California (50%), and raise less revenue than is our due because branches of the Federal Government don’t pay local taxes like any every other employer within our borders.
I mention this, because it will help explain all those “No Taxation Without Representation” license places you’ll see when you visit, but also because the biggest problem is you — well, your legislators. because we don’t have the right to voice, you are the only people who can start the process of giving us the rights that you, and ever other citizen in the free world, enjoy.
unfortunately, we’re stuck without the right to vote. and we need a couple good friends from out of town to put in a good word for us with their representatives, who control our fate.
Well, after three years, I’m leaving the PR firm.
I love the people (wonderful) and love the work (helping non-profits think through the messaging and online presences) but never could get resources marshaled at the level required to do truly exceptional work.
Truth be told, I struggled a bit with figuring out my next step. Before I joined the Firm, I thought my next job would be as a VP of Marketing Communications for a non-profit — and acquiring the requisite skills was a big reason that I took the job I’m leaving.
But, as I stood on the precipice, I started to wonder if that job — the VP/MarComm job — was really going to make my life better, happier, etc. It took me a long time to ask myself the question, but once I did the answer took about 30 seconds to come back as a big, fat “nope.”
So, I’m leaving to join Freeflow Digital as one of their senior principals. It’s a reunion of sorts, as I worked with over half of Freeflow’s staff of 12, including the founding principals, when I was at Carol | Trevelyan Strategy Group (CTSG). I’ll be able to use my geek-to-English translation skills, focus exclusively on non-profits, and be one of the leaders as opposed to yet another middle manager.
Freeflow is B Corp that helps non-profits and universities with web development, data integration, CMS/CRM strategy and big-data business intelligence — so it’s a lot of the same work I was doing, just a bigger focus on execution as opposed to strategizing about how to get the work done.
So, I start April 1st with the new job, but I get to keep the stuff I liked most about the last job, too. I’m keeping a couple of non-profit clients with the PR firm, and they are (generously) giving Freeflow office space in the same DC office I’ve been working out of for the last year.
So, the grass is actually greener on both sides of the fence.
the district provides universal pre-school and pre-kindergarden, but only has a set number of seats available so makes people go through a lottery process — even if you live in boundry for the school you want to attend.
as a result, we “got” to apply to half a dozen public schools and about three dozen charters, all to make sure sparklet has some place to go in September.
we made it into Bancroft, our first choice, and didn’t even get wait listed. we also lucked out by getting into E.L. Haynes, Appletree Early Learning in Columbia Heights, and one other whose name is escaping me, so we would have had options had Bancroft not come through.
our favorite moment though, was the rejection letter we got from one of the most prestigeous pre-schools in the city, which read something like:
congratulations! you’ve made the wait list for our school, and are 697th in line for a position in our pre-school class. we’re proud to say that we had over 700 applicants this year…
think that qualifies for not understanding the audience you’re communicating with, or at least not personalizing your messages to their specific recipients.
from our ANC representative, Jack McKay:
Thefts from auto have been a plague here, and in many other DC neighborhoods, forever. It’s just too easy to bust into a car, snatch whatever’s there, and run off.
No clues are left behind, and the police don’t invest much effort in trying to solve such a minor crime. Thieves breaking into cars are usually caught only when an alert neighbor happens to spot one in the act.
Mount Pleasant averages about 10 such thefts a month. That’s about half the rate of 10 years ago. In March, there was a flurry of thefts from auto, totalling 21 for the month. That’s more than the 10 “normal”, but not spectacularly so.
What was remarkable was a rash of 9 of these on one night, that of March 27-28:
(1) 3402 – 3451 block of Mount Pleasant Street
(2) 1800 – 1899 block of Monroe Street
(3) 1800 – 1899 block of Newton Street
(4) 3200 – 3233 block of 19th Street
(5) 1800 – 1899 block of Monroe Street
(6) 3200 – 3233 block of 19th Street
(7) 3200 – 3233 block of 19th Street
(8) 1800 – 1999 block of Ingleside Terrace
(9) 1700 – 1799 block of Kilbourne Place
Nine in one night – most of them within a few blocks! That’s something I’ve never seen before. This was more vandalism than theft, as the perps damaged cars that were unlocked, and cars that contained nothing of value.
As for the rest of the month, aside from this one-night rampage, there were 12 thefts from auto, which is about average for a month.
for the record, our the reason our car is in the shop is because we’re #3 on the list above.
well, that and because there were two recalls on our prius, and our headlight was out, and we haven’t had an oil change or service in the last 15,000 miles.
but, besides that, everything is great.
this feels like it has the longest election cycles of my lifetime and, regardless of what happens tomorrow night, a part of me is just going to be relieved that it is — well — over.
like most Americans, a dark portion of my soul would love to overthrow the two party system, abolish the 24-hour news cycle, and/or give the electoral college its marching orders.
but, without getting overtly political, here a couple of more reasonable thoughts coming out of the last 18 months:
we must demand politicians/media stop creating facts.
i’m actually pretty centrist (at least in principle) and honestly believe that good people will make good decisions regardless of ideology. unfortunately, this notion has been plowed under as more and more people (on both sides) make up facts to suit their ideologies versus tailoring their ideologies to meet the facts.
a functioning democracy is dependant on an informed electorate — and that is undermined if the electorate is only “informed” by a bunch of falsehoods, quotes taken out of context, fake statistics and ideology driven studies.
in this way, i think the recent rise of the various media “truth squads” is a promising sign. and, while Candy Crawley is likely not going to get invited back to moderate another debate, we need more of her style “instant fact checks” from our media — not less.
if money is speech, then disclosure is the right to face our accusers.
i’m not a huge fan of limitless money in politics, but if money really is protected speach then i can make it work. but, the only way to make it work is for the thousands of deep-pocket donors to stand up and be counted along side of their money.
today, we find ourselves in the unusual situation where accused criminals have a better “due process” than our candidates up for election. criminals have the right to know our accusers, and to face (and rebut) their claims. (not to mention, they are also afforded a presumption of innocence.)
seems like our politicians deserve at least this much — and if donors aren’t willing to disclose themselves, then we need to legislate a solution that brings transparency to the new, murky world of money-as-speech political contributions.
finally, we’ve got to limit the election season.
in light of the 24-hour news cycle, we’re getting to the point where all the people we would WANT to elect are refusing to run because of the impact the eleection marathon has on themselves and their families.
to make matters worse, the 24 month cycle doesn’t even provide its supposed benefit (eg. allow us to thoroughly address issues) and instead forces us to pay attention to all sorts of silly minutia and mini-scandles that the corporate media needs to maintain our daily (hourly, minute-ly) attention.
more than that, the lengthy election season directly depresses (and suppresses) the electorate, and requires huge influxes of cash into the political campaign arms race in order for candidates to stay competitive.
were we to prohibit electioneering more than three months from the primaries, and schedule the general no more than three months after that — elections would be cheaper, less corruptible, more focused (eg. more meaningful debate) and less taxing on the public — not to mention we’d likely have better candidates to boot.
somebody please find a way to make this happen.
the tree is actually on the opposite side of the fence with our neighbor, but it turns out that it’s actually (mostly) in our yard which is irritating on two fronts — we have to chip in on maintaining the tree, and we really need to replace our fence considering it was built about 8 to 12 inches on our side of the property line.
fortunately we love our neighbor(s) so it’s all good.
last week, we decided to take the tree down, so that it doesn’t fall over and doesn’t push down our retaining wall. we had an arborist come out, and he said it’s just under the size (55 inches in girth) where a permit would be required.
when he started actually cutting the tree, however, another neighbor — not on our street, but on the other side of our back alley — came out screaming.
neither the lady sparkler or i were there for the exchange, but the general gist was that she (strongly) believed we needed a permit, and even if we had one, we should let the tree live, let the retaining wall collapse, and then just keep rebuilding everything (wall, yard, fence) as often as necessary to keep the tree alive and well.
so, the city came out to moderate the dispute, and the tree is right on the cusp of needing a permit (of two measurements, one was above the requirement and one was below) so they’ve asked us to apply for a permit.
the bureaucracy/paperwork isn’t that big of a deal — if you complete the form, and have a good reason to take the tree down, you can — but the permit cost will triple the price of removing the tree.
in the aftermath or Thing Two’s second X chromosome turning out to be a Y, the biggest shift has been in his room. No longer satisfied with peach walls, plum carpets and floral patterns, we’re in the process of repainting and redecorating.
(I’ve also set aside the “Madeline” wall sign — though, admittedly, I’m not throwing it out until “he” pops out and I get the official confirmation.)
Part of the bedroom reorg is that the white french provincial furniture we inherited from my grandparents is now going into sparklets room (above, top) and sparklet’s slightly more gender neutral furniture is sliding into Thing Two’s room in substitution (above, underneath).
We’re also painting both their rooms a light green — there by reducing the 137 things they’ll argue about some day to a more manageable 136.
This argument reduction effort was actually kicked off last week when I saw a “Thing Two” decal in Target that sparklet and I eventually put on his bedroom door. It was officially the first time I saw something in wanted for one child that made me say “oh, crap — what am I going to buy for the other.” Fortunately, there was a stack of Sesame Street decals (with sparklet favorite Abby Cadabby) on the next display over.
That might bring the list down to 135 1/2.
mommy had a doctor’s appointment a couple weeks back, and while she and the doc were talking about the coming thing two, they noticed she was coming in pretty big and pretty fast.
so they scheduled up another sonogram for last Friday, just to see exactly how big (and whether we’d need to adjust the delivery date, etc.) a sonogram at this point is fairly unusual — you don’t get one after 20 weeks unless the doctor specifically recommends one — but we were pretty excited to see the baby one extra time.
so Friday morning, we walk into the exam room and met with our tall spindly (dude) sonographer who started chatting us up about what we were having (girl), whether we had picked out any names (we had) and other stuff that wasted time while he got everything dialed in.
and then he started giggling. it wasn’t a bubbly giggle, but more like a nervous “you’re going to rip my head off” sorta giggle.
“i’m afraid you’re not having a girl.” turns out thing two isn’t a she — she’s a he.
and, no, we’re not kidding.
for now, let’s just skip past 20 minutes of “are you sure?” and “no, really — are you sure?” and “well, she was pretty sure when she told us it was going to be a girl…” that followed.
funny thing, is we remember that other sonogram pretty clearly.
when she first told us it’d be a girl, the lady sparkler said something like “really? are you sure?” in the same way that any mommy-to-be would say after hearing pretty much anything — and she got all huffy.
“i’ve been doing this for 26 years,” she said. “and i’ve never been wrong once in all those years.”
well, there’s always a first.
fast forward to now — we’ve got a boy coming, he’s got a lovely peach bedroom, with a soft purple rug, with bright flowered sheets, lots of pink clothes waiting for him when he gets home, in a bedroom filled with (hand be down) white, French Provencal furniture.
now, mommy and me can see the future — when this all turns out great, and becomes the story that (much to thing two’s consternation) we will faithfully drag out at every holiday, graduation and meet-the-new-girlfriend occasion.
however, in the interim, we’ve got about six weeks left to redo about six months worth of mental planning. the good news, is that (shortly before all this happened) we had basically decided on a name.
i think he’ll make a great “madeline.”
i’ve read several of his books (including his best known, Kitchen Confidential), his travel channel show “no reservations” is the only food show that i watch with any regularity, and we’ve just gotten hooked on his new show, “the layover”.
not sure exactly where the allure has come from, but he’s my kind of chef — his food is relatively simple fare, and he is a chef from a time before Martha Stewart and Williams Sonoma conspired to ruin the public’s notion of the equipment required to cook and consume food “properly.”
and he doesn’t say the word “bam!” after adding each ingredient.
so, it was with GREAT trepidation that i booked a table for two at his Park Avenue eatery, Brasserie Les Halles. i was scared to death that it would suck, that it would be as charming as a Las Vegas themed mega-restaurant, and that i would be outed as a fan-boy to boot.
i had no reason for the fear or the loathing — the food was outstanding, down to the smallest touches.
we had to push the bread to the opposite side of the table, so we wouldn’t ruin dinner. the mussels had a sauce (Portuguese) that quickly caused us to break out the bread again in reckless disregard for the swelling of our stomachs. we had so many “okay, this is the last frite and i mean it” that we lost count.
and all that was before dinner arrived.
i had a plate of pork big enough to make a man weep — smoked pork loin, veal sausage, frankfurter, smoked bacon, boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. i don’t even like pork loin, and it was easily the best thing i’ve eaten in 10 years.
it was legitimately outstanding, regardless of the reality television flashbacks.
don’t get me wrong, we had our bits of celebrity worship — we were waited on by veteran waiter tim, we saw the back of long-time owner Philippe Lajaunie’s head, and executive chef Carlos Llaguno was behind the glass when we peaked through the kitchen window.
the best bit was the restaurant itself was as unassuming as any you’ll find. if it seats 120 people, it’s not by much. decor doesn’t look like its been updated in 50 years. the floor was stuffed mostly by locals, or at least tourists who knew how to blend in. when we asked for a quiet table to celebrate our anniversary, we got (easily) the best table in the restaurant.
and, the whole thing — two glasses of wine, one double sized appetizer, two entrees, two deserts, two coffees — was $120. i’ve paid twice as much in D.C., for half the meal.
my existence as an anthony bourdain fan-boy continues on, unabated. a simple, dirty pleasure in a complex world of food and reality television.
and i feel great.
Each year we throw a party withe free food, free alcohol, and all the holiday specials you can stomach. In exchange, you just have to bring a plate of whatever Christmas treat you’re making for friends and family this year.
2011 is the fifth year that the lady sparkler and I have done it, but the tradition actually goes much, much farther back.
When I was at the college of William and Mary, the students of the theater department threw a party each year called “the grinch” — which ended the night with a showing of the dr. Seuss animated special during which you were expected to drink each time the word “who” was sung or said.
Every who down in whoville liked Christmas a lot.
But the grinch who lived just north of whoville did not.
For the record, there are 39 uses of “who” but that ignores homonyms like “hoo” but also the songs and choruses, like:
Fah who for-aze, dah who dor-aze, welcome Christmas, Christmas day…
needless to say the winner was whomever was still standing after the first commercial, which was pretty much limited to the people who weren’t playing along.
Over the years, the format of our party has changed, but we’ve developed a couple rules:
and, we still close the night with the grinch in honor of our holiday party ancestors — long may their livers live.