Monday, June 26, 2006


Thoughts on Washington, D.C.

Having done the weekend-trip thing with the whole crew to see my brother and his bride, I have compiled a few suggestions for our nation’s capital and its overall improvement. If any political candidates choose to take my suggestions and pretend that they came up with them first, I wouldn’t object. It would be our little secret, just like that one magical summer when...

But I digress.

Suggestions for Washington, D.C.:

- Have you people noticed how *(#$%U)@#% HOT it is? Moving the city to, say, Minnesota might help with that. I hear North Dakota is lovely this time of year.

- I suppose it’s possible to come up with a less attractive design for train stops than the dark-concrete-honeycomb, in the same sense in which it’s possible to find a worse candidate for husband-of-the-year than Kevin Federline. It could be done, but it wouldn’t be worth the effort. If you haven’t had the pleasure of the D.C. Metro, its underground stations have tubular walls consisting of charcoal-colored concrete, with a waffle pattern. You can get the effect by dying an Eggo gray, then shaping it like a tube of toilet paper, and imagining yourself standing in the middle. It’s unspeakably ugly. It’s a sort of cheesy-futurist/brutalist motif, apparently designed to send the subliminal message “move along to your doom, maggots.” It’s almost insulting in its heavy-handedness. You just want to say, “alright, already, I’m insignificant, these are the halls of power, great forces are at work, I am but a cog in a machine, we’re at war with EastAsia, yadda, yadda, yadda, I GET IT!”

- It’s time to rethink the whole “Beltway" thing. Is it ever NOT jammed? And how many airports does that city actually need?

- It’s waaay too #$%#)# hot.

- Traffic circles? Really?

- You get a different sense of ‘handicapped accessible’ when one of your company is in a stroller. The Smithsonian Natural History Museum, for example, has lots of ramps on the inside, but a forbidding set of white, heat-reflecting stairs on the outside. Luckily, the security checks move slowly enough that you can heave the stroller up one step at a time. You know, the security checks they have to protect the dinosaurs, which are *(#*%)#% EXTINCT, but that they don’t have for the Metro, that carries thousands of living, breathing people, usually all in the same car.

- Certain government buildings, and I’m not naming any names, carry a distinct smell of B.O. If the frickin’ Repo Man could put a little pine tree air freshener in every car, certainly the most powerful country in the world could manage a little Lysol. I mean, sheesh.

- This may be related to the unspeakable heat. Have I mentioned that?

Enough carping. The visit was fun, it’s always great to see my brother and his bride, The Boy got a big kick out of the dinosaurs (especially the T-Rex, whose pelvic bone was shaped such that The Boy pointed and laughed, “I see his winkle!”), and we learned that The Girl spooks cats. (Who knew?)

Major props to the restaurant that is apparently quite the singles hotspot at night, but a family diner during the day. During the day, they use the stage for stroller storage. The Girl’s stroller was parked next to some amps while we ate. Very cool.

Back to reality. The air conditioning in the office still doesn’t work, so the heat motif will continue. At least I won’t have to stare at fossilized reptile winkle. Unlike that one magical summer...

I live about 30 miles SE of DC and when summer hits, the humidity does make the heat nearly unbearable. (The Beltway traffic this weekend was most likely rougher than normal due to the heavy rains and flooding in some DC suburbs.) I would recommend visiting during the Cherry Blossom season or Autumn (when the weather is more pleasant) so that your stay is more enjoyable. :-)

You thought it was hot this weekend, come down here in August. :-)

You also should come to the Metro stop in Rosslyn, VA, near where I used to live, where the escalator ride down into the Metro gives you the full "descent into the center of Hell" effect. It is one of the longest escalators in the system . . .

The museums do have more accesible entrances, but you have to know where to look . . . it took me a couple of years to figure it out - it's not intuitive . . .

I've been everywhere around here at least 10 times, so if you ever want any tips on cool places to go, just drop us Random folks a line.
Traffic circles in the late 18th c. were not a traffic calming measure, but rather a defenseive design feature: if Redcoats were marching down the main thoroughfares into the city, then U.S. artillery could set up in the traffic circles and fire away with a clean shot.

Or so I've heard.

That said, more than once I'd've liked to have taken a cannon to DuPont Circle traffic.
Actually, I'm a fan of roundabouts. But they're not part of the American road culture and, therefore, most drivers and city planners don't know how to use them. THAT'S when they frustrate.
Don't talk about the heat! We're flying into Dulles this week for a family vacation in the Tidewater area. We're hoping that the heat will be a bit ameliorated, there. But I love DC, right down to the cheesy stations (they're actually cool in a temperate way), the research libraries and the great (free!) attractions.
You people are WIMPS! Our humidity today is 72% and the actual temp is in the high 80s. So our "Humitemp" or whatever the Weather Channel quanitifies it as, is godawful. FOLKS: IT'S SUMMER! Hot heatness and all that.

DC is great, but why in the world do you need a car there as a tourist. Ever time I've been there (even with a baby in tow) we relied on the Metro and cabs. A wonderful city.
DC is officially south of the mason-dixon line, meaning-- it gets hot here in the summer. not like upstate New York hot, where I have family and they complain if it gets over 85 degrees. HOT. Humid and hot. Lazy crazy hazy days of summer!

Parts of the DC Beltway always show up on the nation-wide "worst gridlock" lists. It's a terrible city to drive in, too. It was planned by a French dude, you must remember, and traffic circles are big in Europe. slows down traffic pre-electric stoplights.

There's lots of fun times to be had though, really!
The local highways and public transit systems weren't designed to handle the traffic they get. The DC area boomed like crazy in the last two decades, and so everything is right at the absolute maximum capacity.

The DOT released a survey of the worst traffic bottleneck spots in the US. DC has two in the top 15. Then factor in that the regular roads in the area don't make much sense, and driving around here is gawdawful. Traffic circles are only the beginning of the nightmare. Discontiguous roads? Street-naming "patterns" that violate themselves at random? Poor signage? Oh my.

By DC standards, last weekend wasn't all that hot, either. Come back in a month. It's like living in Beelzebub's sweatsock. Genius that I am, I had to move here. Oy.
"I hear North Dakota is lovely this time of year."

Not as lovely as it could still gets too hot in the Summer (not to mention the tons of mosquitoes and other nasty bugs that come out after the thawing...).

I've lived in/near ND for almost my whole life, and have recently moved a bit South. I miss the biting winter cold.
I'm a native of the District, as was my father. He grew up there in the 1920s and 30s, before the advent of Refrigerated Air Everywhere and from what he told me, DC was a much emptier place in the summer, since no-one with a lick of sense would stay there in summer if they had anyplace cooler to go (like one's congressional district in, say, North Dakota). This was fine, because it left the amenities of the capital for the residents--Velati's candy shop, the old Smithsonian, concerts, picnics on the mall, wading in the tidal basin, smelling the stink of the Anacostia River....

Hot, but fun.
...and Ben's Chili Bowl.

Ben's Chili Bowl is life.
Welcome, Northeasterners, to your preview of climate change...yhm
Two quick comments:

--the "Repo Man" reset tells me exactly how old you are. Goodonya.

--I moved out to Wyoming several years ago - no humidity, 300+ days of sun per year - not bad, especially if you can stand constant wind and a strong possibility of dehydration every day.
I've lived in several major cities and I've gotta say...DC has one of the nicest subway systems. At least it doesn't smell like piss!!
So many comments, yet no one has griped about the one-way roads that change which direction is one way (in or out of town), depending on the time of day. Perhaps this isn't done anymore?
I must respectfully but heartily disagree with your assessment on the architecture of the DC Metro. The look was meant to be elegant, modern, innovative, and sophisticated, and I feel it accomplishes that pretty well. Like much mass transit design of the 1970s, it was meant to be future forward and yes, modern, when we Americans still liked dreaming of the future and embrace change and technology, as opposed to some kitschy, privatised version of the past (new ballparks fall into these genre for me, but also some newer transit systems, with their faux 19th century details which look cheap), which reflects our current embattled, suspicious, homebound, backward-looking and yearning national mood.

Unspeakably ugly is the 2nd Street "F" Station in NYC, or in fact any NYC subway station. The smell alone in summertime will knock you off your feet. Architecture is a reflection of the moment it is built, and one of the problems of our society in particular is that we are always renovating, and hence ruining, the experience of time and space moving through a city, specifically the fact that things are built at different moments, and should be expected to reflect different sensibilities.

I used to love Embarcadero Centre in San Francisco or Place Ville-Marie in Montréal because I could imagine I was Princess Patricia Nixon floating by in pastel chiffon or maybe a mini-skirt. In other words, they were public places in time and space, and I loved the details of that hopeful moment of the 1960s (and even the early to mid-seventies) of "soft" modernism. But then they were renovated, and look like any suburban mall around, with their campy signs and bland shopping accoutrements. So, the experience is absolutely, completely ruined, and I just prefer to go to the sterile malls in the 'burbs, I mean, no difference anymore, right?

Anyhow, these are also to a certain extent aesthetic choices, and I personally do like the design of the Metro, although I will admit the stations can be a little dark.
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