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Vermin, Tourists, …and Other Forms of Entertainment

June 3, 2009

Well, the weather in DC has decided that it wants to be warm and sunny during the day and only rain at night, which means two things: 1. It’s tourist season! And 2. It’s protest season.

For those of you uninitiated in the joy that is the Sidewalk Revolutionary, let me quickly explain to you a phenomenon I’ve so far only witnessed in our nation’s capital. It’s a Monday morning, bright and early. Birds are chirping (or at least, so I’m told…you can’t really hear them over the buses’ exhaust or the horns honking), there’s a cool wind blowing, you’re listening to the Kings of Leon as you walk to wor… “BANG BANG BANG! Chant. Chant. Melodious Chant. BANG BANG BANG!”

What is this? A musical troupe, starting their daily hussling a bit early? Nope. It’s the DC protesters. These are not, as I’m sure you’re envisioning, the dreadlock-wearing protesters for freedom, truth, justice (and a hard boiled egg! Terry Pratchett, anyone?) that you typically associate with a political center. No, these are blue-collar workers, at war with the local construction companies.

As far as I can tell, they are protesting because whoever it is that pays them doesn’t pay area standard wages. However, you can never actually understand what they’re saying (“Muffled chant muffled chant” bang on a plastic paint bucket in a rhythmic way), so I’m not sure that even they know what they want. There are typically around 30 of them, and I swear it’s the same 30 everywhere in DC. The protest moves, depending on the day, around the area where I work. Yesterday, on my way to pick up lunch from Kostas at the Greek Deli (he’s hilarious, and you should visit him while you’re in DC) I saw them on 20th, between L and M…and this time, they had a little friend…

On the right, in the middle of the shot.

On the right side of the street, in the middle of the shot.

In case you can’t see him, I’ve zoomed in a bit.

The rodent, zoomed in.

The rodent, zoomed in.

A 1-STORY-TALL RAT! WITH RED EYES! Creeptastic. What will they think of next? If they really are protesting for better wages, I really wish they’d get it together – I can’t imagine they’re very effective. And I’ve got no problem with protests in general (after all, I do love the French, right?)  – it’s just that we have no idea what they’re even fighting for, so instead of inspiring us, they just become an annoyance and a slight point of entertainment in an otherwise boring work day.

Tip du jour: For the Tourists!

I know a lot of you will be visiting DC at one time or another in your lives, whether as a tourist or for work. So I’ve compiled a quick list of some do-s and don’t-s for those of you who might be interested in visiting.

Stand on the right, walk on the left. This applies to the Metrorail system – when you’re riding an escalator, be sure to stand on the right, and also be sure your kid, luggage, fannypacks, or any other travel paraphernalia, are GLUED to the righthand side of the escalator. It’s not out of malice, but out of protection for you that I worry about this – people can get nasty when you hold them up!

Leave the Mall. When it’s time to eat, and you’re in the midst of your Smithsonian fun, it’s tempting to eat at the cafés which adjoin the mall. The “mall” of course being the grassy area between the Capitol building and the Lincoln memorial – not a shopping center. My recommendation, particularly if you’re sans kids and wearing good shoes, is to get off the mall and head to Chinatown, Capitol Hill, or directly north of the White House. The West side of the Ellipse has a couple restaurants, but the main “restaurant row” for the downtown area is on 19th street, between K and M. There are tons in that area, and some of them are quite tasty (the Greek Deli’s a great choice, if you’re hungry for a decent hot meal). The Mall area is pretty cut off from everything resembling the “native’s” DC, so it’s better to get to see the “real” DC. If you’re coming to DC, ask me for some restaurant recommendations and I can let you know where’s good for kids, young adults, etc.

Buy a SmarTrip. These are the cards that you wave at the Metro gates, so you don’t have to hassle with the paper tickets. They cost $5 each, and I kid you not, they will SAVE YOU TIME AND TROUBLE. You can buy them online before your trip, at the Metro Center Metro Station, or you can buy them at ANY CVS pharmacy in the District. If you have kids, they will enjoy the “cool” factor.

Also – have your SmarTrip or Metro ticket out of your pocket before you get to the gates. There’s nothing more annoying than walking behind a quickly walking tourist, only to get held up because “Gosh, Barb, where did we put those ticket thingies?” “I don’t know, Bob, I thought you had them. Check the stroller.” Again – I say this in protection of my dear tourists – you don’t want someone less nice than me stuck behind you.

Don’t be afraid of asking for directions. DC can be a confusing place, so if you just say “What direction is the White House from here?” someone will point, you’ll be able to figure out which way’s North, and then you’ll be alright. I do not recommend asking any of the following people: people on cell phones, people with iPods plugged in, anyone with a briefcase, anyone before the hour of 9AM, anyone between the hours of 5 and 6PM if you’re anywhere near a Metro station. I do recommend asking any of the following people: anyone in a “Golden Triangle” outfit – these guys are more official and tend to be more used to tourists, anyone waiting at a crosswalk (but ONLY if there are at least 30 seconds left to wait!) who does not fall under one of the previous “do not ask” categories, security guards (they’re all over the place), bus drivers (if you’re riding a bus – I wouldn’t waste your time with Metro employees at the stations themselves – they tend to be overrun by grumpy natives whose lines are running late, so I’d avoid them). Stall owners, like the hot dog stands and the flower tables, can be very hit or miss, because from time to time they don’t have the best handle on the English language, and when you’re already frazzled from being lost, your patience for those people can be a little short. I can definitely recommend their hot dogs though, particularly if you’re at least 3 blocks away from the Mall or the White House (the guy at 19th and K makes delicious ones).

Let me know you’re coming. I love love LOVE having tourists in town – I think this city is one of the greatest assets to our country (and that’s not blind patriotism – part of it is appreciating the ways the city doesn’t work as much as the city does work) and I absolutely adore introducing new people to it.

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