The Corner

Culture

Why You Should Be Glad You Don’t Live in the Washington Area

Ugh, enough of the Comey mess! The last Morning Jolt of the week switches gears and takes a look at the aggravations and idiosyncrasies of life in the greater Washington, D.C. area and why, if you don’t live in this area, you can feel a little better about where you do live. 

And Now, a Bit of Washington-Bashing

The New York Times looks at the Capitals hockey team and the Nationals baseball team and draws the conclusion that the nation’s capital is now the “Saddest Sports Town.” (They reserve judgment on the Wizards, and don’t bother to mention the perpetually controversy-mired, underachieving Redskins.)

This feeling of doom, that the home team will always do something to mess up a good season, is not unique to Washington, of course. Boston overcame it. Chicago did, too. But it seems to be spreading in this city, with baseball’s Washington Nationals seemingly borrowing from the Capitals’ story line, turning excellent regular seasons into playoff fiascoes.

It’s hard to overstate just how obsessive and manic-depressive the local news – television, radio, and print – is when covering the local sports teams. (“We’re just getting breaking news about a chemical weapons attack in downtown Washington, we’ll have more on that in a second, but first, let’s take you out to Redskins Park for an update on how Kirk Cousins’ ankle feels…”) Obsessive coverage of overrated sports teams is hardly unique to Washington, but maybe it’s a little more irritating than usual considering the city and region’s other flaws.

Those of you who live in Washington and love it may want to skip ahead. For those of you who don’t live in or near the nation’s capital and want to feel good about that, a short list about aspects of local life that are getting on my nerves…

  • Traffic is horrendous and getting worse. Twice in the past three weeks I’ve had to make trip that would ordinarily take, say, twenty to thirty minutes with no traffic. In both cases, I left ninety minutes early and still arrived late for my appointment. It seems like one accident is all it takes to snarl everything on every major artery in and out of the city.

Looking at what other people have written about the D.C. area lately, I laughed at this assessment: “Seven Corners may well be the worst intersection in the history of roads. What good is it to eat amazing ethnic Asian food only to leave the parking lot and get rammed by three cars at the same time from all sides?”

  • I’ve lived in the Washington area since 1993, other than those years in Turkey. The subway/light rail Metro system used to be the one smooth-running feature of an otherwise dysfunctional city. Well, now the mayor no longer uses crack (as far as we know), real estate is way more expensive, and the restaurants are better, but now Metro is perpetually delayed and unreliable.

  • When it’s not raining, spring is nice. (At the moment, we appear to be trapped in a recurring pattern of several nice weekdays followed by miserably wet weekends.) We’ve just gotten past Pollen Season, where everything ends up covered in light-green powder and people who never had allergies before suddenly find their sinuses blowing up like an IED. Autumns are beautiful. But summer is mostly weeks upon weeks of feeling like a warm wet mop hit you in the face the moment you stepped out the door. In winter, the slightest snowfall shuts down the schools and brings the place to its knees.

  • Every kid-friendly venue is mobbed on a weekend. If the weather’s bad, there’s the Smithsonian, Tyson’s Corner, or the movie theaters; if the weather’s nice, there’s the Mall, Old Town Alexandria, Great Falls, the National Zoo. Everyone likes them, so every family in the metropolitan area seems to go there at the same time.

  • The cost of living isn’t New York… but it isn’t that far from New York. And with New York, you at least get all of the benefits of New York, like every cultural option imaginable accessible by a functioning subway system.

  • Speaking of costs, Old Town Alexandria has plenty to do, but the parking enforcement will jump on you the millisecond your two hours are up. Fairfax City has tons of free parking… and much, much less to do. In the District, you might as well forget finding street parking and shell out for the parking garage. (Another good assessment: “You will not find street parking near [your destination]. You think you will. You did that one time. You won’t. Just park in the garage. You don’t want to be late for your movie.”)

  • Yes, the speed cameras in the District will nail you for going 36 in a 25 zone.

  • Every time I travel to someplace else in the country, I think, “wow, everyone is so nice and polite here!” This seems particularly noticeable in the Midwest and South. Then I suddenly realized, it isn’t that everyone else is exceptionally nice; it’s that my baseline expectation of human interaction is set by the colder, ruder, nastier people in the Washington area.

Having griped about all this, I have to dispel a few misconceptions. The populace isn’t all lawyers and bureaucrats. Most of my neighbors, parents at my childrens’ school, fellow soccer parents, etcetera are genuinely nice people. You can see community bonds in place at the local middle school musicals, on the Little League fields, waving as they walk their dogs down your street.  Maybe we suburban parents come across as boring to some particularly Bohemian or free-spirited souls, but by the time kids come along, you’re less interested in leading the revolution, saving the world, and immanentizing the eschaton.

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