Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Washington in the Summertime

I try not to go into the District during the summer.

There is no parking, because it is all taken up by tourists.

Now, I think every American should visit their nation's capital (and capitol) at least once. It's a lovely place (okay, parts of it are lovely), and there is much historic, free stuff to do.

Having said that, I wish they wouldn't come in summer.

Yes, I know that it's school vacation, and traditional, and all those things. It's also the nastiest time of the year in the District. The weather is generally horrid, steamy and sweltering. Not as bad as Florida, where I spent twelve long years; people going to Florida in summer should be institutionalized, in my opinion. But in Florida, no one expects you to walk, and everything (including the outdoors at Disney's Ratville) is air conditioned.

Washington is a city designed to be walked in. Sidewalks abound, and the mall in downtown stretches for a couple of miles just begging to be walked. In springtime, the cherry trees bloom near the Tidal Basin, and some of the landscaping in bloom is simply magnificent. Walking through the blossoms is sublime. In summer, however, it is torturous to walk further than a block. Either it's like walking in a sauna, or if you're really unlucky, during the downpours that replenish the humidity, walking a block is grounds for punishment under the Geneva Conventions (if they apply here...).

Nobody expects you to actually walk anywhere during the summer in Dallas or Orlando or Phoenix or Oklahoma City. And Washington has that added non-benefit of having endless strings of tour buses rife with wandering schoolchildren and families all dressed in the same-color-t-shirts, Japanese tourists, groups of Hungarian Freemasons lurking about, Chinese government bureaucrats, all the world shows up in a big ugly bus. Buses that take up much than their fair share of parking space.

So, yesterday, I had to visit a government agency in their offices in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center. The Reagan building is evidently on Osama's top ten list, because every time you park there, they open all your doors, your trunk (your tailgate if you're in a station wagon) and walk around your car with a mirror so they can see under your car's petticoats. And they charge you fifteen bucks for the privilege. When our company has deliveries there, our truck must go to a facility across town, be x-rayed, sealed with a lead seal, and then driven back across town into the Reagan building parking garage. That's the only way to get a truck into the building. It costs us approximately fifty bucks every time we deliver something there, just from the time and gas.

In deference to better judgment, I decided to go to one of the agency's outlying offices in Arlington and ride their shuttlebus back into the District. It's cheaper to pay for parking in Arlington than in the District, less stress, and more adventure.

Our shuttle driver had evidently taken driver's education in Nairobi before he left to seek his fortune. His throttle had only two positions; full open or completely closed, and he varied between those two positions at a shocking pace. He nearly took out a couple of cars attempting to parallel park, then rushed onto the freeway, changing lanes with abandon.

When we came across the 14th Street Bridge, and headed north toward the Reagan building, he felt the obligation to blow his horn at the cars ahead of us for no obvious reason. I'm believing that this is a discipline taught in The Nigerian Driving Academy. As we stopped at the corner of 14th and Constitution Avenue, I noticed a throng of sweaty, well dressed people standing near the entrance into the Washington Monument. I didn't see many buses around the neighborhood. We proceeded up 14th Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, and across the street from the Washington city hall, the entire generous median strip (truly it's twenty or thirty feet wide) was packed with more well-dressed, sweaty people.

It occurred to me then that the only good explanation was that these were escapees from the Reagan building. And indeed, as we pulled up on the east side of the building at the bus stop, we were met by personnel of a variety of agencies, all escaping the fire alarm bells we could hear in the distance.

We began walking slowly toward the building through the courtyard at Woodrow Wilson Plaza, and the ringing stopped, just in time for us to get in line for the ubiquitous security check. With photo ID in hand, I marched boldly forward, defying them to try and x-ray my oxygen concentrator. Fortunately, the concentrator looks pretty intimidating, so they generally leave it alone. (If you want to smuggle something into one of these buildings, make it look like medical equipment... they generally leave that stuff alone.)

I took care of my business in record time, and made the next shuttle in a half-hour's time. The driver this time was a graduate of the Lycee de Driving de DC, and while aggressive, he was much more comfortable than our Nairobi pilot. I got out of the District, away from the hoards of backpacking teenagers, and back into the civilization of suburban Virginia safely and swiftly.

I do not plan to re-enter the District before September, if that's at all possible...