Thursday, June 24, 2004


I'm heading for Union Station, heading out of town. Expect postings, some I'm sure courtesy of Amtrak, later this weekend from my vacation.

Hopefully nothing big happens in the next day, as I will be out of communications contact.

Have a good weekend.

DIPLOMACY: 'Tastes Like Burning'

If you happen to be in the vicinity of the Russian Embassy on Mount Alto this afternoon, don't be surprised if you taste and smell what could be carcinogenic substances. Workers are replacing the massive retractable driveway security bollard in front of its main gates on Wisconsin Avenue. It appears that the most secure embassy in the capital is getting some revamped protection to keep joy-riding Hoya undergrads, pesky Chechen rebels or Mikhail Khodorkovsky supporters at bay. Welders this afternoon were generating a bunch of irritating smoke as I walked by. I can't imagine what is being lodged in their lung tissue.

COMMUTING: Bus Havoc on the 42s

As I was waiting for a D2 bus at the corner of Q Street and Connecticut Avenue after lunch, I noticed that there were bunches of 42 buses traveling uptown, and a number of 42s sitting at 20th Street and Connecticut.

I overheard a handful of bus drivers standing on the corner saying that construction in the vicinity of H and 15th streets (near the Kerry headquarters) was backing up traffic and throwing all the buses in the area off schedule.

"I don't know how he made it through," one bus driver told another of a 42 bus that somehow charged through the mess to remain on schedule. The drivers started laughing. It's always great to know they care for us commuters.

So watch out if you use the 42 or the 30s or anyother bus in the vicinity of the White House this afternoon. They may get so off schedule that they may actually be on schedule.

CELL PHONES: Get Ready for Fines

In case you've forgotten, the D.C> City Council last year passed a measure that would impose stiff fines for those who are caught driving a car and talking on their cell phone (without a hands-free device). That measure goes into effect July 1.

From The Washington Post:
In the District, police officers will be permitted to pull over motorists they see holding a cell phone to their ear, said Lt. Patrick Burke, the police department's traffic safety coordinator.

Under the law, drivers will be permitted to hold a phone only to make emergency calls, to dial a call or to power the phone on or off. The city will suspend fines for first-time offenders who submit proof that they have acquired a hands-free device, Burke said.

If drivers from other jurisdictions fail to pay their tickets, they could lose their driver's licenses because of reciprocity agreements with Maryland, Virginia and other states, said Anne Witt, director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

"City Sends Signal On Cell Phone Use" [The Washington Post]

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

COLUMBIA HEIGHTS: Dentist on the Loose!

The FBI is in search of a renegade dentist who is wanted for practicing on patients without a license. But they have captured his wife, WRC/NBC-4 reports. She has been charged with "three counts of practicing dentistry without a license and two counts of misrepresentation as a dentist." (Who knew there were laws for such things...) Her husband, Carlos Vargas is wanted on more charges.

The wanted dentist practiced out of home on in the 3400 block of Holmeade Place. The FBI is also searching for the Vargas' patients as well.

"FBI: Man Practiced Dentistry Without License" [WRC/NBC-4]

DINING: Caucus Room Wants You to BYOB

Tom Sietsema seems to be a little bit late reporting the news that the Caucus Room's executive chef Richard Beckel will customize a meal around a bottle of wine that you supply.

From The Washington Post:
Pairing guests' wines with specially designed restaurant fare "creates intimacy between the customer and the chef," says Beckel, who creates three-, four- and five-course dinners for $55, $75 and $85 a person, respectively, on Friday and Saturday nights. Guests are asked to make reservations early in the week, at which time they let the restaurant know which wines they'll be bringing in; Beckel reports back to them by Thursday with menu ideas, making changes as necessary.

Regardless of Sietsema's tardiness on this news, it is good information to pass on if you want to splurge and want Beckel to prepare a one-of-a-kind meal, all with views of the garish eastern facade of the FBI headquarters.

(The Caucus Room, by the way, counts former Republican National Committee chairman and current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, top Democratic lobbyist Tom Boggs and Ed Mathias of the Carlyle Group as investors.)

"The Weekly Dish" [The Washington Post]
The Caucus Room

AIRPORTS: Busy Times at DCA

The Washington Post reports that capacity in National Airport's parking garages is at an all-time post-9/11 high. This week, all 7,500 parking spaces have been filled.

Airport officials are taking the overcrowding as a sign that the airport business is back up to pre-9/11 levels. DCA was shut down for weeks after the attack on the Pentagon out of fears terrorists could use the airport and its approaches to strike the capital.

From the Post's Steven Ginsberg:
Airport officials have predicted that traffic at National will rebound to 15 million passengers this year, after dropping as low as 12.9 million in 2002. Similarly, traffic at Dulles International Airport is expected to come close to the 20 million mark, about where it was in 2000 before a low of 16.9 million last year, officials said.

The Post passes on some helpful hints if you're planning on parking at DCA. Call (703) 417-PARK to find out how many spaces are left. If the number is fewer than 200, consider other options.

"National's Lots Put Drivers on Standby" [The Washington Post]
Parking Information for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport [Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]


I was rifling through some of my old notebooks and forgot to post this absolutely classic run-in between two groups of high school tour groups in the Union Station food court from a few weeks ago. I think I have certifiably seen my first instance of an individual or group being “served” or at least almost being “served.”

I’ll set the stage for the showdown.

Two groups of white suburban high schoolers, mixed with males and females. In one group, subjects were wearing matching teal t-shirts that read “Avery H.S. DC ’04.” This group was milling about in the heavily trafficked area near the sushi bar and the up escalator.

The second group, which was moving toward the escalator did not have matching t-shirts, but one tall and lanky guy was wearing not only an FBI shirt, but had a CIA viser to add that extra coolness factor.

A girl with frizzy bangs from the second group who was wearing an Old Navy shirt, took a misstep and violated the buffer space around a girl from the first group. She moved past without apologizing. It was unclear whether the move was an accident, or a way of marking the food court as her crew’s territory.

The girl from the first group responded, quietly, but loud enough in an outside-the-7-11-type tone to make it known that she was not pleased: “Ah-hmmmm,”

The girl from the second group took notice as she was walking past: “Ah-hmmmm??” (please factor the question marks into the girl’s tone)

The girl from the first group, making eye contact to show the girl from the second group her displeasure, uttered: “Wha-ev-a …”

At that moment, the sensory capacities of both groups perked up and the second group came to a halt in front of the escalator. The guys sort of stood there for a second, staring each other down. One was smirking with his hands folded. He obviously was itching for a cat fight.

I had just picked up my lunch and was on my way out when I witnessed all of this. For a moment, I thought there was going to be a scuffle. I was waiting for someone to say “You got served,” as the night before, I had just watched a re-run on Comedy Central of the South Park “You Got Served” episode.

But alas, there was no dance off to settle the turf dispute. They just went on their way. (Something tells me these kids aren’t blessed with much rhythm or agility.)

CRIME: Tractor Man Sentenced Today

Remember the Tractor Man, the North Carolina tobacco farmer who disrupted D.C. traffic for days threatening to explode a bomb prior to the start of the Iraq War? Today, he's scheduled to be sentenced for making false threats and destruction of federal property, according to The Associated Press.

Dwight Watson, the disgruntled farmer who wanted to start "a revolution on behalf of tobacco farming families," crashed his tractor into the shallow pond at Constitution Gardens. Traffic to-and-from Virginia was disrupted for four rush hours, as some key nearby arteries, including Constitution Avenue, were shut down as Watson faced-off with federal security officials.

"Former Tobacco Farmer to be Sentenced Wednesday" [Associated Press via WTOP]


I finally got around to adding some new blog links on the Oculus' right side. Among some more well-known blogs, I've added a few friends and blogging cohorts to the mix. So check out Erica from Designs on You (music, etc.); John from First City (Chicago); Michael at The Durham Bull; Brett at The Upstate Life; and Underused in D.C. at Rock Creek Rambler ...

Additionally, I've added Arbor Update, a blogging co-op in Ann Arbor launched recently by a few old colleagues including Rob Goodspeed of the Goodspeed Update.

Also, to my good Grand Rapids friend and recent Glover Park housemate David Enders who is in Baghdad living the life of a roving freelance reporter, be well. I'll be thinking of you when I'm chowing down on three ultradogs at Yesterdog in GRap this weekend. Enjoy your falafel.

COMMUTING: And You Thought I Was Tough on People's Commuting Habits

Gothamist has an an interesting post about a Village Voice article that details how a 23-year-old woman wound up in jail for 30 hours after leaning on the pole of an B train in New York.

In Gothamist's comments section, there were many responses on how the woman deserved to be arrested. People have low tolerance for bad commuters and when they find one to target all their combined transit anger at, it isn't pretty. (Count me in the group that gets easily agitated with bad commuters.)

From Brian:
Her first mistake was giving up her seat to the old Chinese lady. Anyone who's ever had the misfortune of experiencing the Canal St./6 stop knows old Chinese ladies are THE WORST subway riders ever -- pushy, predatory, and unwilling/unable to communicate with their victims in English. Plus more often than not they let their wheelie cart (or ubiquitous plastic bag collection) do the dirty work.

"The Dangers of Leaning on a Subway Pole" [Gothamist]

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

GLOVER PARK: Georgetown Imperialism Creeps Further Uphill

The Georgetowner features a short article by Nancy L. Simmons of, about Georgetown Heights, a new U-shaped residential development at the corner of Calvert Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

From the Georgetowner's Nancy L. Simmons:
There is an exciting new property being constructed in Georgetown on the corner of Calvert and Wisconsin Avenue. On June 1, Georgetown Heights broke ground, and in 15 to 18 months these condominiums will be ready to move in to. They opened last week for sales appointments and are listed with McWilliams Ballard. These condominiums range in price from around $700,000 to over 2 million, with parking and storage included. There will be 44 total units, with square footages range from 1430 to over 3100.

One problem: Georgetown Heights is on the border of Glover Park and Cathedral Heights, 7-10 blocks north of the northern boundary of Georgetown.

Simmons seems to be perpetuating the belief that anything north of the Potomac and west of Rock Creek is Georgetown. The border between Georgetown and the next neighborhood north, Burleith, lies near Reservoir Road and R Street.

In fact, when Wanda Baucus, the wife of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had her run-in with the law over a bag of mulch, one report I heard said the garden center in question was in Georgetown. (Van Ness Street last time I checked qualified as Tenleytown.)

FROM THE EDITOR: Come on Vacation With Me

I haven't left the capital city since my January trip to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. I can easily count the number of times I have strayed past the Beltway since then: Three trips to the College Park Ikea; one trip to Calvert County, Md., for an 80-year-old's surprise birthday party; one trip to the Maryland side of Great Falls; and one Swiss-American society dinner in Carderock, Md.

It's time for a break. Thursday, I'm heading home for vacation for a week, and you're coming along. (Hold on, you ask, isn't Washington home? Even my closest friends are confused by my background. My father's side of the family arrived in Foggy Bottom in the 1860s. But I grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. Throw in some Latvian, Swiss, German and some English and things can get real confusing, real quickly.)

While I will be decreasing the amount of posting during my time off, please tune in next week. You may think that Grand Rapids may be dullsville, but like anyplace, it has stories. And I intend to tell them.

The saying "If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much" is common in Grand Rapids. And the "V" section of the phone book is thick with VandenPloegs, VanDuinens, Vanderveens. It's the home of 6-foot-tall, blond-hair, blue-eyed Amazons. It's a city that has been hit hard by the economic downturn, but seems to be opening every franchise restaurant known to man and sprawling farther and farther out.

On my agenda: Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) launched her Michigan "Cool Cities" initiative, an effort to keep young people from fleeing the state by promoting the cities of the Great Lakes State. How does Grand Rapids measure? And what are twenty-somethings doing with themselves in Gerald Ford's hometown?

What makes a Yesterdog so good at 3 a.m.? Beer helps, but there is something else.

Will the late-night Taco Bell lady, who always looks so sad, tired and worn out, still be stationed at the drive-thru?

(Oh yeah, did I mention my high school inspired the "American Pie" trilogy?)

Also on the agenda is a trip back to Ann Arbor, where my undergraduate life unfolded.

A lot of the trip is yet to be sketched out. Who knows what else may go on ... there may be some dancing around a bonfire and maybe, just maybe, a trip to the Fish Ladder.

The Oculus leaves Thursday. Come along for the ride.

MUSEUMS: Gabriel Orozco at the Hirshhorn and Other Things Worth Seeing

The Hirshhorn is exhibiting a series of photographs by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco and is worth a look if you find yourself down near the Mall. Phyllis Rosenzweig, the Hirshhorn's curator of works on paper writes that "[a]lthough he has never considered himself a photographer, Gabriel Orozco's photographs stand out with arresting clarity from the rest of his work: a varied production that includes sculptures, installations, drawings, photographs, and videos, interrelated in a fluid process that expresses the artist's belief in the 'liquidity of things.'"

Orozco's photographic work is somewhat stark, but subjects featured in each work are more complicated upon a closer look.

For instance, "Sleeping Dog," features a reclining drowsy canine on some rocks. Seems simple enought: a sleeping dog. But the position of the dog on the rocks makes it appear that the dog is sleeping in a very awkward vertical position, as if it may be floating. The dog's rocky mattress is laid out in a very complicated fashion, creating a background that is worth more intense inspection.

"Common Dreams," which is a photograph of a handful of sheep in the middle of empty slightly rising scrublands presents to vastly different features to look at: the bleak surroundings versus the sheep, which are arranged in an oddly arranged pile. You can't exactly figure out what they're doing.

The Orozco exhibit is on display through Sept. 6.

Other Notables ...
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival starts Wednesday. This year's featured themes are Haiti (no word if there is an Aristide kiosk), Mid-Atlantic maritime communities and Nuestra Musica: Music in Latin Culture.

The National Gallery's East Building features an intimate exhibit on Mexican artist Diego Rivera's cubist paintings from 1913-1915, when Rivera was in France and Spain.

The Phillips Collection has three exhibits of note: August Sander's German landscape photographs from the 1930s and 40s; Aaron Suskind's abstract photography; and a small, but closely connected series of paintings by French artist Georges Rouault. Those exhibits are on through Sept. 5.

The Freer and Sacker galleries host "Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain." That is on through Oct. 17.

L'ENFANT PLAZA: Children's New Play Plaza

Dana Hedgpeth of The Washington Post has an interesting article on how the Capital Children's Museum was able to make the planets align to score a prime piece of real estate adjacent to the normally drab L'Enfant Plaza. After considering a spot on the Southwest Waterfront, a quick succession of pushes from public and private forces secured the L'Enfant Plaza site.

From the Post's Dana Hedgpeth:
The museum's search ended this spring after it agreed to move to L'Enfant Plaza -- a broad, open rectangle enclosed by large, drab government buildings, a relic of the 1960s urban renewal projects that swept through Southwest. It is only a few blocks from the popular National Mall, but it is familiar mostly to the bureaucrats who work there.

More information:
"Children's Museum Lines Up a Better Place to Play" [The Washington Post]
"L'Enfant Plaza: Can Children Save It? [Oculus]

CITY COUNCIL: From Barry to Brazil

If the possibility of former Mayor Marion Barry jumping into the Ward 8 race hasn't gotten you pumped about city council races this fall, enter At-Large Coucilman Harold Brazil. The Washington Post this morning has an indepth investigation into whether a former Brazil aide, Amiee Occhetti was hooked up with a plush city position in the Office of Property Management. According to Post sources, Brazil, who is married, had a "close personal relationship" with Occhetti.

More information:
"City Job Was Found for Brazil Aide" [The Washington Post]
"The Bitch [Park Police] Set Me Up" [Oculus]

COMMUTING: Almost Hit By a 30 Bus; Getting Scolded for Coinage Issues

I have another reason to dislike the crosstown 30 series buses. One almost hit me last night when I was crossing at Q Street and Wisconsin Avenue. I was with a group of friends trying to reach the 24-hour Georgetown Cafe around midnight (one friend was leaving town ... not much to do on Monday night), but because of roadwork associated with The Georgetown Project, the closest sidewalk was shut down. Only one lane was open, meaning cars were weaving between traffic cones and construction equipment and over large metal plates potholes.

As we tried to navigate our way around the mess, we crossed the street as suggested by the construction workers. All the sudden, out of nowhere, a 30 bus was hauling ass (perhaps to get back on schedule?) and attempted to claim the intersection for itself. As we were already in the intersection and pedestrians have the right-of-way in such instances, you would expect the bus to come to a halt. But the bus kept coming. Then someone yelled. It wasn't stopping. And then it did.

Scolded for Stuck Coins. Live from the Third Rail celebrated the arrival of SmarTrip readers on the 42 bus. While the electronic readers are a great improvement, those who are technologically challenged and will rely on putting in exact change to make their fare, may have some trouble with the new fare card collectors. The coin slots are smaller, and their covers are made of some sort of cheap plastic.

As I was boarding a 90 bus at Calvert Street and Connecticut Avenue, I found myself having trouble putting my 35 cent transfer into the collector. There were already coins stuck in the coin chute and the bus driver, who was running 10 minutes behind schedule, became frustrated with me fiddling around and then scolded me for putting coins in at the same time. He told me to retrieve the coins from the coin return and I found a whole host of coins that were stuck from past passengers.

So the fare collectors may be hi-tech, but don't do well with coins.

ADAMS MORGAN: Too Close for Comfort at the Angry Inch

Bouncers are supposed to be tough. But are they supposed to hit your girlfriend?

That question came to mind early Sunday morning when I was out with friends walking the 18th Street strip in search of food. The 3 a.m. crowd had packed all three pizza slice emporiums, so I had to settle for Julia's Empanadas next to the Angry Inch.

The crew I was with was nearly mowed down by a bar fight that spilled out onto the street. While I was waiting for food, this is what happened, according to my crew. Drunken twentysomething male pisses off bouncer for undetermined reason. Bouncer forces subject to leave establishment. Egos high. Tempers flare. Fracas ensues. Punches are thrown. My crew on the sidewalk narrowly misses being hit. Drunken girlfriend tries to stop bouncer. Bouncer hits girlfriend. Shock and then a shrill shriek is heard. Bloodied subject retreats from skirmish and is seen nursing his wounds down past the Left Bank in a very pained state.

Rule of thumb learned: Don't get drunk at the Angry Inch.

ANIMAL REPORT: Cicadas Are Gone, But Bring Rats in Their Wake

My comrade over at The Durham Bull pointed me to an amusing Washington Times report I missed from Saturday about an increase in rats in the post-Brood X world. That's right, with cicadas, come rats. (And, dear lord, the rats are increasing in Montgomery and Fairfax counties ... where such creatures are not supposed to be seen.)

According to Montgomery County environmental specialist Stephen Haynes, it is all very much surprising. "I've been working here for 16-plus years, and we're getting [rats] in places we've never gotten before," Mr. Haynes told the Times. "The only thing we can attribute it to is the cicada population."

More information:
"Cicadas are gone, but now oh, rats!" [The Washington Times]

Monday, June 21, 2004

OENOPHILIA: ¿Madre, Padre ... Puedo Tener Algún Vino? Mutter, Vater ... Ich Habe Ein Bier?

On Saturday, I was out with a group of friends to take advantage of a free wine tasting in the newly renovated Wide World of Wine, 2201 Wisconsin Ave. NW (tucked away in a non-descript apartment building down the road from the Vespa dealership and the Chinese embassy dormitory complex). Since Wide World of Wine is somewhat hidden away, its tastings are sometimes only frequented by the most vigilent winos in town. (Wine from the d'Arenberg vineyards of South Australia's McLaren Vale was being sampled, including its Footbolt Shiraz, Custodian Grenache and Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier.)

Its tasting room is located in the store's basement, where its more expensive offerings are kept. The room is somewhat small, so tastings are only comfortable with a handful of customers. The room's size creates an environment where people can strike up conversation, making often-stuffy tastings more friendly and personable.

On Saturday, we met a man from an outlying Montgomery County suburb who discussed how he gives his children, one who is only four years old, wine and beer with dinner. The father was giving us tips as to how to properly introduce children to alcohol, saying that you only do it with meals. And even more, it's all part of a vibrant learning experience.

I'm paraphrasing what he said, but you'll get the point: "They only get beer if they ask: 'Mutter. Vater. Ich habe ein Bier?' And they only get wine when they ask: '¿Madre, padre ... Puedo tener algún vino?'" So slight childhood inebriation comes only with training your children to be polyglots, according to this father.

Also at the tasting was an older woman in her 60s who was very impressed to see a group of five twentysomethings out on a Saturday afternoon sampling wine. "If only all young men your age would appreciate wine ..." We all tried our best to hide our laughter as her comment, in combination with her approach was unexpectedly humorous.

When the woman was speaking with the man who gave us tips on how to introduce children to alcohol, she asked where he came from. He replied that he came from Germantown and in a truly old-school Washingtonian retort, she said: "Germantown, that's not local." The man, sort of surprised and perhaps slightly intimidated by her forward nature, stood silent, later switching to a conversation about local bike trails.

More information:
Accolades and Tasting Notes [d'Arenberg]
Wide World of Wine

COMMUTING: SmarTrip Troubles

In the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's SmarTrip bus conversion, I have come across some bugs that need to be worked out. Sunday morning, on my way to brunch, I boarded a 90 bus at Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street when the SmarTrip reader only registered a 70 cent charge, instead of $1.20. The bus driver found that perplexing, and had no idea what had gone wrong. The driver waived me through. Mind you, this trouble emerges before the introduction of universal bus-to-subway, subway-to-bus automatic transfers via SmarTrip. Could this signal that more SmarTrip troubles are on the horizon?

Also, you may notice a jarring, unearthly buzzing noise coming from bus fare collectors. That is the sound of people inserting pennies as bus fare, which are now automatically rejected.

More information:
SmarTrip conversion backgrounder [WMATA]

URBAN CHALLENGE: Bettering My Times

Official results for the June 12 D.C. Urban Challenge are now posted on the results website. I intially thought that I, along with my racing partner crossed the finish line in 2:47, but the results website says that we crossed in 2:42:46, placing us in the 8th finishing position. (I'm the one on the right with the sunglasses and the ridiculous facial expression. I think we're at the checkpoint outside the Moby Dick kebab house in Georgetown, though the photo is a little unclear.)

Now it's on to Miami in November for the nationals.

More information:
"A Full Report" [Oculus]
"Washington, DC 2004 Results" [Verizon Wireless Urban Challenge]

CAPITOL HILL: Digging Up Trouble

The Washington Post reports this morning about the frustrations of neighbors in certain sections of Capitol Hill where there is fallout from the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority replacing lead water lines.

From the Post's David Nakamura:
[Capitol Hill resident Richard] Longstaff figured that someone representing the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority would be back to finish the job outside his home in the 100 block of 13th Street SE. Instead, a public works inspector who noticed the bricks issued him a $35 fine for "failure to maintain abutting public space in a clean condition." Now, Longstaff has a July court date to fight the ticket.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

STATE FUNERAL: Fixing the Bumps in the Via Sacra

If there is one positive after-effect the sometimes-inconvenient logistics for the Reagan funeral had on the District, it may have been good roads. Although I am not sure of this 100 percent, I believe that Waterside Drive has become a lot smoother as of two weeks ago.

Although I don't have a car of my own, I have been borrowing some wheels the past few weeks for moving-related errands. And as of yesterday, Waterside Drive is significantly smoother than it has been. Waterside is the roadway connecting Rock Creek Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue and has been known for having significantly bumpy roadway surfaces. According to reports at the time, the Reagan funeral procession was to use Waterside Drive on the way from the National Cathedral service to Andrews Air Force Base.

If anyone can confirm that, I would be much obliged.

More information:
"Friday Closings for Cathedral Service; Will the Potholes Go Away?" [Oculus]