Wednesday, July 28, 2004

COMMUTING: Major Delays on the Red Line

Flooding has caused major signal failures at the Silver Spring metrorail station is causing delays of up to 30 minutes between Glenmont and Takoma. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is advising commuters to avoid the stretch if possible. There is limited shuttle bus service. Check WMATA's website for current conditions.

BLOGOSPHERE: Bloggers Unite

Apparently there is a blogger gathering at Rendezvous Cafe (18th Street and Kalorama Road) this Thursday at 7 p.m. (Thanks to Republic of T for pointing this out.)

An a sort-of related note, I am looking for a few more contributors for a new joint-blogging venture on the District that is set to come about next month. If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at: oculus [at]

BURLEITH: Could It Be Crafting Its Own Niche?

It seems that Burleith, that unassuming neighborhood often mistakenly called "Upper Georgetown" is developing a bit of its own commercial identity. The business strip of Wisconsin Avenue between R Street and the Social Safeway has gained a new restaurant, the Curry Club, which one local food reviewer tells the Oculus could become quite popular.

The executive chef, Chris Payton, learned how to cook curry when his wife, Princess Parule (who started BBC America six years ago) was pregnant.

With Bistro Lepic and Cafe Divan (and Cafe Divan's new bar set to open this fall), Burleith could be developing some destination establishments. While Georgetown's name imperialism goes as far up as Calvert Street, it seems that Burleith could be getting a little more name recognition of its own and the border of Georgetown may be rightfully set at R Street.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

IN THE NEWS: Liquids, Marion Barry and a Dead Cow

... Scary Liquid. A large jar with an unidentified clear liquid and straw freaked out a Secret Service canine unit outside the Chinese Embassy. The jar was inside a parked car and authorities closed off Connecticut Avenue for two hours yesterday, The Washington Post reports.

The liquid was found to be harmless.

... Council Doesn't Want Barry Back. The D.C. City Council has endorsed current Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen over former Mayor Marion Barry, who is trying to make a political comeback, the Post reports. Barry says he could care less.

... Briefly Noted. PETA is offering a reward for the shooting of a Maryland cow near Frederick, the Post reports. And WMATA is blaming this month's ceiling collapse at the Farragut North metrorail station on shoddy work by a 1985 contractor, but assures that all other ceilings are safe, The Washington Times reports.

Monday, July 26, 2004

COMMUTING: WMATA to Look at Trash, Ceiling Stability

The Associated Press reports that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is taking a look at two problems: vandalism/trashed buses and collapsing ceilings.

On the trashed-bus problem, WMATA says there has been a 20-percent increase in bus trash and graffiti. One of the problems is that WMATA has a hard time retaining cleaning staff (... a 118-percent turnover rate). The agency is re-evaluating its cleaning strategy.

As you probably remember, part of the Farragut North metrorail station ceiling collapsed earlier this month. Nobody was hurt, but one of the exits to L Street was closed for repairs.

WMATA "will now closely examine" ceiling anchors, instead of having inspectors looking for "obvious signs" of ceiling damage. ... How comforting.

"More Trash and Graffiti on Metrobuses" [AP via WTOP]

"Metro Promises Better Inspections of Station Ceilings" [AP via WTOP]

COMMUTING: More SmarTrip Confusion

It seems that some WMATA bus drivers didn't get the memo. Or maybe they read it, ignored it, or simply forgot it. Maybe there wasn't a memo in the first place ...

This weekend, a bus driver on a Route 30 run told me that I wasn't eligible for a paper bus transfer because my SmarTrip card would automatically recognize that I was within the two-hour free transfer window.

When I asked if my card would automatically do a bus-to-subway transfer (like SmarTrip is supposed to do eventually), the driver had no idea what I was talking about.

A few hours later, I rode a Route 90 bus and asked whether SmarTrip would recognize a bus-to-bus transfer. The driver had no idea what I was talking about, told me to pass my card over the sensor and then gave me a full paper transfer for the rest of the day.

So in the meantime bus riders, keep on asking for paper transfers. And if the automatic transfers do indeed work, dig the $1.25 out of your pocket and ask for a paper transfer if you want to have a longer transfer (as bus drivers will often rip off transfers for more longer than the two-hour transfer window).

To learn what SmarTrip is supposed to do, read the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's information page. But just remember, WMATA is running out of SmarTrip cards, so if you want one, you'll just have to wait until September when the transit agency is supposed to have enough for general sale.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

DUPONT CIRCLE: Once Shabby Iraqi Embassy Now Making Neighbors Happy

The Washington Post reports on the newly revamped Iraqi Embassy on P Street just east of Dupont Circle. Long abandoned, the mothballed building became a neighborhood annoyance over the past decade. But the building has new life in it, but still has its issues.

From The Washington Post:
As if in empathy with its supervisors in Baghdad, the embassy still suffers sporadic electrical outages. While its neighbors entertain in splendor, its water pipes are corroded, its electric lines frayed, its phones on the fritz. Iraq's top envoy in the United States can call out, but the public is lucky to reach a human being on one of the two working lines in the building.

The embassy is housed in the historic Boardman House, an 1890 mansion built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

This winter, a source in the State Department told me that the Boardman House had rat problems, in fact, it was fully infested with them. Hopefully, that problem has been taken care of.

"Iraq Also Rebuilds Its Embassy" [The Washington Post]

WEEKEND: Not a Success and Not a Failure, the Great 90-30 Pub Crawl Only Gets Half Way to Goal

A veteran English pub crawler told me Sunday that "on a pub crawl you never actually finish. Something always will happen." I had just dragged 15 people from Eighth Street Southeast to U Street Northwest on the 90 bus, and the prospects of bringing them, plus 10 mid-crawl joiners across town to Wisconsin Avenue were not good. Three and a half hours in, I declared an all-stop at 11:30 p.m. Because of institutional obstacles put in place by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, getting across town by bus to stops three and four would be very, very difficult.

On the surface, the great pub crawl I had planned for Saturday was a failure. Our crosstown journey from Eastern Market to Georgetown via U Street and Glover Park got stuck at Ninth and U streets Northwest.

"I don't think you can categorize this as a failure, because we hit 50 percent of the places and then we decided to have fun," one Moon Township, Pa., participant told me after an unplanned diversion to Stetson's.

'Spray Me, Spray Me! I'm Funky!' After starting at Finn Mac Cool's Cork Publick House across from the Marine Barracks on Eighth Street Southeast, 15 hardened souls waited for a Route 90 bus on the deserted street. The gates of the Navy Yard could be seen down the street past the Southeast Freeway, and the bus was late, about 5-10 minutes behind schedule.

Since we were waiting for the bus outside the Marine Barracks, our crew was in full view of a globe surveillance camera at the corner of G and Eighth streets. When two friends got embroiled into some light-hearted rough housing, one ended up in the Barracks hedges. This attracted the attention of a Marine guard, who came out to casually monitor what we were doing. It isn't every day when 15 friends are waiting to board a bus on what is normally a desolate Southeast street.

One participant, oddly enough, brought a canister of Degree aerosol deodorant along for the ride. It was part necessity perhaps, but it was more of a quirky pub crawl commodity. When the Degree was taken out on the bus, I reminded my friend that WMATA had put out a rider alert some time back that terrorists could use aerosol canisters to spray harmful agents on the commuting populous. As we made our way up Florida Avenue Northeast, passengers on the Route 90 bus were looking at us strangely, but we came to the conclusion that it probably wasn't the Degree canister stoking terrorism fears, but was probably the Degree canister itself and what it was doing with group of party-going bus riders.

When we disembarked at Vermont Avenue, the canister of Degree made a return. As IDs were being checked to get into DC9 on Ninth Street, one friend joked to the other with the Degree canister that he needed a spray down. When a homeless man loitering outside the bar heard this, he quickly jumped up to my friends and exclaimed: "Spray me! Spray me! I'm funky!"

So the smelly homeless man was sprayed, recommending the impromptu service to another.

We're Not in Kansas Anymore. In the minutes leading up to 11 p.m., there were concerns about getting to stop No. 3, Bourbon, over on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. I knew this was going to be the most difficult move. If we would be adhering to the spirit of the all-bus evening, we would have taken the Route 90 bus through Adams Morgan to Wisconsin Avenue, where we would have had to transfer to a 30 bus. Because of the 30's reliability and late-night service, we would have most likely walked 10-15 minutes downhill to Glover Park.

In reality, it could have worked, but only if everyone really wanted to do it. Some wanted to go on, others wanted to stay. So we stayed.

After enjoying DC9 for a few hours, it got boring. We wanted a change of venue. So we decided to go to the old stand-by, Stetson's. Walking from the eastern end of the U Street corridor to the western end, was a journey through the street's transformation from D.C.'s Black Broadway to abandoned riot-scarred mess to diverse up-and-coming quarter to its current state as a fully-realized gentrified zone replete with a Quizno's and Starbucks.

As we walked past Cardozo High School, toward the eastern end of the corridor that still strikes fear into some Dupont denizens, a car with Virginia plates parked. Out of it came a group of girls who were going to who knows where.

"Hey Alyssa, we aren't in Kansas anymore," one said, making additional comments on their "ghetto" parking spot. U Street is an exotic, out-of-the way destination to many and therefore stirs up safety concerns, most of them unwarranted.

So onward we went to Stetson's, where the bar staff was wearing kilts for an undetermined reason. A group of promotional "Miller girls" were out in full force at the bar passing out Miller beer visors. One was passed out to a pub crawl participant, it was thrown into the air, hitting another bar patron. Embarrassed, my friend didn't want to retrieve it. A companion instead approached the visor-throwing victim, but to no avail, the woman now in control of the visor was agitated.

"Now, its mine now, bitch ..."

One friend remarked how the presence of the Miller girls was a promising sign that the economy has been improving.

"We're losing all of our manufacturing jobs and we're gaining in service jobs. [With the Miller girls], we're keeping the populous happy."

And with a late-night stop at El Tamarindo for enchiladas, rice, beans and a Negro Modelo, the evening concluded by 3 a.m.

Overall, the night wasn't a success, nor a failure, but was enjoyable all around.

CITY HALL: Coalition Pushes Effort to Recall Mayor

The group Save Our City was out in full force this weekend collecting signatures to get a measure put on the November D.C. ballot that would recall Mayor Anthony Williams (D). A group of progressives, Democrats and Republicans, a recall signature gatherer told me, was determined to meet a July 28 deadline.

Why are the activists angered by Mayor Williams? Save Our City cites five reasons:
1) On health care, Williams closed D.C. General Hospital over the objections of the city council, saying in The Washington Post that "D.C.'s poor don't need a hospital."
2) On education, the mayor "refuses to fully fund public schools and libraries," while he doesn't "work with his own appointees" on the school board.
3) On housing, Williams isn't doing much to help low- and middle-income Washingtonian homeowners while pushing for numerous luxury residential development."
4) On crime, there is too much crime.
5) On D.C. democracy, Williams "a 'Non Homeowner,' suspended constitutional democracy by renouncing 'Hard-fought Home Rule' won by citizens decades ago when he wasn't even in the city."

It is unclear whether enough signature have been gathered. Considering that there have been two past voter referendums that have been embroiled in signature-gathering scandals (Mayor Williams' last re-election and the slots facility in Northeast), "we're doing everything by the book," a Save Our City signature gatherer told me on Saturday on a Northwest D.C. sidewalk.