Saturday, November 05, 2005

ARLINGTON: Detained, But Unharmed

Editor's Note: Sorry to have slacked off the past week, after two weeks on sort-of hiatus. I will be back up to speed with new energy to go out and document the city. But that can be hazardous. This afternoon, I was detained by police for the first time in my life working as journalist, but I will blog about that later. No worries though, your friendly journalist/observer/architecture lover was released and is unharmed, but my name has been added to a database ... so supect me to go through extra security at DCA. I guess I'll just have to take the train to avoid an extra pat down.

In the meantime ... what a beautiful day it's been. Especially if you were enjoying the sunshine and warm temperatures in the cloistered retail bliss at an area lifestyle center's courtyard. At the lifestyle center pictured above, Pentagon Row in Arlington, the community was lounging outside the Taiphoon, Lebanese Taverna and Wolfgang Puck's watching ice skaters do what they do on rink.

I personally like the idea of public ice skating for its pure civic elements. Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan is perhaps the best example. The rink at Rockefeller Center has a looming centerpiece: the golden Prometheus. The looming centerpiece at Pentagon Row's ice rink: signage/staircase clock tower for a Bally's fitness.

Monday, October 31, 2005

PALISADES DISPATCH: Peggy and Melinda Get Testy at Starbucks, But Diplomacy Saves the Day

(Editor's Note: This post is part of a continuing series on the Palisades, that odd sleepy neighborhood upriver from Georgetown.)

IN A LOT OF WAYS, the Starbucks on MacArthur Boulevard in the Palisades (photo here from says about how we relate to one another in this city. Slightly claustrophobic, the coffee outpost in the quiet neighborhood is a cramped narrow space in a low-rise office strip that sends clear architectural signals to its patrons of its get-in, get-out, get-to-work as-soon-as-possible mentality. It’s no place to chat with friends or read the newspaper in peace. While this Starbucks’ quick-handed baristas may be overly cheery, its morning customers, slightly glum, are typically in a hurry to get their coffee and run. And on a Wednesday morning this past July, it served as a perfect microcosm for Washington's oft-criticized passive-aggressive nature. Stir in a parking dispute, and you're asking for a potential blow-up.

AROUND 8:45 A.M., I was reading a newspaper at the one table that actually gets daylight. Suddenly a woman (let’s call her Melinda for this exercise), coffee in hand, stood at the door, gazing into the crowd.

"Who has a black car?" Melinda called out.

Another woman, dressed in a striking green-, brown- and yellow-striped suitpant getup (let’s call her Peggy), turned around and looked over toward the window where I was sitting. She took one step away from the barista station and turned in Melinda’s direction.

"Excuse me, black car?" Melinda called out in a more curt fashion.

"It's actually dark blue," Peggy said, knowing full well what was going on.

"Well, I can't get into my car," she returned.

Indeed, while Melinda’s car was not blocked in, the tight parking spot prevented her from opening her driver’s side door. It was an awfully tight squeeze. Bad Peggy.

"Well ..." Peggy hesitated. "There weren’t any spots left. ... I need to get my coffee. It’s just a plain coffee."

I thought out of courtesy, Peggy should momentarily ditch the coffee, go out and move the car. But since it was just a plain coffee she was waiting for, I thought Melinda could be just slightly accommodating, despite Peggy being totally at fault. The coffee came in about 10 seconds and I thought that would be the end of it.

But Peggy decided to delay matters by going over to the coffee garnish station to sprinkle some cinnamon to spice up her beverage. Melinda, standing at the door foot tapping, was not pleased. The stress levels in her slightly parched mid-century face were clearly building. After all, in a situation where you’ve blocked someone in, it seems rude to delay the situation further by going for the cinnamon — not essential for your coffee like milk or sugar might be. Once Peggy’s coffee was secured, the two left to go out and resolve the parking matter.

PISSED-OFF MELINDA WAS STANDING THERE, hand on her hip in a rather authoritative posture. Peggy nonchalantly moved into her car, a dark blue Acura. Under closer examination, Peggy actually claimed a non-parking space, a tight white-striped buffer zone that doubled as egress space to be used if someone inside were to yell “Fire” and the baristas and customers had to evacuate suddenly. By parking in no man’s land, Peggy was totally in the wrong, and she took her royal time exiting the space. This, and from what I could tell Peggy’s lack of an apology, increasingly agitated Melinda whose foot began to tap and attempts to give hand motions as to how to leave the space quicker turned into broader gesticulations that expressed her displeasure.

Since I could not hear any of the conversation outside, I had to interpret the duo’s body language, which can sometimes speak louder than words. And in Washington, no matter how mad you might get, interpersonal diplomacy usually reigns supreme. In any other compacted city, this could have turned into road rage or a heated shouting match. In a very Washingtonian fashion, Melinda kept her cool but expressed her displeasure in silent non-aggressive ways. Protocol, most often, governs our urges to be confrontational.

Sure enough, as soon as the two left the premises, the law of logistics kicked in. Three parking spaces immediately opened up.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

WEEKEND: Struggling to Unpack

I'm back in my apartment, though I'm struggling to muster the energy to move stuff back into its proper spot. The place looks pretty much the way it was, now with more electrical outlets. I'm wrapping up some other writing and I hope to have those up in the next two days.

In the meantime, a quick Halloween weekend update:

1.) AFTER SEEING A LOT OF COSTUMES at a couple different parties this weekend, I have to say that the lamest last minute costume has to be Clark Kent. Plenty of guys back in college bought those blue t-shirts with the Superman logo on it (or perhaps they were gifts from girlfriends) and they've all been sitting in an old t-shirt pile tucked way back in their closets. All they do is wear a button down shirt and have it partially undone.

Clark Kent, bad effort.

2.) I WAS RUNNING SOME ERRANDS with a borrowed car this weekend and I was reminded with one trip to the Potomac Yard Target why I like not having a car. Much like New Orleans' below sea level bathtub, the parking lot in front of the Target traps cars behind levees of landscaped berms. The process of pumping the place dry is an ugly sight, especially on a Saturday afternoon.

3.) SPEAKING OF TARGET, the construction site at the future Columbia Heights Target has been crowded with demolition crews readying the 3100 block of 14th Street NW (between Irving Street and Park Road) for the DC USA complex and its 1,000 car garage.

The new target will solidify Columbia Heights' resurgence as one of the District's top retail and shopping crossroads, much like it was before the riots. I was up in Petworth at a Halloween party and was reminded of the need to restructure the 42 bus line. The lack of direct bus service between the upper 14th Street corridor and Farragut Square via Dupont Circle will be an impediment to its growth. Currently the much-loved/much-loathed 42 bus (Mount Plesant to downtown via Dupont Circle) gets you close. It would make sense to either reroute the 42 to loop through Columbia Heights and then to Mount Pleasant or bring back the old 40 route and run it to the Columbia Heights station at Irving and 14th streets NW and perhaps then north into Petworth via 14th Street or to the Petworth station (at Georgia and New Hampshire avenues NW) via Park Road.

As gentrification becomes more entrenched in the two-syllable streets (Monroe, Newton, Otis ... Upshur, Varnum, Webster), the lack of transit service from the upper 13th and 14th Street corridors over to the Farragut Metrorail stations via Dupont Circle will limit development in those areas. That's me with my crystal ball.