Spring is here at long last. After weeks of hiding behind chilly-to-freezing winds, and the sounds of drunken singers from Ohio at the hotel next door to my office, I have my strongest confirmation yet: it's that time of year in D.C. - tourist season.
This surely isn't a secret to anyone who regularly (or irregularly) visits big cities, tourist destinations, or big-city tourist destinations, but we don't like you. We feel like we're in an ant farm that exists for your benefit. You're gawking and crowding the sidewalks of our home, which, yes, we love, and that's why we made it part of our life. Hence, it is our life you're turning into a spectacle, asking us to take pictures of you, and stumbling around with no idea where you are – and may I add, asking us the same banal and annoying questions over and over again.
We can relate: we've been there. We were new here once and had to ask people how to get to the Supreme Court. I suspect that with only a little bit of effort, you can relate to us, too. Once we've been here a single summer, we've had somebody ask us that ten times each week.
All of that said, here are some tips for those wary of Washington. These little tidbits might help you to blend in, not be such an obvious tourist (and therefore target) or, if not, at least make you more agreeable to the people who live and/or work here.
- I can't stress enough: When you're on the escalators of the D.C. Metro, stand to the right and walk to the left. This includes your children. This is a busy city with people often having to run up and down the stairs of very long, very steep escalators that are almost always packed. It might be a question of national security that they get the train that's just pulling in, or they might just be pissed-off with a bottle they're willing to throw at your head. I was the recipient of such a bottle once when I'd lived here for a week. With you, I can't promise I won't be the thrower, but if you or your six-year-old are standing on the left, I promise that you or your kid deserve the throwing.
- Speaking of the Metro, pay attention to the maps. The color-coded subway lines are not that hard to figure out, and those little guidebooks you carry around almost always tell you what stop to get off at for the site you want to see.
- Don't wear those stupid little American Flag lapel pins on your casual shirt. Just don't. The only people who wear them work in the Capitol, and only when they wear suits, and only when they're going to be on NBC Nightly News.
- That photo you want us to take of you where it looks like you've got the Washington Monument in your hand? Not funny, not cute, not clever, not creative.
- Yelling "Forrest!" "Jennay!" at the Lincoln Memorial? Not funny, not cute, not clever, not creative.
- Asserting a bit of your hometown "local color," like the assholes next door to my office this evening who sang "Happy Birthday" to each other at the top of their lungs a dozen times? Not funny, not cute, not clever, not creative -and not original. We heard it from 21 other assholes from your hometown last weekend.
- The homeless guy screaming obscenities at you from across 17th Street is harmless. Another perfectly understandable scenario: scary dude yells at you across the street, you get a little scared. Cruel as it may seem, you're also going to get laughs.
- If you want to get screamed at in the most offensive language imaginable — things it never even occurred to you to warn your kids never to say — then scold the clusters of small children you see having fistfights with each other and saying, "Fucking bitch-ass cunt." It's English as they can't teach it in schools!
- Don't ask us why there is no J Street. It's a long story, and we've heard the question enough times that we're likely to just make something up.
- Don't ask us why there aren't more Chinese people in Chinatown. It's a long story and it features sermons about gentrification and urban crime hotspots. If you ask, we're going to tell it to you.
- For the love of God, if you're on Pennsylvania Avenue downtown, don’t ask us how to get to the White House. I feel confident you can figure it out.
- If you find yourself in line at the hot-dog cart talking to a guy whose job is to pick up Senator Bayh (D-IN) from the airport at 11:30 on a Saturday night, remember this: His job isn't glamorous. It's boring at best and infuriating at worst. He isn't thrilled to be rubbing shoulders with the people who make the laws of this great nation. He's grumbling because he'd rather be watching the ballgame and hitting on girls at his favorite bar in Georgetown.
- Don't ask anyone you meet out and about in the city who the nominee is going to be in 2008. That's the kind of thing they have to deal with 40 hours a week (if they're lucky). They're out and about in the city right now trying to get away from talking about that shit.
- However, don't assume everyone you run into is a government employee, a government contractor, a lobbyist, or a lawyer. Many of us are dentists, writers, waitresses, bookstore owners, nonprofit or association workers, PR executives, and CVS clerks. That's right, just like you! This balance isn't as delicate as you may think, though, because those people don't want to be asked about the nominee in 2008 either. Trust me, they talk about that shit all the time, too.
- No, you haven't seen everything. If you've been here eight days, sightseeing ten hours of every day, been to all the Smithsonians, gotten the VIP tour of the Capitol and the Supreme Court and the White House led by your Congressional Representative, been to the top of the Washington Monument, walked around each of the monuments and memorials, checked out Woodrow Wilson's house, been to service at the National Cathedral, had lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl, climbed the stairs from The Exorcist, saw the parking garage where Woodward talked to Deep Throat, caught 1776 at Ford's Theater, saw Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center, had dinner at the Watergate, shopped in Georgetown; walked to Hains Point, visited the FBI and the Treasury and the National Archives, and spotted Sam Donaldson at Kinkead's, you haven't seen everything. Dig a little deeper! Go find the weird things that aren't on the news! Check out the World's Largest Rocking Chair!
- Did I mention standing to the right on the metro escalator? That's really important.
Fifteen universal tips? That's enough. Here are some personal pet peeves of mine.
- Why do you want to go to T.G.I. Friday's in D.C.? You can go to that at home, for God's sake.
- If you went to the Air and Space Museum when you were here three years ago, why go again? It hasn't changed. There are so many world-class museums you haven't been to. The Hirshhorn is on one side of Air & Space and the Museum of the American Indian is on the other. They're both great. I promise you, they haven't moved the Spirit of St. Louis since the last time you saw it.
- The license plates say TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION for a reason. Ask someone about it. I promise; that's one question we don't hear often enough.
- Make public jokes about Marion Barry at your own risk.
That's enough for now (although I reserve the right to add more to the list if they come up). These will make your trip to D.C. happier, healthier, and less annoying to the rest of us.