Federal workers: What to do with your free time

October 1, 2013

This post has been updated.

For most people, an unpaid vacation is not cause for celebration. But since many federal worker have found themselves temporarily relieved of their 9-to-5 routines, the best course of action may be to make the most of the time off (at least the minutes not occupied by sticking needles into your members of congress voodoo dolls).

So we've compiled a list of ways to pass the time. Sure, you could sit around your house eating Ben & Jerry's for breakfast in front of Matt, Savannah and the rest of the Today gang. But given the near-perfect forecast of mid-80s temps and clear skies, there are plenty of worthwhile -- not to mention low-cost -- reasons to get out.

(Related content: Free and Easy; Where to go when the Smithsonian museums shut down; the shutdown and kids)

Things to do outside:

Golf. The East Potomac Course at Hains Point will be out once the federal government shuts down, but there will still be plenty of places to tee it up, including the nine-hole course at Sligo Creek and a number of other bargain golf courses.


Is there a better way to spend an afternoon than reading on the rocky bank of Rock Creek? (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

Hike. Trail entrances manned by the National Park Service may be closed, but there will be ways to access Rock Creek Park, Billy Goat Trail (park by Old Angler's Inn and wander up the tow path), Sugarloaf Mountain and many other forested destinations.

Ride. Take advantage of the area's many bike paths, which get crowded with joggers and cyclists on the weekends but should be pleasantly quiet during the week. The W&OD stretches for nearly 45 miles, from Shirlington to Purcellville; the Mount Vernon Trail runs along the Potomac starting at Roosevelt Island (with easy access from Rosslyn).  and for the really adventurous, the C&O Canal trail could provide many hours of entertainment, running 180 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland through Harper's Ferry, which is around the 60-mile mark.

Run. The Mall will be the perfect place to do laps once those pesky tourists and government employees are out of the way.

Paddle. Trying out stand-up paddleboarding will be so much less intimidating on the weekdays when fewer people are around to watch you teeter. One of the cheapest rental options in the area is at River Riders Key Bridge Boathouse, where you can paddle for $29 for two hours. Single kayaks, double kayaks and canoes are also available for rent.

Serve and volley. Find a similarly sequestered buddy and take advantage of less-crowded tennis courts.

Pick apples. Orchard-hopping is another fall activity that tends to get swamped on the weekends. And when you're pinching pennies, $1.50 per pound of fruit sounds pretty appealing.

Picnic. Food and sunshine are a recipe for optimism. Incidentally, so are Tacos el Chilango and Meridian Hill Park.

 

Where to find sights, sounds, a side of education and a few new friends:

Be a tourist. The biannual Walkingtown DC tours kicked off Monday and lasts through Sunday, promising numerous tours around town, including NoMa: From the Beatles to NPR; Who Lives Where: Beauty and History on Embassy Row; Temperance Tour; and many more. The Washington National Cathedral remains open during the shutdown with regular business hours -- 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-4:30 pm Saturday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. There are tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Meanwhile, the National Building Museum and National Geographic Museum are offering free entry to government employees with valid ID.

Listen to music. The shutdown won't affect the Kennedy Center's daily dose of free entertainment each evening at 6 p.m. on Millennium Stage. Georgetown University's department of performing arts also offers free music performances. The concerts, at 1:15 p.m. on Fridays, feature classical and jazz performers. Alexandria Symphony Orchestra is offering furloughed federal workers two free tickets to Saturday night's concert.

Catch free theater. Signature Theatre is offering free tickets to its soon-to-close "Miss Saigon," while tickets last during the shutdown. Government workers can bring their ID badge to the box office. Shakespeare Theatre Company's weekly Happenings at the Harman events offer lunchtime culture each Wednesday. Upcoming noon performances include a visit from offbeat theater company Banished? Productions and a sneak peek of the VelocityDC Dance Festival.

Buy discounted tickets. Cavalia's acrobatic horse show Odysseo, which opens in D.C. Oct. 9, is offering half-off tickets through Oct. 8. Tickets to the DCJCC Literary Festival, which starts Sunday, are also half-price for furloughed employees.

Learn about art. With programming at the Smithsonian museums and the National Gallery on hiatus, the Museum for Women in the Arts is a good alternative for a free dose of art education. On Wednesdays, museum staffers give noon talks about the current exhibitions. Also of note: While access to the galleries costs $10, the museum will waive admissions to furloughed government employees.

Play ping-pong with the similarly afflicted. Sixth and I Synagogue is labeling itself Shutdown Central and offering a place to hang out every weekday starting at 10 a.m. for temporarily jobless federal employees. To pass the time, there will be political ping pong, board games and a continuous stream of "The West Wing."

Movies for free, on the cheap and at home:

Free movies. While these movies won't fill up your daylight hours, that doesn't change the fact that they are free forms of entertainment. On Friday, Union Market is resurrecting its DC Drive-In, which drew crowds this summer. This weekend's movie is "Caddyshack." Also on Friday, Mount Pleasant Main Street hosts an outdoor screening of "Best in Show" in Lamont Park. For something indoors, Artisphere hosts a screening of the eye-opening documentary "Harvest of Empire" in its dome theater on Thursday. The National Geographic Museum, which offers free admission to government employees during the shutdown, has a weekly Tuesdays at Noon series, featuring movies and television specials about science and nature. Today, the film is "The Incredible Dr. Pol," about a Michigan veterinarian.


D.C. Drive-In is back. Free movies will screen on the facade of Union Market in October, starting with "Caddyshack" Friday. (Macy Freeman/The Washington Post)

Cheap movies. Sub-run theaters offer deep discounts on ticket prices. Arlington Cinema 'N' Drafthouse, which is currently showing "This Is the End" and "The Heat," offers $2 admissions on Mondays and Tuesdays and $6.50 tickets on other days. Tickets at University Mall Theatre range from $2-$4. At AMC Theatres, matinees before noon cost $7. At West End Cinema, popcorn and soda is half-price for federal employees with a valid ID. AFI Silver Theater is giving free popcorn away to federal employees.

What to watch at home. If you're wondering what all the "Breaking Bad" fuss is about, there's no time like the present to binge watch all five seasons. Although if you're feeling moderately depressed about the whole shutdown thing, hour after hour with Walter White may not help your psyche.

In that case, you could take a look at the most recent DVD releases, including the much more light-hearted "Iron Man 3," or see some of the recent movies that skipped theatrical releases but caught the eyes of Post critics. Some of the stand-outs include Mike Birbiglia's "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend," "Almost in Love," the collection of short films "Other Than" and "Touchy Feely."  Or if you want a reminder that things could be worse, there's always a glimpse into Lindsay Lohan's career trajectory. Her latest is "The Canyons."

Other activities

Visit a gym or yoga studio for little or nothing. Past Tense Yoga is offering $10 classes for government employees with an ID badge during the shutdown. Badge-toting federal employees can also work out free at Balance gym locations between 1 and 4 p.m. There's a free Insanity class tonight at 8 p.m. at Brickhouse Cardio Club in Falls Church. The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington is also offering free gym access to furloughed workers.

Knit. Fibre Space in Alexandria is offering free knitting instruction for furloughed employees who show up any weekday between 1 and 5 p.m. during the shutdown.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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Fritz Hahn · September 30, 2013