Red pandas, millennials, Brood II and eco-goats all made it into the local lexicon this year, with such seemingly trivial stories capturing the public’s imagination in a way that the acidic gubernatorial race in Virginia or the ongoing investigation of D.C.’s Mayor Vincent Gray simply couldn’t. They alternatively won our hearts and fascination or relentlessly annoyed us. We caught up with five memorable news figures from the past year and found out where they are headed in 2014.
1. Best Airing Of Grievances
In May, guerilla gardener Henry Docter planted more than 1,000 morning glories, cardinal flowers and cypress vines at the north exit of the Dupont Circle Metro. After initially threatening Docter with “arrest, fines and imprisonment” over the unauthorized horticultural venture, Metro instead uprooted the blooms. The so-called Phantom Planter got his revenge in October by hanging a large sculpture emblazoned with comments from the public over the same spot.
Plans for 2014: After Metro pulled the flowers, Docter thought of “three wonderful, fun and completely unpredictable surprises.” The first was the sculpture. The second will be unveiled early in 2014. “If Surprise Number One caused Metro’s bigshots to pee in their pants, I imagine Surprise Number Two will do a bit more,” Docter wrote in an email. “When it’s completely operational, I think Metro is going to unconditionally surrender. And if I’m wrong, there is always Surprise Number Three.”
Forget all of the trendy new restaurants popping up. What really got people excited was a number of big moves from local favorite Ben’s Chili Bowl. The half-smoke slingers announced that they would open outposts in Rosslyn and at Reagan National Airport, and received permits for a Ben’s on H Street NE (which was initially announced in 2011).
Plans for 2014: It will be the “first year that there will be separate brick-and-mortar Ben’s … and we’ll be working to get it right” at each of the three, very different, spots, said Nizam Ali, son of the late Ben Ali. “We know we can get the food right. But what’s the feeling?” Ali asked. He predicted that the Rosslyn outpost will open at the end of January or early February, likely followed by the airport at the end of May or early June and H Street “shortly thereafter.” As for future expansion, Ali said he likes to think that they’ll announce another location next year, possibly in Prince George’s County, Md.
3. Most Likely to Be Turned Into a Pixar Film
The National Zoo’s giant panda cub, Bao Bao, may have won the most press, but Rusty, the red panda, went on the most exciting adventure. The raccoon-like furball escaped his enclosure in June and spent a few hours in Adams Morgan before being found and returned — but not before much of the city tuned in to the chase.
Plans for 2014: Rusty’s days as a young singleton on the loose are over, according to the zoo, which took precautions to trim all nearby tree limbs and bamboo shoots that could be used as a future escape route. He may want to stick around anyway, since he was brought into town as the “perfect genetic mate” for Shama, the zoo’s female red panda. “Rusty is young, so this winter [early 2014] will be his first breeding experience,” wrote Annalisa Meyer, a spokeswoman for the National Zoo, in an email.
4. Biggest Non-Event
Depending on whom you ask, the relative no-show of the cicadas — at least in the District proper — was either a major disappointment or a bug-free bit of good fortune. All the hype predicting an insect invasion of biblical proportions was a particular letdown for foodies itching to try the ultimate hyperlocal ingredient.
Plans for 2014: Hibernation
5. Most Annoying Trend Story
Millennials. Where they live, what they eat, how much they make, whom they work for, how many bicycles they have. We heard it all, and then we heard it again (though we never actually got a consensus on their age range).
Plans for 2014: If only this buzzword would die and the media would either take a more nuanced look at the region’s young denizens or spend time analyzing other demographics (or, heaven forbid, both). We foresee a future filled with even more articles detailing the 14th Street restaurant boom and letting us know that Shaw is the-next-next-big-thing … in case you hadn’t heard.
Other Notable News in 2013
Worst Use of Fruit: Metro cameras caught a Maryland man slipping on a banana peel in August. Then he sued the transit system. The problem? The footage seems to show he actually put the peel there himself. A judge threw the case out, and now the man faces fraud charges. Better to compost.
Best Excuse for Delays: Metro riders usually blame track work for being late, but the delivery of a baby made for a much cuter reason. Shavonnte Taylor gave birth to a son, Amir Mason, on Aug. 1 on the L’Enfant Plaza platform after she went into labor on a train as she headed to a doctor’s appointment.
Biggest Shutdown Surprise: When October’s government shutdown started affecting the aesthetics of the Mall, do-gooder Chris Cox showed up with a lawn mower and a leaf blower to clean up the nation’s front yard, all while proudly toting a South Carolina state flag.
Most Apocalyptic: The sinkholes! The phenomena ate a chunk of sidewalk along Biltmore Street in Adams Morgan in March and endangered cars in May at 14th and F Street NW and in June near M Street NW.
Best Use of Animals: Landscaping got a lot more entertaining when a group of eco-goats were assigned the job of tidying up Southeast D.C.’s overgrown Congressional Cemetery this summer.