Gene Weingarten: Coolsville

Gene Weingarten
Columnist August 20, 2012

Did you see that Forbes magazine just ranked Washington, D.C., as the nation’s second “coolest” city — ahead of Miami, New Orleans and New York? You are probably thinking that letting Forbes magazine judge a contest about coolness makes as much sense as letting Hustler magazine judge a contest about calculus. But let’s not be too hasty. Let’s think about it a second.

Okay, you’re right. The best evidence that you are right are the results themselves. Sure, I think Washington is cool, but I tuck my shirt into my underpants. The fact is, empirical evidence militates strongly against Washington as any sort of avatar of cool.  

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

In Washington, an example of an A-list celebrity — the sighting of whom at a restaurant would elicit high-fives all around — is, like, Ben Bernanke. The only time truly cool celebrities visit is for an opportunity to be uncool, such as testifying before Congress about their views on alternative energy sources. Or to accept the Kennedy Center Honors a few weeks before they die.

Here are two celebrities who were born in D.C. but managed to get the hell out as babies: Samuel L. Jackson and Louis C.K. Here are two celebrities who were born in D.C. and grew up here: Al Gore and Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

In Washington, pulses race just a little more quickly on the morning the quarterly gross domestic product figures are released. After the latest monthly employment report, I tweeted that I didn’t understand how jobs could surge while unemployment went up, and got a barrage of earnest explanations from Washingtonians, including this one: “Difference lies in U3 vs U6 BLS stat.”


(Illustration by Eric Shansby)

In Washington’s doctors’ waiting rooms, you are more likely to see the Economist than People. Washington bling is work ID tags, worn around the neck, displayed after hours in bars and actually consulted in a furtive status check.  

The only truly famous ethnic neighborhood in D.C. is Chinatown, which is a few blocks long and has authenticity issues. The three most prominent stores in Washington’s Chinatown are Urban Outfitters, Fuddruckers, and Bed, Bath and Beyond.  

Washington’s single authentic home-grown cuisine is bean soup.

In Washington, the Metro closes for the night, because so does Washington; it goes beddy-bye, like a senior citizen. Metro cars have carpeting, and it doesn’t even get particularly dirty. (Many Washingtonians will read the previous sentence and say: “What do you mean? It’s filthy-dirty!” If they ever have to ride, say, the Lexington Avenue local in New York, they’ll immediately go home and burn their shoes.)

Washington is the official national capital of Adults Who Ride Their Bikes on the Sidewalk Because It Is Too Scary in the Street, as well as People Who Won’t Jaywalk Even When There Are No Cars Around Because It’s Against the Rules.

Speaking of bikes, Washington is aswarm with people riding city-issued rental bikes that have apparently been designed on the theory that if something looks uncool enough, no one will try to steal it. They resemble 19th-century velocipedes, but less exciting.

In New York, the big new project is rebuilding the World Trade Center. In Washington, it is a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower.

Washington doesn’t even have the subtle thrill of danger; crime is pretty low. The biggest threat to public safety is stepping onto a Metro escalator that is actually working, and pitching forward.   

Washington used to have the cool distinction of being Chocolate City, with a majority of black people, an ethnic group that, by national consensus, is cool. But the last census reveals that even that cool distinction is gone. It’s now Caramel Macchiato city.  

The single coolest remaining thing about Washington — our license plates with their subversive, downright guerrilla slogan “Taxation Without Representation” — unfortunately also are a sign of our ultimate uncool.  We’re impotent victims, whining. Might as well re-slogan it to “Kick Me.”

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine .

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