More ways to make the country’s most important city even better


Traffic passes along 14th Street, February 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
John Kelly
Columnist February 26, 2013

I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Indiana. Or Colorado.

We’re in Washington, and we’re continuing the conversation we started Tuesday: What are the trade-offs we make when we decide to live in Washington? We’ve already gone over how Washington is different from Southern California. Now let’s skip around the country.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

When Ted Watts moved here 50 years ago from Indiana, he noticed an obsession with status. “The first question at cocktail parties was, ‘What do you do?’” wrote Ted, who lives in Silver Spring. “If the answer didn’t imply a high enough rank (and mine never did) the guest looked over my shoulder for a more likely prospect.

“Back home in Indiana I might be introduced to Bill Jones with, ‘He’s president of the Merchants Bank, but don’t hold that against him.’ ”

I don’t think it’s right to cut a person because you don’t find him important enough for polite conversation. But I don’t mind showing an interest in someone’s job, even to the point of asking, “And what do you do when you’re not at a cocktail party?” I find people’s jobs interesting, whether it’s selling hot dogs outside an office building or pushing money-market accounts inside one.

About three years ago, Lisa Byington moved from Washington to Denver. “Yes, traffic is much less here, and I don’t just mean on the roads and trains,” she wrote. “But the big difference that I’ve been savoring is that I no longer live in a police state. After 9-11, D.C. became obsessed with security, to the point that two hours of fun required four hours of hassle to get to and from. It’s so nice now breezing in and out of buildings without metal detectors, using elevators without pass keys, and parking right next to the building you’re visiting.”

I wonder if we’ll ever see those days again in Washington.

John Loulan is originally from Norfolk. He also spent many years in Virginia Beach.

“That area isn’t much different than Northern Virginia: gas stations and predictable stores on every corner,” John wrote. “Suburbs are suburbs.”

Then came the big move: John drove south until he ran out of road. He settled in Key West, Fla.

“Boating in crystal clear waters, a big waterfront party to celebrate the sunset every day,” is how he describes it. “Better restaurants than almost anywhere I’ve ever been. Ride your bike all over the little two-by-four-mile island.”

But about four years ago, John and his partner decided to see if there was more to life than what Key West had to offer. Plus, the real estate market had imploded down there.

“D.C. is truly a beautiful city, one of the best in the world,” John wrote. On the other hand, there’s worsening traffic and what he sees as a rising rudeness among drivers.

“So it really has been a mixed bag,” John wrote. “A lot we like here but it would be nice if people could be a little more courteous. . . . D.C. has a lot to offer but it’s not as good as it could be. It’s up to the people.”

Hear that, people?

Roger Powell lives in Fairfax City but grew up in the Shenandoah Valley. Roger is a former Navy officer who in the early 1970s worked for General Electric in Utica, N.Y. One Saturday afternoon, while taking in the fall foliage, he stopped in a small town for a concert on the village green. “A policeman stopped me and I said to myself ‘Okay here we go,’” said Roger, who is black.

Instead, the officer asked where Roger was from, looked at his watch and then said, “Well, I’m off now, come join me and my family!”

In the South he grew up in, Roger never would have expected such friendliness. “For the first time in my life I felt as if I didn’t have to keep looking over my shoulder for the police,” he wrote. Roger plans to retire to the Finger Lakes region.

“Yes the weather has its challenges, but the people are pretty nice,” he said.

Eric Weinstein looks even further afield for inspiration. He has been a D.C. resident for more than 40 years. After retiring from the federal government, he works occasionally for a U.N. agency in Vienna — the one in Austria, not the one in Virginia. He loves that city for its bakeries, beer, cultural events, architecture, bike-friendliness and inexpensive, well-run public transportation.

“As you can see, I love the place but love Washington too,” Eric wrote. “I just wish we would be more willing to take the best of what other places offer and add it to the good we already have.”

Sounds like a good idea to me.

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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