John Kelly writes five times a week about the joys and annoyances of living in Washington. He aims to show readers the Washington (and Silver Spring, Alexandria, Manassas, Bowie ...) that they know and take them places they don't know. He wants to make them see familiar things in unfamiliar ways and unfamiliar things in familiar ways. ("We may occasionally end up seeing unfamiliar things in unfamiliar ways," John says, "but such are the risks of the job.") His columns take a cockeyed view of the place the rest of the planet knows as the Capital of the Free World but that we all call home. John rides the Metro for fun and once kidnapped an Irishman to see what made him tick.
John was online to chat about his columns and mull over anything that's on your mind.
This week's columns:
Answer Man: And Prizes for All, (Aug. 23)
$@%#! Reindeer Games, (Aug. 24)
The Road Most Taken, (Aug. 25)
There's No Charming Place Like Home, (Aug. 26)
With No Signs of Life, It Must Be Home, (Aug. 27)
Post columnist John Kelly
(The Washington Post)
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
John Kelly: Hi yall. I'm a little frazzled today, having just come from the settlement attorney's office. We closed on a new house this morning and so are now suffering under a mountain of debt. But that's the American way!
Columns this week touched on whether or not The Washington Post Amateur Authors' Association of 1889 was racist, a reader's suggestion that newspaper comics artist telegraph their characters' obscenities by coding such utterances as @$#! and *&@#! (not to mention &)(#%@!) [BTW, don't they all look better ending in an exclamation point?], the morning I spent driving around the Beltway, and a duo of columns on my house-hunting/-selling adventures.
As always, feel free to weigh in on any of these, or anything else.
Metro should mind their own house:
Exiting the LeEnfant Metro station yesterday morning, there was a Metro worker drinking a gigantic Starbucks frappacino thingy, standing right next to the kiosk talking to the manager. Great way to make sure no one eats or drinks in the station, why not just set up a buffet table right there?
Metro should really just get rid of the eating rule. They dont do anything to enforce it -- save their once a year overpublicized arrest of someone (chewer, fry girl) -- so why bother? There are so many people drinking coffee in the morning on the Blue Line, I feel like I am in the minority by NOT drinking.
John Kelly: I had an e-mail yesterday from a reader who had seen a Metro cop drinking a water on the subway. I've gotta hope these things are rare, or that the cop was in danger of keeling over from dehydration (they do wear an awful lot of hot, heavy gear). In any event, I don't think they should abandon their rule. IT does help to keep the system cleaner. Of course, what should happen is that riders like you and me should say something. I watched a woman consume an entire apple on the Red Line the other day and didn't say a word. Why not?
Hi there John. The quiz game junkie that you wrote about in today's column is going to need a lot of luck if he hopes to make a living off of schlock like that. That wasn't a skill/knowledge game or puzzle. It was a guessing game... you either got it right or you got it wrong. Where's the fun in that?!
John Kelly: Schlock? That's a bit harsh. Don't judge him on one puzzle sent in to me, but on his entire ouevre. Check out his book and see what you think. Besides, wasn't it kinda fun learning that Preparation H has cocoa butter in it?
I hate to admit this, but, Metro hasn't been that bad this past week. What gives? No major morning or evening commuting headaches.
John Kelly: And yet on Tuesday I got to the Farragut North station to see people streaming out of it. I had a meeting that night and wondered what was up. People were crowded around the kiosk and as far as I could tell a train was stuck in the station and people were being told to walk to Farragut West and work their way past the problem. I ended up taking a bus up 16th STreet. I don't know if it really was a big deal, or if the train was moved the second after I left. Once again, lack of info. But you're right,no big newsworthy screwups. Maybe we've lowered our standards. Anyone else have trouble?
Congratulations on your new house! My wife and I are just about to embark on the same journey (selling smaller home and buying larger -- locally -- at the same time). What's the best bit of sanity-preserving advice you can provide us?
John Kelly: I'm a firm believer in "it all works out in the end." That, plus the fact that I take mood-deadening medication for my heart, made this relatively painless. Well, painless if you discount the fact that the first buyer dropped out when a crack was found in our basement wall. Oh and that we were in Europe when teh first open house was held. So my advice: Go to Europe and take 150 milligrams of the beta-blocker Toprol a day.
In today's column, I noticed your mention of a "guitar, mandolin and ukulele" being in your home. Do you play those? Are you in a band? What's your take on music to catch around town?
John Kelly: Sadly, I no longer play in a band. I used to play drums in a band called The Item that played around town circa 1980-86. We were I guess what you'd call "new wave." I flail around on guitar, which is easier to keep in the living room than a drumset. I'm woefully behind on live music, both playing it and hearing it. I recommend The Post's Eric Brace and his band Last Train Home. And my old songwriting partner, bandmate and roommate now plays in a band called Western Bop. See them tonight at the Half Moon BBQ in Silver Spring. Tell him John Kelly sent you.
What was up with the "Fox Trot" cartoon yesterday praising how wonderful The Washington Post is and how well it treats cartoonists? Was this shameless flattery or sarcasm?
washingtonpost.com: Fox Trot, (Aug. 26)
John Kelly: It could be both, actually. The Post is recognized as having one of the best comics pages in the country. Whenever we go someplace else my kids are disgusted by the one or at most two pages that other papers have. But cartoonists, like all creative people, are convinced that no one loves them and their lot in life is horrible. He could have been sarcastic. I wonder if he changed the name of the paper for each paper he runs in.
John Kelly: By the way, if any late 30s/early 40s (or late 40s/early 50s, for that matter) guys wanna put together a band that plays British invasion music and 60s rock and roll, let me know. I'm dying to pick up the sticks in anger once again.
Silver Spring, Md.:
I hate to carp about such a minor point, but as a former College Bowl team member at the University of Minnesota, I feel compelled: In today's column you write of the fellow who, among other things in his quiz career, played in "the College Bowl." This is like saying that someone is a reporter for "the Newsweek." Your copy desk has no trouble rendering titles of TV shows such as "Jeopardy!" accurately; I suppose that because College Bowl hasn't been on TV for a long time, there isn't as much motivation to get it right. The facts are at www.collegebowl.com. (No, I don't work for them, but I am a copy editor.) Thanks.
John Kelly: With College Bowl alumna mad at me I'm going to have to start my car by remote control for the next few weeks....
Sorry about that. I know of course that College Bowl was a long series of things and not one big quizfest, a la "the" Super Bowl. Today's quiz guy was actually on College Bowl teams for two different colleges, which is why I didn't bother listing which one.
Third Cubicle on the Left, Washington, D.C.:
John, very happy to have you back and typing away.
I was amused by the Post story today on the Northwestern High School students wearing uniforms this school year. I am a product of the Catholic school system where we not only had to wear uniforms, but little beanie caps and BLOOMERS in gym glass.
(Any other Dunblane Elementary or Immaculata alums out there?)
Why are the boys not required to wear shirts and ties and the girls, blouses and skirts or pants? I can't tell from the photo that they are actually in uniform.
We had to be very tidy. Hair tied back, shirts tucked in. Shoes shined and polished (black and white saddle shoes!;) and socks bleach white. I miss the good old days......
John Kelly: Today's move to school uniforms seems to be more a way of blunting bad things than encouraging good things. That is, it's a way to keep kids from coming to school in outrageous garments. After visiting England this summer my daughters were jealous and wished that their schools had uniforms, but given how bland the new uniforms are, that wouldn't hold much appeal. I will say that when I lived in England and attended an English school the uniform code was a bit elastic. That is, you could still tell a lot about a person by his uniform. The poor kids had shabby uniforms, the rich kids had nice ones. And the cool kids would push the envelope,mainly by wrapping their neckties around and aruond themselves so that only the tiniest little bit was showing. They looked like somethnig from "A Clockwork Orange." But then everybody at English schools does. Either that or 'Lord of the FLies."
Would you believe it, I live near the Glenmont station and work in Southwest, and have not encountered a Red Line delay in over a week and a half! Of course, I did have an operation, so haven't been at the office in a week and a half, but I still take it as a small victory (at least a memory I can cherish for a while while sitting on a stopped train and being told that Metro appreciates my "patience"). My op was up in Baltimore and my wife and I enjoyed what we saw of the city, though realize that the Inner Harbor and downtown don't tell the whole story. And, my, all of those cars headed north from D.C. even by 4 in the afternoon!
John Kelly: Another satisfied Metro customer, at least for this week and a half.
What's the big deal about Krispy Kreme, anyway?:
To some, it may seem I just burned the American flag with words. I guess it's a cultural thing. I am less than awed by Krispy Kreme doughnuts/donuts. They seem rather ordinary glazed doughnuts to me. I grew up Los Angeles, with, generally, less-sugary (though certainly not healthy) cake donuts. I lived in Sacramento for a time and enjoyed "Spud Nut" doughnuts, made from potato flour. I'm no huge fan of Dunkin' Donuts, mind you, though when I worked in Cebu City, Philippines many years ago, the only two U.S. food francheses were Dunkin' Donuts and Shakey's Pizza. My Brazilian wife hates doughnuts of all kinds (mind you, she puts mayonnaise and ketchup on pizza).
John Kelly: I'm not really qualified to lead a donut discussion, but I will agree that KK's marketing may have outpaced its product. But a freshly made, freshly glazed Krispy Kreme donut is pretty darn tasty. Whether it warrants the slavish attention the press lavishes on them is doubtful. In fact journalists recently have been questioning the krispy Kreme donut overkill. But potato donuts? What do they taste like? Warm Pringles?
Upper Marlboro, Md.:
I just read that Kwame Jackson from "The Apprentice" is developing in PG County an 80 to 130-acre area into commercial and residential property. Do you know where and what type of commercial property?
John Kelly: Hadn't heard that. I'll ask someone on our Business desk.
Hey John --
Loved your column about driving around the beltway. I think everyone should do it at some point, if only to see the places that you hear about on Traffic reports -- St. Barnabus Road, MIxing Bowl, etc. I was however stunned that it only took you about an hour to drive it. You lucked out!
John Kelly: Thank you. Several "law and order" readers with a mathematical bent have pointed out that if I drove 66 miles in 61 minutes I must have been exceeding the 55 mph speed limit. In my defense I was just keeping up with prevailing traffic, officer.
As for circumnavigating the circumferential highway, I recommend it too. I asked for Beltway anecdotes and received many that mentioned making the round trip, mostly just after it was open and it was sort of a novelty. One woman said she went on a blind date with a guy who drove around the Beltway twice. That's it. That was their date.
All the problems have been on MARC! My train was 45 minutes late this morning (the one home the other day was 40 minutes late). The really annoying part this morning was watching the Amtrak go by, knowing that it stopped at the station I needed, but not being allowed to get on it because I have a MARC ticket not an Amtrak ticket.
That said -- the MARC trains that I ride are generally pretty reliable, it's just been this week. (I hope!)
John Kelly: Just as matter can be neither created or destroyed, there is a constant level of commuting angst. If Metro goes off without a hitch, MARC pays. If MARD and Metro go smoothly, a Krispy Kreme truck jacknifes on the Beltway.
Zero tolerance land:
Please, please, no food or drink on Metro!; Never mind the rodents, roaches, and other vermin, how about the smell? You are allowed to eat on the London Underground, and by the end of the day the cars are filthy, and they smell!; and it's not a good smell. What if someone spills something, and someone comes along, slips, and falls on the track? I'll give John Edwards' old law firm a call, and a nice big payout, thank you very much. And to top it off, THERE ARE NO GARBAGE CANS ON THE PLATFORMS ANY MORE!; Where are people supposed to put their empty containers? I know, throw it on the tracks. that way they can start a fire when it hits the electric rail. what a wonderful idea.
John Kelly: Krispy Kreme donuts on the third rail. When all the gease catches fire it will be Triangle Shirtwaist all over again. I agree with you, but what of my question: Should passengers be enforcing the rule, policing each other? Or are we all locked in our own little commuting bubble?
Hi John. Is there any way you can comment to the people who publish the Express? Today there is an article that states that "527" groups are named after the section of campaign finance law that authorizes them. Not at all. They're named after the section of the IRS code that authorizes them. Also, earlier this week, they had a photo of the American fencer labeled incorrectly -- they switched her (blonde, wearing red, white and blue) with her Asian opponent. I'm offended as a reader at the carelessness of the publication. Can't they afford a fact checker? If they have one, he/she should be fired. Is there anything The Post's regular staff can say to them?
John Kelly: I'll pass that on the publisher. The vast majority of the stories in Express come from the Associated Press and Reuters, so I'm guessing the error originally came from those wire services. I've noticed that Express prints corrections, so perhaps they'll do that. Also, they have a pretty lively letters page. Send them a note that they're all idiots and I bet they publish it.
The Sticks, Va.:
I am hoping you can help me dispel the myth that commuters could stop rushing and walking on the left on Metro escalators if we would just leave our homes or offices a few minutes earlier. I always hear that from people, "Just leave a few minutes earlier, then you wouldn't have to rush/push tourists out of the way/etc." Please understand, it doesn't work like that! Many of our commutes involve multiple modes of transportation, each with their own timetables. For instance, my shuttle to the metro leaves at 7 a.m. Leaving my house a few minutes earlier does nothing but leave me waiting at my bus stop three extra minutes. The shuttle leaves at 7, end of story. But miss that by only three seconds, and the next one doesn't come for another half hour!
Likewise on the way home, catching the right metro to make my homeward bound shuttle matters just as much because if I'm only a few seconds late, I have to wait another half hour or pay for a taxi to get home. Being a few minutes early doesn't help and is actually impossible because at my job I can't clock out until a certain time. There is no fudging it a few minutes early.
In other words, we're not crazy -- seconds actually matter to us.
John Kelly: I agree with you 100 percent. And there are times of the day when if you miss the train you might have to wait 15 minutes, blowing all your connecting flights. I did hear from disabled people who said they sometimes have to stand on the left and so we shouldn't assume that anyone on the left is a cretinous tourist. And one should always be polite.
You wrote: "wasn't it kinda fun learning that Preparation H has cocoa butter in it?"
Yes, although I have to point out that it would -not- be fun to learn that my cocoa has Preparation H in it.
John Kelly: It would keep your lips from swelling, though, wouldn't it?
The other day when you asked for Beltway stories I couldn't think of one. But today, I remember one:
My cousin and her fiancee were coming to visit me. We lived in Springfield at the time. We were starting to worry about her becasue she was over an hour later than we assumed that she would be. When she finally arrived she told us that she had missed our exit twice and knowing that it was a beltway she drove around it a each time until she came to our exit again. Making it 2 1/2 times around the Beltway before getting off.
John Kelly: That's hilarious. Brilliant, in a way. A sad way.
When I moved back here from 10 years in Utah I did the once-around-the-beltway bit. On a sunday afternoon, so it took an hour.
Seen on the net:
With purchase of equal or greater priced Tibet. Limit one per customer.
p.s. In that picture with the chat you look like a befuddled chipmunk.
John Kelly: Driving on teh Beltway is one way to convince you you're not in Utah anymore. And what's this with the chipmunk talk? I think I look like someone who just found out that his Preparation H has a tasty Swiss Creme flavor.
Where are you from originally, John? I ask because, since I moved to D.C. from Michigan 11 years ago, I have not ONCE met anyone who had a clue what mercurochrome is. Do they even sell it down here? I still have the orignal bottle that my mother sent with me when I was a freshman at GW. I swear by the stuff but everyone always thinks that I'm crazy when I forget to put on a bandaid and they get a glimpse of the familiar bright orange! (My Mom says that they now make a clear version but I don't think it's the same)
John Kelly: I'm a citizen of the world, having lived in DC, Maryland, Texas, Japan, Arizona, Idaho, England and Texas. For whatever reason, mercurochrome was a part of my life. I couldn't remember its exact name when I was writing teh column so did some research. It's pretty much banned now over fears that its main ingredient, mercury, does more than just kill the germs. Which may explain why you and I are stuck in dead-end jobs.
Zero tolerance again:
Yes, passengers should tell other passengers (politely), that it is against the rules to eat or drink on Metro. I do it EVERY DAY!; Most are polite about it. But I wish Metro cops would do their job.
John Kelly: I think I'm too shy to say, "Excuse me miss, you shouldn't be eating that apple on teh Metro." I did tell a guy he couldn't smoke on an outdoor platform once, though.
If I get to help enforce the no-eating rule on Metro, can I use handcuffs?
John Kelly: See, this is why we have to be careful. (As if you didn't already have a pair of handcuffs at home.)
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.:
Great column, John. To third cubicle on left: I am a survivor of both Immaculata and Dunblane! Were you there when the nuns let the student body vote whether to change from anklets to knee socks? When the knee socks option won, they gently reminded us that it was not their preference, and scheduled another vote. Guess how that turned out? I once received a demerit for wearing other than "button or small ball earrings." Badge of honor now that I think of it.
John Kelly: I attended Catholic school from first grade to fourth grade and so got out before things got interesting. My grandmother told a funny story though. When she was at Catholic school her class was translating the Iliad from Latin to English. When they go the part about the Trojan horse, Homer's line is: "The horse was pregnant with arms." Momsie asked the nun what "pregnant" meant and was told "Look it up in a dictionary."
I've asked Desson Thomson this question, but he had no clue about it, so I'm bringing it to you and your readers.
I grew up in SE Washington and used to go to movies at the old Coral Hills theater (the one with the mural of an underwater scene on its facade -- get it, Coral Hills?).
Anyway, I seem to remember that during the movies, on the left wall of the theater, lights would very gradually be turned on, revealing a scene (such as people in a theater watching a movie) in lighted silhouette that would be completed by the time the movie was over. As a kid, I thought this was one of the coolest things ever. It actually distracted me from watching "Thunderball," which was the one of the greatest movies of my then-young life.
Does anyone out there remember this? I'd love to know I wasn't just hallucinating from an overdose of Good and Plenties.
John Kelly: Anyone? I have seen a great book at the DC Historical Society that lists every single movie theater every built in Washington. It may have what you're looking for. If you go tell them John KElly sent you.
John Kelly: In fact, wherever you go--Safeway, the Post OFfice, your parole hearing--tell them John Kelly sent you. I'm curious if you'll get better service.
RE: Passengers enforcing Metro's no eating rule:
A (very) few times over my 13 years of riding Metro, I have heard one passenger inform another of the "no eating" rule. Not once did the eater stop. Instead, they either gave excuses as to why they "needed" to eat, or were rude or hostile to the person.
I have, in the past, asked people to not smoke on the outdoor platforms (like at Shady Grove) and again, have been either ignored or verbally attacked.
I would like to tell people they are violating the no eating rule, but I would not like to be threatened for doing so.
John Kelly: Many of the eaters/smokers think the rest of us are no-good busybodies for pointing this out. I saw a guide dog smoking and didn't say anything.
Portland, Maine: Re FoxTrot:
It was the Washington Post up here in the local paper as well. I must say I do miss the Post's comics page.
John Kelly: Okay, so it was just a sop to The Post. I wonder if there's fear among the cartooning classes that we're going to have another one of those cartoon polls. They really hate those.
Dollars to Donuts:
I think that was true of McDonald's also for awhile, where ordering a sandwich, small fries and drink individually was more expensive than the "extra value meal" which came with the large fries.
John Kelly: The chatter is speaking of yesterday's column, wherein a reader pointed out that it cost more to get a small coffee with his donut at Dunkin Donuts than a large one. I really hate being chiseled into getting the largest popcorn and soda at the movie theater, for "only' a quarter more. I just don't have the capacity, and if I were to get the "free" refill they'd be scraping me off the ceiling. (I don't think that detail is in that guy's DC moviehouse book.)
You: "my advice: Go to Europe and take 150 milligrams of the beta-blocker Toprol a day."
Me: Isn't Toprol the smoker's toothpaste? Do the Europeans put it in their cocoa?
John Kelly: Have I been taking the wrong thing all this time? I need to go lie down.
I am one of the silent minority that finds Krispy Kreme donuts tasteless. Want a good donut? Entenmann's chocolate devil's food crumb, or, when in Canada, anything at Tim Horton's
John Kelly: Be not afraid to voice your donut opinions. We welcome all viewpoints here. (Entemann's? Sheesh.)
Where does the no-eating rule on Metro kick in? Top of the escalator, bottom thereof, faregate? Certainly, I see plenty of departing people lighting up a cig immediately upon stepping onto the escalator to leave.
John Kelly: I believe it's the top of the escalator, since that's what got that lady in trouble with the candy bar a while back.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Dude, where'd you move to? Have you left beautiful Silver Spring behind?
John Kelly: Nope, just trading one part of beautiful SS for another part of beautiful SS. We move in a couple weeks, after fixing the floors, fiddling with the kitchen and painting the walls. It's gonna be weird being in a new house.
Thanks for answering the question about music and giving that plug to Last Train Home, Western Bop and the Half Moon BBQ. Another great place, right around the corner, that's doing a lot for live music in Silver Spring, is the new Austin Grill. They have music almost every night and have been very supportive of musicians. They have a new t-shirt that lists all the bands that have played there so far, including...Western Bop.
John Kelly: Yes, and let's not forget Potbelly Stove Works. When I first went to one of those, in Rockville, I think, I saw the rickety ladder leading up to a tiny loft-like state. I thought it was just decoration, the way those restaurants have all that stuff hanging off the walls--hockey sticks, trombones, fetal pigs--then I watched a guy climb up there and plug in his electric guitar. It was like he was playing from the top bunk on a tramp steamer.
One way to tell people not to eat is to frame it as a warning -- point out that Metro cops have been known to arrest people for chewing the last bite of a candy bar, or eating a single French fry. People are a lot more receptive when they think you're trying to keep them from getting arrested.
John Kelly: Good idea. Try to be their friend:"Hey man, be careful. Somebody got arrested for doing that."
In yesterday's Foxtrot, Jason was reading the Style section, not the Metro section where the comics are.
John Kelly: YEs, the comics are in Style. My column is also in Style, but I am technically a Metro columnist, because I ride Metro.
Speaking of dangerous substances: DiHydrogen MonOxide. An extremely dangerous substance that is probably provided to you, gratis, by your employer!
John Kelly: Thanks for the warning. Can anyone detect the joke?
Hi -- this is a random question but you just might be the
person to ask! Do you know where I can get an infant
carseat checked to ensure it is installed correctly? I think
I've read in the past that some fire stations do that, but I
never paid attention since it didn't apply to me. Now I'm
expecting my first child and would love to have someone
verify that everything is installed safely. Thank you!
John Kelly: Anyone? Try a fire station. Tell them John....
Berryville, Va.: RE Toprol:
Tell Alexandria that they are thinking of TOPOL, the smokers tooth polish.
Too much television has altered my consciousness!
John Kelly: Wait, isn't Topol a Broadway actor who was in "Fiddler on the Roof"?
Metro Week in Review:
And at the south entrance to the Dupont Circle station, ALL THREE ELEVATORS ARE WORKING.
Whoever's getting the vigorish, keep it going their way.
John Kelly: Collection boxes at the escalators?
As a former D.C. resident, former METRO user, Im like 99.95 percent sure, the no eating/smoking rule, starts once you hit the bottom of stairs. Thats where the ash trays are located
John Kelly: So perhaps the bottom of the first escalator you encounter but the top of the next one you get to.
Bill Amend just answered the Foxtrot question over on the Comics chat. He wrote:
"Let's just say that after 13 years of begging the Post to carry FoxTrot, I'm not above a little sucking-up to ensure I
stay in the paper for at least a little while. And Suzanne and her associates DO deserve a nod for running such a
great comics section in this era of shrinking comics pages."
John Kelly: There you go. I like "Foxtrot," though I thought I wouldn't. It's drawn in a style that made me think it was going to be like "Luann" or something, but it's really quite clever.
Entenmann's chocolate devil's food crumb donuts:
Don't knock them. With a glass of milk, they're divine!;
This coming from someone with a known weakness for KK's oreo donuts... They're both good, in their own ways.
John Kelly: "They're both good in their own ways."
I think that's a pretty good motto to carry around.
Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. (again):
This is really a nostalgic day for me! I also frequented the Coral Hills Theater on Marlboro Pike. Saw the Ten Commandments there, in fact. Can't recall the wall scenes, but the last time I went by there, the building housed a pentecostal church.
John Kelly: Glad we could drive down Memory Lane with you.
Metro and Traffic:
C'mon, it's late August. In another week or so everyone will be back from vacation or in school, and transportation will be a mess again.
John Kelly: Sad, but true. Enjoy it while you can. Thanks for joining me today on this butt-end day of the summer. As always, feel free to send me comments, thoughts, ideas, complaints, concerns, compliments, etc.: email@example.com. Have a good weekend, drive carefully, and go easy on the donuts--and the Preparation H.