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John Kelly's Washington

In One Door and Not the Other

By John Kelly
Tuesday, September 21, 2004; Page C12

If you are looking for a little entertainment, I suggest you grab a lawn chair and head over to the downtown For Eyes. There you will find regular performances of a funny kind of ballet. It goes on every now and then as customers attempt the simple act of trying to get into the store.

First they push on the right-hand door of the pair of glass doors that face K Street. When it doesn't budge, they pull. When they realize that doesn't work, they transfer their attention to the left-hand door. They pull on it. No luck.

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Those with sufficient stamina, having tried 75 percent of the possible ways to get inside, then push on the left-hand door, finally gaining entrance.

Similar bits of retail performance art go on all over the Washington area. Many's the time I've nearly sent my ulna through my elbow after discovering with all my forward motion that a coffee shop door I expected to be open was in fact locked. (And believe me, that's not very humerus. Badda boom!)

While in the great scheme of things, this problem -- locked entryway doors at delis, dry cleaners, ice cream parlors and banks -- isn't on a par with, say, the rampaging Janjaweed of Darfur, it is one of those modern little irritations that build up.

(An irritation that, I have no doubt, medical science one day will be able to quantify precisely. "What caused his stroke? Well madam, it was a combination of getting splashed every morning while opening the creamer, having to constantly reinsert his crumpled $20 bill into the Farecard machine and being put on hold by his credit card company.")

The question is: Why, if you have two doors into something (and, by logical extension, out of something), don't you keep both unlocked? Is it laziness? Company policy? Fire code?

The guy at For Eyes said it was because the right-hand door was broken. When it was unlocked, the two doors would hang up.

I then decided to survey the shops with two doors along the stretch of Connecticut Avenue between K and L streets NW. My findings?

Dress Barn: Right door unlocked; left door locked. An employee said both doors are usually unlocked, but when there aren't enough employees in the store to keep an eye on the customers, they'll lock one. They hope this might slow down a "hit-and-run" grab, where a robber scoops up an armful of clothes and rushes out.

Bravo! Bravo!: Right door unlocked; left door locked. An employee assured me that both doors are opened after 11 a.m., when customers start arriving at the restaurant.

Daily Market: Left door unlocked; right door locked. They don't unlock the right door because it's blocked by a sign on the sidewalk announcing the day's specials.

CVS: Both doors unlocked!

Greater Atlantic Bank: Right door unlocked; left door locked. Same with an inner set of doors. An employee said that's just the way they've always done it.

Pure Beauty: Right door unlocked; left door locked.

Should we care that these doors are locked? Robert Polk of the National Association of State Fire Marshals said any door that has an Exit sign above it -- as do most of these sorts of doors -- should be unlocked, all the better to get out in an emergency. Robert said that unlocking an "egress" door "cannot require any special knowledge or any special tools." And the door is supposed to be operable with one motion. Those swinging glass doors typically employ a "thumb latch" at the top of the door and another at the bottom.

"Right there, that violates the intent of the code," he said.

Chief Gary Palmer, the District's assistant fire marshal, isn't so sure. He said that depending on the occupancy of the building, only one of the doors might need to be kept unlocked, as long as that door is at least 32 inches wide.

Really, though, the whole thing is just annoying. The same way that I can never understand why people don't use their turn signals -- it's a perfectly good piece of equipment! why not use it? -- I can't understand why retailers don't unlock their doors.

If good fences make good neighbors, good doors make good customers.

Movin' on Up

The idea was to move into a bigger house, but since we haven't unpacked, the house is actually smaller than our old one. The basement looks like the last scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark": towers of boxes as far as the eye can see. Same with the dining room, living room and study.

Finding anything is like a game of Concentration. I know I saw the umbrella/dog's leash/coffee maker somewhere. It was in the box next to the tent pegs/electric fan/bowling shoes. I've started to regret labeling so many boxes "Stuff."

But ours was a relatively easy move compared with those endured by military and government families. Alice Dougherty of Lexington Park has lived in a total of 14 houses, the legacy that comes with being a Navy spouse. She's moved in the pouring ran, had a forklift run through her dresser and found that packers thoughtfully wrapped up her trash can -- with the trash in it. (She unwrapped it months later.)

Terry Snyder of Alexandria used to work at the FBI, which frequently moves employees across the country. Said Terry: "The saying there is, 'Three moves equal one fire.' "

I'm at kellyj@washpost.com, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 and 202-334-5129.


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