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: Well I have a feeling we're an intimate little group this afternoon. Its the last gasp of summer and the fortunate among us have already high-tailed it out of here. That means I'll be counting on those lurkers out there (you know who you are) to step up to the plate today. Otherwise, it's going to be me talking to...me, something I had hoped to avoid for, oh, 30 or 40 years, anyway.
In my columns this week I briefly recapped the history of Friendship International Airport (aka BWI), visited two dogs that a Springfield family brought over from Afghanistan, explored the prying ways of UPS and offered a two-part series of reader Beltway recollections, while allowing myself to be chided for exceeding the 55 mph speed limit. As always, feel free to weigh in on this or anything else.
In fact, let me kick things off with a question a lot of kids are answering right about now: So how was your summer?
John Kelly: .
Driving 65 on the Beltway:
Oh give me a break!; Those people that called in to chastise you for driving 64.8 mph on the beltway. If they don't realize that you need to keep with the flow of traffic for optimal safety, they should not be on the roads.
John Kelly: That's sort of the way I feel. I never felt like I was driving unsafely, even though I had a mini tape recorder in one hand that I spoke into like I was some executive or Hollywood agent. But then, that is what I would say, isn't it? Oh no, officer, I know how to drive safely, even if I was doing 70. What do others think? Any traffic experts out there or cops or backseat drivers?
John Kelly: This just in: President Clinton has been hospitalized and will undergo bypass surgery, according to the AP. Wonder what affect this will have on the election.
washingtonpost.com: Bill Clinton Hospitalized, to Undergo Heart Bypass Surgery (Post, Sept. 3)
John Kelly: I should point out that we're not entirely alone here. The accomplished Eleanor Hong is helping me out from her workspace at washingtonpost.com headquarters in beautiful downtown Arlington. I am in beautiful downtown Washington. And you....Where are you?
Need Subway question answered, and not the Metro. What happens when people go to Subway and dont take their stamps? Do the employees get to make off with a bundle at the end of the night? Technically speaking once the sub has been bought the stamps are spoken for, so if the person in front of me doesnt take them, shouldnt I be able to grab them?
John Kelly: We often chat about the subway here but not about the Subway. Are you talking about a promotional contest? I seem to remember being given some little colored pieces of paper along with my sub the last time I was at Subway. You mean those weren't condiments? That explains a lot--pthewoit!
But seriously--or as seriously as we get around here--those are yours for the taking if they were left behind. The employees can't have them because they're not allowed to participate in the contest. To do otherwise would violate the submaker's code of ethics. (I remember the very first contest like this, by McDonald's sometime in the early '80s. I think it had a Monopoly theme. My college roommate, Pat, and I were convinced we were gonna be the big winners. I think the most I got was a free milkshake. Then it turned out that someone had cheated after all, making counterfeit game pieces, I believe.)
What is the Strange Building on H Street NW?
I can't remember what the building is and it's making me crazy!!!
John Kelly: I'm gonna need a little more information, I'm afraid. What's the address? What's it look like?
Since you ask, John, my summer has be WONDERFUL! I'm so happy that we have been setting records in the fewest number of days hitting 90 degrees or more.
As a newcomer last year, I was totally amazed by the hurricane. What should I expect this year and in the future?
John Kelly: The last few years have been really weird, either too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. I missed the 99-degree days this summer. There's something purifying about them. And to me a punishingly hot and humid day really says summer in Washington. I haven't looked at the long range forecast for the fall and winter but "normal" would be a damp fall then two or three not very big snowstorms in the winter.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Reading today's column remninded me of the time (Say Spring 1987) I went on an PG County Economic Development Corporation bus Tour of a number of sites in the central and souther portions of the county. When I arrived at the meeting place in Greenbelt and looked at the agenda I thought there was "No Way" we could do this in that times posted...Until I saw the PG Police Motorcycle escorts! We zipped here and there, had lunch on the patio of the Oxon Hill Manor, over looking the Potomac, and back to Greenbelt all between about 9:30 am and 2:00 pm. The trip back from Oxon Hill to Greenbelt included the escorts blocking all Beltway exits as we approached. Talk about smooth sailing!
So can you tell us what part of the region you are/have relocating/ed to? Staying in Silver Spring, heading to green pastures to the north...?
washingtonpost.com: Around and Around and Around It Goes (Post, Sept. 3)
John Kelly: Motorcycle escorts? Cool! For one shining moment you got to feel what it's like to be Dick Cheney. As for us, we're staying in Silver Spring, trading a neighborhood just outside the Beltway for one just inside the Beltway. We'll be a little closer to that happening downtown, off of Dale Drive. Now we just have to pack. Ugh.
Recently I completed a cricumnavigation of the Beltway in 29 minutes in 43 seconds. Was very early in the morning. Wonder what Mr Guttag would say? He probably cruises in the far left lane at 54mph. The record for a circumnavigation of beltway I believe is under 27 minutes.
John Kelly: Who maintains the record books? Pat (my college roommate, you'll recall) and I once dreamed about a Washington Olympics. I can only remember two of the events: a sprint in wingtips and two-piece suit down K Street and a race around the Beltway. It would be neat to shut down the Beltway for a day, the way they did the RFK parking lot a coupla years ago, to let cars race around it. Time trials, one car at a time, would be fine. No sense needlessly endangering anyone.
Of course I can't condone racing on the Beltway.
East Granby, Conn.:
Hi, John: J. Huget here. Do you remember the wonderful Radford's bakery in Aspen Hill? More specifically, do you remember--and if you ever ate one, you'll surely remember--their white-cream doughnuts? I'd love to know what happened to the Radford family. And would they be willing to share the recipe for that white cream, now that they aren't using it any more?
This has been on my mind for some time (often occupying my thoughts when I'm supposed to be working), and it just occurred to me that you might be just the guy to help.
Hope your L.D. weekend is great. And I'm glad to read your last post, as I was feeling ashamed that my first thought when I read about Clinton was to wonder how it would affect the election...
John Kelly: Hey J. No, I never had a Radford's white cream donut. They sound good. Was the filling like in the Dunkin' Donuts "white" donuts: sort of chemical tasting, with an oddly styrofoam-like mouthfeel? Or was it more natural? Anyone else out there remember Radfords?
Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.:
Candy-bar-chewers thrown in the slammer, trains abandoned by their drivers at the height of rush hour, SmarTrip shortages, flooded stations, derailed trains ... and then, yesterday's Post told us, "Metro to Prepare Riders for Terror." What horrors do they have in store for us now?
Actually, Metro seems to be doing pretty well lately. But, you know, that's not funny.
John Kelly: Yes, it has been quiet on the tracks lately. The calm before the storm? And that story about the special training that members of "community emergency response teams" will get along with their "go-bags" creeped me out a little bit. I didn't even know there were such teams. (CERTs? Aren't those the "sparkling drop of Retsyn" things?) I couldn't help wondering if terrorists would join the teams just to mess things up.
15th and L, Washington, D.C.:
Since you are uniquely qualified (Not that I would ever wish it on anyone), any advice for Clinton considering his current condition?
John Kelly: You know, I went down to the cafeteria today and saw that they were serving Reuben sandwiches. Man, I love Reubens. But then I thought, all that grease, all that fat. So I had a chicken wrap instead. Clinton is a man of big, uh, appetites. He's gonna have to forgo the Reubens, at least most of the time. Save them for special occasions, like Hillary's inaugural. Plus, though it's the hardest thing in the world for him to do right now, he's got to relax. RELAX BILL! DON'T GET STRESSED! And mall-walking. I recommend mall-walking when he starts his recovery. I would hope he's pretty healthy and strong otherwise.
Subway follow up:
No no no, I'm talking about the stamps you receive for purchasing subs (1 for 6", 2 for 12") - you put them on that little card and after 8 stamps you get a free small sub, 16 is a free large. However, I would say 50% of the people that go never claim their stamps, so where do they go? Do they sit there in the dispenser? Can employees take them and have free food? Someone paid for them already so where do they go?
John Kelly: Oh, this must have happened in the last month or so because it's been that long since I've been to a Subway. Sorry that my answer made no sense at all. Hmmm. Free subs. Really that's a question for the NY Time's Mag's Ethicist, but I'll try to channel him: Those stamps are designed to reward everyone who purchases subs and to encourage loyalty. It would be wrong for you to take them and scam your way to a free sub before you're due. That's what the Ethicist would say. Me, I say go for it. As to where they go, I imagine the employees get free subs already, or discoutned ones, and wouldn't need the stamps. Like so many things, they're going in our overburdened landfills, right next to Pampers and my daughters' Archie Comics.
Oh, please! Why should Clinton's surgery affect the election? He's not running! I'm getting fed up with the Washington mentality that every event must! affect! the! election!
John Kelly: Everything is capable of affecting the election, even if it's infinitesmially or infinitesimaly or infinetesmally or however you spell it. I think Reagan's death made some people look at Bush in a slightly different way. God forbid Clinton shouldn't pull through, but even having him in the news in this way could engender warm feelings for those frisky eight years he was in the White House. But what I don't know about politics could fit in a very large space indeed.
Loved your "Primary Colors" by the way.
Mr. Two Months Ago.:
How about them cicadas?
Ain't they a humdinger?
John Kelly: Yup. And have you heard: Joe Gibbs is coaching the Redskins.
The quip about having Washington Olympics might not be such a bad idea, except, instead, have Washington DC be IN the Olympics. Other non-congressional voting American territories were in them and it would be a great way to educate people that DC residents do not have voting rights.
John Kelly: Good idea. My family was wondering how Puerto Rico could have beat the US at basketball. Shouldn't the Puerto Ricans been playing FOR the US? Do we have any world-class athletes in DC? Or, barring that, any synchronized swimmers?
I missed last week's chat, but have an answer for the poster who asked about infant car seat inspections. The National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) maintains a database of inspection sites on its website, www.nhtsa.gov. You can search by zip code or state to find one near you.
John Kelly: That's great. Thank you.
My experience most recently with the Beltway was when my uncle died (April). His service was in Springfield, the burial in National Cemetery in Falls Church. Had a police escort from Braddock to 50 on the Beltway. While it was obviously not a great time, the police escort on the Beltway was nice so that no one got separated. It got a lot of looks too.
Now I know to move out of the way if I happen to see a procession.
John Kelly: YEah, being on the other end of things always changes your perspective. I remember a few years back when I rented a U-Haul for the first time. I couldn't see a darn thing out of it and it was amazing that I wasn't taking off the wing mirrors of other cars and cutting off everyone on the highway. Now I know to give them a real big berth.
I did not have a chance (work gets in the way all the time these days) to tell you about my Beltway story. I grew up in Greenbelt. Before the Beltway was built, there was a campground that could be accessed via the woods South of Greenbelt Lake. We called the camping area Indian Springs, because there was a natural spring that burbled (is that a word?) out of the ground there. The Beltway destroyed that campground where I enjoyed my first few Boy Scout camping outings. As near as I can figure, the spring is located in a cloverleaf where the Beltway outer loop exits onto Kenilworth Ave.
P.S.: I never cease to be amazed at the people who cannot figure out what "Inner Loop" and "Outer Loop" mean.
John Kelly: Several readers recalled those bucolic, pre-Beltway days. And, yes, Inner Loop and Outer Loop don't seem that hard to me. Answer Man got a question a few months ago from a women in Switzerland asking what the difference was. Why she wanted to know I have no idea.
John Kelly: By the way, is anybody else slightly suspicious of countries that call themselves by a different name than the rest of the planet? The Swiss, for example, call their country "Helvetia." And the Greeks call Greece "Hellas." What's up with that?
About 15 years ago, when I was shopping for my first home to buy, in Silver Spring just inside the Beltway (I still have renters there, so I don't THINK you're moving there), I saw a real estate listing of several homes/condos available for sale, with a small blurb at the end of each giving a highlight. One said, "Within walking distance of the Beltway." Maybe for suicidal home buyers or those who feel that on some days walking is faster than driving?
John Kelly: It's funny you should mention that. I'm working on a column about rule changes in how real estate ads can be written. Today you're not allowed to say "Walk to the Beltway" (or Metro or wherever) because it can be construed as discriminatory against people who can't walk. I'll have the details as soon as I can get someone from the Maryland real estate commission to call me back.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.:
John Kelly: "I missed the 99-degree days this summer. There's something purifying about them. And to me a punishingly hot and humid day really says summer in Washington."
Although I agree that 4H ("hazy, hot, humid, hellish") weather is the District of Columbia summer norm, anyone who longs for it is one sick puppy! The only problem I have with the current temperatures (and occasionally low humidity) is my worry that the weather gods plan to even things up by steaming us in October.
John Kelly: Oh, just one. Or two. I don't want Prozac'ed weather, everything all flattened out, as if we lived in Santa Barbara. I know there's no chance of that happening. Still, I love the occasional day where your sweat rolls down the small of your back and your rubber soles melt to the pavement. It makes the 76-degree days all the sweeter. You're right though, we'll probably get hammered this winter. Paybacks are, as they say, hades.
Hi John -
Another funny beltway story for you - when I was in high school back in the day(in Howard County), some friends of mine had very good seats to a rock concert at the late, great Capital Centre in Landover, and they all packed up in the minivan without any sort of directions, only knowing that the Cap Centre was "somewhere off the Beltway". Well, one of the friends thought she was super smart, and said, 'Oh!; I know the way to the Beltway'. Sure enough, after driving and driving and not seeing an exit (I think they may have made almost a full loop), they stopped at a gas station and asked someone there how far to the Cap Centre. The guy laughed and said "You're on the BALTIMORE beltway, not the DC one!;!;" They all felt completely goofy and sure enough, missed the concert!;
John Kelly: Were they going to see Yes? Roundabout?
Silver Spring, Md.:
What can one do about an poor mail delivery person? They deliver person on my route gets so much mail wrong that the people on the street socialize every evening by re-delivering mail. Five of my letters were given to my neighbor, who pointed out the error to the delivery man. He refused to take them back and give them to me even though they were correctly addressed.
John Kelly: Yikes. And this is your regular guy and not a sub? I would complain at the nearest post office, the one where he gets your letters from. They must do surveys on letter carrier performance periodically.
New Carrollton, Md. :
The stamps for the subs, in most Subways, are in a little dial machine that is totally unrelated to the cash register, so the cashier has to operate it separately. If you ask for a stamp, they give it to you. (I think redeeming stamps for food sounds suspiciously like a certain entitlement program, but that's just me.) So sometimes they just randomly give you the previous persons and other times they guard them as though their life depends on it. It tends to depend on the employee and management at the shop.
And John, they started doing it at least 8 years ago!
John Kelly: Okay, I'm starting to get the picture now. And I'm also calculating the number of free subs I'm owed.
Hmmm...my question was edited...
Way back in February, you did an answer man column on the strange tall building on H Street NW near Union Station.
I tried to click on the link and it was broken, sob sob...
Sorry D.C. I didn't understand your first entry. Here's the link to the story What is the Strange Building on H Street NW? (Post, Feb. 15)
John Kelly: Ah, sorry. Yes click here and you'll get the answer.
Not so much a question but an observation...if the Metro authorities want to crack down on eating and drinking in the Metro areas, then why are there food courts (notably Farragut North)located at the bottom of Metro escalators? Just curious...
John Kelly: For the same reason there are drive-thru liquor stores: Humans are weird.
Radford's Bakery in Aspen Hill was the most wonderful bakery EVER. Cakes, pies, donuts, etc. were all great. I even hired one of their daughters to work in my law firm one summer 20 years ago, hoping it would gain me some freebies. Didn't work, but Theresa was a wonderful person and a good worker. The family obviously taught a good work ethic.
John Kelly: All these great bakeries...gone. And in their place? Krispy Kreme.
Re: Countries by any other name:
On a related note, did you happen to notice that at the Athens Olympics, many of the countries had their country name on the jersey in the English spelling. Remember how the Soviet Union used to have "CCCP" (the cyrillic lettering) instead of "USSR"? This year, they said "RUSSIA" very clearly. I was a bit baffled. Is English now the official language of Olympic jerseys?
John Kelly: I guess so. Kinda sad when you think about it. By the way I had to mention this: Remember that ill-tempered Russian female gymnast, Svetlana-something? The one who said she was denied her rightful gold, the one who looked anorexic. I remember thinking how tall she looked, like a giantess. Then I read something that mentioned her height: 5 feet 5 inches. Not that tall at all, just tall compared to the other gymnasts, many of whom were under 5 feet. In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, and in the land of the 4'8" gymnasts the 5'5" gymnast is queen.
Being an avid user of the Subway stamp program, I will
say, the stamps only come into play if you ask for them.
It's not like the purchase gets rang (rung?) up and then
the stamps get spit out of a little machine. You pay for
your sub and say, "Can I have my stamps, please." If
someone doesn't ask for stamps, then they don't ask for
stamps. If your local coffee shop has a frequent drinkers
card, you don't ask to get your card stamped twice
because the person in front of you didn't get their card
John Kelly: How about when you go to an arcade and you're playing SkeeBall and there are a few tickets still sticking out from the person before you? Can you take those?
As a lifelong Krispy Kreme fan and having grown up in Winston-Salem, I looked forward with the glee to a Krispy Kreme finally opening in Washington, D.C. I can only say that I am horribly disappointed by the doughnuts at the Dupont Circle location. The doughnuts are brought in cold and passed under a "re-glazer". And to add insult to this injury, the Hot Doughnuts Now sign was turned on implying there were hot doughnuts available. Those are not hot doughnuts. They are simply cold doughnuts with warm sugar on top. Krispy Kreme should be ashamed of itself for false advertising and for passing off an inferior product as the real mccoy. I am sad to see Krispy Kreme put profit ahead of quality.
John Kelly: The KK backlash is starting. There's also this:
Falls Church, Va.:
Is it just me, or is Krispy Kreme the poorest excuse for a doughnut ever? I remember people making this HUGE deal about them when I was in college, and the first bite I got of one out of a box was my LAST!
Give me dunkin doughnuts any day....
washingtonpost.com: Krispy Kreme's Failings Tough To Glaze Over (Post, Aug. 30)
John Kelly: Now if Dunkin Donuts would just give you a stamp...
I'm going to the Redskins game tonite and there's no way I'll take metro...I'm older and I'm not begging some surly metro station manager to use his bathroom if I have to go. Metro, if you are listening take heed. I'd rather walk, take a private line bus, or a cab then deal with your personnel antics. Billions for trains, and the bottom of the barrell for personnel.
John Kelly: Let's not condemn all of Metro's workers. I think it's probably the same proportion as most other businesses. What's sad for Metro is that they've lost you as a customer.
washingtonpost.com: Metro Tries to Mend Its Manners (Post, Aug. 29)John Kelly: The mannered story.
John, it feels like the world is coming to an end. Shootouts at a school in Russia, Clinton getting a bypass, and Bush getting re-elected. Cheer us up, please, John!
John Kelly: And I have another column to write before the day is through! It does seem grim, doesn't it? But remember, it could be worse.
University Park, Md.:
You must have a great A/C system, John! Those of us who make do with window units--and prefer open windows--didn't mind the mild summer one bit. For the record, every year we have the debate: install central air or pay tuition? You can guess how we have decided.
John Kelly: I spent six years in a Langley Park apartment with no AC, sitting around in my underwear with an anemic fan weakly moving around stagnant air. Good times, good times.
Inner/Outer Loop Fan:
I wish all the access ramps were simply marked as inner or outer loop. I've lived here twenty-five years and I usually have to do a quick calculation if I'm getting on an unfamiliar ramp. Let's see I-95 N or I-495 W, which is it ?
John Kelly: Here's a tip that applies in almost all cases on the Beltway: If an exit is marked "A," as in Exit 14A," it goes Away from Washington, that is, outside the Beltway. If it's marked "B" (Exit B14") it goes Back toward Washington, inside the Beltway.
If you're over the age of 16, you don't perforate the tickets, you play your stack of quarters, and then give ALL your tickets to the nearest, most polite little kid you see.
If he/she doesn't appear greatfully astonished, yank 'em back and give 'em to said kid's younger brother/sister.
John Kelly: You mean all this time I've been hoarding them so I could get the SpongeBob SquarePants backpack, I've been doing something WRONG? I'm so ashamed.
One last Beltway memory (actually 2). When my best friend in high-school was taking drivers ed, her instructor figured she'd get good practice driving me home (the normal route would have been to take Georgia Ave. to the Beltway, get on the outer loop, and get off at Old Georgetown Rd.) Well, my buddy got on the inner loop, and the instructor just told her to go around that way to Old G-Town Rd. Needless to say, I was late arriving home.
Another time in high school, the parents of a friend of mine offered to drive us to a basketball tournament in PG county. (We were coming from Rockville) They also got on the wrong loop and went the "long" way around.
In both of these cases, I couldn't understand why they didn't get off and get back on the right way, but since I wasn't driving, it wasn't my call.
John Kelly: I think some people must fear what will happen if they get off the Beltway. They think they'll get lost in the wilds of a neighborhood or an offramp. there's security in driving a circle.
Eating on the Metro:
Catching up on the last few chats which I have missed because of travel. I wanted to comment on all the comments about Metro police and station managers who are spotted with water and coffee etc in the Metro stations. I work in a museum and if I had to follow the no food and drink rule in the museum I would starve all the workday long now wouldn't I?
Personally I don't think the Metro no eating rule is a bad one. Yes, people do it once in a while and they get away with it but it does stop the majority of people eating on the trains. The enforcement is by the culture of the riders not the police. Everyone knows the rule and appreciates that it keeps down the amount of filth and rats in the stations and on the trains. Therefore dirty looks do more toward fending off eating and drinking than Metro police and their ticket books ever will. Keep the no food rule in place!;
John Kelly: Dirty looks. I'll have to practice that.
There was another aspect to the name change from Friendship to BWI -- they had to change the luggage tag code too. I don't remember what it was originally -- FRN? BAL? But BWI belonged to Bwana International Airport, or something like that, and they had to figure out how to make it happen without everyone's luggage going to the other side of the world... I remember an article about it way back when.
John Kelly: YEah, and I think DUL was taken, too. (Duluth?) That's why Dulles is IAD.
Speaking of funerals and the Beltway, I saw a funeral procession going through Montgomery County on the Beltway a few weeks ago. Cars kept cutting in and out of the procession, which just seems so disrespectful. Of course, that might have been avoided if the hearse driver wasn't driving in the left lane at 55mph! What was he thinking??
John Kelly: Yeah, that's bad form. I mean at that point, what's the hurry? You may as well drive in the right hand land.
Re: Countries' own names:
Hungary calls itself Magyarorszag, which by coincidence is also my cat's name. Albania calls itself -- I love this -- Shqipëria.
John Kelly: Is this true? Because I believe you and you could be some sorta John Birch Society crank.
Re: Country Names:
...and how about Finland. The Finns call it Suomi!; Now there's a nation we should keep our eye on. Who knows what's going on up there.
John Kelly: Have you ever met a Finn? I have, and Suomi actually fits.
People go to Krispy Kreme for pastries and Olive Garden for Italian food. Ain't democracy great?
John Kelly: Well it beats the alternative. Thanks everyone for joining me this afternoon when you easily could've slid into your three-day weekend. And thankyou to Eleanor Hong for her fine linkages. Drive carefully everyone, keep an eye on the BBQ and look for me in the paper on Monday. As always, send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.