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John Kelly's Washington Live

Free-for-all Discussion

John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2004; 1:00 PM

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 discussed his columns and anything that's on your mind. This week's columns:
The City's Past, Still Present (Post, Dec. 3, 2004)
Early Training for a Thoughtful Doctor (Post, Dec. 2, 2004)
A Mere Pedestrian Complaint (Post, Dec. 1, 2004)
The Careful Path Into a Boy's Brain (Post, Nov. 30, 2004)
Answer Man: Much More Than a Building (Post, Nov. 29, 2004)

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: Greetings, chatters (chatsters? chattees? chattel?). Welcome to the first Friday of December. Got all your holiday shopping done yet?

This week in the column we embarked on our annual Children's Hospital fundraising campaign, a longstanding Washington (and Washington Post) tradition. I've met some incredible kids so far, along with incredible parents, doctors, nurses and others. They're all much braver than I could ever be in similar situations. I'll be telling their stories regularly over the coming weeks. The idea, of course, is to encourage you to donate, but I hope you find the columns entertaining in their own right.

This week's columns were on the history of Children's Hospital, a young patient who had a brain tumor removed there, my open letter to a driver who almost ran me over, a Children's doctor who not only treats learning disabilities, he HAS ONE, and a visit to the DC Historical Society's wonderful library. Now let's make some history here.


First cubicle on the right, Washington, D.C.: John,
Greetings on this wonderfully crisp winter's day.
We assume you have perched on Santa's knee to get your Xmas order in early. So what's on your most-wanted list for Dec. 25?

A functional Metro system, I understand, is not an option.

John Kelly: Having just moved to a new house (new to us; 60 years old), I have been using my electric drill quite a bit. (A "bit." Geddit?) Made lots of holes. Screwed lots of screws. What I really want is a cordless drill with keyless chuck. I just like saying it: "cordless drill with keyless chuck." Say it loud and there's music playing. Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

Of course, I've already drilled so many things that there's not that much left to drill. I could've used it three months ago.

What else? A 1960s conical Trixon drumset, of the sort pictured on the back of Elvis Costello's "Trust" album. Philip Roth's new book...vintage windbreaker of the sort worn by Steve McQueen in "Le Mans"...world peace...


13th and M Streets, NW, Washington, D.C.: I read your column daily and I just had to say it's Down's syndrome, not "Down syndrome". Yes, as you've probably guessed, that is a mistake that gets on my nerves.

Oh, and as for being a near-miss splatter on the pavement, I can say that I have been nearly hit in a similar situation, but the driver actually pulled past the intersection got out of the car and started threatening to harm me physically (me -- a petite, 5' tall female in my early twenties, him -- a forty-something, 6' tall male who easily outweighed me by a hundred pounds). I also had a white flashing walk sign and the driver also made a left turn. Many drivers in DC seem to forget that pedestrians do have the right of way.

I did get hit once, walking in Georgetown, in a crosswalk, with a walk signal, while the driver had a red light and decided that he did not want to be stopped anymore (he had been stopped). After hitting me with his car, he said that he didn't see the light and drove off in his silver BMW.

Some people....

John Kelly: Whoops. Sorry about that.

I got a lot of reaction to my walkin' column. It's somehow become weird to walk. I don't consider myself a fanatical walker. It's not like I'm a vegan or anything. I don't know if I'm prepared to take up the mantle of walkerhood. But people who walk have become sort of invisible to a lot of drivers. And just today there was a story in Metro about how pedestrian fatalities are up. Walk carefully, my people. I can't afford to lose any readers.


Greenbelt, Md.: I read your column this morning in which you said you hail from the Brookland area of Northeast Washington. Does your family own the Ellis Island Restaurant on 12th Street, NE?

washingtonpost.com: The City's Past, Still Present (Post, Dec. 3, 2004)

John Kelly: No, but I've eaten there. There's a picture of my great-great-great (I may have miscounted my "greats") grandfather at Col. Brooks' Tavern. I look just like him, if I had a long gray beard and hadn't had access to modern medicine.


Washington, D.C.: John,

Is there any place to buy Washington Nationals apparel (holiday gift) besides schlepping out to RFK?


John Kelly: Yes. You can schlep to Out of Left Field at Union Station, 202-408-8031. Other shirt-hat-sports memorabilia places have stuff too. Or you can shop online:


Clifton, Va.: With the holidays coming and the stresses associated with would like to stress this not the time to bring any animal into your household as a pet. Especially your first kitten or puppy. Give your child a certificate for a puppy or kitten and then go to the pound or a breed rescue in the middle of January or better yet the spring for a puppy. It is a lot easier to housebreak a puppy in the spring. Anyone who brings a dog or cat into their household during the holiday season should be drawn and quartered. And any breeder who allows it should be strung up!

John Kelly: What about being broken on the wheel, or keel-hauled, or shut in an Iron Maiden, or any of those other fun old-fashioned punishments?

Clifton's right. However I do have a fond memory of coming down one Xmas morning as a child and seeing a be-ribboned Boxer puppy pee all over the other presents. Sadly, she was more than we could handle and we had to give her away. There's a lesson there.


Alexandria, Va.: I appreciated your account of your encounter with the SUV as a pedestrian trying to cross the street. I have had similar encounters as a cyclist. I find that the drivers of cars turning right often fail to look to look in that direction at all to see if there are any walkers or bikes coming, they just look left until there are no cars coming and then they turn immediately so I've learned to make sure that the driver knows I'm there before I try to start across.

On the other hand however, there are some pedestrians who behave badly as well. I often have walkers cross in front of me when I am approaching and the light is against THEM, but they know there is sufficient time for me to slow down or stop to avoid hitting them jaywalking. Also, it is annoying when I am making a right turn and some to a dead stop to allow a pedestrian to cross and see them saunter along as though they are walking in the park with all the time in the world. I don't expect them to run, but I think a healthy person should manage a brisk walk in those situations, returning courtesy for courtesy.

washingtonpost.com: A Mere Pedestrian Complaint (Post, Dec. 1, 2004)

John Kelly: There are a lot of bad walkers in Washington, too. They behave as if they're in cars. They seem self-important, in a hurry, wading against the light into a stream of vehicles. But our street design hasn't made it easy for pedestrians. Not so much downtown, but in the suburbs, where there are few sidewalks and long stretches of road without a crosswalks, so that people are forced to dash across the middle of busy byways.


Rockville, Md.: John, several weeks ago you responded to this comment from Boston, Mass., "My biggest pet peeve...the evolving past tense. It used to be that the past tense of "wreak" was "wrought," and "plead" was "pled." I have read in numerous papers that someone wreaked havoc and pleaded guilty to the crime. When did this become acceptible?"

My decades-old dictionary indicates that wrought is the past tense and past participle of work. The past tense of wreak is wreaked. Further, my ancient dictionary shows pleaded as the preferred past tense of plead. My pet peeve is people who make claims about others' ignorance without first doing some research.

John Kelly: I tell ya, that grammar stuff is thankless. Everyone thinks they're right and that everyone else is wrong.

And right now someone out there is saying to himself: "It's 'Everying thinks HE'S right,' not 'they're.'"

And he's right.


Silver Spring, Md.: My family plans to be around the Christmas - New Years holiday week but would like to go some place in driving distance for 1 to 3 days. Where would you recommend. My kids (young adults are in there 20's). Thanks

John Kelly: I'll throw this one out the chattel. Suggestions? I guess it depends on what you're in the mood for. Some people, for example, like the beach in the winter because it's so unbeachy. Others will want to be in a city. Philadelphia? Williamsburg? Bed and breakfast or luxury hotel?


Arlington, Va.: American flag stickers are the modern-day Fraternal Order of Police decal. Paste one on an SUV and you're exempt from traffic laws.

John Kelly: What do those yellow ribbon things allow you to do? Speed and tailgate?


Arlington, Va.: A few weeks ago, you asked us to tell you how we identify ourselves. One thing I've noticed growing up in this area (lifelong Northern Virginian) is that if you are from this area, you refer to Washington, D.C. as "the District." Transplants, no matter where they live in this area, will say they live in Washington. I love to antagonize my Pittsburghian mother-in-law when she asks how the weather is in Washington. "I don't know, but here in Arlington, it's raining."

John Kelly: Though born in Washington, I grew up all over the country. I was always nervous that people with whom I was speaking wouldn't know what I meant when I said "Washington." I didn't want them to think I meant Washington state. I invariably said, "Washington, D.C." At least I didn't say "Washington, the District of Columbia."


NW Washington, D.C.: Shouldn't Metro bigwigs have to suffer the same breakdowns and delays we daily riders experience on their so-called "world class" system? It should be a requirement that Metro board members at least take mass transit to and from their meetings.

John Kelly: That was a real eye-opener, wasn't it? Metro's boss, Richard White, wasn't using his own system until recently, and very few of the board members use it, preferring the perk of free-parking. It's no wonder they're so out of touch. I loved Lyndsey Layton's story about that, and the various lame excuses they used to not divulge their SmarTrip records.


Washington, D.C.: What the heck is going on at the Georgetown Reservoir (MacArthur Ave., NW)? For about a year there have been black military vehicles parked on the far side (away from the street) and they even have a satallite that rotates constantly. I bring it up now because a new speeding camera was just installed on the street in front. Is my neighborhood being policed?

John Kelly: My colleague Spencer Hsu, the man who knows all the security secrets says it's "probably exactly what it looks like." He points out that the reservoir is at the downriver Potomac River approach to Reagan National Airport. And it's close to DHS, Naval Observatory, as well as downtown. Why don't you walk up to one of the guys in a Humvee and ask him?


Arlington, Va.: For 13th and M,

I'm fairly certain that pedestrians do NOT have right of way on a flashing walk sign. Doesn't it mean walk with caution? (ie if there isn't any traffic turning.)

John Kelly: But even if there's a flashing red sign, that doesn't mean drivers get one free shot at any pedestrians in the crosswalk. You're not supposed to START walking when the light is flashing. But if you're in the middle of the crosswalk you wouldn't just STOP there.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Places to go over Christmas/New Year's. My husband and I have a tradition of going to Rehoboth. It's quiet, but some restaurants and bars are open. Love it!

John Kelly: There you go: Rehoboth. Something for everyone. And you can get The Post there.


Silver Spring, Md.: I will share my families experiences of Children's Hospital. I remember when I was kid going with my mother when she drove an neighbor and her child to Children's old 13th and W NW location.

As a parent, I had numerous trips to (and one overnight stay at) the current location with my daughter when she was being diagnosed and treated for a neurological disorder. Everything worked out well for her. The doctors, nurses, and staff in One Orange (the neurology unit) are wonderful. Some of the diagnostic tests were hard on all of us, but everything did work out well for her. Though we did not see Dr. Packer, I have read many stories of his wonderful work in the Washington Post. Keep up the good work. It is for a good cause.

washingtonpost.com: Answer Man: Much More Than a Building (Post, Nov. 29, 2004)

John Kelly: Thank you. As someone who has had his own health scares (what do I mean "scares"?; my health tried to kill me), I'm appreciative of doctors and nurses and hospitals. And to work with seriously ill children must require a fortitude that I can barely imagine. Aren't we glad that some people can?


Arlington, Va.: John, you wear a fedora? That is completely awesome.

John Kelly: When I'm not wearing a homburg.


Falls Church, Va.: Grammar!; Using "they" for a singular pronoun (e.g., "Everyone thinks they're right") is actually an old usage that was prescribed as "wrong" by the same people who didn't like ending sentences with prepositions and splitting infinitives (because "It doesn't work that way in Latin"). There are plenty of examples of older, "classic" authors using "they" for a generic singular pronoun, then it went away in the 1800s or so, but recently it's started to come back as "acceptable". Anything that stops people from saying or writing "he or she" (or something worse) is a good idea. And most people just says "they" anyway.

John Kelly: One can bend oneself into pretzels when trying to be "correct." And a sentence that calls attention to itself for reasons other than the point it's trying to get across is a bad sentence.


Crystal City, Va.: Hello John:
I missed the on-line chat back a couple weeks ago.. I consider myself a native Washingtonian.. although born in Alexandria, VA, I've lived here all my life, 51+ years.
Do you remember the Jellef's and Lansburghs at Shirlington? Do you remember the pony ring at Bailey's Crossroads, as well as the Giffords?
But you know you're a real native when you can remember the Kann's Department Store (which is now the George Mason School of Law).. and the children's shoe department, where they had these live monkeys! It was very entertaining!

John Kelly: Every generation will have its own memories. And every stratum of every generation. So, a 51 year old from Greenbelt might weigh in with a different set of recollections. Or someone from Anacostia. One slice of my generation--I just turned 42--mourns the passing of the PsycheDelly and the original 9:30 club....


Washington, D.C.: Silver Spring might want to check out the Escapes column under the Post Travel section. Loads of suggestions on nearby places to go.

John Kelly: Good idea. Shockoe Bottom is evidently the place to be.


Reston, Va.: John,
I spent 3 years in Boston as a car-less pedestrian and it gave me great respect for pedestrians. You are exactly right that the driver can make up their time without a problem.
Eveyone just needs to take a deep breath and remember that it's not a race. Also, drivers should be extra nice to peds when it's raining. They're out there getting wet while you're nice and dry in your car.
Also, try not to splash them if at all possible.

John Kelly: It's not a race, people.


Hyattsville, Md.: Kudos, Mr. Kelly for a jewel of a letter to all impatient urban SUV drivers! Especially well-paired with today's article on pedestrian fatalities.

I cannot count the number of times I have waited in the rain or sun or freezing cold to dart across only to be honked at by some king-of-the road irked at having to look up from his cell phone and SLOW DOWN (not even fully stop!) to avoid splattering me. OH, I 'm soooo sorry for adding 3 seconds to your drive home Mr. Spewing-exhaust-in-my-lungs-and-splashing-me-with-oily-puddle-water!

John Kelly: Perhaps we could petition for endangered species status. Would drivers show walkers more respect if we were on a par with spotted owls or black-footed ferrets? Would they say, "Look honey. There's a pedestrian! Isn't he cute?"


Anonymous: Hitbyac, AR: Enjoyed your artlcle on the pedestrian vs. car encounter. Working in The City for almost 20 years I have plenty of stories of near misses - and one where I did get hit. The overall attitude from the drivers is that I must be a loser since I'm not in a car. Aren't drivers pedestrians right before they enter their own car?? The young lady that did hit me had challenged me in the cross walk in front of the Metro entrance, where there is no light governing that crossing (its a parking lot). A block away she didn't yield to me (neither did the three cars in front of her) and hit me, but good. I broke her car's windshield and dented the hood, but when she slammed on the brakes I slid off the hood, went flying onto the asphalt. My hip still hurts from that. And I have a permanent dent in the back of my calf where the bumper struck. In court, she said "I've been parking at the Metro lot for over a year and have never seen anyone cross that street." I guess she couldn't see me, since she was on the phone and her hand to her face caused an effective blind spot. I used to be very brave, now I am afraid to cross the street, since it doesn't matter if you have the walk signal or not. And in a battle between vehicle and ped, the ped will not win.

John Kelly: Ouch. That sort of thing always looks cool in an action movie--up on hood, break windshield, slide off hood--but the way you describe it, it's obviously quite painful. I can't see how her "Nobody ever walks there" defense could actually work. The point is, you WERE there.


Washington, D.C.: FYI: Both Sports Authority and Modell's have Nationals merchandise for sale. Not surprisingly, at the stores I went to, they were all out of the navy blue caps, but had plenty of the red ones. Maybe it's time to rethink the color scheme for the home uniforms?

John Kelly: Suddenly we're drowning in Nationals merchandise.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Nationals Baseball Stuff. I saw an ad in today's Post. Hechts is selling t-shirts, hats and Waterford Crystal limited edition ornaments.

John Kelly: Perhaps we should have a contest to find the most ridiculous Nationals souvenir. A limited edition Waterford crystal ornament? What's next? A Nationals souvenir caviar spoon?


Washington, D.C. Re: grammar pet peeves "wrought": "Wrought" is the past tense of "wright," as in "to craft or create." The verb seems to exist solely to supply the English language with even more spelling challenges, it's the root of "playwright," bugaboo to spelling bee kids everywhere. (Who wrights a play anway?)

John Kelly: A more vexing question is who plays a Wright? Charles Hickman and Percy Marmont as Orville and Wilbur in 1936's "Conquest of the Air."


Herndon,Va.: Call me a grinch, but why has the U.S. Military become America's favorite charity? Go to the gym and there are boxes asking for donations of batteries and wet wipes, etc. which will be "delivered to our troops in Iraq." Turn on the radio and you're asked for money to provide free lodging for soldier's families visiting wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. An office mate collects money for bullet-proof vests. Rush Limbaugh brags about his providing "our men" with air conditioners in Baghdad. And so on. I'm all for sending cheery letters or cookies but shouldn't we be pressing the government to both give these guys a raise and supply them with the equipment they need rather than treating them as "George's kids?"

John Kelly: I suggest a protest donation to Children's Hospital.

That is sad. With all the money the taxpayers are spending over there, couldn't the Pentagon springn for some wet naps?


Down syndrome: It's a stylistic thing, and I bet your editor already handled it. I know that AMA style is to not use 's in the names of diseases and conditions.

John Kelly: You are correct. I should never have apologized. I'm too quick to crumple. The Post's preferred dictionary sez: Down syndrome, "also called Down's syndrome." Incidentally, it's named after British physician J.L.H. Down. Now I wonder if we would say "Lou Gehrig disease" rather than "Lou Gehrig's."


Anonymous: Can you explain?: The purpose of the weird count-down clock in from of the Naval Observatory? Is there some reason the VP (and everyone who uses Mass. Ave) needs to know EXACTLY how much time there is left in the year? It looks like a giant time bomb. Kinda disconcerting.

John Kelly: Everything has to have a purpose, does it? That's a dangerous path to tread down. Soon someone will be asking you your purpose. I imagine the clock is there because the geeks at the observatory think it's cool. They have all those atomic clocks in there and are kinda into timekeeping.


Washington, D.C.: How long has Col. Brooks been around? There is a list of long enduring DC restaurants in today's paper, but if your umteenth grandfather's picture is at the Tavern, it must be older than the establishments listed - except possibly Old Ebbit.

John Kelly: The tavern has only been around for 25 years or so. They just have an old photo of the namesake. Speaking of Old Ebbitt: When I was at the historical society library the other day, they showed me their Ebbitt Grill collection. It's all the invoices, receipts, letters, orders, manifests and assorted ephemera that went with running the restaurant back in the 19th century. Really cool.


Arlington, Va.: Let's make sure this is all clear:

The right-of-way for the pedestrian does NOT end the minute the instant little white man disappears and the little red hand starts flashing. That's just an indicator to pedstrians not to start crossing - but even if they DID start crossing, they would CONTINUE to have the right of way (although they could get a jay-walking ticket for starting too late IF they don't make it to the other side in time) until they cleared the intersection.

Until that light turns red (you know, the one for the cars) the pedestrian continues to have the right-of-way.

There are plenty of wide intersections where the little white man is only there for about 3 seconds, even though it takes 27 more seconds with the blinking red hand to actually cross the intersection!

John Kelly: My thoughts exactly.


Re: the District: I have lived here for all of my 30 years and have never once called my home "the District." When people ask where I live, I always say "in DC" to people who are not from here, and "in the City" to people in the 'burbs. Maybe that's just me.

John Kelly: "In the city" to me has a New York ring to it, suggesting that the speaker lives in Manhattan. When I hear someone from around here say "in the city" I think they have delusions of grandeur. You're right, though, that outlanders aren't going to necessarily know what you're talking about when you say "the District," but I don't think someone from, say, Toledo is going to know what "D.C" means, either.


New York, NY: I wish all these beleagured peds could live in NYC--pedestrians RULE here, because gridlock is so bad. If a taxi cab (the worst offenders--they really ARE in a race) tries to intimidate me, I'll slap their hood as it passes, to freak them out and make them think I did something.

The whole culture here is much more ped-friendly, since most NYC residents don't drive. There's something about that WDC I-rule-the-world ego with a much less comprehensive subway system that produces that kind of SUV tyranny.

John Kelly: Do you live in the city?


Anonymous: John's Fedora: Do you wear it tilted at a jaunty angle?

John Kelly: I've tried it at a jaunty angle and it just impairs my stereoscopic vision. Instead, I use a laser level to make sure its brim is precisely parallel to the ground.


Holiday Puppies: I understand that there can be a downside to giving pets for Christmas, but I think the previous poster is just a touch over the top on the issue. Drawn and quartered?

We got our kids a dog from a shelter last holiday season and everthing turned out just fine. Dog and kids and parents are all well-adjusted.

Plus, what would have been worse: to spend the winter in a shelter or to be adopted into a loving home, even if it was during a busy time of year?

John Kelly: It seems clear that what should be avoided is the "surprise" holiday gift of a living being that, in retrospect, you weren't prepared for. If your whole family got together and agreed to the plan, that's better than just tossing a Labradoodle under the tree on Christmas Eve. And if you got it from a shelter, I imagine they had to come out and take a look at your place to make sure you passed muster.


Pageant of Peace?: Anyone else see the irony in that title?
Anyway, as usual, this annual event "wreaked" havoc with local traffic yesterday. Why in the world would they plan this for 5PM? EVERY YEAR? Even 4 or 6PM would be better, but it's almost as though it's a slap in the face for everyone who actually must commute out of this city. Park Police can very efficiently close streets (both 15th & 17th were closed) but not an officer was in sight to direct traffic or help people maneuver around heavy volumes of pedestrians and blocked streets.

John Kelly: Tradition?


Washington, D.C.: Lou Gerhig's disease -> Lou Gerhig had the disease.

Down syndrome -> Dr. Down described the condition.

John Kelly: Well what about swimmer's ear?


Herndon, Va.: Grammar pet peeve - here's two biggies:

1. "Please advise" in an email. Please, for all that is right with the world, STOP USING THAT PHRASE! State clearly what action you want taken, rather than conclude with a pointless "please advise".

2. Architect/rearchitect as a verb. Use "build", "design", "construct", or something similar. An architect is Mike Brady, not an action.

Thanks for allowing me to vent...

John Kelly: Architect as a verb! As in, "We need to architect a new wing for our Wateford crystal collection?" I haven't heard that one before. I wonder if "column" would work that way: "I'm gonna be late honey. I have to column."


Washington, D.C. the District: Isn't the discourtesy evidenced by drivers toward pedestrians just another example of the lack of civility so prevalent these days? When did it become the case that your time (Mr. SUV driver) is worth so much more than my time? It isn't just drivers versus pedestrians; it's drivers versus other drivers and pedestrians versus other pedestrians. Especially during the holidays, can't all of us just try to be a tiny (and I do mean tiny) bit more civil to each other? If we can't be more civil, can't we just CHILL?

John Kelly: I fear the answer is yes. It's not a bad idea, when you find yourself cramping up with irritation and anger, to remember that the few seconds you may arguably be inconvenienced amount to nothing in the Vast Scheme of Things. I'm not even talking about geologic time, in which we are but an eye blink. But in your very own life. It will not kill you, whoever you are, to wait for 10 seconds, or to let someone pull in in front of you, or to slow down and let that faster car pass. Take a deep breath. Relax...

Hey, the light's green. Hit it.

That's all for today. See you next week. Don't forget, send your ideas to kellyj@washpost.com. And remember to budget a contribution to Children's Hospital. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital to donate.


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