John Kelly's Washington Live

John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006; 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.

Fridays at 1 p.m. ET John is online to chat about his columns and mull over anything that's on your mind.

Discussion Archives / Recent Columns


John Kelly: I know that my chats usually have the feeling that they're dashed off, off-the-cuff, spontaneous. That takes a lot of effort. I come in early, look through the questions, ponder, stroke my chin, stroke other peoples' chins, until I come up with answers that appear dashed off.

But today things will REALLY be dashed off. I just walked into the office mere seconds ago. Luckily, we don't have too many questions today. A holiday weekend Friday? A neutron bomb? Whatever the reason, if you've been a lurker, today's the day to be a poster.


Arlington, Va.: Hi JOhn,

We're free (from rain) at last! I hope it holds out till Tuesday. How are you and YLW planning on spending the patriotic holiday? I;m whipping up a blueberry/strawberry/custard confection. Delicious!

John Kelly: Wasn't it a lovely morning? I don't know what all this storms/flooding/apocalypse talk is all about. Of course, we were in New York City for the worst of it. I gather there was a bit of rain?

What are we doing for the 4th? Well actually what made me late today is that I was out at a BBQ store in Sterling. Talking with the guys there, seeing all those rubs and sauces and state-of-the-art grilling machines, got me all hungry for some 'cue. So I've got grill something. And I plan on covering everything with John Henry's East Texas Mesquite Rub: chops, ribs, corn on the cob, Jell-O. I bought a bottle today.

What are others doing for Independence Day?


Washington, D.C.: All the talk about getting a seat on metro has made its mark. You know, how we're supposed to ask for a seat if we need it, rather than just expect some good samaritan to offer.

On the 14th street bus last week-- always VERY crowded at rush hour-- a woman took the advice and asked for a seat. Thing is, she was SO FAT she asked for two seats, and got them! People were just so amazed that she would squeeze and push past twenty people standing in the aisle to more or less demand that TWO others join the throng, that they didn't even bother with the usual dirty looks or pointed out-the-window stare.

John Kelly: People were probably being accommodating because they realized some sort of history was being made. They now have something they can tell their kids: I was there the day an obese woman asked for and received two seats on the bus. It's like saying you were at Woodstock, or watched Cal Ripken break the consecutive-games record.

_______________________ Chivalry? Fat Chance on Metro (Post, May 11, 2006)

John Kelly: Some earlier commentary on the subject...

Having just spent time in NYC I couldn't help comparing its subway to ours. Yes, theirs is dirty, dank, unsafe and hardly handicapped-friendly. But the trains go everywhere and are relatively constant. We didn't ride too much at rush hour so I didn't witness whether people attempt to get seats when they need them. Even if they did, there are fewer seats to get.

One other thing I noticed: The chime that signals the doors are closing rings JUST AS THE DOORS ARE CLOSING. It doesn't ring a little while before, as ours does. They mean business up there.


Synap, SE: Hi John,

For the past week, I have been sitting on a question I intended to submit to your chat, knowing you would probably know the answer. But alas, it has escaped me under the pressure of submitting the question "live" (I've tried the Toastmasters technique of imagining my audience in their underwear, but the image was not pretty). So instead, can you just answer the first question that comes to your mind? Thanks.

John Kelly: Well, the first question that came to my mind was "I wonder what that chatter looks like in his underwear." And the answer was: Ernest Borgnine. Please tell me I'm wrong.

_______________________ You, in Your Underwear

John Kelly: At least, I hope you're wearing underwear.


Arlington, Va.: John, in David Broder's chat earlier today, he wrote (verbatim): "I have written a column for snday abiyt an Undeoendent Oarty skate un Nunnesota carrying on in Jesse Ventura's traditiion."

My question is, do all Post writers drink in the mornings, or is Broder just old-school?

John Kelly: It is a commonplace among veteran journalists to say "When I started in the business, there was a crotchety old city editor/police reporter/night rewrite man who kept a bottle of whisky in his desk drawer." Sadly, I joined the fraternity too late to have actually witnessed this. But my old desk at The Post was in a section of the newsroom that people on tours used to walk by. (Yes, you can tour The Post.) They would gaze around, a little thrilled at being so close to real journalists and a little disappointed that The Post looked like a particularly messy insurance office. I always wanted to keep a bottle of whisky in my desk drawer to pull out just at the moment they walked by.

As for Broder, don't tell me you've never put your fingers on the keyboard just one letter over? Or: Sc got ntofrt, fon'y yerll me you'br neber gpuyt you [gintgers donyt. onh ';eter ober.


From a soggy bank on the Potomac: Well,'s Friday. Congress is FINALLY headed out of town for the next week. The sun is out and I've got the next four days off.

I was on the Metro this morning and noticed everyone just appears to be really sad.

Washington appears to be a really depressed town right now. High gas prices, wet basements and that drumbeat of summer doldrums.

I remember when D.C. at the 4th of July was one rocking town in anticipation of barbeques, the Beach Boys on the Mall, that mix of patriotism and hedonism. A few people who I knew who normally have big backyard barbeques just aren't into it this year.

I was wondering if anyone else is feeling the same thing.

How do we get our groove back, John?

John Kelly: Now, don't bring us down, man. I was feeling pretty peppy when I walked in today. Of course that might be because I didn't have time to stop at the men's room OR get lunch, but I like to think it's because the weather is nice and the weekend is here. And Congress isn't. (Nice OR here.) As for getting one's groove back, I suggested rubbing your body with John Henry's East Texas Mesquite Rub. For external use only!


Columbia Heights: Hey John,

You are my favorite post columnist! Anywho... I just moved here a couple of months ago, and I'm wondering if it is worth going down to the mall next Tuesday for the festivities. Is that something locals do or is that just something mindless tourists do? Would I just be better off watching the fireworks from the roof of my building? By the way, when do those tourists stop coming. I'm already tired of them.

John Kelly: Look, you HAVE to see the fireworks on the Mall at least once while living in Washington. You don't have to go every year, but it's required that you punch that ticket. Yes, there will be tourists there, but the experience is worth it.

The tourists will slow down in early fall, just after school starts.


Notin, France: John:

This week you thanked the people of France for the French drain -- According to Dan Rodricks column in the Baltimore Sun this week it actually is a US invention.

Henry French, a New Hampshire farmer, is credited with the invention.

Henry French's son was Daniel Chester French, a sculptor best known for sculpting Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial.

John Kelly: I guess that means I can stop calling it a "Freedom drain" around my Republican friends.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: John -

You going to the smoke-in this year?

John Kelly: If they're rubbing John Henry's East Texas Mesquite Rub on whatever it is they're smoking. Is it babyback pork ribs?


Archives Metro: Why is the water blue at the Navy Memorial fountains? It's been like that for a couple of weeks.

John Kelly: My assistant, Julie, just this moment called to ask. The water is blue because they add a chemical to fight algae. The chemical has a nice blue tint to it.


Alexandria, Va.: Here's a question - it's been bugging me for years!

I watch a lot of buildings go up around here and see the crane that they place in the middle of the building right at the beginning. The crane is built on a scaffolding/tower thing. What happens to that tower when the building is completed and the crane is removed?

Is it built into the building, used as the stair well, removed?

I really want to know!

John Kelly: I'm pretty sure it becomes the elevator shaft. Anyone know different?


Washington, D.C.: I had a brain wave the other day about your send-a-kid-to-camp fundraiser. As a teenager I listened to recordings of the old Jack Benny radio show. One of his gags was the "I Can't Stand Jack Benny Because" contest, where readers would send in letters saying why they couldn't stand him and he would choose the best to read on the air.

Well, how about you come up with something similar, only charge, say, a $10 donation (or another amount) to the summer camp fund? You could pick your least favorite person at the Post to pick on, or the Post itself, or anyone else you choose. Have fun and raise money! Everyone wins!

Great idea, huh? You're welcome!

John Kelly: Oooh, that's tempting. I could also promise NOT to add certain people's name to the list if they made hefty donations to Send a Kid to Camp.


Norfolk, Va.: For the 4-day weekend (are you working Monday? Who is?) I'm stopping at Pierce's in Lightfoot for the BEST BBQ SANDWICH IN VA and then going to Lake Anna. Come on in - the water is fine!

John Kelly: You mean it's an option not to work Monday? Why didn't I think of that.

That sounds like fun. Whatever you do this weekend, it MUST include barbecue. I think that's in the Constitution.


Weekend plans: Before rain: go to visit friends in WV and swim in their pool and eat and drink and be generally merry.

After the rain: clean up the mess in the basement including the tarry like substance that made it's way into the dryer.

Don't be jealous.

John Kelly: Oh dear. My sympathies. I hope one of your drier neighbors will bring you a hot dog or something. I was talking to someone last night about dryer-vent flooding. Her basement was pretty okay but she thinks some water got in the dryer vent, turning the lint in there into some crusty compound.


Alexandria, Va.: My Darling Husband and I just got back from our European honeymoon, do you know what we can do with our leftover Euros??

John Kelly: Congratulations. May you have a long and happy marriage, filled with love and John Henry's East Texas Mesquite Rub.

If you send ME those Euros (John Kelly, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071) I will donate them to our Send a Kid to Camp campaign.


Folklife festival: So I just moved here from Chicago and every weekend try to take advantage of what DC has to offer. Can I tell you I'm pretty bummed that this year's folklife festival is about Alberta? doesn't make me want to rush out and check it out....

John Kelly: What do you have against maple syrup?


Sterling, Va.: Really, you drove out to Sterling for a BBQ store? I'm always trying to drive away from Sterling - never heard of anyone driving towards us willingly before...

John Kelly: Oh we're in Sterling all the time. It's where My Lovely Wife got her Mini. I admit it's a bit of a pain carving out half a day to get an oil change.


Southern Maryland: I'll be soaking up the sun on the Patuxent River, eating crabs and breathing in the fresh air. Ah, summer!

I wonder if BBQ sauce would go well with crabs. Nah, think I'll just stick with Old Bay.

What's your favorite way to eat a crab, John?

John Kelly: Claws first, then legs, then those little flippers at the back. I always feel a rush of satisfaction when I'm able to pull very S L O W L Y and get a big lump of meat out with the leg. Then I break each joint and suck the meat out. Then I go for the body, pulling it apart like a compact.

Boy, I hope there's no vegetarians out there. This sounds grisly, doesn't it?

I've never been a big softshell fan. The idea of eating the whole thing bugs me.


Crane, Va.: how do they get the crane out? How does one disassemble a crane, as it is perfectly balanced, so if you start removing parts, it would fall over, no. What happens to the boom (the horizontal part) and the control cabin?

Also, I am about to start a job where I Metro every day instead of driving. I am looking forward to it! I am not looking forward to piggish people who eat and drink on the Metro (and spill) and, I am sorry, but it is true, very very fat people who take up two seats at rush hour.

John Kelly: They use ANOTHER crane to take the original crane apart. It's like a big Erector set, I think.

Welcome to the Metro.


Downtown engineer: Construction cranes are removed by even larger cranes that are brought in. You usually don't see this because the work is done early on weekend mornings to avid traffic disruptions. Eye Street was closed a few weekends ago for the removal of a crane. The shart sometimes is used as an elevator shaft, other times the holes are just filled in. All depends on where the crane has to be placed.

John Kelly: See, there you go. I was right. Thank you.


John Kelly: Germany just beat Argentina on penalty kicks.


Re: Tourists: A lot of people complain about tourists, but I actually like them. I ride the metro everyday and many people who live here are very self-important. But I like observing wacky tourist families. They seem so excited and are usually very nice. Besides, tourism is a great revenue source for the area. You know how hard other cities try to bring in tourists? I mean, living in a tourist destination means we can take advantage of all the city has to offer. I grew up in Houston (not a tourist city) and it was pretty boring living there.

John Kelly: I like tourists too, and have often been one. I usually try to adopt the local coloration, though. Like in New York I wore black and tried to be a hipster.


Arlington, Va.: I feel your chat is often a Public Service Announcement sort of place. This should be required reading for everyone:

John Kelly: Wow, that covers just about everything, from how to behave on the subway to what obligations one has after a one-night stand. (Of course, how do you KNOW it's a one-night stand at the time?)


Washington, D.C.: Best local place to see fireworks: Has to be Malcom X Part (or Meridian Hill Park if you are trying to sell real estate.)

That's where the real locals watch the fireworks. It's weird because they play music during the fireworks and every year they always play Old Man River. It always confuses me...but now I associate it with the 4th.

John Kelly: That's a good tip. We often go to Wheaton and have also been to College Park. Maybe we should try a place in Virginia this year. Does Sterling have any?


Alexandria, Va.: How many questions do you typically get stored up in a chat que versus how many do you have today?

John Kelly: I only had three questions when I came in! (That may have been because the chat wasn't listed on the home page earlier today.) But now it's started picking up and has gotten so busy that I won't be able to answer your question.


Re: Penalty kickS ?!?!?!: Were they really based on a penalty (or penalties), or did you mean penalty shoot-out? because, given the officiating....

John Kelly: Whatever that thing is they do when both overtimes end in a tie. Seems a sad way to decide a game.


Takoma Park: I start a new job downtown on Monday. Any advice for my first day?

John Kelly: Use mouthwash and deodorent (not together). Be a little early. Ask good questions when you're being filled in on How Things Work. I'm sure Amy Joyce would have other good advice? Anyone wanna offer some tips?


Larry, Curly, MO: John,

I can't think of a question, because I think my brain has already started the long weekend. I usually can think of something to send you during these chats. However I hate to leave you bereft, so use this as filler.

Oh, wait, here you go: How do so many people afford to make this a 5 day weekend by starting yesterday? Don't they have important work to do? Are these the "nonessential" personnel who get to stay home on snow days?

John Kelly: Vacation-day and comp-day hoarding is a very good skill to have when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday.


Petworth, Washington, D.C.: John, I'm going to disagree with you here.

It used to be important to see the fireworks from the Mall. Now it's just sad. Why? Because the security dudes have taken it away. No more going to the park to watch the fireworks. No, now you have to practically be strip-searched. I won't do it. I will NOT celebrate our freedom by submitting to the fearmongerers. It's just wrong.

John Kelly: But doesn't that mean the terrorists have won?

How about if you, but you wear a T-shirt that says "Bush Lied, Thousands Died"? And then when they try to make you turn it inside out, you get on the news?


Arlington, Va.: JK: "Claws first, then legs, then those little flippers at the back. I always feel a rush of satisfaction when I'm able to pull very S L O W L Y and get a big lump of meat out with the leg. Then I break each joint and suck the meat out. Then I go for the body, pulling it apart like a compact."

John, do us all a favor, and promise that you'll never try to write a sex scene.

John Kelly: Not even a sex scene involving John Henry's East Texas Mesquite Rub?


To: Starting a new job: Don't go in with a hangover and don't eat beans the night before.

John Kelly: And don't take the boss up on his offer to pull his finger.


New job advice ...: If they take you to lunch on your first day be sure to not order anything with a lot of sauce, otherwise you could go the bulk of lunch with a splotch of BBQ juice on your cheek and not know it. Don't ask how I know this, just heed my advice.

John Kelly: And I imagine spinach or anything with chives is out too, unless you floss your teeth after every bite.


Suspicious package on Vermont?: Hi John,

Do you know what all the hubub is on Vermont between L and the circle? It has been closed for almost 2 hours with rescue teams and fire trucks, etc. Someone in the throngs of people said they thought someone said something about a suspicious package?

John Kelly: We're hearing that authorities are investigating reports of a "suspicious powder" (oh I hope it's not John Henry's East Texas Mesquite Rub). EMS took away one woman who had a panic attack. I don't have any more info than that.


Bowie, Md.: Broder said he was adjusting to a new keyboard. For all the spelling mistakes he made, I'm guessing it's one of those weird divided keyboards where the g and the h are separated by several inches. Those keyboards are the worst!

John Kelly: Right, they look something a Klingon would use.


Southern Maryland: I was on the MEtro Sunday evening about 8:30 right after a thunderboomer. Just finished a full shift of overtime. This toots gets on carrying a pink dog carrier with a little dog wearing a sequined ballet tutu. The dog, not the toots carrying it. The toots was wearing sunglasses, tight jeans, spike heels, a black top just barely covering her lungs. You could see her coin slot at the back. Anyway, she takes the dog out a couple times to snuggle and pet it during the trip.

We both got out at the same station. Before she gets down the stairs she lights up a cigarette, then ducks behind the crowd hoping the station manager wouldn't see her. What I can't figure is how she got so far into the system carrying a dog and nobody stopped her. I really felt sorry for that poor dog wearing the sequined tutu.

Honest -- this really happened.

John Kelly: I bet she woulda claimed it was a "therapy dog." It sounds like it gives her fashion advice.


On Tourists: Can someone tell them the currency here in D.C. is the same as it is in Iowa?

So if you put $5 in the farecard machine, you won't automatically get a $2.60 farecard.

John Kelly: They do have a tendency to stand before the Farecard machines like those apes approaching the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Then again, Metro's directions aren't very good.


Washington, D.C.: The in-laws are coming to town this weekend. In order to milk them for all of the free babysitting we possibly can in the evenings, do you have any ideas for fun things to do during the day? (we have one portable kid)

John Kelly: Isn't the renovated Portrait Gallery/American Art museum opening on Sunday? Could be a zoo. Oh, then there's the zoo.


My 4th of July..: ... will consist of bbq, beer, and bugspray.

John Kelly: Ah, the Holy Trinity of Summer: the three B's.


For Takoma Parker With New Job: Wear a suit. Eschew anything overly trendy.

John Kelly: What if her new job is at Jiffy Lube?


Washington, D.C.: As a follow-up to the lunch advice, please make sure you eat SOMETHING normal if they take you to lunch. One New Guy we took to lunch only ordered a plate of tomatoes. That's all. Not on the menu, mind you -- just a plate of tomatoes. We thought he was odd, but let it go. Things only got weirder from there, and nobody ever forgot his plate of tomatoes. Not here any more.

John Kelly: A plate of tomatoes! So these little aberrations aren't always a sign of a genius, but can signal a nutcase?


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: I agree -- I used to go to the Mall every summer to see the fireworks, but now I won't do it. I don't like being treated like a criminal when all I did was knock over those dinky banks and kill that one -- oh. Oops.

John Kelly: That knock you're hearing is the FBI. They know who you are even if I don't.


Petworth, Washington, D.C.: The terrorists won the second the Patriot Act passed. And I fear that we will never be able to bring back the real USA.

But seriously, stopping with the lockdown silliness on 7/4 would help a LOT. Really what good do they think they're doing? They're simply not making us any safer -- they're merely making a sham to make the paranoid feel protected.

John Kelly: Well the Supreme Court found a little chink in Bush's armor yesterday. Maybe that will give our elected officials a little stiffer vertebra.


Roselyn, Va.: Is Rock Creek Parkway still closed? Will it be closed this weekend for bikers and pedestrians?

John Kelly: I just called. They still don't know.


Landover, Md.: I will give the kids $50 if you pick on Gene W during one of your columns.

John Kelly: Are you kidding? They'd never find my body. And if they did, all identifying characteristics would be gone: fingertips, teeth, surgical pins, DNA. Why do you think you never see Leiby's byline any more?


Poor tourists:: Just another reminder. You are on vacation. We are not. Please understand that everyone else on the Metro/sidewalk needs to get wherever they are going.

Just last week a pair of them almost managed to knock me over as they gaped at some storefront, ignoring the 150 other people around them.

John Kelly: I think it might be time for me to reprint my advice for tourists.


Washington, D.C.: why did you drive to NYC? You should have taken the cheap Chinatown bus -- that would have made a fun column.

John Kelly: We had to drop off the kids at camp on their way, and from what I've heard about those Chinatown buses...well, I haven't heard good things. Plus, it's a bonus to be able to drive in New York. I want to get a T shirt that reads: "I conquered the Belt Parkway."

Hey, thanks for stopping by today. Lotsa great questions, despite the looming holiday. Have fun this weekend. I'll see you in the paper on Sunday, and on the radio tomorrow morning at 8:10: 1500 AM.

Don't forget to donate to Send a Kid to Camp. We finally have our online donation system working. Just go to and click on "Make a Donation."


Rock Creek Parkway: According to the Post Metro section, it's open except for a section between Broad Branch and Joyce Rd.

John Kelly: I should really read the paper more. They just told it was closed around Beach Drive.


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