John Kelly's Washington Live

John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007; 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: So this is how ends, not with a bang, but with the gentle tap of fingers upon a keyboard. I left my office yesterday evening and though I'll pop in one more day in August, this is pretty much it for me for a while. I have a full slate of columns next week -- pre-written, as it were -- but I'm deep into packing for our trip to Blighty, a year in Oxford on a journalism fellowship.

It's going to feel weird not opening up the Metro section every morning and seeing my column. It's going to be weird not opening the Metro section. It's going to be weird not picking up The Post. But that's the glory of the web: I'll join those millions of people who experience the paper through their computer. I think that probably includes some of you.

In columns this week Answer Man strolled among the trees of NIH. I spent the afternoon with humane wildlife relocators. We checked in with Camp Moss Hollow. And a reader from Palisades said all the helicopters flying over his house can mean only one thing: War!

So, charge!


Herndon, Va.: What, you're leaving and now they let you take a new picture? On the front page it's the happy-go-lucky John; on the chat page it's the Doh -- what did I just sit on? John. Best of luck to you, buddy. We'll miss you!

John Kelly: I think that's an old picture. Then again, they're all old pictures. The one of me with my head tilted cracks me up. It's like I'm about to leap from my chair. For some reason I'm reminded of the senior pictures from high school. The photographer seemed to want every person to have his or her head tilted at exactly the same angle. At least the boys got to wear their own clothes. I seem to remember that the girls had to wear some photographer-supplied wrap around their bare shoulders. Some girls said he enjoyed adjusting the wrap. I hear that these days kids can have whatever they like for their senior photos. We could only dream of such freedom back then.


Boston, Mass.: Okay, so I am getting to know you rather late ... curious to know more about the time you kidnapped an Irishman ...

Also, wondering if you ever dated a woman named Sarah, since I have a friend Sarah in D.C. who in the past found all of her dates were suddenly being wisked off to Oxford ....

Thanks for humoring me ...

John Kelly: No, never dated a Sarah. The kidnapped Irishman was one of the first columns I did, three years ago. I wanted to do something for St. Patrick's Day so I went to BWI and hung around the international arrivals terminal waiting for the Aer Lingus flight to get out. A bloke walked by, I said "Did you just fly from Ireland?" and when he said yes I offered him a lift to DC in my car, if I could interview him. The Irish are especially trusting, I decided.

What was interesting about him was he had lived in India for a few years and married an Indian woman. He was coming to DC to interview at the World Bank. I let him go unharmed.


Dept. of Immigrati, ON: John,

Have you been over there before? And the most important question: Are you going to Liverpool? If you do, wear your Chesterfield suit, dude.

John Kelly: We went to Liverpool on our last trip there and, alas, I'm not packing my Beatles suit this time around. Packing has been a slow nightmare: What do we bring? We're leaving our house furnished here, and renting a furnished one there, so it's mostly clothes. But there's only so much we can carry. And I don't think the closets will be very big there. So tough decisions had to be made. What gets to go on a trip and what will be sealed in a box under the stairs? The Chesterfield suit didn't make the cut and neither did the Beatle boots. I know there will be one day when I regret that.

One thing I'm having fun doing is putting clothes in plastic bags and sucking the air out with a vacuum cleaner. have you done that? They shrink down and look little freeze-dried pork cutlets. Takes up less space in the suitcase, and it's so much fun.


Alexandria, Va.: Why do you whine about your job so much? It has to be the easiest job at The Washington Post.

John Kelly: Hmmm. I don't recall whining about my job. I remember saying how much I love my job. Give me proof! But loving a job and that job being easy are two different things. I don't think this job is easy, though it is usually fun.


West End, Washington, D.C.: To the tourists with a dozen kids and baby carriage standing to the (left) on the Metro escalator while I, a citizen of this fine city, was on my way to work this morning: please go home. My annoyance has reached the breaking point. Each year from the day the first cherry blossom peeks out it's first spring bloom to the last of the labor day holiday weekend, you make me cringe.

John Kelly: Yes, it's that time of year, when we're reminded that Washington belongs to all Americans. My tourist tolerance is a function of how much of a hurry I'm in. I like seeing them enjoying our city--it reminds me how lucky I am to live here-but when the next Metro train isn't for 12 minutes and there's a clot of them on the escalator, I do find my affections tested. Do you think a polite, "Excuse me, may I squeeze past?" would work?


Washington, D.C.: Hey John -- have a great time in Oxford( ever drunk bitter? It's fantastic). We will miss you. One last question for Answer Man. Near the Rhode Island Metro station there are two unusual buildings with bright baby blue paint on them. On is topped by a metal structure that appears to be the remnants of a railroad bridge. The other has what appears to be tennis courts on top. Do you or the chatters have any idea what these buildings are?

John Kelly: I believe that's a church. I've seen it when I've driven past on Rhode Island Avenue. I think the courts--and aren't they basketball?--are just another amenity of the church.


Lakeland, Fla.: Is your Oxford residence out the the flood zone?

John Kelly: Yes, thank goodness. So far it is. It's in a part of north Oxford called Summertown. It's elevated there, 4.5 meters above the flood plain, I believe. I really feel sorry for those people who got swamped. Have you the photos? It's like a British Katrina.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Mr. Answer Man,

Twice in the last three July 4th fireworks the spectators on the 'fun side' of the Potomac were given additional presentation of a commercial airliner glided 'into' the thick of fireworks toward the end. I couldn't help but thinking how cool it would be to be on that flight and see the fireworks from in the air! Is there any story behind these filghts? Do you know if that's a charter flight packed with fireworks enthusiastic or just a regular commuter with a fun-loving pilot spicing it up for his passengers? Know where it took off? If the price is cheap enough it'd be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience.


John Kelly: I don't. Anyone else out there familiar with it? Flying is so restricted in this area I find it hard to believe someone would be allowed to offer sightseeing flights, especially on that day. Could it have been a regularly-scheduled flight, easing into National? I wonder if all the passengers rushed over to one side to watch.


Rent a flat?: Will you live your British life like an episode from Masterpiece Theater?

John Kelly: It's going to be like "The Singing Detective." I'm going to sit in my bed with a skin condition.


English weather : Send some of that British rain back to us John.

John Kelly: Things are wonky even within Europe. I don't think it's stopped raining in England for the last few months. Meanwhile in Greece and Romania there's a drought and a heatwave. Someone needs to set the reset button.


Frederick, Md.: John, if you run into the Queen, ask her if she wears boxers or briefs. Thanks.

John Kelly: That's just the sort of question that can prompt her to say "Off with his head!" In other words, we are not amused.


Alexandria, Va.: John, before you leave us, whatever happened to the Angie's List suit?

I am really going to miss your column. You have a delight in humanity that I share and find such a relief from the whine-o-rama we seem to be surrounded by (even The Post has provided a forum for these people! I cannot believe people feel the need to rant about waiting behind a check writer. Take a deep breath, folks, and see how wonderful life is!)I really, really hope you pick up where you left off on your return. You are a breath of fresh air.

John Kelly: That's very nice of you. Thanks.

I believe there's some sort of hearing today on the suit. I don't think any official word has come down from the regulatory agency that said they were investigating the contractor. We'll have to wait and see. I hope The Post will cover it while I'm gone.


Herndon, Va.: Oh, and don't bother with the fake British accent. It doesn't work for Madonna and won't work for you either.

John Kelly: I've only ever used a fake English accent once, in college, at a bar in Foggy Bottom, where I used it to pick up a GWU student. "Are all American bars like this?" I asked. And then I laid it on thick. Said my dad worked at the embassy and introduced my roommate as my driver. I learned my lesson.


Silver Spring, Md.: Before you leave, John, please give a shout-out to my nostalgia Web site, Marlow Heights! If anyone grew up here in the 60s and 70s, they would enjoy it. Plus I can help them get a taste of a Mighty Mo, Orange Freeze, or Hot Fudge Cake of Hot Shoppes fame.

Enjoy your column and will it.

John Kelly: Your site was one more of those things on my "must write about it some time" list. Some time may have to wait till 2008!

Last year I wrote about a gallery in Antietem that was issuing a Hot Shoppes print. I drove out to the party, where someone was serving Mighty Moes and Orange Freezes. I was never much of an Orange Freeze fan, but that Mo brought back memories. Or is is MOmeries?


John Kelly: I was surprised that my mention of the guy who said the helicopters flying between the Pentagon and CIA didn't get reaction from people accusing me of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Usually when I write something like that, people say "Great, there you go, helping al Qaeda." I did hear from people who wondered why military brass would fly between the two places when they're only 15 minutes apart by car. But if you had access to a cool helicopter, wouldn't you use it?


Under cover?: Admit it, you're working for MI5, aren't you?

John Kelly: I'm working for the Jackson5

Stop, the love you save may be your own...


Do you measure up?: Are you man enough to handle the metric system in the U.K.?

John Kelly: No, but I'm hoping they won't use it too much. Distances on road signs are miles, right? And I just won't weigh myself, although don't they use "stone"? I wonder if buying food will be a problem. I'd like 30 kilograms of smoked turkey please. How much is that? Enough to fill a bathtub?


Richmond, Va.: John -- thanks for taking our questions and best of luck across-the-pond. Any advice for a fellow Yank in King Arthur's Court? My oldest son leaves this fall for two years at Oxford with no international experience -- what have you been warned about and what are you looking forward to?

John Kelly: Well, it's expensive. The dollar is so weak that going to Britain is like getting your salary cut in half. And I think he may be surprised at how America is perceived. Not Americans, necessarily, but our government. It's not too popular in Europe now and even our special friend is pretty vocal about that. The weather can be a drag, but honestly I've lucked out whenever I've been there.

But I love the British, their sense of humor, the little differences with our country. And the roundabouts!


Carson, Calif.: I understand that you and your family are going to the U.K. as part of the trade that brought the Beckhams to the U.S. If he washes out with the L.A. Galaxy and goes home to England, would you have to come back to the Post?

John Kelly: I think I'll have an easier time remembering to call soccer "football" than Becks had remembering to call football "soccer." And actually, the trade that will bring us to Britain is patterned after the Tai Shan deal. If we have a cub while we're over there it remains US property and has to return at age 2.


Woodbridge, Va.: If I'm not mistaken, M. Vick got ratted out by an informant. What's in it for the informant? Maybe Vick cheated him out of money and the informant got PO'd.

And what other defense does he have besides "I didn't know"? I can't bring myself to read the indictment but apparently the feds have some pretty damning evidence.

If by some chance he is not involved, then he's taking a huge risk with his career by not distancing himself immediately from these other abusive morons, IMO. Thank you.

John Kelly: The informant may just have been troubled by what he saw. LAst night CNN had some sort of dog-fighting special on; the TV in the next office was showing it. It was awful and a bit exploitative. I wondered why they had to show so much actual dogfighting. It will be tough for Vick. I wonder where he's getting his advice.


Farewell from Bethesda: Hi John -- thanks for the great chat sessions for the past few years. Questions ... are you planning to come back to The Post next year? What will happen to your lovely assistant? Did you sell your precious car (was it Suzuki?)

We will miss you so much. Good luck!

John Kelly: Yes, I'll be back at The Post, back in Metro, back in my column, in a year's time. I've been lonely the last week because Julie took off. She's gone to business school to get her MBA. So watch for her on the cover of Fortune. As for my Datsun, I washed and waxed it last week then drove it to a storage facility in Middleburg. It was take a year-long nap, being woken up every month or so to have the oil move through its vessels.


Could you please ...: sing us a song of sixpence?

John Kelly:"Stop, the sixpence you save may be your own..."


Start gobbling:50 kg of smoked turkey: you will be growing feathers and eating it three times a day.

John Kelly: So milligrams then? What's wrong with the good old pound?


Cool helicopter ride: Sure, I'd use it but then I'd have to buy carbon credits from Al Gore to offset the fun.

John Kelly: I'm sure the helicopters have a place where you can swipe your credit card to do just that. Just be sure to keep your receipt.


Metro: Answer Man, I have a question for you. Why, at some Metro stations, do the trains stop in really weird positions? The main example I'm thinking of is Takoma, where every train for the last 20 years I've been riding stops a car's-length away from the end of the platform with the only escalator. There's only one way out of the station; everyone's going to have to walk to that end;so why do they instruct drivers to stop so far away from it?

By contrast, at National Airport, which has one escalator at each end of the platform, they stop right up next to one and make people from the other one walk wayyyyy down the platform to get on.

I'm really confused by the Takoma thing. Help me, Answer Man, you're my only hope!

John Kelly: What time of day do you usually travel? I've been on the Red Line when the driver stops right at the end. I've also been on there when he's overshot it and had to tell people in the first car to walk back through those doors to the next car and get off. So maybe that's why they have him hang back a little, to give him some wiggle room in case he overshoots. But I don't know for sure.


Daughterparksc AR:"So this is how ends, not with a bang, but with the gentle tap of fingers upon a keyboard ..."and Journey's 'Dont stop believing' playing in the background -- Fade to Black]

John Kelly: Oh, I like that. Much better than the Benny Hill theme song, with me running around tapping a short bald man on the head.


Shop England: Do they have those Bonus cards like Giant?

John Kelly: I wonder. I did hear from someone who said there's a Costco outside of Reading and that I should bring my Costco card, especially if I want a huge thing of peanut butter, which apparently is unobtainable anywhere else in Britain. But will I have to buy 50 decaliters worth?


New York, N.Y. : Hi John,

Is there a luckier person right now than you? Oxford is such a beautiful city. Walk down Catte Street between High and Broad Street at dusk and you'll feel happy to be alive.

Sadly, though, all my favorite places in Oxford seem to be closed (I was last there in -- gulp -- 1996). Except for the Turf Tavern. The Turf always seems to survive. I recommend it.

Are you planning to write for any of the British papers? Are you going to tangle with Guardian readers again?

John Kelly: We're excited. That place is just swimming in tradition and history--okay, bad choice of words. But I was looking through the different lectures they have there. It's a different arcane subject every night. We can't wait.


Annandale, Val: When you arrive in Great Britain, in regards to all the flooding, can you tell the new Prime Minister, "You're doing a heck of a job Br..."? Nevermind.

John Kelly: Bush can do it himself! Isn't the prime minister coming to America today? I wonder if they'll compare flood reaction notes. FEMA has a lot of trailers it's trying to get rid of.


Standing on the Left: I agree, those who stand on the left on the escalator are an annoyance. It drives me crazy that because of them I arrive at work at 9:00:10 instead of 9:00:00.

I travel across the U.S. for my job (I am in L.A. as we speak) and for the life of me I can't figure out why people think we Washingtonians are so uptight. I really wish that the tourists would go home and stop contributing to our local economy.

John Kelly: If it was a 10-second difference, big deal. But if a train comes every 15 minutes, as often happens mid-day or in the evening, and if you've got somewhere you need to be, then it's a drag missing the one that's pulling into the station because of lollygaggers, be they from Boise or Bethesda. I just think it's not considerate.


Safety: My son got through a year in Germany without being hassled about his Americanism because he wore a button on his backpack that said "I voted for Kerry." Have you any similar buttons, perhaps with the big I word?

John Kelly: I was pondering walking down the street in a Bush/Cheney T-shirt, sort of like the "unprotected arm" from the old OFF! commercial. I'm sure the English would be too polite to actually confront me.


Crofton, Md.: I just realized -- you're going to miss Opening Day in the new stadium! Who are we going to look to now when it comes to all things Nationals? Fisher? Weingarten?

John Kelly: I know, and the last RFK game. But I'm sure both those events will be well-covered in The Post. I predict tides of ink.


Washington, D.C.: Your best column(s) were about that awesome dude that rode a Vespa across the country.

Great meeting you John, and good luck.

John Kelly: Must be one of the Vespa boys. Godspeed on your own uncomfortable, bugs-in-the-teeth journeys.


Ames, Iowa: Okay, so I'm not in your true target group, but my son used to live in Arlington and I love visiting Washington (esp. Tai Shan). I always enjoy your writing, both in column and on-line chatting mode. Have bookmarked your Oxford site and look forward to your reports. Thanks for all you do to brighten Friday afternoons.

John Kelly: Thank you. I haven't had time to chat with about future blogging or chat opportunities. I've been too busy planning The Move. I have a wee little web site,, that I will experiment with. It's a bit static now, but when I have the time I hope to make it super cool.


Washington, D.C.: Hi John! Devastated to hear that you won't be with us for a whole year -- I don't enjoy the Post as much even when you're just off on Fridays! Can't you send us occasional updates from England? Thanks for all you do for the camp kids ... they'll remember that experience all their lives!

John Kelly: It will. And there's still time to give. (Go to and click on "Make a Donation.") I'll announce the final tally in Tuesday's column. I have a good feeling about it.


Frederick, Md.: John, can I be your last question?

John Kelly: Yes, my gift to you.

Thanks for joining me today, and every day. It hasn't quite sunk in that I won't be writing "John Kelly's Washington" for a year. I don't know what my new rhythm will be, but it will no doubt include some sort of writing in some sort of manner. And because what I'll be studying at Oxford is the way digital tools allow even non-journalists (egads!) to make their opinions known, I'm eager to hear your thoughts. My e-mail for the next year is

Keep reading the paper and stay as sweet as you are.


Mr. Kelly, Mr. Kelly: Your Bentley awaits you good sir.

John Kelly: Thank you James. I hope you brought the Grey Poupon.


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