John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 24, 2008 12:00 PM

John Kelly writes about the Washington that doesn't make it onto the front pages. His five-day-a-week Metro column, John Kelly's Washington, is about the normal -- well, relatively normal -- people who call our region home. It's about the joys and annoyances of living in the most important city in the most important country in the world -- as experienced by those of us who, frankly, aren't that important. His blog, John Kelly's Commons, is a place for readers to carry on a digital conversation.

Are you a flasher or a flashee? Are you the sort of person who thinks the left lane should be used for overtaking, flashing your headlights to signal your intent or are you the sort of person who sees those headlights flashing in your rear view mirror and vows to stay planted in the left lane, faster motorists be damned?

Join Kelly was online Friday, Oct. 24, at Noon ET to talk about any of the above or anything else, from the attractions of tool porn to scams in Metro stations.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archives / Recent Columns


John Kelly: So I spent the morning on the phone with Apple help getting a new AirPort/Time Capsule wireless router and external hard drive set up. (I had an unfortunate incident with lost data a while back.) The instructions from the guy on the other end of the line required me to close and open my browser repeatedly. Close. Open. Close. Open. Each time I opened it my homepage showed the world's financial markets getting a little worse. Sheesh
But let's not talk about that today--unless you can offer a surefire way to weather these storms. Instead, let's talk about...flu-like symptoms. I got my flu shot yesterday and I'm wondering if the sore neck and slight vertigo I'm currently experiencing are due to that.

No, let's not talk about that, either. It's probably just excitement about being back in the chat saddle. My former assistant, Julie, is off overeducating herself so the capable Rocci is feeding me your questions. Much of the e-mail I received this week was about the left lane on highways. I'm sure we'll spend some time on that today. One reader sent info on a Web site, Drive Right VA, that aims to reduce congestion on area roads. Passing on the left is one of its suggestions. What are yours?


Somewhere Nearby: John, pick me first!

John Kelly: Some people are so easily satisfied.


Welcome Back, UK: Can I ask the 1st question, when you return to chat?

John Kelly: r, sorry, no.


Arlington, Va.: OK, you said you were expecting lots of talk about driving in the left lane. I'm genuinely curious now -- does the left lane have to be clear always? What about when traffic is heavy and the whole highway is crammed with cars? I'll stay right and use the left lane to pass (or set up for a left exit), but when there's a jam, shouldn't we use all available asphalt?

John Kelly: That's a very good question. The traffic engineer I spoke with for the first column I did on this subject raised that as an explanation of why people pass on the right: There are so many cars we need to take up every available centimeter of space. Wouldn't it just make things MORE jammed in the other lanes if the left one was clear? And how would you get there anyway from, say, the extreme right lane? But I think the gripe many drivers have is when traffic is moving fairly well, there's enough room for everyone but some slower drivers decide to hang on the left or pass on the right. And the lefthand exit came in for a lot of criticism from readers. It destroys the organization of a highway and makes the "fast" lane a merge lane. One fellow said we should drive to the home of the engineers who design left hand exits and flash our lights in their windows at night.


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: John, welcome back! I have enjoyed your discussion of the left lane -- you might want to look back in the archives on this, as your predecessor, Bob Levey, had a big discussion of it once, including someone named Nestor who insisted on driving at exactly the speed limit in the left lane -- his name became a neologism for a while, "nestoring", which effectively meant being the traffic equivalent of the dog in the manger, with no friendly overtones.

Also, aren't you the guy looking for items about what makes Washington distinctive - my current favorite is the fact that all we Nats fans are highly amused by the fact that our backup shortstop is named Alberto Gonzalez, nicknamed "the A.G." I can't believe that this would be considered funny anywhere else (in fact, I doubt anyone elsewhere would get the joke at all) -- but this is what comes from a town where there is a tribute to Tim Russert at the start of a baseball game, shortly after his death. The Left Lane: The Other Side (Post, Oct. 23)

John Kelly: Several readers brought my attention to the practice of "nestoring," based on the actions of John Nestor, an FDA official who would get in the left lane and set his cruise control at 55 mph. We don't use that expression much anymore, but few of us get to have a verb named after us. Here's his obituary from 1999:

Physician John Nestor Dies
FDA Official Renowned for Strict Driving Habits
By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer

John O. Nestor, 86, a physician who was recognized for vigilance in screening new drugs while at the Food and Drug Administration--and also for his practice of resolutely adhering to the speed limit while driving his car in the fast lane--died of renal failure May 1 at the Hospice of Northern Virginia.

Dr. Nestor's celebrity as a motorist can be traced to a letter he wrote to The Washington Post in 1984, explaining his conduct on multilane highways. The letter led to the coining of the term "Nestoring" to describe actions such as his, of firm conformity to standards and regulations that are more honored in the breach.

In the letter, he said that on divided highways, he drove in the left lane with cruise control set at the speed limit because that was usually the smoothest lane. He said he avoided slower traffic moving in and out from the right and avoided resetting his cruise control with every lane change.

"Why," he asked "should I inconvenience myself for someone who wants to speed?"

Responses, often couched in vehement terms, were swift, and the argument has been resurrected periodically down to the present day.

An editorial that appeared in The Post in February said that Dr. Nestor, a veteran of nearly 70 years of motoring, was "still Nestoring," although not on four-lane highways as often as he had in the past.

As an FDA medical officer, Dr. Nestor was, among other things, a colleague and supporter of Frances Kelsey in the 1960s when she was reviewing the drug thalidomide in what has become a key episode in the history of drug safety.

Thalidomide ultimately was blamed for birth defects elsewhere in the world of thousands of children who were born without limbs. Kelsey was credited with preventing the drug's use in this country, and according to an article in The Post by reporter Morton Mintz, Dr. Nestor "had reinforced her skepticism" about the drug.

Dr. Nestor, a pediatric cardiologist who lived in Arlington for more than 50 years, was born in Franklin, N.J., graduated from Georgetown University medical school and won a Bronze Star for valor while serving as an Air Air Forces flight surgeon during World War II.

While a bombing and strafing raid was underway in 1944 on the base in Corsica at which he was stationed, he left the safety of a trench to administer first aid to the wounded and to see to their immediate evacuation.

After serving as chief resident at Children's Hospital, he went into private practice. He also was a consultant to hospitals and government agencies, taught pediatrics at Georgetown and Howard University medical schools and published numerous articles. He joined the FDA in 1961.

February's Post editorial said that Dr. Nestor's FDA career appeared to suffer for a time in the 1970s, "apparently because he resisted speeding up approval of certain drugs that he felt hadn't been adequately tested." But, the editorial said, the agency eventually corrected itself, and he received a public apology.

After recalling Dr. Nestor's faithfulness to his principles, the editorial again considered his driving habits and concluded with these words:

"If while speeding down the left lane, you should come upon his '92 Ford Taurus, do not expect him to pull over."

Survivors include two sisters and two brothers.


Northern Virginia: I have a comment about the left lane drivers. First of all I have driven for more than 30 years and I am tolerant of a lot of different insane driving behaviors. Having said that I am really getting tired of people driving up behind me at more than 25 mph over the speed limit and using various gestures to get me to pull over to the right. They have to understand that a lot of us get stuck in the left lane for a minute or so before we can get over safely. I am usually stuck in the left lane (at 10 mph over the limit) and I will not pull over to the right to ride someone's bumper in that lane or cutoff and leave a small distance in front of the driver that I would pull in front of. Just be a little patient. This happened several times to me last weekend and the last person that drove up to me flashing their lights could clearly see I had no chance of squeezing into the right without interfering with the two other drivers to my right. I will not increase my speed to more than 10 mph over the limit to help you through. maybe I'll put it in cruise control and really tick you off next time?

John Kelly: Yes, that's unforgiveable. I tried to make the point in my column yesterday that BOTH SIDES in this issue need to cool it. Zipping up behind someone, riding their bumper and flashing the headlights is not the way to get someone to move over, especially if there isn't ROOM for them to move over. And hanging in the left lane as a way of "teaching a lesson" is also unacceptable.

The point that several very thoughtful readers made was that if we're all aware of our surroundings while driving (and that means no distracted yapping on cell phones) and paying attention to each other, the traffic will move better. I mean, have you ever seen a bunch of really good ballroom dancers on the dance floor? They know how to move around without colliding, but also without having to alter too much their own movement.


Baltimore, Md.: Who are you? And why are you holding a chat?

John Kelly: Why am I holding my hat? Those just turned out to be the best photos. The more obscured my head is, the better. And who am I? I'm a performance artist who dresses up as Joni Mitchell.


Arlington, Va.: During your stay in Oxford, did you end up going to that cool little pub that looks at least a couple hundred years old, right near a creek? A student hangout, I believe. What did you think of your stay in the U.K.? Could you see yourself living there full-time or are there too many things you'd miss about the U.S.?

John Kelly: We went to a lot of cool little pubs. The Rose and Crown on North Parade was our main hangout. They serve a nice beer called Old Hooky. (We got free samples during a brewery tour. The Turf is the pub where Bill Clinton famously didn't inhale. The Trout may be the one near the river that you're thinking of. It's quite nice too.

I quite enjoyed Oxford. But it's an incredibly expensive place to live for an American. And I think if you didn't have some sort of connection to the university you might feel a bit left out. In other words, it's a nice place to visit. And it's a nice place to live--if you're rich and connected.


John Kelly: By the way, that's a VERY long YouTube clip, so look at it later.


Alexandria, Va.: John,

I like your new picture much better -- the old one made you look like a hipster chipmunk.

Welcome back!

John Kelly: I'd rather be a hipster hamster. In fact, I bet I could sell a treatment to Cartoon Network based on a character called Hipster Hamster. He has a really cool Habitrail in Columbia Heights.


Washington, D.C.: Wow, I was stunned to read that there are actually people who drive and stay in the left lane for vigilante purposes. I though they were just clueless morons who didn't know any better. I am NOT a police officer and it is not my job to patrol the roads so if I'm in the left lane (even if I'm doing 80) and I see someone in my rearview flying up on me I'm getting over, simple as that.

I hope you didn't use real names in your story because David Humphreys of Annapolis and Ian Hill of Silver Spring are going to need to change their numbers because I know all of my friends and I will be bombarding both with late night phone calls. They are screwing with people on the road and deserve similar treatment.

John Kelly: Now, now, don't YOU go overboard. I was delighted that they had the courage of their convictions to contact me. I really hadn't expected to hear from that side of the argument. It told me that some people really think this out more than I would have thought prudent. I disagree with them. Then again, I know I've been tempted to use my car to send a message to someone who's annoyed me on the road. Sometimes when you get upset you can't help yourself. I hope my columns will help people help themselves in that regard.


Arlington, Va.: John, most of the people who answered your Wednesday column invoking their right to stay in the passing lane if they are going the speed limit are the problem! Yes, you are going the speed limit but you are still blocking other people who want to (imagine that) PASS you. This mentality is the reason you'll see 30 cars on 95 on the weekend stuck behind a single car that is going the speed limit but is blocking the traffic behind it. Yes, you may be going the speed limit but the ripple effect makes it that by the 5th car behind you, the traffic is going 20 miles below the speed limit. Why be so entitled and a speed vigilante and not just move over to the center lane? It will make traffic flow better and if these cars are going so fast, they'll get caught sooner or later. Why worry about it? How about a little courtesy?

John Kelly: Improved traffic flow should definitely be the aim. Part of the problem is that most highway police departments around here don't ticket for holding up traffic in the left land or for passing on the right. Several readers said that in Colorado and Utah you will be ticketed for those things. The law, at least in Virginia, is somewhat contradictory. If someone flashes his lights from behind you're supposed to move over. But if that person is speeding, they forfeit their right to overtake. And passing on the right isn't illegal anyway.


Perfect Fit Last Names: John, Bob Levey used to run a column every so often of perfect fit last names. Your paper ran an obit yesterday on Wm. W. Headline, who led CNN's Washington Bureau.

He was of Swedish descent and the family name had been Americanized by an ancestor.

And it's great to see your name, John, in the discussion list. What do you miss most about living in England? Do you find the pace of life here much faster or about the same?

John Kelly: Yes, wasn't that perfect? I had the same reaction when I read William Headline's obituary. I almost wondered at first if he was some sort of performance artist.

What do I miss about England? I miss not working! And I miss not needing a car. We walked, biked or took public transport everywhere. It was nice not worrying about parking or insurance or getting the oil changed. That contributed to a feeling that the pace is quieter there, even if it wasn't really.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Welcome back, John!

Tru Fax and the Insaniacs were supposed to have a CD out a while back that included the first 45, their first LP, and several new tracks. So far, nothing. Any idea when we can expect this? (I though about asking J. Freedom this question, but I consider you the local band authority).

John Kelly: Of course true Tru Fax fans already have the early stuff on vinyl, as I do.

I just called Insaniac Diana Quinn and she said "Probably February is realistic." She said they've recorded some new songs, remaster the old ones and have found some old live recordings. "It'll have some surprises, even stuff we haven't heard in 30 years."


North of Dupont, Washington, D.C.: John, my colleagues and I have a question that we hope you can answer: what is up with the twice-daily police escort of two to three trucks marked "explosives" in the area north of Dupont? They head westbound around 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Florida Ave. NW (crossing Connecticut Ave. NW) and have been doing this nearly every day for the past three weeks.

John Kelly: I don't know about that specifically but it's probably related to something I'm familiar with (and have always wanted to write about): Explosives needed for certain construction projects are shepherded into the city each day.


Silver Spring, Md.: John, you read drum charts? Play jazz (OK, swing, mostly)?

John Kelly: I read drum charts the way a second grader reads Tolstoy. Slowly and painfully. The charts--or beats, anyway--I tend to read are rock. I don't do jazz. In fact, I used to feel bad about not really "getting" jazz until I read that John Lennon didn't like it either. I figure if it's not good enough for him, it's not good enough for me. But maybe jazz is like Brussel sprouts: I just haven't had it made the right way.


New York, N.Y.: The idea of this being "this most important country in the world..." stems from the same sort of thinking that creates fiascos like Iraq, and before that Vietnam. The notion that Washington D.C. is "the most important city..." is just laughable.

John Kelly: Oh, as opposed to Wall Street greed, Mr. Big Apple.

Anyone want to tell this guy what I was referring to with that line?


Tampa, Fla.: I was in the U.K. for business for over two months a few years ago, and frankly never got used to the food. Especially with American chains there, the food never tasted the way you expected it to. Just wondering, is that something you and your family struggled with at all?

John Kelly: There's a lot of starch over there, that's for sure. But then roasted potatoes really ARE good. And so is Yorkshire pudding if it's made properly. And when you've walked to a pub nothing goes as nicely with a tasty bitter than some fresh sausage slathered in mustard. We also became fans of regular does of hot tea and digestive biscuits, and odd little creatures called Jaffa Cakes. But if we wanted good, interesting food that wasn't too heavy, we typically went to an Indian restaurant.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: "I'd rather be a hipster hamster. In fact, I bet I could sell a treatment to Cartoon Network based on a character called Hipster Hamster. He has a really cool Habitrail in Columbia Heights."

Any chance Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole would make a guest appearance?

John Kelly: Well Morocco Mole definitely. He wore that vital piece of hipsterwear, the fez.


Columbia, Md.:

Welcome back to discussions. We have missed you.

My two cents worth on left lane driving. I usually am not driving the posted speed limit but I try not to go too far over. I try to stay in the right lane if that lane is not going too slow but if I am in the left lane and someone wants to go faster then I do, fine, not my job to tell them how fast to drive. When I can get over safely I do ASAP. However, there have been many times when traffic is heavy and both lanes are full and somehow someone comes rushing up on my bumper flashing. At this point, I have nowhere to go, there are cars in front of me and to my right, hardly a car length in between the cars. Just where does this idiot want me to go? I can't levitate my car and float above the road so he can get in front of me? This makes me mad.

This happened to me recently on Route 70 from Hancock Maryland traveling east on a Sunday night. Traffic was heavy and people were driving fast. Both lanes were clogged but somehow this idiot got through and tried to ram his car up my tailpipe. If I could have gotten over I would have but I had no place to move.

Also with traffic congestion like it is now, both lanes on highways must be used. If all the cars would fit in one lane we would only need one-lane roads. The left lane cannot only be used for passing, but if people will get out of my way when I want by when they can, I will get out of their way when I can.

I certainly don't want someone driving slow in the left lane just to teach me that I should be driving slower either. I have been on trips where two people have backed up traffic for miles because they are side-by-side going the speed limit and won't let anyone by because they are "going the speed limit." Guess there are no easy answers but to just be courteous of your fellow drivers.

John Kelly: Yes, that's exactly the point: Be courteous. And that also means being aware. The people who come up behind you should know what's in front of YOU too. They should be scanning all the lanes to see whether you can get over. They can't be in their own self-important bubble.


God Bless America: Only Socialists drive in the left lane.

John Kelly: I thought they took the bus. Or is that community organizers?


Marshall, Va.: Why do people who own the "clean" cars seem to feel they need two bus lengths between cars? When traveling the HOV lane on 66, if I am going "slow" we stay in the middle lanes. It is not necessary to be in the far left lane unless we have an "express" need to be in town or back home. Express lanes are just that! When traveling in the left lane, you should maintain the speed of the flow of traffic and not holding up traffic to change lanes.

John Kelly: Interesting observation. What do you mean by "clean" cars? Do you mean ones that have been washed recently? Or fuel-efficient ones, like Priuses?


Arlington, Va.: A belated welcome back to you, Mr. Kelly.

My question surrounds a large colonial style edifice in what must be Northeast Washington. I've been racking my brain to figure out what this building is. I see it as I ride by on the Metro to Silver Spring. As one is looking north from the train, it is behind R St. Self Storage.

Any ideas on what this place is?

John Kelly: I'll have to look next time I'm on the Metro, which will be in about six hours. I know where the Self Storage is--that's the place that turns off the "S" every Christmas season, creating "ELF STORAGE." I'm sure I've seen the structure you're referring to, but there's not much that strikes me as "Colonial" over there.


Silver Spring, Md.: What's with all the penguins?

John Kelly: Global cooling?

Are you referring to the signs up during the current bus area renovation? And the other penquiniana found in Silver Spring? The flightless bird is sort of the symbol of that neighborhood, based on a mural by artist Sally Calmer that used to be under the train tracks overpass on Colesville Road. There were hundreds of commuting penguins. This story has some background.


Dupont Circle, D.C.: Welcome home John! Throughout your time away, friends and I would always randomly ask things about D.C. and I'd think, Answer Man would know! Naturally I never bothered writing down any of our excellent questions but now that you're back I won't have to use my (poor) memory as hard. Yay!

John Kelly: Off to a police hypnotist with you! Answer Man needs those questions! If everyone just sat back thinking SOMEONE ELSE was going to ask a question, there wouldn't be any questions at all.


Looking Back: John, if we looked at the back of your head, that would we find (besides that bald spot)?

John Kelly: You would find little terrifying faces.


John Kelly: By the way, there's some sort of disturbance over at I hope Rocci's all right.


Drive right, pass left: So funny you mention this. I drove out to Bluemont yesterday to play golf (20 miles west of Leesburg) and I noted all the way out there how our highways function in exactly the reverse of the way they should: People are so afraid to use the right lane that it often turns out to be the fastest lane of all. You'd think the Dulles Toll Road was the M4 with the way the left two lanes carry the bulk of the traffic.

A serious suggestion I've had for all the DOTs for years is that the signs that say "Slower Traffic Keep Right" (VDOT in particular likes this sign) should be replaced with signs that say "Keep Right Except to Pass." The latter is unambiguous, whereas the former arguably gives the driver too much discretion. Some people will say, "I'm going the speed limit and that's not slow." Or, "I'm going 75 in a 65 zone, so I'm not slow." The point is that if someone is going faster than you are, you get out of the way (when it's safe to change lanes), regardless of the number on the speed limit sign. "Keep Right Except to Pass" supports that message, although ultimately if it's not enforced it won't matter.

I blame the stupid and unlamented 55-mph national speed limit law for all the left-lane hogging we see. Prior to that law, Americans weren't as bad about lane discipline as they have been ever since.

John Kelly: I agree. That sign would help drive the point home. A few tickets here and there would as well. But that might rile people up, since, as I mentioned, it isn't illegal to pass on the right, at least as the law is written now.


New Jersey: While driving to work (Seton Hall U.) yesterday on I-80, I came up with Dr. Tom's First Law of Traffic Flow: Every lane of traffic will move faster than the one you are in.

John Kelly: Remind me not to get in line behind you at the grocery store, either.


Laurel, Md.: On the couple of occasions I did it, left-side driving never bothered me.

What would be more dangerous is places like the U.S. Virgin Islands, where they drive on left but the cars are American, so the steering wheel is also on the left. So rather than sitting near the center of the roadway, all the drivers are at the edge of it.

John Kelly: Ooh, that would be weird. I mentioned in one of my columns that my dad had an Aston Martin when we lived in England. He brought it back with him, thus driving a right hand drive car in the right lane. The only time it was really an issue was when he went through the automatic exact change lanes at tool booths. He'd have to roll down the left window (automatic in an Aston) then toss the coins across the passenger seat and hope he hit the basket.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Welcome back! You're right back on time for the election. What are your thoughts on the election this year?

John Kelly: I tell you, I was glad to be out of the country for this Ironman of campaigns. It was nice just reading about it from afar, instead of being hammered with it, as I expect you were here.

Many many English people expected that I would have some special insight into the race, given that I was American, from Washington, employed by the Washington Post. I told them I thought Edwards had a chance. Shows you what I know.

I honestly don't know what will happen Nov. 4. I worry that things are getting really polarized as we approach Election Day and I hope it doesn't poison our country.


Baltimore, Md.: Re "most important country" reference: John, I think you were amending the tagline of the late Riggs Bank, (now owned by PNC) which used to call itself, "The most important bank in the most important city in the world."

John Kelly: Yes, that's right. It was a bit of advertising hyperbole--like calling something "the world's best hamburger"--and I'm not sure it was ever true. It may be less true than ever now. When I was at Oxford I spent time with journalists from China and India. You better believe they think their countries are on the rise while ours flounders.


Cleveland Park, Washington, DC, again: "Anyone want to tell this guy what I was referring to with that line?"

Wasn't that part of the Riggs Bank slogan?

"The most important bank, in the most important city, in the most important country in the world."

The bank headquarters used to appear on a certain denomination of US currency.

John Kelly: Didn't they used to say something like "Right on the money"?

Of course Riggs is gone and the money's not doing so hot either.


Fairfax, Va.: The worst thing is when you encounter the "Grandpa cruise control pass." This is common on I-81 in Virginia, which has only two lanes on each side for most of its length. The situation: Big truck in right lane is doing about 62 mph. Grandpa in his big Oldsmobile has the cruise control set at 65 mph and is overtaking the truck, so he moves into the left lane but doesn't speed up. It takes him the better part of 10 miles to pass the truck while traffic stacks up in both lanes. ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!

John Kelly: Right. The situation can be bad on two-lane roads, or two lanes in each direction. What amazes me is that it's as bad as it is on FOUR-lane roads. It's like no one knows where to go.


Alexandria, Va.: I don't enjoy tool porn, but I did spend yesterday evening circling tulips in a bulb catalog. What does this say about me?

John Kelly: That you believe spring will come again. Touching, really.

I think the same DNA that has me drooling over tool catalogues (even though I can barely hammer a nail!) is in those who look on eBay for things they won't ever buy (um, that's me too). And it's in gardeners flipping through tulip catalogues. Of course, presumably you will plant the bulbs you order.


Washington, D.C.: John: For sure you were being scammed in a variety of the "short change" con. I got scammed a few months back in the Baltimore train station by a guy who had a story about needing 3 bucks so he could buy a MARC Train ticket and get to the VA Hospital in DC. I knew there was a VA Hospital in Baltimore, so that seemed odd, but he seemed sincere and waved various official looking pieces of paper at me, so I gave him the ones.

Maybe a month later, he accosts me with the same story. I said, "Don't you remember me? I gave you three bucks a month ago?" Man, you should have seen the look that came over his face.

John Kelly: You're referring to my blog post yesterday about the guy approaching me at Farragut North. I thought it was probably a scam. I want to follow through on some of these, though, to see where they'd go. It'd make a neat column, though I wonder how that would go over in my expense report: "$20. Outlay to con man."


Adams Morgan - Washington, D.C.: Actually, American Security Bank advertised itself as "Right on the money", i.e., the $10 bill -- but the picture of the Treasury on the back of the $10 has changed, and you no longer can see the bank building.

N.Y., N.Y., yes, the Riggs Bank took itself far too seriously -- a lotta hot air there.

John Kelly: Ah, American Security Bank. Thanks.


Pubs, bub: How come the UK has pubs and the US doesn't? They seem like so much fun.

John Kelly: I'm not an expert but cultural, surely. And neighborhoods are different in England. They even spell it differently! "Neighbourhoods." What I mean is, certainly village life (they seem to have more small towns there) is arranged around a pub or two. And that usually applies in bigger cities, too. You know where your "local" is.


MoCo: John, hope this makes it... I found a somewhat successful way of suggesting left lane hogs allow me to pass. I just flask my my right turn blinker for a second or two and they get the idea. Try it out.

John Kelly: Good tip. Let's try it and see what happens. Unless people behind you think it means you're turning right.


Chantilly, Va.: I was in England in 1985 (want to go back SO badly). The thing that struck me the oddest was them putting butter on (apparently) ALL their sandwiches, even the meat ones. Did you find that, or have they stopped it?

John Kelly: I saw that occasionally but the strangest sandwich-related practice I saw was whenever I ordered a sandwich with cheese--ham and cheese, say, or cheese and pickle--the cheese was GRATED. They wouldn't slice the cheddar, they'd grate it onto the bread. You can imagine how well it stayed in there when I'd pick it up to eat it.


Health minute: Welcome Back, John! We missed you. Thanks for returning to brighten up Friday afternoons. In a vital health update, Tai Shan, the National Zoo youngster panda, was recently diagnosed with the bear version of acid-reflux disease, but is being successfully treated with the human meds for this condition. Which leads me to wonder how you did with the traditional British cuisine, i.e., fish and chips and bangers and mash?

John Kelly: I hadn't heard about Tai Shan's acid reflux. Poor little panda. No more fish sauce for his bamboo. We've talked a lot about food, so I'll add only this: We didn't have a chip shop in easy walking distance. That was a great disappointment. The part of Oxford we lived in, Summertown, is apparently too posh for a nice, greasy storefront fish and chip place.


Then again, I know I've been tempted to use my car to send a message to someone who's annoyed me on the road. : I was behind an SUV in Falls Church the other day who had hateful, racist and untruthful things written on the windows about a particular presidential candidate. Also, the car had a bumper sticker on it that said: "Tolerance is the virtue of people with no convictions."

For a few moments I really contemplated hitting his car with mine. Seriously.

John Kelly: Whoa. I'm glad you didn't but I can understand the impulse.


Living Temperately: Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your column from several weeks ago with the info about saving and not wasting, from the pamphlet from the Treasury Dept from 1918. I cut it out and have it on my refrigerator. Why can't we have such inspiring and lyrical prose from our government today?

John Kelly: Wasn't that interesting? Here's the column here; the section is at the end. Contrast that with the messages we get from the government now. Not nearly as eloquent. And no from Treasury ever did call me back.


Bowie, Md.: John, in the UK are people (or pundits) discussing "Why on earth is the entire global financial system being undone by American sub-prime mortgages?"

John Kelly: Yes, they're blaming us. Although, interestingly, when we first got there a bank called Northern Rock failed and was taken over by the UK government. So they've had their own problems.


Central Virginia: When I see lefties -- people driving in the left-hand lane -- I laugh at them. They are ninnies, pinheads and morons, and their attraction to the left-hand lane is -- what? They like the thought of Life in the Fast Lane? They think there's a better view? They don't know how to drive properly, that's for sure.

I recall one study that concluded that people who are not getting ahead in life, whose careers have stagnated, tangle up traffic because it's the ONE place where they CAN have a definite effect on other people. Like little children who act up, I guess they think that having a bad effect is better than having none.

So the rest of us have to put up with these Foghorn Leghorns on wheels that are bopping along in the left-hand lane, either rude or oblivious, refusing to be cooperative or gracious, determined to make their mark SOMEHOW.

Doncha think their mothers would be proud?

John Kelly: That's a study I'd like to see.


In defense of traffic engineers: You should drive to the homes of the NIMBYs and the developers, and the politicians who enable both groups, who made it politically impossible to acquire the land to design the highway correctly in the first place.

John Kelly: Right. You'll recall that the Beltway's "roller coaster" is because the traffic engineers couldn't put the road where they wanted it.


Washington, D.C.: You miss not needing a car in England? But you don't need a car in D.C. I've lived here more than a decade without a car. Yes, it requires some adjustments, and I pay more to live within walking distance of a metro station. But it is certainly feasible. You may CHOOSE to have a car while living in the D.C. metro area, but that is a choice (as is mine not to have a car).

John Kelly: All true, but it is easier not to have a car in England and certainly much easier in Oxford than it is in Washington. That's due to things like public transportation and cycling infrastructure.


Bethesda: Do you really wear a hat like the one in your picture here? It's kinda cool but kinda nerdy at the same time. Of course, I'm kinda cool and kinda nerdy at the same time.

John Kelly: What do you mean "like the one in your picture here"? That's MY HAT! Of course I wear my hat.


Chantilly, Va.: What really bugs me when driving are people who use turn or exit lanes on the right for passing or even just regular non-passing driving. You know darn well it's an exit lane: don't get into it if you're not going to exit. I keep fantasizing about dividing the exit lane so that people in it can not get back out again, possibly through one-way spikes that will impale your tires if you try to get out. I would also be open to a sci-fi video game-style forcefield that disintegrates your car if you touch it.

John Kelly: A sci-fi videogame style forcefield would come in handy in many situations.


Tampa, Fla.: Can I ask the last question?

John Kelly: Oh sure, why not? Thanks, all, for stopping by today. Sorry I couldn't get to all the comments/questions. It's clear the left lane/right lane things causes an impassioned response. Answer Man will be in the paper on Sunday and don't forget my new blog, John Kelly's Commons. As always, if you have an idea for a column send it my way: Enjoy the weekend. And be careful out there.


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