John Kelly's Washington: Car Upkeep, Parking at the Smithsonian, Disciplining a Burglar

John Kelly
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, March 27, 2009; 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.

Today John discussed keeping your car on the road forever, paying to park at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center and the best way to discipline a young burglar.

Discussion Archives/Recent Columns


John Kelly: I think we're going to earn our spring this year. We had that teasing taste of spring a week or so ago and since then it's been cold or wet or cold AND wet. Today's not so bad--it was at least sunny when I came in, if a bit chilly--but I don't see a proper Washington spring day in the next week's forecast. Perhaps we'll have one--70 degrees, blue skies, light breeze--by April 15.

That date sounds familiar. April 15? Oh, right. It's the date that apparently was not on any of the calendars Marion Barry owns. His calendars go straight from April 14 to April 16. That's the only explanation I can think of for why Hizzoner didn't pay his taxes. Now he

owes the government

more than $277,000.

Barry says the U.S. Attorney's office shouldn't have released his financial information and accuses them of "piling on." What do you think?

Speaking of criminal behavior, I blogged this week about a case I heard about where a

kid burgled some homes

in his neighborhood then, at the urging of his parents, returned the loot and apologized. I wondered whether the episode should stop there, or whether the homeowners should press charges. I thought the comments from readers were pretty level-headed. Most felt a police report should be filed but charges should not be pressed and that the boy should do service in the community and pay for the damage. Good idea?

And how about paying $15 to

drop off people

at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles? A rip-off? Or the price of supporting a museum that needs the money? Or you could just walk from the gate. But have we become accustomed to just rolling out of our vehicles right into whatever attraction we desire?

And speaking of our vehicles, how many miles are on yours? I was amazed to hear from readers who have

hundreds of thousands

of miles on their Civics, Camrys or Escorts. Is it really just as simple as changing the oil every 3,000 miles? Or do you have to be lucky enough to have gotten whatever the opposite of a lemon is? A peach?

Okay, let's put it in gear and go.


Longtime fan of Air$Space: You're right. parking is free after 4 p.m. at the Dulles Air and Space Museum. Of course, the place closes at 5 p.m., so, really not that much of a benefit, now is it? Udvar-Hazy's Parking-Fee Hike May Be Irritating, but Consider the Price of Admission Post, March 26)

John Kelly: But I believe it has extended hours till 6:30 in the summer.


Udvar-Hazy: The question of paying for parking at the Space Museum Annex is the same one that was answered years ago when user fees were imposed on National Parks. Yes, the existence of all these national institutions benefits everyone, whether we actually use them or not, but we lost with that augment. If you want to use them, you have to pay. It's only a matter of time till this spreads to the Mall.

John Kelly: I hope we don't reach the point where we have to pay. I think that would seriously affect some of the people who use them. I think of my mother, growing up as one of eight children in a poor family in Brookland. She has a tremendous interest in and knowledge about art, nurtured as a girl by the ability to visit Smithsonian galleries and the National Gallery. Same with her brothers and sisters. If her parents had had to pay a buck each to bring them there, I wonder if they would have gone. I think I'd rather see the museums have to cut back on acquisitions or research than institute an admission fee. Or perhaps it could have certain days of the week when museums were free, so people without means could visit.

I'm conflicted about Udvar-Hazy. The thing that bugs me is it's trying to be two things: We're part of the Smithsonian, but we were built with private funds. We don't charge admission but we gouge you for parking. And the parking fee goes to pay down the museum debt, not to pay for, um, parking. But having said that, put a family of five in the minivan, pay your 15 bucks and you're getting a great museum experience--all those planes!--for only $3 a head.


Annapolis, Md.: John, being someone who doesn't get into the city much, could you tell me what that enormous half-circle of concrete pillars is at south corner of New York and Florida Avenues?

John Kelly: Do you mean the headquarters of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives? That assemblage on the left in that photo looks like the prow of a ship but it's actually to protect the building from evil-doers. The building also has those tiny, slit-like windows to lessen the damage an explosion could do. But what an ugly building, huh?


Alexandria, Va.: If spring ever comes, I'm going to lay pages of the Washington Post on my garden for weed control. Whose column kills more weeds, yours or Marc Fisher's?

John Kelly: Fisher's. Since my column is mostly BS it encourages weed growth.


Kingstowne, Va.: I liked your story about the high-mileage cars, but I'd be afraid of bragging about it if I had one, especially of things like putting a license plate stating the mileage. (The closest I come on my 1988 RX-7, which has 159,000 miles, is that the license plate includes the digits "88.") The reason is that I had a 1997 Accord. In August 2004 I had it in for servicing on a Tuesday when it had just under 99,000 miles (and I had one car payment left). The mechanic said, "This car is in BEAUTIFUL condition. You'll easily get 250,000 miles out of it unless you're in a wreck."

Well, $%-(, the very next day on the way home from work some high-school girl rear-ended me and totaled my Accord (she was going 25 mph and I was stopped for a red light). I still say it was bad karma brought on by the mechanic's comment.

John Kelly: I'd feel awful if, one by one, the people I wrote about in my column started getting into accidents or walked out to their car only to find that a jet engine had landed on it. That would be too much like an episode of "The Nightstalker" or something.

I have a lead one someone in the area who has more than 700,000 miles on her car. Now that's pretty good.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi John -- got a mouse update for us? I'll give you the latest update on my critter problem. Turns out the problem was actually flying squirrels. There were some mice, but the flying squirrels were making all the racket. Now that the entry point has been found, sealed, and the critters removed it's all quiet again. Hallelujah! BF and I are sleeping soundly again. So what's the latest with the Kelly mousecapades?

John Kelly: Where were we? The first mouse we caught live and repatriated to the great outdoors. The second mouse wasn't so lucky. Our mercy had waned and so he is now an ex-mouse. We haven't seen any signs of little mousey comrades. Perhaps they're just being sneakier and not quite so greedy when it comes to eating our food. Maybe they're being like teenagers who slurp the scotch then fill the bottle up with water.

Now, if I had flying squirrels in my attic I think I'd be torn. I associate flying squirrels with

Rocky and Bullwinkle



Wheaton, Md.: John, maybe you can answer this for me, since you live in Montgomery County.

Our apartment complex has an outdoor dumpster for trash, as well as two separate bins for recyclables. My husband was walking by when the trash collectors came and noticed that the recycling bins were being dumped in the truck with the rest of the garbage. He asked trash collectors about this and was told that everything was dumped together and separated later at the facility.

I guess my question is this: do I still have to separate my recyclables from my regular trash? I'm still doing it, but I'm not as thorough as I used to be. Am I wasting my time with this since it's all dumped together anyway?

John Kelly: Recyclables and trash dumped together and "separated later"? No, he's lying. I've been to the transfer station and watched them at work. Trash goes one place, recyclables another. They've gotten very good at separating recyclable containers--magnets, blasts of air--but they can't pick them out of trash. (I believe that's done in some countries.)

You should call customer service at MoCo's solid waste office at 240-777-6410 and tell them what you saw. They'll send an inspector out.


Woodbridge, Va.: I have a weird question. Do the light bulbs in microwave ovens ever wear out? I've had the same microwave for 10 years and the bulb still works. I don't even see how you could replace it without dismantling the body of the oven. I've replaced the bulb in my fridge many times.

John Kelly: I can't remember ever changing one, either. Perhaps they don't work as hard as bulbs in refrigerators. Maybe we open our microwaves less often. I mean, how often do you stand in front of your microwave, wondering where something is or trying to decide what you want to eat?

But they must wear out eventually. Unless they get energized by the microwaves themselves, like some comic book hero.


But what an ugly building, huh?: Looks like a half finished prison.

John Kelly: And what I find really funny is that a Courtyard by Marriott hotel is going up right next door. It doesn't appear to have any of those high-security blast walls or anti-terrorist features. So, sorry if you happen to be staying there when someone tries to blow up ATF HQ!


Austin, Tex.: At Texas we call the Aggies a "cow college," but that really isn't fair, because as far as I know A and M has only graduated one cow.

John Kelly: I'm finding that all sorts of potential minefields await me in College Station, Texas. There's a ton of arcane tradition that has built up at A and M: grass you can't walk on, greetings you must use, colors you can't wear. I've already gotten in trouble a few times and I haven't even arrived! The little headline to that item was "The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Me." Who knew that "The Eyes of Texas" is the official song of the University of Texas in Austin, bitter rivals of the Aggies of Texas A and M. And I mentioned to the professor who first told me about this journalist in residence gig that I was looking forward to saying "Hook 'em horns." Oops. That's the expression of UT, which Aggies call TU.

Still, I am looking forward to the tacos, the barbecue and the longneck beers.


Fairfax, VA.: A few facts about Udvar-Hazy: 1) There are extended summer hours, so you can enjoy more than 90 minutes of free parking after 4:00. 2) There is a secret, heavily guarded, impenetrable entrance on route 50. 3) There is a free shuttle to this museum from IAD. 4) This is the only Smithsonian museum that is bike-unfriendly -- no bike parking or viable routes, and no cyclists are allowed through the route 50 gate. All in all, Udvar-Hazy is a much more closed and user-unfriendly museum than other Smithsonian facilities.

John Kelly: I wondered about the bike parking. I don't know what happens if you show up on a bicycle. Do they consider you a pedestrian, and let you in free? Or do they raise the gate and charge you $15. I heard a complaint from a motorcycle rider who said his hog club went there and each had to pay $15, even though motorcycles take up a lot less space than cars. But see, it's not a "parking" fee. It's an admission fee disguised as a parking fee.


Do the light bulbs in microwave ovens ever wear out? : And since they obviously CAN make a light bulb that lasts 10 years, why won't they sell them to us for the 12' ceiling lights?

John Kelly: And as for high-mileage cars, a reader wrote to say that he used to use a motor oil that contained some sort of preservative that has since been discontinued. He credited this ingredient with the long life of his engine and said the conspiracy-minded could believe that it's not coincidence that this magic compound is no longer put in motor oil.


Public Service Announce, MT: It's that time of year -- the March blahs, the start of spring, the rain, the 80 degree days, followed by mornings below freezing. Everyone in my office is sick. Sick, sick, sick. Even our beloved UPS man has a bad case of the sniffles.

People, PLEASE. When you don't feel well, stay HOME. The place won't fall apart if you're out for a day. Our entire office can trace our colds back to one workaholic who couldn't bear to stay at home for a day or two last week until they felt better. Now, we're in the middle of our busiest week of the year and are all just barely hanging on by a thread, because we don't have the option to stay at home this week.

Stepping off my tissue box.

John Kelly: Does your office send announcements to this effect? We used to have a person here who did that occasionally. She'd sent system wide e-mails that basically said, "If you're sick, stay home."

Of course, journalists pride themselves on gutting it out. We work through the pain. And we have highly evolved immune systems.


Chantilly, Va.: "Since my column is mostly BS" -- Mr. Kelly, you're a sweetheart, although I should make you come over here and clean my Coke off my keyboard. I heart you!

John Kelly: Hey, at least it wasn't a peanut butter and jelly sandwich going through your nose.


Going Postal: OK, John, this might be more of a question for the Haxphiles, but I'm reading your chat, so here goes. I'd like your opinion on this. My house is in a typical city area, on somewhat of a smaillish hill. Our postal boxes are by our front doors. Because of the hill, my postman (only the "regular" one, not the ones who works on his days off) has to walk up the steps leading to the front door. Then, instead of walking back down the steps to the sidewalk, he walks across my front porch (which has large, full-size picture windows plus side windows that take up almost the entire wall of the living room), across my lawn and my neighbor's lawn, and down the stone wall into my neighbor's driveway.

Now, I know the Postal Service is hurting, so maybe I'm being snobbish/snarky/whiny (take your pick), but am I wrong to think that he shouldn't do this? It's always disconcerting for me to be sitting in my office (which adjoins the living room) and see him walk by, right up and close. God forbid that...ahem...anything not be proper at the wrong time! Your take on it?

(And BTW, I love your chats. I think the only person quicker with the wit than you was my mom -- she would have loved your chat, too!)

John Kelly: I had this same thought yesterday, when I was tossing some grass seed down on some bare patches in our front yard. We have a narrow swatch of grass beside our driveway, a row of hedges, then our neighbor's yard starts. The hedges are very loosely planted and I noticed a little path between two of them. I realized it's where the mailman walks. We too are on a hill and there are a LOT of steps down to the street. He'd have a workout going up and down our walk and everyone else's walks and so he cuts across. It bothered me for a split second, then I decided not to fret about it. It makes his job a little easier and I'm not so obsessive about the grass that I want to make a big deal out of it. If it really bothered me, when I heard him coming I could go down to meet him myself at the street, before he walked up my steps. You might consider doing the same.


Annandale, Va.: With regards to the parking fee at Udvar-Hazy, I heard somewhere, and it could be just a bunch of smoke, but the high charge was added to discourage Dulles passengers from parking at the lot for free and somehow getting to the airport from there.

John Kelly: When I read the clips from when the museum opened in 2003 there were references to that. But in my many conversations this week with Smithsonian people it wasn't mentioned once. Maybe it didn't turn out to be as big a problem as they feared.

When I was there I tried to think about how that would work. You drive with your bags to Udvar-Hazy and park. Then how do you get to Dulles? Can you walk? Do you call a cab? Then you'd have to call a cab to get back. I think maybe this was a bunch of smoke from the start.


Milea,GE: I have 233,000 on my 1996 Jeep Cherokee. That includes about 10,000 from last summer out to Yellowstone and down to Oklahoma on contract with the Comanche Nation.

John Kelly: Good for you! What's your secret? Armour All?


Boyds, Md.: John, my good man! You're looking hale and hearty. What's your secret?

John Kelly: By "hale and hearty" do you mean fat? Okay, I picked up a few pounds in England. I've been meaning to hit the treadmill more regularly and eat less. But My Lovely Wife is such a great cook.

My doctor recently said, "Well, we can say that you don't have a failure to thrive." Thanks a lot, doc.


Silver Spring, Md.: Reason for Hazy Center parking fee: " ...park at Udvar-Hazy because of its close proximity to Dulles Airport; the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority requested a parking fee higher than the least expensive parking fee at Dulles due to the possibility of travelers taking advantage of lower-cost parking at a non-airport location, as well as the financial and insurance liabilities associated with airport patrons parking on non-airport property." - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

John Kelly: Yeah. I'm saying I don't believe it.


Washington, D.C.: What are the chances Jim Graham will resign from the Metro Board? He doesn't get transit. He used my tax money to extend the yellow line, so he paid for duplicative service on the least traveled line while causing daily delays on the Green Line. Now, he wants to reinstate the taxi rule to allow cabs to pick up a second passenger. If I wanted to travel with strangers in a non-direct route to my destination, I would take public transportation at a much lower cost than a taxi. Why should I pay full fare for reduced service?

John Kelly: Don't taxi drivers have to ask your permission before picking up a second passenger? Of course, if you ARE the second passenger that could be a problem.


Washington, D.C.: Did I miss something? Are you moving to College Station?

John Kelly: No, just going there for a week next month, lecturing to journalism students. ("Change your major!") I figure Oxford, England, and College Station, Texas, in the same 12-month period should provide some interesting observations.


Parking fees: I was just at the Udvar-Hazy museum this past weekend. Yes, the $15 parking fee is annoying, especially considering the long schlep all the way out there. But hey, the zoo charges for parking too and no one bats an eye.

I see that since your return Butterstick no longer writes. Maybe the baby clouded leopard will take to the keyboard! So cute!

John Kelly: Aren't they cute? The Post should put one on the front page every day. Imagine how many papers we'd sell. What would a clouded leopard write? "Please help! My mother's trying to kill me! Again!"

Shouldn't we know soon whether a new Butterstick is in the oven? Or is she definitely not with child?


Mail carriers: I believe the Post Office requires mail carriers to walk across lawns rather than up and down steps to shorten delivery time.

John Kelly: Yes, the next chatter has found the relevant regs:


Postman P.S.: Found it!

An official of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Buffalo, N.Y., said in February that it would challenge the Postal Service's threatened suspension of a carrier who was using sidewalks to get from house to house this winter instead of walking across ice-packed, deep-snow-drift yards. Cutting across yards is required by Postal Service rules in order to speed up deliveries. Buffalo News, 2-12-09

John Kelly: You would think safety would trump speed, especially since a letter carrier who injures himself is gonna file costly workman's comp.


Car Maintenance Secret: If you'd like your car to last a long time, just stay ahead of problems. If you hear something that sounds odd, take it to a trusted mechanic and get it checked out. Small problems tend to become big problems if you let them go.

Also, now the general consensus is that oil changes should occur every 5,000 miles, not 3,000. But that is up for debate.

John Kelly: The key phrase there is "trusted mechanic." Nearly all of the high-mileage people I spoke with mentioned a garage or dealership or mechanic they'd been taking their vehicle to for years. They're lucky. I don't have a trusted mechanic. In fact, I always wonder if I've maybe been ripped off. Perhaps I have to dark a view of human nature.


Washington, D.C.: I agree that there should be no costs related to making use of the Smithsonian. World famous sociobiologist, Edward O. Wilson, spent a lonely childhood hanging out there. Dr. Edward Smith, an African- American history professor at American University, was taken there by his parents when many places were not open to blacks. We should do nothing to discourage future scholars.

John Kelly: Exactly. We've become accustomed to it, but I've seen people from out of town--or out of the country--get absolutely giddy when they realize they don't have to pay an admission fee. It's one of the things that makes Washington Washington. What do we want to be? New York?


There is a secret, heavily guarded, impenetrable entrance on route 50. : If it is impenetrable, how can it be an entrance?

John Kelly: Let's just call it a semi permeable membrane.


Jim Graham: I second the motion to force Jim Graham to resign from the Metro board. He was the driving force behind the stupid "experiment" to require Metro to open at 4:30 a.m. on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). As your colleague Marc Fisher demonstrated, Metro lost money because ridership was so low. Graham, however, refused to concede that he made a mistake. He's clueless and worse, he's wasting my money!

John Kelly: Nice bowties, though.


World famous sociobiologist: isn't that an oxymoron?

John Kelly: Hey, I heard of him. Doesn't he live next door to Dennis the Menace?


RE: Public Service Announce, MT: I have worked at many places whee if you took sick days you were fired. One place gave 10 sick days a year but had a policy if took 6 you were fired. So I come in to work no matter what.

John Kelly: Yikes. I've been fortunate. I rarely get sick, except in big ways that require weeks off, not days. And even those I try to keep to a minimum.


Laurel: John, your article today brings up something that I wondered why it wasn't brought up more a few months ago when it was relevant.

How many new cars does the U.S. auto market need a year, and how many manufacturers does it take to make that many?

It seems we replace our cars more often than our major home appliances (which cost a fraction as much) and that there are too many cars in junk yards that had been running fine before they got there. If auto dealerships couldn't entice us to buy stuff we don't need, couldn't we get along with half the cars lasting twice as long? BritNews RoundUp: Photo Funnies Edition (John Kelly's Commons)

John Kelly: A lot of our economy is built on WANT rather than NEED. That's probably why we're having some problems now, as people step back and realize, Wait a minute, I can live with the clothes in my closet/the car in my driveway/the microwave with the burned-out light bulb.

I got an e-mail from a reader who was thinking of replacing his Civic. It was about to need a couple thousand dollars in repairs and he'd been thinking of trading it in. Then he read my column and decided to keep it. He figures he doesn't need a car payment now.

Of course, there's the counter argument that older cars are less fuel efficient and dirtier and thus have an environmental cost.

(I'm not sure why Rocci's included a link to my blog, but I invite everyone to check it out!)


Majoring in Journalism: John, I'm a manager in a scientifically-oriented government agency. One of the weak spots of our incoming employees (who are mostly terrific, BTW, despite what people say about the American education system) is their writing skills, because that's often common among hard-science types.

Well, when I was moved into my current position, I got two employees who I thought were really good writers. After talking to them a bit, I learned they had both MINORED in Journalism in college.

Maybe that's something more schools should emphasize. Being a journalist isn't that different from being a research scientist -- they're both about seeing how the small facts create the big picture.

John Kelly: I am in awe of people who can teach writing. My daughters are both good writers, not through anything I've done but through the teachers they've had. When I try to edit their work or give them pointers, it usually ends in tears. (I stop crying eventually.)

When we had that essay contest a few weeks ago it turned out that three of the four people whose essays I picked as my favorites had either majored in journalism in college or spent time as writers. I agree that it's a skill that is useful in a lot of different ways.


Sicking o, UT: Gee, some workplaces have odd policies.

I always figured that if I can't perform to the standard for which they pay me, I'd be stealing to come to work.

John Kelly: As long as your employer feels the same way, you're fine.


When you don't feel well, stay HOME. The place won't fall apart if you're out for a day. : People in my office who take too many sick days are the ones who get laid off. I know you don't want my cold, by I don't want to lose my job, so I think you getting a cold is a small price to pay for me getting to stay employed. Sorry. Wash your hands a lot.

John Kelly: Maybe we need to take a tip from the Chinese and start wearing those surgical masks everywhere.


Trusted Mechan, IC: While you're out visiting the Udvar-Hazy center, there's a trusty mechanic right down the road at Hometown Autocare in Chantilly, Va. I'll confess that he's my brother-in-law, but I haven't seen a nicer guy in any profession, much less in the world of mechanics. Once my husband drove all the way from our home in Indianapolis to have him look at our car, that's how good he is.

John Kelly: Okay if we go there can we say "Your sister-in-law sent us?" And can we ask for the family discount?


Microwave light bul, BS: They do burn out! My in-laws just had to get theirs replaced after 15 plus years. Took a repairman and about $150 in labor costs to dismantle the built-in microwave to get to the darn thing.

John Kelly: I think I would just shine a flashlight in there. I mean, what is there to see anyway? Food cooking from the inside out?


Washington, D.C.: On Udvar-Hazy: the comparison to the National Park Service is apt. NPS has long charged entrance fees for its more popular parks, but these are generally pretty reasonable, and frequent visitors could buy an annual pass that covered all the fees.

As an owner of an annual pass, I'm noticing more and more "public-private" arrangements with NPS where the fees are higher and my pass won't cover them. This is true at Gettysburg, it's true for the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, and while you can enter the grounds of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty for free, the pass won't cover the $15 ferry fee to get there.

Compare Liberty Island with the Udvar-Hazy Center. Okay, so it's just a fee for a convenient to get there, but then there's no other way to get there!

It's all very frustrating. I understand that these things cost money, but if we've made a decision that we want them accessible, we should stick to it.

John Kelly: You can get an annual parking permit for Udvar-Hazy. I believe it's $65. If you're taking frequent trips it's probably worth it.


Udvar-Hazy: While the museum itself might close "early", the IMAX theater is still running. We watched Batman in IMAX there at 8 p.m. Cost to park: $0.

John Kelly: Right. The Smithsonian must figure they're capturing some money on your movie ticket.


Annapolis again: Thanks, John. ATF explains it.

BTW, did you see the article that the protestors from Westboro Baptish Church (the people who protest at solider funerals) are intending to grace us with their presence in April to protest the fact that Walt Whitman High School is named for a homosexual? Kansas Church Says It Will Protest at Whitman High in MoCo (Maryland Moment, March 26)

Do they also protest the King James bible?

John Kelly: Wait, was King James gay? I mean, he wore panty hose but that doesn't prove anything.


Marion Barry's tax woes: What I don't understand is what taxable income he has that could add up to $277k worth of back taxes? What is his income?

John Kelly: I think the story said the $277,000 was about half of his income over that period. Now, that includes interest and penalties. Barry would probably have been in the highest tax bracket. What's that? 36 percent? He was working for some investment group, right? He probably earned over $100,000 but, from the sounds of it, just didn't pay ANY taxes.


Pensacola, Fla.: Hi John! I am sure mechanics are scam artists. A couple of weeks ago I had to have a clutch replacement. The guy I thought was trustworthy quoted me over $1,400. I found someone else who did it for 762, tax included. I think they know that you are pretty desperate in your moment of need and therefore feel they can charge you anything and you'll agree. Also, I work off of New York and Florida and have been watching the Marriott go up. Everyone thinks it's the weirdest location for a hotel ever. 3 inches from the Red Line, Amtrak, VRE and MARC trains? What were they thinking? But don't knock the ATF building too much. They have finally allowed some decent food places to come to the area. Picking between Wendys (blah) and Yums (yuck) delivery everyday sucks.

John Kelly: Well the Marriott can certainly advertise that it's "convenient to public transportation." I wonder if you could climb into your room from atop a Metro car.


Arlington, Va.: I've got 111K on my 1998 truck and just recently had a friend show me how to replace my brakes, rotors, and shocks. It was great to learn how to do it. I figured out it's about having the right tools for the job, most of which I don't have. In a pinch, I could make do with what I have, though. And since I keep up on my preventative maintenance, I'm hoping it this truck will least another 100K. I'll send you my info then and you can include me in your next "High Mileage" column.

John Kelly: I'm the sort of person who WISHES he could do routine maintenance on his cars. I can change the oil on my old classic, but that's about it.


Herndon, Va.: If you don't want to get screwed at the mechanic's, just know what you're talking about. Use the Internet to research what you think the problem might be and tell the mechanic authoritatively. If the mech thinks you know cars, he'll be less likely to try to pull the wool over your eyes.

Also, be leery of a mechanic who calls you in the middle of a job and tells you they found something else. Most trusted mechanics will warn you in advance that they may have an idea of what the problem is but will not know until they check it out.

John Kelly: Thanks for the tips.


re: I always figured that if I can't perform to the standard for which they pay me, I'd be stealing to come to work.: It's not about reality, it's about perception. If those in charge of hiring/firing think that a certain number of sick days is too many, you're in trouble if you take that number of sick days. It doesn't matter if you could perform your job while sick or not. If you're having layoffs (like my firm) and all they're looking at is stats, and they don't know you, guess what? You're out if you fit the image what they're looking to cut.

John Kelly: No layoffs here. And hopefully none ever (though they haven't been ruled out). I'd just like to point out that I'm ALWAYS working, even when at home asleep. I dream about my job.


Reading, writing, chicken, egg: I'm sure that some skills can be taught, but the most important background for writing is reading. I had some good teachers along the way, but I can't say that any of them taught me much about writing (other than by encouraging me to do more of it). From childhood, I read voraciously -- novels, newspapers, magazines (both news and fluff) -- and that, more than anything, fed both my interest in and aptitude for writing. (Not coincidentally, I wanted, for a while, to be a journalist, and majored in English Lit.) I'd bet the same is true for your daughters (Children of a journalist? Probably big readers?), and for people who choose to major or minor in journalism in college. (Which is why I raise the chicken/egg question -- were the employees your chatter mentioned good writers because they minored in journalism in college, or did they study journalism because they already loved reading and writing?)

John Kelly: Yes, that's the first thing I tell people who say they want to be writers. I didn't major in journalism in college (weedy English major) and I never worked at a newspaper before I worked at The Washington Post. But I read a lot of newspapers. And the newspaper I read the most was The Post.


staying home when you are sick...: I did take two days for a miserable cold and cough, but a week later, I'm just getting over most of it.

Finally went to the doctor who thought it was a virus and to just deal with it.

All my work is waiting for me after sick leave, with more work added daily. My supervisor gives no quarter for feeling lousy. Therefore, I drag myself in day after day. Oh, and I caught it from someone in my office.

John Kelly: You have our sympathies. If there's any justice, your manager will catch it next.


CBS Outdoors: What are these big projectors that do nothing but project a sign that says "CBS Outdoors" doing at the metro stations? I'm getting sick of the thing blinding me as I walk by. What is the deal? At first I thought they were going to be showing us some March Madness, but they never play anything other than the logo.

John Kelly: I haven't seen these. Where are they?


Richmond, Va.: Thank you! I always wondered what the opposite of a vehicular lemon was! I have a peach of a 1998 Honda Civic, in MINT (another food connotation) condition. Change the oil about every 3,500 miles. Don't drive that many miles, only about 10,000 per year max. Take careful care of it. I almost hate that it'll last forever, I'd love the excitement of a year car. My sister's had 2 new cars since I got my hatchback. LOL, my car payments ended years ago and her's keep starting up again.

John Kelly: Just think what you can do with that 300 bucks, or whatever a new car note would be.


Sniffles and PTO: I get 15 days leave per year to use as sick leave, personal leave or vacation time. If I'm truly sick I'll stay at home, but I'll be darned if I'm going to give up a day at the beach when I have a mild sore throat and my head hurts.

To my esteemed coworkers, and everyone else who feels put upon: Wash your hands and keep a jar of anti-bacterial sanitizer at your desk, I'll keep my distance. But stop being such pansies about it.

John Kelly: Maybe workplaces should have a "sick entrance," the way pediatricians do.


Microwave lightbulbs: Mine blew out a year or so ago on a six or seven-year-old fully working microwave. Can't change it without totally take the thing apart. So I cook in the dark.

John Kelly: But not in the nude, I hope.


Germantown, Md.: The issue of charging for admisison to Smithsonian facilities has been around for years. Every time the SI asks Congress for permission, the answer is some variation of "no way." Occasionally Congress will tell them that they can charge admission but their appropriation will be reduced by a dollar for every dollar they take in. In the case of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, they can't charge admission for that, either, but the law is silent about charging for parking. Since there is no public parking controlled by SI on the Mall, it's a moot point for the DC museums, but at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy center this is in effect a loophole that the SI has driven a truck through.

John Kelly: And I hope they're paying to park that truck.

An Udvar-Hazy volunteer told me they have to pay to park too, if they use the front entrance. They can use the super secret semipermeable membrane on the other side for free, though.


I haven't seen these. Where are they? : There's one at Farragut West.

John Kelly: I'll check it out. thanks.


What do we want to be? New York?: The ONE saving grace to D.C. is that it isn't as nasy and rude as NYC! Free museums = nicer people? Maybe?

John Kelly: We need a sociobiologist--or biosociologist?--to do some research on that.


If there's any justice, your manager will catch it next. : When your manager is not in their office, go cough on their phone.

John Kelly: Yikes! We can't countenance such actions.

I think we'd better shut it down now. As always, thanks for stopping by. Lots of great comments. Sorry if I didn't get to yours.

Answer Man is back on Sunday. I'm an e-mail away if you have an idea for a column: Enjoy the weekend and cover your mouth when you sneeze.


And since they obviously CAN make a lightbulb that lasts 10 years, why won't they sell them to us for the 12' ceilling lights?: Because then you wouldn't visit Home Depot as often, wouldn't be suckered into buying more than just light bulbs when that was all you went for, and the economy would collapse.

John Kelly: Is THAT what happened?


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