John Kelly's Washington

John Kelly
Washington Post Metro Columnist
Friday, June 12, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post Metro columnist John Kelly was online Friday, June 12, at Noon ET to chat about high school graduations, Capitol Hill wildlife, security guards and more.


John Kelly: Greetings all. It's never a good sign when people in a newspaper newsroom are gathered around TV sets. And so it was Wednesday when I returned to the office after delivering the commencement speech at Blake High School. There'd been a shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I finished writing the column I had already planned for the next day then decided to write a different one, about how we

take security guards for granted

, until we need one.

The shooter sounds like your run-of-the-mill venom-spewing anti-Semite, except one who decided to combine his First Amendment rights with his Second Amendment rights. I wonder if we give such people too much publicity--and embolden others like them--when we cover the things they do so heavily. Then again, anti-Semitism is especially dangerous, historically dangerous, and the shooting is a reminder that the terrorists intent on killing Americans are often...Americans.

On a happier note, the high school graduation I went to at DAR was delightful. The graduates looked thrilled to be there. And Blake's principal, Carole Goodman, ran it with brisk efficiency. Before it started, MoCo superintendant Jerry Weast asked her how long she thought it would take, from start to finish. She predicted an hour and 50 minutes. The last student's name was read aloud around 1:47 into the festivities. Those people are pros.

DAR is not an easy place to be these days. That was my second graduation of the week, the first being for my own daughter. The streets are clogged with movie production trailers. I guess they're there for that Reese Witherspoon/Owen Wilson movie I keep reading about. A "craft service" table was set up just outside DAR. A guy with a walkie-talkie and a clipboard was trying to keep people off the sidewalk there, even though graduates and families were streaming every which way. The vaunted craft service--the food available to the crew--looked pretty grim, a tired selection of edibles broiling in the mid-morning humidity. Ah, Hollywood.

Has anyone seen the

Capitol Hill hawks

I wrote about earlier this week? I haven't, actually. But the thought of red-tailed hawks swooping around the Capitol is pretty cool. We forget sometimes that there can be interesting fauna around here amid the run-of-the-mill pigeons, crows, rats and squirrels. What's the most exotic big of wildlife you've encountered in urbia/suburbia?


Smartcard issues: Are the new SmartCard scanners poorer at sensing SmartCards? I have to take my card out of my wallet now. Anyone else having issues?

John Kelly: Good question. Anyone? Are there new scanners?

I don't keep my card in my wallet so I haven't noticed anything. I keep it in a pocket and pull it out by itself. One thing I do dislike about the turnstiles is the way occasionally only one half of the barrier will open. Why is that? I've done myself an injury before, if you know what I mean, but barreling into the lowered barrier at full speed.


Stomachgrowli, NG: John, where are you taking us for lunch today?

John Kelly: I'm taking you to Clyde's. And when I say "taking you" I mean you have to go on your own. And by "today" I mean Wednesday, when you have to order the Send a Kid to Camp special. Enjoy!


Washington, D.C.: John,

What do you think of the idea of a "quiet car" or two on Metrorail, similar to what Amtrak does on many of its trains? I was sitting in front of someone whose marriage no longer has any secrets left, because I know them all. What do you think?

John Kelly: Seriously? I don't think it's worth it. We're not on Metro trains long enough to warrant quiet cars. Plus, those conversations can sometimes be entertaining.

Not serious? Then, yes, bring them on. But not until we have dining cars, too. And perhaps those

scenic cars

that some Amtrak trains have. See I-66 in all its glory!


John Kelly: I just checked with Metro and they said they haven't changed the SmarTrip sensors at the fare gates. Are you putting more stuff in your wallet? Does it look like George Costanza's wallet?

You know what Metro should do? Set the fare gates so they open more quickly the more you have on your SmarTrip card. It would be like the upcoming HOT lanes on the Beltway. You wanna get out of the station quickly? Keep a balance of at least $50 on your SmarTrip. Otherwise, there's a second delay. Metro could invest the "float."


SmarTrip card: I have the same issue! I thought it was my card. John, on another topic, what is up with this phenomenon I have never seen anywhere but in this area. Why do some people (and I notice it more and more) at red lights leave a car length between their car and the one in front of them?

John Kelly: Hmmm. This bears further examination. I wonder if Metro fiddled with the software or something. So what's happening is you used to be able to just put your wallet or purse on the SmarTrip sensor and the fare gates would open, but now you have to remove your card? And the contents and bulk of your wallet/purse are the same as they were before?

You've only seen the car length thing here? I haven't noticed. I do remember that in driver's ed they told us you should stay far enough back that you can see the tires of the car in front of you. That gives the vehicle ahead room to roll back a bit, if for example it's a manual transmission car and you're on a hill. Also, if you're rear-ended you don't end up in the bumper of the car in front. But a whole car length seems excessive. Then again, once the light turns green you're off.


Arlington, Va.: So, John -

How did you weather your first offspring's graduation? Just wait, now -- in four years it will be her college commencement!

John Kelly: I was moved. I won't say that she's "all grown up," but she's definitely taken a big step. I'm very proud of her. She's planning on doing a double degree program that will take five years, so that's when I've circled another graduation date.


Big Ga, ME: We had a black bear wander through our neighborhood last year (Poolesville). And the year before, a pack of coyotes made a meal of a group of barn cats on a nearby farm. Rumor has it Owen Wilson took in the town last weekend....

John Kelly: The town of POOLESVILLE? What did he do there? Did he ride White's Ferry?


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

The problem with dining cars is that, even if you placed your order as you boarded the Metro, your food wouldn't arrive until after you reached your destination.

John Kelly: And what happened to the entertainers Metro promised for the stations? That was under discussion as I was leaving for England two years ago. They were having auditions and were going to issue licenses. (Were they even going to pay people?) But I haven't noticed anyone besides the regular panhandling (and, occasionally, pan pipe-playing) musicians.


What's the most exotic big of wildlife you've encountered in urbia/suburbia?: Not really exotic, but while I was waiting for the bus in Glover Park one day last year about 5 deer were suddenly running through the street. It was a little frightening as they were running pretty fast and seemed to spring up from nowhere right next to me. They disappeared around the corner of an apartment building.

I've seen them plenty of times in Rock Creek Park, but had never encountered one in the street in a neighborhood before.

John Kelly: I saw two on my street a few months ago. It's funny how some deep-seated primal urge is released. I was at once frightened--there was a buck that was especially big and horny--and excited. I had this urge to fashion a projectile from stone and chase after the deer. My dog was the same way. He's pretty much given up on being interested in rabbits and squirrels, but when he sees a deer I really have to hold him back.


D.C. Wildlife: I saw a fox at Arlington Cemetery once. Way, way in the back.

John Kelly: It seems like most of the time we read about foxes, they've gone crazy with rabies. It's like foxes are little psychotic bundles of human-hating energy that are able to keep it together as long as they don't catch some disease. When they do, their true nature comes out.


Freedomville, USA: Who is NOT talking about the weather? Right now, it looks beautifully promising one minute, and "look for your umbrella" the next.

What are your plans, John, for the upcoming weekend, weather permitting? Any unusual hobbies you enjoy doing?

John Kelly: It's crazy. Someone should call the National Weather Service and demand an explanation. What good is having a National Weather Service if all they can do is tell you what the high and low temperatures were at the airport and predict the occasional tornado or hurricane? Shouldn't they be able to CONTROL the weather?

This weekend for me? My Monkees cover band is playing a party. And if there's a break in the weather I'll do what I do every weekend: mow the lawn. The lawnmower is to the suburbanite what the rock was to Sisyphus.


Work, Work: John, I can't stay away from your chats, but I have work to do! Can you promise me that you won't say anything witty or interesting for the rest of the hour?

John Kelly: I'm not sure I've said anything witty or interesting for the first part of the hour.


Silver Spring, Md.: Is there no site in Montgomery County that can host high school graduations?

John Kelly: Apparently not. I graduated from DAR nearly 30 years ago. I heard that Blair HS used Comcast Center on the Maryland campus this year, but that it's incredibly expensive: $90,000 for the day. You can fit three high schools in, but that's still $30K per school. Blair used to use a church in PG County but there were complaints about church/state stuff. So Blair may go to DAR but limit the number of tickets each graduate can have.

That's what I heard anyway.


Alexandria, Va.: "anti-Semitism is especially dangerous"

Really? More than other "hates"?

Are we going to start ranking crimes by the status of the victim? Or by the intensity of the "hate"?

This is why hate crimes laws are bad. The guy showed up with a gun and started shooting. Does it matter where it was or what he was "thinking"?

John Kelly: It does to the extent that there's an organized movement behind his crazy worldview. I'm not sure hate laws make much difference--I just don't know--but anti-Semitism is so codified, and has led to such disasters, that it seems a hate that is worth keeping an eye on.


Speaking of Weather: Isn't this the fourth straight week that it stopped raining every day just for the weekend?

We always notice the reverse, but I think ever since Memorial it's been wet until Saturday and broke for us.

John Kelly: Yes, I noticed that too. We should be thankful.


Fairfax -- grandma rant: I am so tired of having 'perps' described as grandmothers, such as the 72-year-old one recently tased. WHO CARES if she's a grandmother? Does that make her less of a nut? Less crabby? NO Why not describe her as a 72-year-old former typist? Sheesh Thanks. I needed to rant.

Oh, and the other one is describing a perp as 'the gentleman killed seven people'. NO He's NO gentleman! AARRGGHH

John Kelly: And you rarely hear men described as grandfathers, as a if only "Grandmother" is supposed to convey a certain personality.


Baltimore, Md.: Re the Holocaust Museum shooter: If you read far enough into the comprehensive Post stories about this guy, you learned that the first time he got thrown in jail was when he was stopped for drunk driving on the Eastern Shore and thought is was smart to fight a cop. That was back in 1968 when, as a lifelong Marylander now 61 years old, I can assure you that the cop was neither black nor Jewish. It's a safe bet that Mr. von Brunn had a hair trigger temper and, despite his obvious intelligence, a lifelong history of failure, which could all be "explained" by the fact that there is a Jewish conspiracy to control the world. Sadly, for the security guard at the Holocaust Museum, he finally went "all in" on his violent inclinations.

John Kelly: Yes. I was reading the chapters from the shooter's book before they were scrubbed from the Web and he had a detailed account of injustices he suffered in college. I don't know how truthful they were but he mentioned crashing a friend of a friend's car and being ordered by the friend of a friend's (Jewish) father to pay for the damage, even though it (supposedly) wasn't his fault. And there was a cryptic reference to the caption under von Brunn's photo in the college yearbook having been altered. He blamed Jews.


re: car lengths: "also, if you're rear-ended you don't end up in the bumper of the car in front." Which is crucial because you will still be at fault regardless of whether you were "pushed" or not.

John Kelly: Right. I think half a car length is plenty for that, unless the guy behind you is going really fast.


Washington, D.C.: Hi John,

Weirdest wildlife encounter:

I am a native Virginian, but lived in MA for 2 years a couple of years ago (it's good to be back home). There, the most vicious wolverine-like thing screamed at me (and my small dog) from the top of a tree and then came after the dog. I was terrified. It is called a fisher cat, and I am NOT making this up!

John Kelly: Weird. Did it look like this? Crazy little fanged beast. Turn them all into top hats!


Holocaust Shooting: John,

I hope it is now appropriate to criticize the handing of evening commuter traffic on the day of the shooting. The incident took place at around 1:00. At 5:15, there was still no access to the 14th Street Bridge from 14th Street. This is a MAJOR commuter route and hours had passed, the shooter was in custody and all that was left to do was for the 3 dozen law enforcement agencies involved to posture and turf battle at the expense of commuters. Alternate routes were also clogged. Shootings are commonplace, sadly, in other parts of this city and investigations proceed without shutting roads down. Is anyone being held accountable for the mismanagement of traffic that evening? Thanks

John Kelly: I think this is the sort of situation where you just have to grin and bear it. Work late or go to happy hour. The shooter's car was double-parked outside the museum. Who knew if it was booby-trapped? Who knows what evidence there might be around the museum? Law enforcement has to gather all that stuff up.


Herndon, Va.: I have certainly heard of the craft table on movie sets. But with my mind toward endless endorsements, I always thought it was The Kraft Table. haha

John Kelly: And all it serves is Velveeta?


SmarTrip and car lengths: My dad leaves a car length or more between him and the car in front of him at a red light. It drives me nuts and I wonder (but won't say anything to him -- yet) if it's a problem of depth perception. (On a related note, I was at a big warehouse store the other day and the person in line in front of me left a cart length in front of him though he didn't have a cart. Meanwhile, the line behind me was getting longer and longer.)

I wonder with the SmarTrip if it is an issue with the chip in the card? I also have started having more trouble with mine -- my apologies to the people who have nearly rammed into me as I try repeatedly to get the sensor to read my card -- but since I don't see other people having the same trouble, I figured it was my card.

John Kelly: If it's a depth-perception problem I suppose it's the one to have, that is, it's preferable to being a car-length AHEAD of the car in front of you.

Enough people are saying they've noticed something with their SmarTrips that either something is up or we're seeing a case of collective hysteria of the sort that used to occur in the Middle Ages.


NWS: We've been able to control the weather since the late 1950s. Topper Shutt pays us not to.

John Kelly: Damn you Topper Shutt! Damn you to Hell!!!!!!!!


Washington, D.C.: The killing at the Holocaust Museum was horrible and my sympathies to the guard's family, friends, and colleagues. But two things strike me: 1. Why is the media giving so much attention to the killer's Web site and views? He was a nut and his thoughts, motivations deserve no coverage. More coverage will not help avoid such (very rare) cases in the future and may give others like him some satisfaction. 2. From the pictures, it looks like several of the security guards' shots missed their target (the killer). This is a strong reminder that even trained personnel often miss their target in the heat of the moment. We should remember this the next time gun advocates state that "if only" people could carry weapons here, there, and everywhere, we'd be safer.

John Kelly: Good points. I'm more sympathetic to the second one. As for the first, I think exposing poisonous views is one way of neutralizing them. If you ignore them or suppress them, they can seem alluringly forbidden and, thus, desirable.


Anonymous: "Which is crucial because you will still be at fault regardless of whether you were "pushed" or not."

Not true. I have twice been in the middle of a multi-car fender-bender -- each time I was pushed into a car in front of me. I was never at fault and the insurers of the drivers of the rear cars paid for my damage and that of the drivers I was pushed into. My premiums didn't go up and I still get the X-years-without-a-chargeable-accident discount.

John Kelly: That's good to hear.

I will take this opportunity to request that people involved in minor fender benders safely move their vehicles out of the travel lanes and then exchange insurance information. I can't stand it when they call the police then sit there as if "CSI: Miami" was going to come with laser-measurers and fingerprint kits to reconstruct the incident. Most little smashes like that don't require the cops.


Alexandria, Va.: I walked to the Metro an hour earlier than usual last week and saw a fox.

John Kelly: The fox was no doubt repeatedly pushing his SmarTrip against the turnstile, trying to get in. Orange Line, I bet.


"Are you putting more stuff in your wallet?": Also, where do you keep your wallet -- in a pants' pocket?

From WMATA: How can I keep my fare card working? First, carry the card in a wallet, purse or elsewhere where it lies flat and remains clean and dry. Second, be careful to keep the fare card away from portable electronic devices, which can demagnetize fare cards, making them unreadable. Demagnetizing of fare cards is a growing problem now that most people carry one or more electronic devices, including cell phones, iPods, PDAs and hand-held games. All such devices can generate magnetic fields and many can demagnetize fare cards. Finally, take care not to place a fare card in a purse or wallet so that its magnetic strip rubs against that of a credit card or debit card. This can also demagnetize a fare card.

John Kelly: But wouldn't demagnetizing be an either/or thing? Would it slow down the recognition of your card or would it just stop it from operating?


Washington, D.C.: Fisher cat girl again

Yes, that's it. When you encounter a mature male weighing 20 lbs with fangs like those it's no joke.

I am a vet, trained at VA Tech, and while practicing up there had numerous calls from owners whose pets had a tangle with one of those. Unfortunately, they always called back within 20-30 minutes saying they'd lost their pet.

Very glad we don't have them in D.C. Here, it's just raccoons in the garbage!

John Kelly: Really? Wow. Talk about nature red in tooth and claw...


NWS Sterling...: I'm curious to know who posted the NWS comment as I'm here, too....

During the warmer months you just have to be prepared for a thunderstorm to pop up in the afternoon due to convection and try to enjoy it!

John Kelly: At least it was sunny this morning. Weather moves in cycles, of course. We'll no doubt be complaining about a drought in a few months. But the last few weeks have been pretty freaky.


Arlington, Va.: I am having a bad day, and I just had to thank you, because "little psychotic bundles of human-hating energy" made me spit out my Diet Coke and actually smile today!

Not wildlife, but I once saw an axe hanging from a tree in Rock Creek Park, and I told myself that it was for hunting bears and keeping me safe, and not for some other, stranger, reason....

John Kelly: An axe? I think if I had seen that, I would have looked around for a rusty tin woodsman.


Sorry Jo, HN: I have to agree with the poster about the 14th Street traffic issue. Couldn't the police have let traffic alternate on the other lanes of 14th street, keeping some flow and also ensuring safety? It was a mess and an absolute failure of local and federal government in traffic management!

John Kelly: That's one opinion. Here's another:


re: 14th street: I regularly commute over the 14th Street Bridge and I totally agree that the situation on Wednesday was warranted. When I heard about it, I just stayed at work and played on the computer until late. I figured there was a shooting, a death, all in a Federal Building, the guy had a sheet that could have been a list of other places he'd threatened, his car was still double parked -- which people would also have complained about, and there were multiple agencies involved. I've heard of too many investigations that are botched because law enforcement doesnt take the time to think through what they need in terms of evidence, etc.

John Kelly: Right. This wasn't a "typical" shooting.


The Internet: A meatball just rolled off my pizza slice and rolled under my desk. Now I can't see it. What should I do?

John Kelly: Call 1-800-FISHER. They'll send one of those crazy little carnivores in to retrieve it. You may lose a toe.


SmarTrip Card etiquette: They say you should "swipe" the card, but it works better if you "smootch" it (lay it on the reader for a second but don't slide it around).

John Kelly: "Smootch" it, huh? I'm going to have to analyze my technique. It's subconscious now. I just do it on autopilot, which is why I'm so rudely awakened when I go groin-first into a balky barrier.


One thing I do dislike about the turnstiles is the way occasionally only one half of the barrier will open.: Ouch! That's happened to me to. What especially hurts is when the person behind you is moving too quickly and has already scanned their card and trying to push you through, and bangs you into that one unopened barrier. As if that weren't bad enough, they then proceed to berate you for making them miss their train.

John Kelly: It's a good way to meet people.


NWS Silver Spring: Greetings, Sterling! We've been monitoring John Kelly for years ...

John Kelly: That would explain the rainy weekend from hell I spent in Chincoteague a few years ago. Thanks.


Fisher cats -- what ARE they?: I mean, are they felines, related to bobcats etc., or related to wolverines, or what? Biologically?

John Kelly: I believe they are a medium-sized mustelid. Ah, yes, I am correct.


Bethesda, Md.: "One thing I do dislike about the turnstiles is the way occasionally only one half of the barrier will open."

Yeah, I don't understand that. But, in case you didn't know, when that happens you can easily flip the other side open with your hand. I've saved myself from a few injuries that way.

John Kelly: I'll have to start paying more attention, and rather than quickly twisting sideways to slip through will deliver a quick jab to the recalcitrant barrier. Take THAT!


State of Confusion: After today, will you be broadcasting your column in analog, or will WaPo make you switch to digital? If the later, will I need a converter box?

John Kelly: You know what's funny: I'm pretty sure My Lovely Wife is analog. She's fairly old and I never upgraded her. What's going to happen at midnight tonight?


My favorite rear-ending story: I'm driving north on the New Jersey Turnpike, full speed, a few years ago when I feel a push. Where there had been no car 5 seconds earlier, there is a car in my rear view mirror. I pull over to the right; the other guy? Pulls over to the left. Gets out of his car and WALKS ACROSS the NJ Tpke. And he says "what were you thinking?!"

Um, hello brilliant man? There is no way that I could have hit you. It was all your fault.

Remarkably, there was no damage. To him or me or either of our cars. No harm, and now I have a fun story to tell.

John Kelly: I was going to say "Only in New Jersey," but something tells me the Washington area could rival a story like that.


Whole car length: John, it really wouldn't bother me that much but sometimes, it means the difference between someone a few cars back being able to make a left at the green arrow until the light turns green for everyone. And we are not talking here about a few feet of safe distance. I think it's rude because if more than one car in the lane does it, and that's usually the case, it impacts the traffic behind them.

John Kelly: Good point. I think we should all drive cars that are half as long, too. Wouldn't that make traffic jams have as big?


Losing my memory: John,

My father was here in town last week and asked me a question about D.C. that I couldn't answer. I told him that I would write in to your chat and ask you because I KNEW that you would know the answer. Of course, now I can't remember the question. Do you?


John Kelly: Yes, it was whether a fisher was a mustelid. I believe I have answered that already.


Metro area fauna: My husband and I are runners and see on a regular basis eagles, great blue herons (they are ho hum at this point), osprey (ditto), beavers, foxes, deer, redwing blackbirds, kingfishers, little green herons, and truly countless other birds. This is all just around here -- Alexandria, GW Parkway, sometimes D.C. We've seen beavers, osprey, and herons on a regular basis in our neighborhood in Alexandria, and I see hawks and osprey out my office window in Arlington every day. It is really wonderful.

John Kelly: This is the benefit of keeping your eyes open. You never know what you might see.


Farecard vs. SmarTrip: You can't demagnetize a SmarTrip. The demagnetization problem only exists for the paper farecards because they encode their value on the brown magnetic stripe. The SmarTrip uses RFID technology and stores information in a microchip.

John Kelly: Could we have stumbled on some warning? It may seem a slight thing--a brief delay at a fare gate what if it's a harbinger of a subtle change in the Earth's molten core? First intersexed frogs and fish and now this.


Falls Church, Va: D.C. Wildlife: I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vics; his hair was perfect.

John Kelly: Aah oooow!


Washington, D.C.: For what it's worth, it seems like the SmarTrip receivers on the gates are less apt to respond when it's more humid out. At the College Park station, there's one gate in particular I avoid on humid days because I know my card won't work.

John Kelly: Ah, a reasonable explanation. Perhaps our friends from the NWS can issue a SmarTrip forecast, estimating the likelihood of delays at various Metro stations.


Arlington, Va.: Not to go all "Mr. Science" on you, but SmarTrip cards do not use magnetic strips, they have little transmitters embedded in them, so they are not prone to the demagnetization issue your earlier poster mentioned.

The main problem with them is cracking or breaking them.

John Kelly: Thank you.


Dunn Loring, Va.: As the father of a young lady, I wonder if you would comment on David Letterman's jokes about Sarah Palin's daughter. As something of a celebrity, would you approve of a comedian suggesting that your daughter would engage in unprotected sex with a player in the middle of a baseball game?

John Kelly: If my daughter had already engaged in unprotected sex with her high school boyfriend and become pregnant I don't think I would have been surprised. I probably wouldn't have "approved" of it, but I don't know if it's up to celebrities to approve of jokes made about them or their families.


A FisherOMG that's what it looks like!: I see wildlife all the time -- as I run early in the morning; I see your basic rabbits and foxes all the time (I live in a close in D.C. 'burb) and one morning I am pretty sure I saw a coyote. BUT the strangest animal I ever saw, was about a year and a half ago while on maternity leave. It was early early morn, of course, and I had just finish feeding the baby;

I heard something outside in the backyard and looked out the upstairs window that looks down on the yard and deck...the strangest bizarriest animal was crawling up on our deck towards the dog's water bowl (which we leave out in nice weather with water for the dog when he is out there)- freaked me out!

A friend told me they bet it was a Fisher- had never heard of such a thing. Have never seen such a thing since; although some mornings on my run I hear the strangest screeching screaming and wonder if its that (sorry this is long)- thanks for the photo tho'

John Kelly: See, this is the full-service chat.


Bethesda, Md.: "She's fairly old and I never upgraded her. What's going to happen at midnight tonight?"

After that "fairly old" crack, most likely nothing, if you get my meaning.

John Kelly: Hey, at least I didn't call her "unfairly" old.

[Just kidding, honey! I think I'll keep her!]

Thanks for stopping by today. Take time this weekend to stop and smell the fishers. Do the tighten up on the roads. And enjoy the sun while it's shining.

Until next week...


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