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John Kelly's Washington

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John Kelly
Friday, June 25, 2010; 12:00 PM

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John Kelly: In a couple of hours I will drive to Dulles to take delivery of Tommaso, our Italian exchange student. He's the 17-year-old son of My Lovely Wife's penpal, a woman Ruth met 30 years ago and has kept in touch with ever since.There is much excitement in the Kelly household. The Earth may be shrinking in many ways, but it's still sort of neat to have an alien in our midst. Of course, that leaves the little matter of what we do with the guy for three weeks. We have a trip to a Nationals game planned. And a getaway to NYC to see a Broadway show. What else should we do?Tommaso will spend his mornings in an English class (although, like many Yooropeans, his English already is pretty good), with his afternoons free. He should probably teach me Italian!I was going to scout out places for him to watch the Italian team play in the World Cup, but I guess we don't have to worry about that anymore.In other news: Metro's gonna cost you more than ever. And Arlington Cemetery seems more messed up than ever.Let's go.

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Metro, my Metro: John--I read in the Post that the Virginia governor is threatening to withhold the Virginia Metro funds unless more Virginia members are appointed to the Metro board. I am a huge proponent of public transportation and a huge detractor of Metro. Nevertheless, I propose that Metro announce that if Virginia does not pay its share of funds, Metro will stop running in Virginia immediately. And they should stop service (at least rail, continue the buses if they want to), right at the Virginia border. I predict it will take only one workday for Virginia to drop its extortion attempt and pay up. And it will be a nice reminder to all of the drivers in the area how they benefit from public transportation even if they never step aboard.

John Kelly: Am I wrong, or has Richmond been sort of obstructionist when it comes to intelligently dealing with Northern Virginia's traffic and commuting problems? If I read today's story correctly, McDonnell wants two members on the board that oversees Metro. But he isn't necessarily saying Virginia should have two additional people on the board, just that the state should take two of the four seats now nominated by Northern Virginia. That seems reasonable, unless this is just a way for him to get in there and start messing things up. Does he care about Washington-area commuters?I like your suggestion, though, with one alteration: Keep running the trains in Virginia, just don't open the doors.

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answer man help: Any idea when the UDC pool will reopen to the community? It's been closed for over a year, supposedly because they are waiting for a part. My understanding is that UDC has an agreement with the District government for their pool to have some community hours. I'd be fine if they wanted a modest fee to cover their costs, but I really want it reopened. I think the Wilson pool is great. However, Wilson is not nearly as convenient for me and every time I've been there I have had to share a lane with at least two other swimmers. I don't like that because I am a slow swimmer with disabilities and do not want to hold people up or risk being (accidentally) hit or kicked by other swimmers in my lane.

John Kelly: I just contacted a UDC spokesman who said the pool is scheduled to reopen in November. So much for getting your summer swim on.Any chatters have suggestions for other pools that might fit the bill?

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What do you think about suburban livestock?: Pigs in Takoma Park highlight rise in suburban livestock.I wouldn't mind having a few chickens for the eggs.

John Kelly: I love this story. Some of the guy's Takoma Park neighbors weren't upset by the smell and noise of his pigs. But they were unsettled by the fact that he might be eating them. Uh, hello! That's what pigs are for. If god hadn't intended us to eat pigs, he wouldn't have filled them with meat, like a big, tasty, bacon pinata.These backyard farmers say chickens and pigs are quiet, but I'm not sure I believe them. Can it be true that zoning doesn't prevent my neighbor from going all Foghorn Leghorn?

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Mysterious Candles on the Beltway: Since at least April, I've noticed a field full of 3-foot tall candles next to the Beltway. The field is to the right, driving on the Outer Loop from Connecticut towards Wisconsin. Originally I thought the candles may have been something a church put up for Easter, but Easter came and went and the candles have never been lit. I'm dying to know what they are there for, but don't begin to know how to find out.

John Kelly: I love it when a plan comes together. Or, rather, I love it when I immediately know the answer to a question and, even better, have already written a column on the subject.The "candles" are actually tree shelters. Inside each hollow plastic tube is a little seedling. What you're seeing is a proto-forest. Check back in 30 years. For more information, read this Answer Man column from May: "Forest of plastic tubes in D.C. area nurtures real trees." And promise me that you will never, ever miss another column again.

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The Three Musketeers: How come nobody names their kids Athos, Porthos, Aramis or D'Artagnan?

John Kelly: I think a more pressing question is: How come the last three Miss New Jerseys have all been named "Ashley'? Or, rather, Ashley, Ashley and Ashleigh? (What, no Ashlee? Oh, wait, that's Miss Michigan.)

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Woodbridge: Okay, not to be an old lady about it, but I don't get this World Cup thing. I guess it's exciting, but just not my cup of tea.

John Kelly: What, you don't swoon to the lovely tones of the vuvuzela? You aren't engrossed by the high-scoring action? You don't marvel at the athleto-theatrics of the players, whose grimacing contortions rival Olivier and Gielgud?Yes, the World Cup is not everyone's cup of tea, but it's just enough soccer for me. I like it for the sport--it's the beautiful game, don't forget--but also for the spectacle and the national pride it engenders. I mean, Italy is in mourning for their team in a way that you just don't see when, say, the Capitals choke in the playoffs.

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Exchange student activities: Definitely go to BOTH Air and Space and the American History museums. However, I suggest going to the Udvar Hazy Center, instead of the one on the Mall. For something completely different and very fun, go white water rafting! There are several options within a day's drive. It's thrilling and perfect for a hot summer day.

John Kelly: Ooh, I hadn't thought about white water rafting. I bet he doesn't get that in Rome, the Tiber being rather pathetic. We do have a trip to Hershey Park planned, so he can partake of an American amusement park. I hope he doesn't think it's corny. We're not sure exactly what kind of 17-year-old Italian boy he is: quiet, bookish nerd or clubgoing Eurotrash.

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What's happening...: ...outside my window? I'm at work next door to Union Station (near the 1st street exit from Metro). All I can see if some yellow police tape and a bunch of bystanders staring. Now I'm being told I can't leave my office. Any of your newsy friends know what's going on?

John Kelly: Dunno. Anyone?

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Day trips for student: Annappolis - take a water ferry or one of the tour boats and see the Naval Academy from the water.Gettysburg - the new visitor's center is great and the movie (narrated by Morgan Freeman) is excellent.The Mall is obvious

John Kelly: I like the idea of Gettysburg. That would sort of tick the Civil War box.

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Oh My Gosh!: Someone talk me down off the ledge! I am about to quit my job without another job, two kids going to college and an albatross of an inheirited house. All because of the ninth 2 1/2 hour meeting with people who talk past each other. I accomplish absolutely NOTHING here! NOTHING! I can't stand it anymore!!!!

John Kelly: Gen. Petraeus, please. Give it time.

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What are must-do sights and attractions for a European visitor?: Tour the US Capitol. Visit Mt. Vernon.

John Kelly: The Capitol's a great idea. Twenty-five years ago another Italian friend of Ruth's visited, named Adriano. He loved the neoclassical buildings of Washington. I think he was sort of pleased that this big important country had chosen as its capital's architecture a design that traced its roots to his country's capital.

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Union Station Happening: I'm in the same building and I'm hearing we have a "suspicious package" situation.

John Kelly: The old suspicious package. Someone's gym clothes, probably.

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Baby names: My husband wanted to name our son either D'Artagnan or Cuchulain. The reason nobody names their kids these things is that the mom generally has the final say in baby names. I do know one father who managed to sneak "Luke" by his unsuspecting wife for his first son's name. She realized years later her son was named after a Star Wars character.

John Kelly: And I bet his sister is the only Leia in her class.

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High School Reunion: I'm going to my five-year high school reunion tomorrow, it's a couple of states northward... What am I supposed to do at one of these things?

John Kelly: The five-year is a tough one. It's really too soon after you last saw each other. Very awkward. Why don't you spend it telling everyone what you really think of them. I don't mean that in a bad way, just be honest in a way that maybe you weren't when you were 17.Of course, that's what I tried at my five-year and people just looked at my funny.

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for Tommaso: Folklife festival? American Indian museum?Take a trip to Williamsburg? Sounds like a fun time.

John Kelly: Folklife fest, definitely. I will tell him to hydrate himself frequently. And I suppose he does have to go to American Indian. Would you believe I've never been past the lobby?

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Things to with a vising teen: While all the monuments and museums are a must (don't forget Mt. Vernon), why not spend a day doing things he might not get to do in Italy - visit Shanandoah National Park and do a little walk on the Appalachian Trail; go to Luray Caverns (or any of the caves out there); a day trip to Annapolis to eat some crabs; and seeing the boats at Baltimore National Harbor - all things very unique to this area.

John Kelly: I think it's also important that we take him to the mall and Costco and watch TV and do stuff that gives him a feel for what America is like for most Americans, that is, our daily sort of lives. Some of the biggest impressions I've had while abroad are those sorts of things.

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She realized years later her son was named after a Star Wars character.: I named my daughter after a movie character. My husband almost convinced me to name her after a character in his favorite fantasy series.

John Kelly: Please don't tell me her name is Cruella.

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Exchange student: My family has been very fortunate to host many exchange students over the last 20 years. Generally, they want to do American teengage things and interact with real American teenagers. We have spent a lot of time schlepping kids to all the usual DC spots, but what always seems most memorable to them are typical American stuff. A big Sunday breakfast; going to the local pool; hanging out a mall; catching a movie. A catch phrase in my family now is "just like the movies", because so many of the exchange kids see something unremarkable like a yellow school bus and say in wonderment "just like the movies". Enjoy!

John Kelly: Exactly. I wish we belonged to a pool. We dropped our membership after the girls stopped doing summer swim team. Maybe I should go to UDC. Oh, wait....

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What NOT to do at 5 year reunion: Don't brag/whine about how much you drank in college, how many girls/guys you slept with, how great/terrible your job is.

John Kelly: Wait, what does that leave to talk about?Here was my problem at the five-year: Perhaps it was the existentialism classes I had taken in college, but I was full of the absurdity of high school. Or, rather, I wanted to talk about how much we knew know that we didn't know then and how interesting the artificiality of high school was when weighed against the knowledge that we had gained as "adults." Plus, I wanted to dance with my old high school girlfriend. That didn't go over so well, either.

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Take your visitor to...: The footbridges at Great Falls. The Potomac is pretty awesome, yet so close to the city. And hiking the canal near G'twn is a good break from the monuments and pavement.

John Kelly: These are some great ideas. Thanks. I don't need to worry that he'll get bored.

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What to do w/exchange student: Have you thought of orienting Tommaso with D.C.'s geography, including the usage of Metrorail, MetroBus, and other public transit? I recall 30 years ago, when I came to D.C. for graduate school at A.U., I spent lots of time reviewing D.C. maps, orienting myself to how D.C. streets were arranged. Then I spent additional time riding MetroBuses to understand their routes and schedules so that I can get to classes on-time. I did the same for MetroRail. After you do all this, then take the kid to the various museums, including, I hope, to the International Spy Museum and the Newseum.

John Kelly: YEs, that will be the first thing. He starts his English classes on Monday, the same day my daughters start their internships downtown. All of us will be heading out the door to the Metro at the same time, like a bunch of little worker bees. We'll give him a SmarTrip and a Metro map.

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Why canĂ¢??t we see what is being rung up on the register in stores?: Cash registers used to be viewable to the customer so if there was a question of the price it could be corrected at the register. Now only the cashier sees what is being rung up and if there is a disagreement one is sent to customer service to wait in an absurdly long line. Sometimes I practically get into the cashier's space so I can see what is being rung up. Oh for the good old days.

John Kelly: Is that a thing?That's my new catchphrase: Is that a thing? Translation: Is that a recognized issue/problem? I mean, now that you mention it, it does sound familiar. But is that a conscious decision on the part of retailers--ie, a thing--or is it just a coincidence?

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Music: John please bring the Spectacles to Arlington!

John Kelly: I don't think we've ever played in Virginia. I take that back. We played at a bar in Herndon for some bikers returning from Rolling Thunder about five years ago. Time for us to cross the river again.

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Suburban Livestock: We had some geese in our neighborhood and it wasn't pretty...literally. They roamed the neighborhood all the time, leaving droppings in everyone else's driveways and yards and they would sometimes block the road as they wandered. As you can imagine, they started getting hit (which was a whole other mess in everyone's yard and driveway when one became a projectile) and led to very awkward conversations with my son of why the birdie was sleeping in the street. Talking to the homeowner only got the response that it was legal. We're not sure what happened; at one point it appeared the house was vacated but apparently not, though the geese are no longer there. So I suppose my feeling is that I wouldn't mind as long as the smell wasn't too bad and they were confined to my neighbor's yard. And that they were subjected to inspections and could prove they knew how to care for them. I still find it hard to believe that in subzero temperatures, those animals outside drinking melted snow in the street were being well-cared for.And take Tomasso for some Italian food, just for kicks.

John Kelly: I think that's one thing we won't do. I'd be too afraid of embarrassment. The best meals I had in Italy were ones whipped up by friends. I think it's hard to compete with Mama's home cooking when Mama is Italian.

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exchange student: A church with gospel music and teenagers, hopefully with some youth activity that a probably secular teenager (he's European after all) will want to join in.

John Kelly: I think I'd like a church with gospel music. Sort of D.C.'s version of the Vatican.

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Bible or Star Wars: You know folks, Luke was used in a small piece of literature that came out just a bit before Star Wars released. It's called the Bible! Otherwise he'd name the kid Skywalker, right?

John Kelly: When you said it came out before Star Wars was released, I thought you meant "Phantom Menace."

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Tommaso: I'm sure Tommaso will enjoy the history and culture you can show him on his visit to D.C. At 17 years, Tommaso might is likely ready for an evening hanging with kids his age at "9:30" or concerts or midnight movies with boys/girls his own age. Hovering adults, okay; a little to himself or with new American friends for self-discovery, priceless!

John Kelly: Hey, but I'm cool! I'm hip! Who wouldn't want to hang with me?Oh, who am I kidding? You're right.

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Gettysburg.: Next week they are re-creating a battle. Apperently it has been 150 years.

John Kelly: I wonder who's gonna win this time.

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Hershey Park and Gettysburg: If you want to spend the money for a hotel, get a hotel in the Hershey area. If you take 270 north to 15 north to Penn Turnpike (east 2 exits) to 283 east, you'll be in Hershey in about 2h15m/2h30m depending on traffic. Stay overnight in Hershey as 15 takes you through Gettysburg on the way up (or home - depending on the order of doing things). All depends on if you want a short drive to sleep after the amusement park or after the day in Gettysburg.

John Kelly: Thanks for the tips.

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Re: 5 year reunion: It is a weird one. A few people at mine were still in undergrad. But the excitement was that one of our classmates had married one of our teachers (he was youngish, but not THAT young). No indication that they had a thing while we were students, but who knows. Scandalous!

John Kelly: That's why you should always go to your reunions. You never know what interesting information you will pick up.

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Class reunions: Somehow I never heard about my fifth and 10th reunions even though my folks were always at the same address. An old friend alerted me to the 25th. I went warily, but it was actually fun! Old animosities had been forgotten, everyone was open to remeeting everyone else, I discovered some cool people I don't remember at all, and it was altogether friendly. How about that!

John Kelly: I'm supposed to have my 30th this year, but haven't heard any details. Maybe they already had it and just didn't let me know!By the way, I'm pretty sure the mania for reunions is not something that's practiced in other countries--at least not to the extent of the U.S.

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"Is that a thing?": I hate to break it to you, but that was already a Liz Lemon catch phrase, but I am sure she would appreciate your imitation.

John Kelly: My god, really? Well at least I still have my Sarah Palin impersonation.

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And take Tomasso for some Italian food, just for kicks.: NO! Take him to 5 Guys.

John Kelly: Doesn't it have to be Ray's Hell Burger, these days, just on the off chance we'll run into Obama?

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American Indian museum?: This is a MUST. When my French friend visited there was no American Indian museum yet and she was fascinated by all things Native American. Her most cherised souvenir from her trip here was a pair of mocassins. When I visited them in France all her father wanted to talk to me about was cowboys.

John Kelly: I'll have to check whether any state or county fairs are going on while he's here. That may be the closest we can get to some cowboys.

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Movie kid names: My sister is Melanie, after Melanie Hamilton.

John Kelly: Thanks to Google, I see that is a character from "Gone With the Wind." Better than naming her Prissy, I imagine.

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Arlington Cemetery: I realize this is probably more of a Howie question, but since you brought it up in the intro...any idea why this is suddenly huge news, when virtually everything I've seen reported recently was reported as long as a year ago in Salon? Why is this so much play now? Is it just a less depressing story than the oil spill and thus useful for distracting us from the gulf?

John Kelly: Well as good as Salon is, it doesn't have the reach or the pull of The Post, so I imagine that's why it's getting more play now. And news orgs like The Post prefer to write their own stories than just report on the reporting of others. I don't think there's any concerted effort to distract from the oil spill--which is still being covered extensively.Here's a question I have: Should we care that old gravestones--old, disused gravestones that have since been replaced with newer ones--should be used to control erosion in river beds? How is that disrespectful?

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Suburban Livestock (Original Poster): Hi John. What I meant by taking Tomasso for Italian food just for kicks was exactly what you said. Being Italian, and having hosted Italian exchange students AND family from Italy, it's always good for a chuckle when we take them for "authentic" or "real" Italian food and see what we get. I have cousins who still talk about some of these types of meals.

John Kelly: You know, you're right. I wonder how he would react to an Olive Garden.

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Baby names: The next frontier in baby names is food. I am currently trying to convince my wife to name our upcoming son "Fennel."

John Kelly: I love it. And your daughter could be Anise.

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Things to do...: Definitely do a segway tour of the monuments! It's REALLY fun! I bet they don't get to do that in Italy!

John Kelly: That does sound cool. And we could reenact scenes from "Arrested Development."

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Reunions: I'm not surprised you haven't heard anything about your reunion. When you do the listings, it's seems like Rockville is NEVER on there.Speaking of the reunion listings, they would be much easier to read if they were alphabetical by school. Chronological by reunion date isn't helpful unless you already know when it's scheduled.

John Kelly: The chrono listings, I'm afraid, are a way of getting as many in as I can. In time-honored newspaper tradition, we can trim the list from the bottom, which means cutting out the reunions furthest in the future. Otherwise we'd have to hunt and peck through the listings to trim them. We're trying to get an updated, alphabetical list on our Web site to make it easier to search for specific reunions.And I harbor no animosity toward Rockville. I put in what I'm sent.

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Tomasso's Tour: I always recommend that visitors to D..C visit the Archives first, and check out the Decaration of Independence and the Constitution. Without those, nothing else in this city would exist.

John Kelly: True that.

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American Indian Musuem: John,Never gone past the lobby ? Good for you. You saw the only good part of a beautiful building with a nothing collection. And I say that as a major Smithsonian supporter.

John Kelly: I was afraid of. But as Indians are something we've got (despite our best efforts) and Italy doesn't, we're going in!

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Ashley's: John, every five years, all girls names are thrown away and we start with a fresh set.At singles functions, you know how old the women are by their names: Leah is 25, Jennifer is 40 and Mildred is 70.Did you know "Susan" was NOT one of the 400 most popular names for girls born in the 2000's decade?

John Kelly: I think "Seinfeld" killed Susan as a name. Wasn't that George Costanza's late fiancee?

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Rockville, MD: Exchange student activities: Avoid the Air and Space annex--hated it. Ride the Canal boats. Go to fireworks on the Mall. Fort McHenry For fun--Spy Museum, Newseum

John Kelly: He'll be here for the Fourth and we'll be on the Mall. If you see us, say hello!

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Exchange Student: New York City! Niagara Falls! The Grand Canyon!I've thought that these were the three top-see things in America for European tourists, at least.

John Kelly: Hmm, I wonder if I could take him somewhere around here and tell him it's the Grand Canyon.

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And your daughter could be Anise.: That's nice, actually.

John Kelly: Isn't it? Almost makes me want to have another kid. Just my luck I'd have a boy. I'd name him Bok Choy.

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Olive Garden: You mean it isn't authentically Italian? What about those TV ads where they show apprentice chefs being taught by charming Italian grannies how to smother everything in melted cheese?

John Kelly: Those "Grannies" are actual automata. Peel off that skin and there's a red-eyed Terminator in there.

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Jennifer is 40 : MOST Jennifer's are 40. This one is 43, but my mom caught the trend early. She says she name me Jennifer because it was "so unusual." I don't mind though because everyone thinks I'm a few years younger than I am.

John Kelly: Which is why I'm changing my name to Ethan.

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I wonder who's gonna win this time.: You think anyone won the first time?

John Kelly: Well the guys selling Confederate flags are still making money on it.

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Teenager-what to do?: John, what about taking him to UMD? Might be interesting for him to see a major American university, and maybe there are some things going on there that might be interesting for him to see. Or another university would work, too...

John Kelly: Interesting suggestion. I know Italian parents are just as concerned with what college will be like for their kids as American parents are.

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Exchange Student: In high school, I went to France for two weeks and stayed with a family and then the daughter came to the states and stayed with us for two weeks. We lived in Cincinnati Ohio. All she wanted to see was the Empire State Buiding which was interesting. One thing we did is that we went to the local county fair (big deal in that part of the world) and went to the demolition derby. YOu should have seen her face. I can only imagine what she told folks back home about this.

John Kelly: The Empire State Building's on the list, though actually we may do the Chrysler Building this time. And I suppose we should do the Washington Monument too, huh?

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Re: Rockville: How could someone say they hated the Air and Space annex and not elaborate? I thought that place was amazing. The history of aviation! A freaking space shuttle (albeit not one that had been in space, but still...)!

John Kelly: I'm a sucker for aviation museums. We were in Cape May, N.J. , last weekend (land of the Ashleighs) and I dragged my family to the Wildwood Naval Air Station museum. Lots of dusty old airplanes.

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Please don't do the Segway tours!: You'll look like lazy idiots. And you'll probably end up nearly running over a pedestrian. And seriously, can't you just walk?If you really want to get around the city on two wheels as a tourist, do a bicycle tour instead.

John Kelly: I think part of the attraction is that you're riding a Segway. If they offered Segway tours of shopping center parking lots, there'd be people who'd do it.

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Italian Student: In my experience as a male teenager, you must take him somewhere there will be girls. A mall, a beach, Georgetown, a Justin Bieber concert, wherever.

John Kelly: Oh, the humanity....

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GoApe!: A friend visited that place and adored it.

John Kelly: Huh. Hadn't heard of it.

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MJ: I'm so tired of this Michael Jackson nonsense. It was bad enough that we had to go through it last year, and now it starts all over again. I enjoyed his music, but the man was a pedophile who had issues. Why is he so glorified?

John Kelly: A lot of his music is pretty incredible. He was a talented entertainer. He had, in many ways, a tragic upbringing that may explain, though not necessarily excuse, the odd creature he turned into.

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Of course, that's what I tried at my five-year and people just looked at my funny.: Yeah, but you dress funny, so you never know if the looks are for what you're saying or for what you're wearing.

John Kelly: Hey, you're talking about my national dress there.

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Chat: Don't you think this was a great Q and A? Everybody seemed to be in a good mood, you were funny (as always) and there was a minimum of real questions.

John Kelly: What, you don't like real questions?No, it was a fun chat. Thanks everyone for stopping by. Looks like Tommaso's plane is running about an hour behind schedule. (Speaking of which: Whatever happened to the Icelandic volcano? Do we still need to worry about it?)Stay cool on this sizzling weekend. Answer Man will be in the paper on Sunday and don't forget that if you have questions or ideas you can always reach me at kellyj@washpost.com. Ciao!


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