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Obama on Thin Ice

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By Jeanne McManus
Thursday, January 29, 2009; Page A19

I was born and raised in Washington, and though I live in Bethesda now, I still don't take too kindly to people breezing in from out of town and telling us how to run our lives. Maybe it's because I was vote-deprived for so long. Got that? Maybe it's because I thought it grossly unjust that some Republican congressman like Virginia's Joel T. Broyhill was empowered to tell Washingtonians what our priorities should be, as he opposed home rule for the District. (As you can see, I don't forget. It's kept me in a defensive crouch for a few decades.)

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On an even smaller and meaner note, I will confess that when I was deputy sports editor at The Post from 1991 to 1999, I took with glee the phone calls from aggrieved and transplanted New Yorkers complaining that we didn't provide enough coverage of the New York Knicks or Giants. My former boss, George Solomon, will be pained to learn that I would elbow aside other editors to handle such a call, just so that I, in my chirpiest voice, could give the troubled subscriber my solution: "You want more about the Giants? Move back to New York. Bye-bye!"

So many out-of-towners who get stationed, transferred or elected to serve here feel entitled to waltz in and take shots at the way we dress (we wear too much black; women wear sneakers with dress suits), the way we drive (too aggressively and erratically) and, most recently, the way we respond to snow (we like to shut things down).

I speak only for myself when I say that really, honestly, (a) I do wear too much black and (b) I believe in shutting things down on a snowy day. Why? Because (a) it makes me look thin and (b) you don't want me driving in the snow. I'm not very good at it. I don't get much practice. I spent one winter in the mountains of Vermont, and by February I could get up a mountain pass in white-out conditions driving my cheap, rear-wheel-drive Chevy with cinderblocks in the trunk for ballast and retread snow tires on the back wheels. But that was a long time ago. It was an acquired skill that I no longer possess.

"Turn in the direction of the skid," my husband tells me on the few occasions that I venture forth into D.C. snows. This is a man who survived -- even thrived in -- winters in Ithaca and Syracuse, N.Y., Montreal, and Toronto. But his simple rule makes no sense to me. Every time I'm in a skid, I go in several directions. At once. So which way do I turn?

Now comes Barack Obama, newly arrived from Chicago. And I should emphasize that I am most happy to see him and his family here. I welcome them. But after decades of listening to my friend Mike Wilbon, a native Chicagoan, tell me what wimps we are in Washington, I suppose I should have been prepared for President Obama's Chicago bravado. Commander in chief for eight days, he steps right up and pokes fun because Washington-area schools are closed for "some ice." Then he offers this: "When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things."

Really, now? Well, here's what I can handle that most out-of-towners cannot: I can flawlessly get around any traffic circle in Washington at rush hour. I can deftly navigate the labyrinth known as Rock Creek Parkway after dark when the signs are all but invisible, getting from the Kennedy Center to East-West Highway in minutes. I can negotiate the Mixing Bowl and the Flyover. I can find the Birchmere. I can pick clean a Chesapeake Bay blue crab in three minutes.

And on a larger scale: I was in the streets of Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, during the anthrax attacks that year and during the sniper shootings. And we, all of us, "handled" that.

So welcome to Washington, President Obama. And thanks for the snow advice. I eagerly await August, to see if you can "handle" a Washington summer. Remember: It's not the heat. It's the humidity.

Jeanne McManus retired from The Post in 2005.

Are Washingtonians snow wimps? Debate a member of the Post editorial board and other readers in the Editorial Judgment discussion group.


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