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Bob Levey
Bob Levey
(Barbara Tyroler)
Levey Live Archive
Column: Bob Levey
Metro Section
Talk: Metro message boards
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Levey Live: Speaking Freely
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, March 7, 2003; 1 p.m. ET

"Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, appears every Friday. It is a live, open-agenda discussion offering washingtonpost.com users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.

Fearless Bob takes your questions about virtually everything, from sports and politics (there's a difference?) to world events, Metro area traffic and issues raised in Bob's columns.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Bob Levey: Hi, everybody, and sorry for the delay. Please bear with me, because today's "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" is brought to you live and in color from a glorious phone booth at BWI International Airport. The redoubtable Samantha Ganey is hacking this chat. I am voicing it. We are a combination of world-beaters. Just ask us. Let's get going before my ears get smashed by another announcement over the loud speaker system...

Metro Center: Bob -- you came to talk at my firm this week (thanks!) but I didn't get a chance to ask you this question....what's my obligation when my cab driver doesn't have change? I took a taxi yesterday morning and wanted $11 change from a $20 bill. I had only 20s; he said he had no change because I was his first fare of the day. Leaving aside the fact that I think a little planning ahead on the driver's part would have helped, should I have had to get out of the cab and go get change for the $20? I went and got it from a parking garage attendant because I was late and wanted to get into the office, but what should I have done?

Bob Levey: I am so sick of this con game I could scream. Do you think Starbucks opens for business in the morning with no $1 and quarters. Do you think The Washington Post does? I have zero sympathy for cab drivers who claim they have no change after the first run of the day. The right answer here, although it does leave you in some legal jeopardy, is to say, "Real sorry, Buster, but I don't have change, and change is your responsibility."

Bethesda, Md.: Bob --

Admittedly my memory only extends back a bit before the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict; however, seeing all these anti-war protesters about town makes me wonder, has there ever been a successful anti-war protest in this country? We've always been taught that peaceful protest lead to civil rights, etc., but is this true in military terms?

Bob Levey: It depends on what you mean by successful. The bonus marchers of more than 100 years ago were certainly successful in getting paid the dollars that they had coming to them. And you could argue that the Vietnam protests were extremely successful, although not in a direct way.

Washington, D.C.: Hey Bob --

Did you see that New York is raising their subway and bus fares to $2? While I think the long-hauls are pretty pricey on metro, can't they up the $1.10 base fare. It is ridiculously low and basically serves to have the suburbanites subsidize the city dwellers (and I say that as a D.C. resident and knowing that D.C. gets screwed from most every other angle).

Secondly, bravo for Chief Ramsey for firing a bunch responsible for poor 9-11 performance. Seems like this happens much to rarely for incompetent performance.

Bob Levey: Welcome to Politics 101. You have already gotten an A on the first quiz. The reason the fare is so low inside the District of Columbia is because Metro Board has always taken pains not to sock its poorest riders. That's not quite the same as saying that long-haul suburban passengers haven't paid their fare. But it is a reflection of political reality within the Metro board.

Amen to your comments about Ramsey. I know we have an iceberg of incompetence in the land of 9-11; I hope this is only the tip.

washingtonpost.com: A note: Submitting the same question over and over does not increase your chances of getting it answered.

Bethesda, Md.: I'm curious -- not accusatory, at least not yet -- about stuff like your paid radio commercial work. What is The Post's policy on this sort of thing? I could see the argument being made that any such work, regardless of its seeming harmlessness, has the potential to compromise your journalism. Yes, I know, you're a columnist, not a hard news guy, but still. Seems like quite a gulf between shilling for local businesses and Leonard Downie's refusal to vote for fear of contamination.

Bob Levey: I never shill for local businesses. Whenever I do a radio commercial for money, two things happen: one, I make sure that the client is not a business that I have ever written about or ever will write about, second, I tell the client he's paying for my dulcet bass-baritone voice. I don't want to hear from him three weeks later with a plea to get a favorable story out of the Style section -- because he won't. If you think I have been paid for the turn-in-your-car spots that ran throughout my Children's Hospital campaign, I can assure you that my entire fee added up to zero.

Arlington, Va.: I can understand why Bush did not call on Helen Thomas last night (not exactly a non-partisan journalist), but why skip the front row Washington Post reporter? Has the White House got a grudge against The Washington Post?

Bob Levey: I am not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of daily combat between the White House and The Post. But this administration is not the first to decide that Washington Morning Newspaper is somehow "not on the reservation." Mr. Bush is quoted this morning (widely) as saying that he resists news conferences because he thinks reporters uses them to preen rather than to get at the truth. That slanders Helen Thomas and our White House reporters even more than your assumption that Helen is the reincarnation of George McGovern.

Arlington, Va.: Bob, I really have to take issue with your used of "gypsy" when describing the cab driver at Union Station (and, yes, I know, you weren't capitalizing the spelling so you weren't actually targeting people from Romania). I normally don't tolerate political correctness, but this is one term that bothers me. Yes, the term "gypsy" is used for thieves, hucksters, what-have-you, but it's not fair to lump all gypsies in one group. Did you know that, along with Jews, homosexuals and anyone else Hitler considered offensive, gypsies also were targeted and taken to concentration camps and died by the thousands? People need to stop using this term when describing errant behavior. Couldn't you have called this cab driver a rogue cabbie? Or, even, an errant cabbie? Calling him a gypsy does a huge disservice to an entire group of people. Thanks for allowing me to vent; I've had this discussion before.

Bob Levey: Thank you very much for asking about this. I've had quite a bit of reaction to that phrase from the public. The expression "gypsy cabbie" cannot be an ethnic slur, because it does not refer to only one ethnic group. A "gypsy cabbie" can be Irish, Jewish, or African. So the phrase is not analogous to calling someone a "wop" or "nigger."

Yes, of course, I am aware that gypsies were among Hitler's victims, but that too is irrelevant here. The phrase gypsy cabbie has no historical basis. It refers to any cab driver who cheats and lives like a nomad.

Alexandria, Va.: Three things:

Please help us out, Bob. When is Hax coming back? How IS she? How are the twins? It's been five weeks and not a word!

And our fingers and toes are crossed for you on "The Clarry."

And finally, how's your daughter doing up in the big New York ? Is she going to stay up there in the big city after school to try to make her way in the "real world?"

Bob Levey: 1) No idea.

2) No idea.

3) I wish I had some good news. None yet.

4) Indeed, she plans to take up permanent residence in Broadway in a succession of stage hits.

Bus-Riding Bob: Can you tell me why Metrobus drivers insist on picking people up, even after their cries of "Move to the Back of the Bus" are met with cries of "There's No Place Else to Go!"? This happens all the time. Today, my bus driver did just that. When we got off, there were FIVE MOSTLY EMPTY BUSES behind him.

Bob Levey: I've seen the same phenomenon, many time, and I'm of two minds about it. On the one hand, a bus driver is not a cop. He cannot arrest someone for failing to move all the way to the back of a bus, or for failing to wait another two minutes for the next bus. On the other hand, I have seen drivers give up too quickly in the battle to get people to move to the rear. Perhaps Metro could issue some proclamation with teeth here. I'm not urging Metro to tell drivers to stop driving if people won't move back. That will only succeed in making everybody late. However, the current system succeeds in that very same way, all too often.

Washington, D.C.: So, the unemployment rate is increasing and the stock market is in a 2.5 year slump. Is there any good news from the economic front? What is the forecast? I need to get a better job, but the economy is stinks.

Bob Levey: The best news I can give you comes from the mouth of a directly affected horse: a career services at a midwestern university. She told me two weeks ago, during my recent spin around the country in search of my next assistant, that we are pulling out of the slump. How does she know? Because major companies are beating down her doors in an effort to interview members of the class of 2003. Honestly, I trust that piece of litmus paper far more than I trust Alan Greenspan's shirt sleeve wisdom.

Metro Fares: Just a comment to my fellow city dweller. I live in the city and work for a small nonprofit in the city and let me tell you that the $120 extra a year it's going to cost me to commute (if the basic fare goes up to $1.40) is going to have implications into my budget.

Bob Levey: Precisely the kind of voice that Jim Graham and all of his predecessors on the Metro board have always cited. Understand that D.C. delegates to the Metro board have a different kind of constituents than the suburban representatives. This clickster shows you exactly what I am talking about.

Columbus, Ohio: Hey Bob,

I see The Post, like many local papers, is running stories about how tough the reservists being called to active duty have it. Enough with the sob stories already. If my memory serves correctly, National Guard and Reserve units served as a shelter for the most part for the people who wanted to avoid Vietnam service (read Bush Jr.) since these units were not called up. We draftees just went where the wind blew us. Now the sheltered ones who have been feeding at the taxpayers trough by choice for years have nothing but complaints about hardships. And the media seems to feed off this. I'm getting calloused over this trend. Were you in service, Bob? Your thoughts on my perception of the media foisting these "without merit" humanitarian stories of whiners upon us, please. The "Now" generation doesn't want to do this now -- what a surprise!

Bob Levey: No, I was not selected to serve. I was drafted and failed the physical for two reason: my formally ailing heart, and my chronically disastrous left knee. But I would have gone, and I solute all who did. I know what you mean about the reserves and the Guard being refuges for people who want to save their own skins. However, there is an enormous difference between now and 40 years ago. Back then, we had a draft. So everyone could expect to be called. Now we have a professional volunteer army. If you are in the reserves or the Guard today, you are not hiding out; far from it, you are volunteering to serve. So, for that reason, I share your feeling about whining on behalf of (and from) reservists and Guard members. They made the bed. How can they be surprised to be lying in it?

Kingstowne, Va.: Bob, how go the negotiations with the new liberal radio network? How soon can we expect the return of your stentorian self to the airwaves? Limbaugh and Hannity better look out!

Bob Levey: Nothing new to report here, although I should know something soon. I would love the chance to talk on Limbaugh and Hannity. Someone has to!

Cabs and Change: I had a cabbie try that on a friend and me last weekend in New York. She was going to give him a generous tip, but when he said that he didn't have any change, we scrounged around and came up with the exact fare.

I can't believe that they think passengers will fall for that one.

Bob Levey: However, like every scam, it wouldn't have lasted for dozens of years if it didn't work!

Of course, it is easy to blame the victim here. I never go through a day without at least 15 one-dollar bills in my wallet. Reason: if I need a few ones and I don't have them, it slows me down -- and time is money, as the man said. However, I don't see why I have to make myself into a human ATM for the benefit of a cab driver. If he is a serious businessman, he should be ready to do business in a serious way.

Chevy Chase, Md.: Hey Bob, interesting column on the high school ref earlier this week. Brought me back to my trying senior season of high school basketball, which was about seven years ago now. I was the only senior starter playing with four sophomores, our record for that year was a dismal 3-18.

During our many thrashings that took place that year, I was in a unique position to view the sportsmanship other teams. While for the most part it was awful, there were a couple of opposing players were the mutual respect was truly there.

Have you read "My Losing Season" by Pat Conroy? Great book that I could certainly relate to, and not just because of the title

Bob Levey: Yes, I have read Conroy's newest. A very engaging read. I recommend it highly. If you're saying that sportmanship was rare because of the atmosphere in which coaches beat up on refs. I couldn't agree more. The phrase "role model" is massively overused. But coaches need to understand that the phrase still applies to them more than it does to most.

Bethesda, Md.: Follow-up on radio work: You said you make sure it's for a company you'll never write about. Couldn't that be said to be a problem? How do you know what will be worth writing about five years from now, and doesn't this policy mean that you're then obligated to recuse yourself from potential stories?

Like Dubya at a press conference, your answer raised more questions than it answered.

Bob Levey: I see no problem what so ever. If I had made a commercial for McDonald's. And five year from now if I'm presented with the opportunity to write a column about them,I will avoid it. Where's the smoking gun?

Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Bob. How do I know if I live inside or outside the Beltway? The all-knowing pizza delivery guy says I live outside, but friends say I live inside. Thanks!

Bob Levey: Well, I think I've stopped laughing by now...

My best advice is to ask a neighbor. But if that doesn't work, you could always pack a good lunch, and start hiking either north for the next hour. If you don't pass a massive eight-lane highway, believe me, you live outside the Beltway!

Beltway: Bob -- just a little rant about the Metro:

Yesterday on my way home, I had to wait 10 MINUTES for a Shady Grove -- bound Red line train to come to my station (I guess I had just missed one going that way). Now I can understand Metro will have problems, but 10 minutes during rush hour (this was around 5:15 p.m. in the evening)? I thought the normal time between trains was at most five minutes! I would have even missed my connecting bus transfer (which would have meant a half hour wait for me at Shady Grove for the next bus), except I actually had the presence of mind to leave a full 15 minutes earlier than I normally do.

But Bob, I usually feel I never have to leave early because there's always a train I can take within five minutes of entering the station. Now, after yesterday, I don't see Metro as reliant anymore. Makes me (almost) want to rely on my own private transportation.

Bob Levey: I sympathize totally. I, too, waited 10 minutes for a red line train yesterday at approximately the same time yesterday. But it is absurd to suggest you should return to a private care because Metro delayed you by a mere seven minutes on one day. Do you really believe you wouldn't run into similar -- and worse -- delays if you started driving again?

Metro trains hold to a three-minute "headway" (time between trains) more than 99 percent of the time. During rush hour, if there is one teeny glitch, delays ripple all the way back through the system. You were unlucky yesterday. But that's all it was. Metro is not falling apart. You shouldn't, either.

Bethesda, Md.: Yet more radio gig follow-up: What I'm curious about is whether most journalists have your perspective, or whether they think it's better to avoid having to recuse themselves from potentially worthwhile topics? That is, rather than say, "I can't write about that, I had a gig for them a few years back," avoid the gigs, so that you don't have to avoid the subject later on.

Bob Levey: I'm sure that most journalist would avoid voice work for precisely the reason that you mention. However, most journalists would be OFFERED any voice work. I'm not trying to brag, but I have a trained, professional voice. I have never met another journalists who does. So I can't see how this ethical issue would apply very widely if it would apply ever.

By the way, if you want to hear my pipes, call 202-334-9000. I am one of three "welcome mat" voices that say howdy, and welcome to Post Haste. If you happen to catch Sharon, Scott or Bob Kaiser, instead, punch 5437 and you will hear my voice introducing one of my charity campaigns.

Anywhere USA: I'm Catholic and have been my whole life. My non-Catholic friend e-mailed me Wednesday to let me know she just went to Ash Wednesday Mass to get ashes on her forehead and wasn't that funny? Am I right to be a little offended by this?

Bob Levey: A little offended?

I think you need to find yourself another friend.

Alexandria, Va.: Since you just said would "love the chance to take on Limbaugh and Hannity," how can one who wants to take you at your word not conclude that you are a liberal, since these two are conservatives? Please reassure me.

Bob Levey: I did not mean that I am liberal, because (for the three millionth time) I am not! What I meant was, I would love to take them on so that I could earn even a fraction of what those two guys are pulling down.

Falls Church, Va.: Hi Bob --

Your wisdom is needed. Husband has been laid off for seven months. Has applied for over 100 jobs. Just received an offer. The offer is 15 percent less than old salary. Job not that interesting. But is in his field. Have been living on wife's ample salary, and could continue to do so, but it is grating on marriage.

Wife says to take it. Hubby doesn't want to. Is waiting for better offer. Wife points to economy, war as signs no offers will be forthcoming.

Your advice?

Bob Levey: Hubby: take it.

Not because this job will necessarily light your fire. But because it will get you in the door. From there, as you must know, from previous experience, you can go wherever your talent and your luck take you. If you don't take this, Hubby, you will never get to home plate because you haven't given yourself a chance to get to first base.

Springfield, Va.: The ref you profiled brought on most of his own problems. Toss a few players and coaches out for that kind of over-the-line behavior, and suddenly everyone will start observing the rules.

Bob Levey: I'm not sure you're right. Very often when a ref lays down the law in the way you suggest, things get farther out of hand -- not less our of hand. In general, however, I agree emphatically. Rules are made to be enforced and the guy in the striped suit is there for no other reason.

Landover, Md.: What are your reactions to the president's comments from last night?

Are you going to do a column on the pending war?

Bob Levey: He certainly seems to be intent on war, and victory. I plan to do many columns about the war. But I would be delighted if I never had to. It is still not too late for the outcome that I favor and hope for: exile for Saddam.

Bob Levey: Off I go into the friendly skies, folks. See you next Friday, one hour earlier than usual.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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