Levey Live: Speaking Freely
Friday, April 9, 1999
"Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. 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.
Never fear, Bob was here, LIVE ONLINE, his coffee pot bubbling merrily as he typed at you from his incredibly cluttered office high atop The Washington Post building.
Here is a transcript of today's session:
Bob Levey: Metro is paying the price for deferring maintenance over the last decade and a half. That's why doors don't shut, brakes fail, the automatic guidance system had to be taken down for several weeks. I doubt seriously if it will get worse, but it could. The cars are getting older. The tracks aren't getting younger, either. And the escalators! It wouldn't surprise me if people start bailing back into their cars. But all it'll take will be a quick dose of a three-hour backup on Shirley Highway, and I suspect they won't find a ten-minute delay on Metro so awfully bad
Fairfax, VA: What are your thoughts about the allegations of Chinese spying and bribery here in the U.S.? If proven true, it seems like a serious situation to me.
Bob Levey: Very, very serious. And very, very serious trouble for Al Gore. No, he didn't condone it or ignore it. But his party was on watch at the time, and he'll have to answer
Colesville, Md.: Do you think Abe Pollin will figure out that his "all in the family" is now hurting the "gene pool"? Wouldn't it make more sense to get a coach -and GM for that matter- from outside the history of the organization? -Major plug here for Mike K down at Duke.-
Bob Levey: Amen and a half. The right coach at the right time (and now that Coach K's hip has been replaced, he can handle those rock-hard MCI seats). Yet nothing will make a difference until Wes Unseld goes away. He seems curiously lethargic, unwilling to take strong stands on players
Colesville, Md.: Anthony Williams seems to be the best thing for Washington to come around in a long time, yet his short tenure has been marred by mishaps and stumbles. Why do you think this is?
Bob Levey: He doesn't understand p.r. yet. He will. Maybe the hard way
Bob Levey: The beavers will have to chomp without me. But may I add a note of total cynicism to The Great Beaver Debate? Are we really sure these are animals causing the damage, and not college kids high on cheap wine who are sneaking around at 4 a.m.? Yes, I know that several eyewitnesses claim to have seen beavers down at the Tidal Basin, and I don't have any reason to doubt that they did. But it all seems just a little too perfect to me--kinda like a fraternity hazing dare that a bunch of freshmen are carrying off.
Bob: I'd like to ask two questions about the Post.
Bob Levey: As to 1) Sometimes we fumble. So do the best running backs.
Does the Clinton White House really conduct foreign policy in the same poll-centered manner that it conducts its domestic policy? Is anyone there interested in leading versus being popular?
Bob Levey: Everything at this White House is tested by polls and run by polls. That isn't always a faulty way to operate, by the way. But it does smack of The Perpetual Clinton Campaign, where they asked pollsters to tell them whether they should shave first or brush their teeth first. I just wish this president could be a LEADER--that he could stand there like Harry Truman and say, "This is what I think. This is what I'm going to do. It's my best shot. Sorry if you don't like it."
Fairfax, VA: Do you think the Milstein-Snyder group was rejected because of nagging financial questions or because they would not fit in the "Good Ole Boys" NFL Owners Club?
Bob Levey: I think the corporate lawyer who's the NFL commissioner feared unending lawsuits from Milstein. Gonna be very interesting to see if Snyder is allowed to join "The Club" with a different partner. I suspect he will, because I think Tagliabue was much more afraid of Milstein
Alexandria, VA: Hey, about Metro: I fully sympathize with the folks who've gotten stuck this week, but might this be a time to plug that other wonder of mass-transit: the bus. Yeah, I know, it's not an especially chic mode of transportation, but it gets the job done, if only for those times when sub-terranean movement is difficult.
Bob Levey: Hey, you're talking to a guy who rides the bus an average of 15 times a week, who carries bus tokens everywhere he goes, who LOVES buses (and the people who drive them). Thanks for preaching to the choir!
Gaithersburg, Maryland: Will you lead the next Metro rider revolt?
Bob Levey: I doubt that there will be another. People just need to calm down. But Metro has to do a much better job of sharing timely and accurate information. I can't tell you how many times I've sashayed into, say, Farragut North and heard an announcement that the next train will be in my station in just three minutes. It always seems to take eight or more. Level with me, and I'll keep coming back. Try to "dance" me, and I might not.
Sorry, but we're having some technical problems. Bob is still alive and well and will be back online momentarily.
Germantown, MD: About Park Service's "Public Enemy #1" the beaver - I really think the damage was created by a real beaver. Kids would be more likely to leave flat stumps. Even if they had the intelligence to leave beaver-like pointed stumps, they probably wouldn't leave teeth marks. Besides, chopping down trees is real effort and would get old quickly. The kids probably wouldn't have the determination, even for pledge week.
Bob Levey: You don't know what a six-pack of Budweiser can do!
Washington, DC: Is it true that the White House is considering blaming Ken Starr and the Office of the Independent Counsel for the Tidal Basin beavers? And do you think that “Tidal Basin Beavers” would make a good name for a future DC baseball team?
Bob Levey: It couldn't have been Starr, because someone in his office would have leaked the news five seconds after they started chewing on trees! As for a baseball team name, could we please proceed one step at a time? You get me the team, THEN we'll worry about Beavers or Whizzes or Whatevers
Arlington: You're right about metro's lack of truthful communication being the biggest problem. When the platform is overcrowded I generally hang back and wait through several trains before attempting to shove myself on. But many times a train will come and the driver will outright lie telling us not to overcrowd this train because there's "plenty of trains right behind this one." To me "right behind" means will be arriving as soon as this one leaves. Usually though it's a lengthy wait. So when the next train does come no one believes anything the driver or metro's PA guy says. They also need to be much more truthful about where the delays are. Just because trains are actually moving doesn't mean there are no more delays on the overcrowded platforms. This all seems so incredibly basic, why doesn't metro get it?
Bob Levey: Partly because the operations office of Metro does those announcements, rather than someone who understands public relations. Wouldn't this be an easy fix? How about TODAY?
Washington, DC: Are beavers allowed on the Metro?
Bob Levey: Not if they drink coffee and eat pastries, like 2/3 of the human customers
Arlington, Va: In reference to the Redskin saga, watching Commissioner Tagliabue speak reminds me very much of, say, Bill Clinton in that you think he's parsing his words so carefully to avoid seeming to be for something that he's for. David Stern, another lawyer, sounds the same way. Not that they care, but owners seem more interested in double-speaking attorneys as their "leader" than someone who seems to be a proponent of the game.
Bob Levey: Right, right, right. And sooner or later the fans will be turned off, the TV ratings will decline, the franchises will be worth less. Don't these close-to-the-vest guys understand that sports are supposed to be FUN?
Washington, DC: Bob, whats the scoop on the Redskins ownership? Will the team eventually go back to the Cooke family?
Bob Levey: It looks as if it never left. As I said yesterday during my commentary on WTOP Radio, a ghost is running this team--old man Jack himself. And the NFL owners seem content to let it happen. Incredible!
Arlington, VA: I know how much you still love Metro, probably even after all that's happened this week. But don't you think a system that cannot handle the capacity loads we've seen lately shouldn't be over-advertised to the tourists ? I believe it's sheer numbers that caused many of the problems we've seen. Metro is good at getting people on the trains, but it's not so good at keeping them on, and there's a reason for that: The system's bursting its seams. Let the idiot tourists take the cabs if they wanna. It's only for couple months out of the year and it's got to be good for the cabbies. -Ooo. Did I call the tourists idiots? Sorry.-
Bob Levey: Sorry, but the system was designed for loads this heavy. The idiot tourists aren't to be blame. Finicky doors are. What kind of super-modern system fails utterly when three people lean on a door? Poor engineering!
Bob Levey: The only thing Metro can reasonably do today or tomorrow is to restore the automatic train guidance system. But the testing isn't finished yet, and if the system goes back up too soon, and then fails, you've got a potentially dangerous situation. Please don't tell me that Metro could/should add more cars tomorrow. They don't have more cars. Please don't tell me that Metro should add more trains. Same reason.
Arlington, VA: What do you have against college kids? I haven't been one myself for 8 years now, but I recall on more than one occasion a column where you blame college students for everything from prank calls -most likely 15 year olds- to rudeness on the Metro, and now chopping down trees? Please. When I was in school, I was much too busy working -to try and pay for food every couple of days-, consuming vast amounts of alcohol, hanging out with my friends, fountain hopping and, oh yeh, studying.
Bob Levey: You missed all the fun! Seriously, I have nothing against college kids. It's just that, as a former one, I well remember how pranksterish they can be. If I turn out to be right, and The Great Beaver Deal was hatched by three kids from GW, will you offer apologies (or perhaps a Bud?)
Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining in today's festival. Keep them coming!
There's not much to like about London, but they do have this wonderful, high-tech invention -- at the end of the tunnel at each tube stop, there is an electronic board that tells you how many minutes until the next train arrives, and what type of train it is -for us, Blue or Orange, etc.-. I've never seen it miss, and it's made my life so less stressful.
Bob Levey: In Rosslyn and L'Enfant Plaza (perhaps a couple of other stations, too) you already have half your wish. Signs indicate the color of the next train. But no signs tell you how long until it gets there (I suspect the reason is that Metro doesn't know itself!)
Baltimore: I'm a sometime Metro rider. Yes, it's hard not to get steamed when a 20 ride stretches into 45 minutes. On the other hand, lots of Metro riders are just pushy Yuppies who need to get a grip. More than once I've seen people refuse to let handicapped people on because they feared it would slow them down a few seconds. It's like road rage gone underground.
Bob Levey: How about the selfish ones who camp in the doorways and refuse to get off and then back on? They make me nuts!
Bob Levey: They're thinking about building an underground, high-speed walkway between Metro Center and Gallery Place. Also between the two Farraguts. I'm leading the cheers. Both very badly needed
Washington, D.C.: I think Scully and Mulder need to be called in on the beaver case. Definitely an X-File.
Bob Levey: I think we need Linda Tripp, to tape the beavers and then spill the beans
Washington DC: Isn't a commute 2 to 3 times as long on the Metro still shorter than driving around? Forgive me for being clueless.
Bob Levey: Clueless? You're right on the button. How many people have really been held up for more than ten minutes? Sure, if it happens to you, it's very real and very annoying. But do we threaten to lynch the Virginia highway commissioner when we hit ONE three-mile backup on ONE day in I-95?
Arlington, VA: So what are all of those Metro cars that I see lined up -during rush hour- at the end-of-the-line stations? Homeless shelters?
Bob Levey: Beavers!
Alexandria, Va: Bob: About Metro. We decided to check out the cherry blossoms last Saturday and drove to the Vienna station. Big mistake! Parking lot was full and fare card lines were 50 people deep. Left there and went to Van Dorn. Plenty of parking and no lines. Metro still needs to automate their announcements when trains arrive at stations.
Bob Levey: Good tip. Another: Try moving closer to town a couple of stations. You probably would have found much shorter lines at Dunn Loring or one of the Falls Churches.
Germantown, MD: What Metro should do is notify travelers of delays BEFORE they get on the trains. Lately I have checked the Metro website or information line before leaving work to ask about delays. The answer is always the same "No delays". Then I find out that there are delays. At least put a sign in the stations about how the delays. Good information - that's all I ask.
Bob Levey: So well said. Thank you. Let's hope that the Metro brass is reading this discussion. One message beams through loud and clear: People don't WANT to give up on this wonderful system. They just want honest, timely, full information. By the way, one fact gives me hope. After that fiasco a few years ago (when one snowstorm totalled the system for days), very few people decided that Metro couldn't be fixed. Ridership bounced back to pre-storm levels within days. I bet it will this time, too.
Fairfax, VA: My 22 year old, college educated son says that he will never vote for a woman for President of the U.S. Do you find him odd or just more honest than most men?
Bob Levey: I find him honest, and sadly misguided. Is he buying into that old nonsense about women not being temperamentally suited to big jobs? Is he claiming that women are thrown hopelessly off balance by their menstrual periods? Maybe you should tell him that Elizabeth Dole is 61, and almost surely past menopause (yes, I could make a horrible joke here about how she can enjoy sex more, and enjoy more sex, with her Viagra-sodden mate now that she doesn't have to worry about pregnancy--but I'd NEVER do something so tacky, would I?).
Arlington, VA: Re: the cherry trees, a "fraternity hazing dare"? Ouch. Take a look at the stumps, Bob; they show close-ups of them on the news. it's obvious that some kind of animal, or someone with a very, very, very small saw, has gnawed away at these trees. Please don't throw phrases like "fraternity hazing dare" around like that. The greek system doesn't need your flippant, degrading comments. It's got enough problems to deal with already. I'm a member of a Greek organization, and we, as a Greek community, are doing a lot to try and erase the public's view of fraternities and sororities. However people don't pay attention to our efforts when local celebrities in highly visible positions, like yourself, make uneducated stereotypical comments. It makes it easier for people to believe the bad, and harder for us to make anyone hear the good.
Bob Levey: Your sense of humor is a quart low. Of course fraternities do good. Never said they didn't. But you can't be totally persuaded by apparent teeth-marks, can you? They're easy to fudge.
Bob Levey: Would you mind sharing with us how much more you paid for that car commute (including prorated gas, insurance, payments on your loan if any and parking) than you would have paid on Metro. I'll bet you paid ten times as much! "Worth it?" You've got to be putting me on--or you've got to own a heck of a lot of AOL stock!
Jackson Hole, WY: In a column earlier this week, you pontificated on, among other things, the announcement of actual cities passengers were landing in when in fact they were technically landing in a nearby city or town. This happens in almost any major metropolitan area in the country. A bit tacky on your part, n'est ce pas?
Bob Levey: Just making sure that Good Ole DC gets its due beside O'Hare Airport (it's in Des Plaines, Ill., not Chicago) and San Francisco International (which is about 15 miles south of S.F., as I recall).
Washington, DC: Sorry, Bob. But I don't think GW kids have the creativity or the spunk to act like beavers and gnaw cherry trees. They like to leave that to the "kids" with personality--the locals, such as myself. As a soon-to-be graduate and a local, I felt it was necessary to let everyone in on the secret: GW students as a whole have as much character as dry ice.
Bob Levey: Spoken like a true Hoya. Did I guess?
Arlington: One o my biggest metro rider pet peeves is people who lean on or drape themselves all over the poles, thus depriving the rest of us of a place to grab hold. It's so incredibly rude and self-centered!
Bob Levey: I've pontificated about this many times (to re-use the verb that my friend in Jackson Hole just floated). Do you think repeated announcements by the operator would help solve this? Perhaps--but I suspect ANY repeated announcement bugs more riders than it satisfies
San Jose, CA: I'm getting to be pretty concerned about Yeltsin's saber rattling about the Balkans. If we have to send in the ground troops, are we going to really kick off World War 3? Or is Yeltsin sitting over there, feeling a bit slighted because he's not the president of a superpower anymore?
Bob Levey: I'm not that worried about Yeltsin's escalating this mess, because he doesn't have a solid military behind him or beside him. This won't reassure you (and it shouldn't), but The Old Boy doesn't even know for sure where his nukes are. I've been told by people who should know that Yeltsin is a very sick, very drunken guy who doesn't command respect, or much of a following. Better to worry about whether air-strikes by themselves will accomplish what we hope
Falls Church: Bob! Yes gas and insurance and parking. But you can't put a value on your sanity at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong, I have been a faithful metro rider for nearly 5 years. But not anymore if service doesn't improve. Last night I was crammed in so tight that I spent the ride itching my nose because the woman in front of me had big curly hair. That's too much too handle.
Bob Levey: Tonight, hand her a comb as you board. Seriously, you're right that sanity is the key currency here. But are you SERIOUSLY telling me that you're sane after a commute by car? Come on! I'm ready to punch the lamp-post after just 15 blocks on Connecticut Avenue
Bob Levey: That Benning Road bus driver should have been reported, both to Metro and to scribes like me. Of course there are bad apples in the system. But most of the apples are excellent. I can't tell you how many times readers have told me about bus drivers who climb out of their seats and help crippled old ladies aboard, and then off again. With all due respect, you gave up pretty easily
Springfield, VA :
In 1966-1972, the I-395 construction next to the Pentagon, was called "The Mixing Bowl".
Bob Levey: We're not wrong. We're just reflecting a sea change. The Mixing Bowl moved south by eight miles or so--same way my chest has moved south to my midriff!
Bob Levey: It should happen naturally, as today's youth soccer players become tomorrow's season ticket holders. For now, however, I'm afraid soccer isn't viewed by the average adult as being exciting enough. I've heard the raps, and so have you: "Not enough scoring, too slow, too many people jogging rather than sprinting." Plus, I detect just a teensy bit of racism here. A large majority of the crowds at DC United games are Hispanic. That isn't true at any other sport. I suspect some would-be non-Hispanic customers are afraid that the crowd will get zipped on beer, literally kill the referee, cause a riot.
Washington, DC: What has pink flowers, pretty bark and makes a cozy lodge?
Bob Levey: Beavers!
Clarksville, Maryland: Bob: Thanks for your views. I travel a lot and I have come to the conclusion that the DC metro area is plagued with the worst drivers in the US. Only here will a car with a flat tire -- and that is pulled to the side of the road -- cause a three mile backup on I-95. What's up with that?
Bob Levey: Rubberneckers--a huge problem here, where we all are afflicted by the need to know, and the need to get into other people's business. I never see rubbernecking in other cities
Washington, D.C.: Doesn't Linda Tripp resemble a beaver?
Bob Levey: Yeah, that former haircut would make you think so. Or did she look more like a poodle?
Fairfax, VA: Bob, I think the car vs. Metro debate here comes down to a feeling of being in control, true or not.
Bob Levey: That's a big part of it. Also the sense of freedom, knowing that you can "bail out" of a stalled mess and try some other route. Hard to do on the subway
Washington DC: I don't understand how people can just 'give up and buy a car' I don't have the option! It's wonderful we even have the ability to live without a car. who wants the hassle.
Bob Levey: Excellent point. Who are these folks who have $20,000 sitting in their savings accounts (or who can suddenly shoulder a $550-per-month loan)? I certainly don't look at anyone like that in the mirror each morning
Bob Levey: I still say Elizabeth Dole has an excellent chance. She'll raise enough money, provide a vastly different kind of candidate, woo young female voters. Besides, she's super on the stump, which George Dubba-yew isn't (and which Al Gore CERTAINLY isn't).
It seems I'm the only one in the Washington Metropolitan Area that doesn't give a flying flipper about this beaver.
Bob Levey: Hey, we could still be besotten with Monica. Count your blessings
Annandale, VA: Last week you told us what admission standards you would use at The University of Levey. If you were the Principal of Levey High School, what would you do to prepare your students for Levey University while -hopefully- improving their reading, writing, and math skill levels?
Bob Levey: Arrange a TV monitoring buddy system. Anyone who swears off all TV during the week (and who can prove it via a buddy-monitor) gets a Gold Star, or something like that. Seriously, good study habits are everything. They need to be fostered and rewarded
Bob Levey: That's it for today. Many thanks for joining us, whether you are a beaver or a human. Be sure to join us for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" each Friday at the same time. And if you haven't done so, check out "Levey Live," the Tuesday version of this show. It airs from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. On April 13, the show originates from Columbia College in Columbia, S.C., We'll visit with three young female soon-to-be-graduates to ask how they see life, and how it sees them.