Levey Live: Speaking Freely
Friday, April 16, 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 temporary quarters at Columbia College, in South Carolina.
Here is a transcript of today's session:
Fairfax, VA: Bob, what will it take to get all these groups to drop their lawsuits over the Wilson Bridge? They don't seem to realize -or care- that, if nothing is done, it's going to drop into the river. I thought we lived in a democracy. A tiny minority of people is holding up this project at the expense of the vast majority.
Bob Levey: We do indeed live in a democracy, and one of the hallmarks of it is that little guys get an even break. The issue here isn't that a few coots in Alexandria are asserting their rights. It's that a federal judge has made a ruling that will affect thousands of people, and has then walked away from the question of implementing it. How could he not have specified a timetable? Irresponsible--yet judges do this all the time. They just lob the whole thing back into the laps of politicians and administrators. I only hope Sporkin never has to make an appointment in Annandale on time.
The Wilson Bridge ruling yesterday absolutely FRIGHTENS me. If we thought traffic was bad now, can you imagine what it will be like with the bridge delayed?
Bob Levey: And can you imagine what the real effect of this ruling will be? Every truck that now snarls the Wilson Bridge will shift to the American Legion Bridge. You might want to consider abandoning Colesville and moving to the moon. Montgomery County is going to be Nightmareland.
Crofton, Maryland: While I don't live in the District of Columbia, I follow the news on Mayor WIlliams and his attempts to improve the way the D.C. Government operates. I sometimes think he's not getting a fair shake in the media, particularly regarding some of his initiatives like privatization of services, managed competition and "leveraging" of the UDC property by selling-leasing it and building a new campus in Anacostia. These make great economic sense, but it seems that no one else gets the message, because the media doesn't bother reporting the wisdom behind these moves, only the controversy stirred up by them. Am I wrong in asserting this? Or is Mayor Williams equally to blame for not serving his "steak" with lots of "sizzle."
Bob Levey: In fact, Williams has served more steak with his sizzle than any mayor I've encountered recently. Look more carefully, and you'll see that we media monsters reported the economic benefits of moving UDC to Southeast, and also the educational benefits of doing it, in the same story in which we floated the idea in the first place. Once in a while, we are as responsible as you think we aren't!
Baltimore, MD: I read the article today about the judge's ruling on the Wilson bridge. Does the number of lanes on the bridge really matter as far as air pollution goes? I mean, the same number of cars are going to cross the bridge no matter how many lanes there are. Nothing's easy.
Bob Levey: Very good point. It seems to me that traffic will increase no matter how wide the Wilson eventually is, simply because population will increase. So 10 packed lanes can easily generate as much noxiousness as 12 semi-packed lanes. By the way, why is carbon monoxide right there at the bridge such a big deal? Has this judge ever heard of wind? It's not as if the clouds of crud sit there for ever more.
Bottom of Potomac River: How about a round of applause for the Alexandria "activists" who were successful in getting the replacement of the Wilson Bridge delayed yet again. If the traffic backups and gridlock won't be enough, perhaps when the bridge actually collapses, they will be happy. Your thoughts?
Bob Levey: The brilliant highway departments of Maryland and Virginia (who have seen Wilson disaster looming for a decade and have done basically nothing) will not allow the bridge to crumble into the Potomac. If they did, there would be political hell to pay, and I can assure you that neither Glendening (who doesn't have popularity to spare) nor Gilmore (who has a real shot at being vice president in a George Dubba-Yew administration)will be so stupid. The more likely outcome will be truck diversions, which will turn Montgomery County into midtown Manhattan 20 hours a day.
Falls Church, VA:
Well, it appears that the Wilson Bridge will fall into the river and be swept away before another one will be built.
Bob Levey: Never a bad idea to practice swimming, but hiking might be a better idea. Traffic will be INCREDIBLY gridlocked if that bridge is subtracted from what we have available. You think New York Avenue is a disaster now? Try it with 50 percent more truck traffic. You think the Outer Loop by the Mormon Temple is often backed up? Imagine five times the truck traffic there, and imagine it spread around the clock. I'm a card-carrying soccer mom, and I'm figuring an extra hour to get to my son's games north and west of the Beltway
DC: Bob, where were you this week?
Bob Levey: I've been on a teaching fellowship at Columbia College in Columbia, S.C. In fact, I'm still there/here. I'm sitting in the office of the director of development, hacking away on his computer. We hit the airport as soon as I finish the show. Thought for all Washingtonians to ponder: Why do all administrators at all colleges in the south have such wonderful offices? I can look out this window at azaleas, tulips, gorgeous lawns. When I look out the window of my office in Washington.... whoops, unlucky, I don't have any!
Washington, DC: About Metro's recent problems...As a daily commuter, I guess my main complaints about the recent delays are: 1- Metro doesn't keep you informed enough about what's going on; 2- the rough ride is giving me motion sickness by the time I get off the train and 3- you'd think they'd give you a price break when you are delayed. What is Metro planning to do to "apologize" to the commuter and frequent user? I'd suggest a "free" day or a week of non-rush rates during rush hour...
Bob Levey: Dream on. This is an agency that won't even allow you to combine the value on two 5-cent Farecards. I wouldn't expect rush hour rebates. I agree that Metro has been woeful at communicating, but I think general manager White has gotten the message. His press conference yesterday sounds to me as if was packed with two ingredients that Metro often misses: sympathy and common sense
Fairfax, VA: Can I ask a Metro question if I promise not to complain about the breakdowns last week? It seems to me that if the city wants people off the roads and on the trains during rush hour, they should offer lower fares during this time as an incentive. Instead they do the opposite, they raise them during rush. Why?
Bob Levey: Same reason movie theaters charge more at night than they do at 3 p.m.: it's how they cover their costs. Metro isn't soaking you with those extra rush hour charges. You get more trains, which means that (theoretically, anyway) you get to your destination faster. If Metro charged more at off-hours and less at rush hours, it would be even broker than it already is.
there was a program done by
metro doing something called
the smart card. can you
tell me more about it?
where and when can i sign
Bob Levey: It's basically a debit card that you swipe across the Faregate as you enter, and also as you leave. Very high-tech, very cool (and apparently very reliable--I haven't heard a single complaint about these since they were introduced about a year ago).
Bloomington, IN: Can you give us a highlight -or a lowlight- of your brief tenure in SC?
Bob Levey: Highlight: Being out of Washington for five consecutive days! There truly is intelligent life elsewhere on this floating globe, and it's great to hear different perspectives. Lowlight: The discovery that even in Columbia, S.C., which has 400,000 people in its metropolitan area on a good day, traffic is a mess, and it's driving people MAD to be be caught in rush hour(s). A woman on the faculty here lives about eight miles from campus. She told me that she has lived there for nine years, and in that time, her basic commute has doubled. Get used to it, all who use the Wilson Bridge!
Hyattsville,MD: Bob: I'm only 39 so my memory is rather shaky on this, but, didn't a mere 17 homeowners cause the capital beltway to curve around their homes near Conn. Ave. thereby causing millions of backups for millions -billions?- of people over the last 30 years. Is this similar to the Wilson Bridge situation we face today?
Bob Levey: Your memory is excellent. The reason there is a "rock Creek Roller Coaster" between Georgia and Connecticut Avenues is that a handful of homeowners (maybe 17, maybe fewer, too senile to recall) let it be known in the governor's mansion that no superhighway was going through their Weber grills. I suppose the Wilson Bridge decision is similar, at least generally. However, the people who brought suit re the Wilson were not just concerned with their back yards. They argued on the basis of air pollution, and traffic consequences elsewhere in their city.
Hyattsville, MD: I have found the best way to handle "earphone leak" on the metro is to tap the offending party on the shoulder and asking them to turn it down. It has worked for me everytime. Do you feel this is a more civil approach than calling the police?
Bob Levey: More civil, obviously. More effective, not necessarily. It may an excellent way to get your dentures removed without benefit of a dentist.
Arlington, VA: I'm about to become a very green commuter. I start a job in D.C. in a few weeks, and plan to bike to work from my home in Arlington. I've been spurred on by all the recent hassle on Metro -I currently drive to work in Alexandria, but have been reading all the horror stories-, the Wilson Bridge fiasco and the Mixing Bowl mess, and decided it's the best way to go. There must be others like me out there -- so maybe all the recent problems will lead to some good things for our environment.
Bob Levey: There are many others like you, and I salute you. You will lose 20 pounds the first month, and that can hardly be bad. But be sure you're very careful about those bozos in cars. They will not cede lanes to you, even when those lanes are marked bikes-only. Especially when you cross into the District, traffic gets worse and tempers fray. About ten years ago, I commuted to work one morning with a guy who lives in Fairfax and rides his bike to work. I rode with him, and wrote a column about it. Great fun--until we crossed the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. We were each sideswiped about ten times on the rest of our journey to 16th and Q. Very scary.
Buffalo, New York:
Bob Levey: Any Washingtonian who whines about tourists has never thought through who butters our bread. Take tourists away, and our economy would be half of what it now is. Hey, we'd be a ghost of our former selves! We'd be a bit like Buffalo! (sorry, couldn't help myself). As for D.C.'s voice in Congress, I could go on about that subject for years (and already have, in my column). I just want you to realize how easy it is for you to say the-heck-with-D.C. from where you sit. You've had full rights since we obtained them from the Brits. D.C. never has. How can it be defensible or permissible for 600,000 people who are as American as you not to have full rights?
Potomac, Maryland: Hi, Bob. This is about donations to Childrens' Hospital. Do you accept donations all year or only during the holiday season? Thanks for all you have done to continue that wonderful tradition of support for the children.
Bob Levey: All year, in any form (cash, checks, foreign money, credit card pledges). Many thanks for those kind words
Fairfax, VA: What do you thin of the impact of Wayne Gretzky on the sportsworld in general and hockey in particular? While hockey may not be the international sport that b-ball is, I think it is fair to say that we have had the privilege of witnessing one of the greatest athletes both in his sport and ever. Your thoughts?
Bob Levey: I'm the biggest hockey non-fan in captivity. I've never seen Gretzky play. I hear he's the Jordan of hockey, but (open up, Pandora!) I wouldn't know, because it would bore me to tears to have to find out. I'd have to watch a hockey game (maybe several), and that would send me to snoozeland faster than anything this side of public-access shows on cable TV.
Bob Levey: Halfway through today's proceedings. Let's hear from more of you!
Bob Levey: I'm willing to risk the possible terrorism for a possible quicker end to the shooting. In fact, I suspect that in our post-Oklahoma City country, this is the safest place for the meetings to be held. If you were an American diplomat, would you rather be walking through an airport in Amsterdam, or Istanbul?
I'm going to show my naivete here, but I'll give it whirl anyway. As shown by your chats and my own experience, the #1 whining topic in DC is traffic-Metro-commuting. So why do all of these complainers appear to keep moving FARTHER away from their jobs- ensuring that they will continue to have long, arduous commutes? People drive in from WV and Baltimore!
Bob Levey: People are driven by their pocketbooks, and all they see is a two-bedroom house for $100,000 less. They don't stop to consider that time is money, and they are actually losing more than they are saving by moving to the Prince Williams and Anne Arundels. I honestly think this will swing back soon. Who can stand these commutes? It'll take a change in the critical mass, but why not live in D.C.? It's exciting, interesting, convenient. Make the schools and the cops world-class, and you'll see people saying goodbye to Sterling forever.
Arlington, Va: What do you like most about Columbia, South Carolina? I think the capitol grounds are interesting with a statue of someone who was the founder of the medical practice of gynecology and the homage paid to General Sherman by retaining the damage that he supposedly caused.
Bob Levey: I like how clearly the Columbia of today is descended from the Columbia of yesterday. This place offers history on the hoof, to coin a phrase. However, that can be bad as well as good. The Confederate Flag still flies atop the state capitol. How ANYONE can allow that to happen--and encourage it to happen--is far, far beyond me.
Bob Levey: Try it another way: Would anyone in Buffalo sit still and take it if the local government ran a deficit, and a bunch of Congressmen who were not elected by Buffalonians suddenly decreed that there had to be a control board overseeing ALL local affairs? The howling would be audible all the way to Syracuse.
Bob Levey: It's awfully hard to decide which phrase is politically correct at any given moment. I'd say "black" and "African-American" are used in about equal amounts, and they clearly mean the same thing. I'd hate to have to choose. Perhaps one usage is more polite in some contexts than another, but that's a very slippery slope. As for Asian, I agree with you 1000 percent. The word doesn't work because it's imprecise, in exactly the way you describe. At least everyone knows that "black" and "African-American" describe the same people.
Bob Levey: I think the Middle East is playing wait-and-see. Hard to blame those countries you mention. They have no idea how this is going to play out, and neither does anyone else.
Re: Buffalo, NY
Bob Levey: Amen! Don't tell me that DC doesn't deserve its rights. Let's assume that it does, and have a serious debate about how to accomplish that? My favorite answer was the one that the Senate trotted out in 1983: a constitutional amendment that would provide two Senators and two Congressmen for D.C., period. No statehood. No extra layer of government. But it needed three-fourths of the state legislatures, and it didn't come close, mostly because the state legislatures were controlled by Republicans and D.C. is so heavily Democratic. But that shouldn't stop us from seeing the need, or the answer. I still say it's the best remedy because it fixes what's broken.
Colesville, Md.: Bob, how are your Tuesday guests selected? Does the Post come to you and say "We've got Gov. Gilmore for you" or do you say "I'd like to have ____"?
Bob Levey: I compile a wish list of guests, and my producer, the incredible Suzannah Gonzales, books 'em.
Which raises an interesting question -- if Buffalo hollers to Syracuse and no one is there to hear it, does it matter?!
Bob Levey: They may throw me out of Columbia, S.C., for laughing too loud! Good one!
Bob Levey: Thank you very much! I only wish that they'd cropped it a little more liberally. After all, I do possess an entire head, not three-quarters of one.
Last week you wrote:
Bob Levey: I think the beavers owe me a Bud.
Bob Levey: Brooms and clocks cost money, alas. Metro faces $300 million in deferred maintenance. Something has to give. I'm not making excuses for stations full of ice cream wrappers--just telling you the actual, honest, in-your-face-today truth
Arlington: My grandparents have a trip planned to Greece and Turkey next week. It's something they've being planning on for awhile. I don't think they should go, but the State Dept hasn't issued specific warnings, so they insist on going. What do you think? Is it safe?
Bob Levey: I don't see why it wouldn't be safe, at least as things stand today. But I'd be sure to check 24 hours before they leave. Military situations can change mighty fast
Washington, DC: It's your loss to not have seen Wayne Gretzky play. While you may not appreciate the sport of hockey, you should recognize that Gretzky is unlike many professional athletes. His sportsmanship and humility should serve as an example to others-- kids and other pro athletes alike. I wish other sports starts would handle their success and celebrity more like he did.
Bob Levey: I'll take your word for it. Meanwhile, I will continue to admire Mr. M. Jordan, who sets the standard for athletes in every way, if you ask me
Washington, D.C.: I think you owe the beavers a cherry tree...
Bob Levey: You've got it, but only if those rapscallion frat guys from GW will help me plant it!
Washington, DC: Hi Bob!! Here is my issue: I am an American University student and live off of New Mexico Avenue. Every time I want to go through Ward Circle from Nebraska to Mass I have to check to see if I can tell what color the light is. The way they have the lights positioned on that part of the circle it is hard to tell whether the through traffic is red or vice versa. It is very dangerous and could cause accidents easily. Any chance I could lobby for new lights? My roommates share the same feelings. What do you think? By the way, I used to intern at WTOP and was forever logging your tapes, but at least I was able to catch up every week!
Bob Levey: No reason Ward Circle couldn't have those high-intensity lights that you can see only when you're looking directly at them (don't know what they're called--sorry). I hope that logging those tapes at WTOP wasn't too onerous.
Mt. Rainier MD : People choose their homes by more than their pocketbooks. Homes in PG county are way cheaper than comparable ones northern Virginia or Montgomery county. But PG has no status. And the schools have a bad rep -don't know, no kids-. If it were only a dollars-and-cents issue, lots more people would live there.
Bob Levey: I'm afraid I also have to point out that it's about racism for some people. A suburb like Prince George's would not even occur to some potential white transplants because it's so heavily black. I never hear that said about Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford.
Arlington, VA: I was one of those morons who moved way out -Gainesville- because of cheap housing. My husband and I learned our expensive lesson, sold the place within two years, and moved one mile away from my job and two from his. And what I kept hearing from other idiots like us out there was "We've moved out here so the kids can have a big yard to play in," etc. What good is a yard for your -you in the general sense -- not you, Bob- kids if you never have the time to play in it with them because you spend half your day commuting? Wake up! You don't need 2,500 square feet!
Bob Levey: I couldn't say it better. And if you doubt that there are yards in the city, I have news for you: they're everywhere. They call them public parks.
Washington, D.C.: Bob - I'll try you for my favorite Metro pet peeve. I can click on the Web before leaving the office to drive home, check the traffic and plan accordingly. Why can't Metro have a Web page that they continuously update that lists problem areas and delays? Lots of us could stay in our offices and chill rather than going out and crowding the platforms during those "Commute From Hell" nights.
Bob Levey: Since the Big Boss may be listening...... Not every Web site is anywhere close to current. Washingtonpost.com always is! Hopeless brown-nosing, I know--but it happens to be true.
Buffalo, New York: OK, so NYC is represented in the Senate and House through the New York State Congressional Delegation. Why can't DC be represented by the Maryland delegation? Didn't I read an article -in the Post, too- that said at one time, DC residents voted in Maryland and Virginia congressional elections? Even I would gladly support a measure like that. So why should DC have 2 Senators for itself?
Bob Levey: Retroceding the District of Columbia to Maryland is an idea that has been in play for years. I kinda like it, although many don't. Should we do a "Levey Live" on this issue, and other potential solutions to the D.C. problem? I could be persuaded real easily.....
Washington, D.C: I think you should be forced to plant a cherry tree in front of a GW fraternity house. :-
Bob Levey: Only if I can drink a Bud while I do it. I suspect the frat guys will be doing the same while they watch me in action!
I would like your comment on the idea that "NATO needs to win the war with Yugoslavia" in order to maintain its credibility. And what this kind of approach has anything to do with the declared goal of achieving peace in Kosovo?
Bob Levey: I'm more concerned about NATO holding together. I'd say that it's splintering already.
Warrenton, VA : Bob, I am growing increasingly concerned about the administrations lack of planning and competence in the war against Serbia. How are you feeling about it now?
Bob Levey: Worried, worried, worried.
Annandale, VA: I'm no fan of communism, but I can't help but wonder why during its heyday, ethnic groups like Serbs, Albanians, Bosnians, Croatians, Moldovans, Chechens, Abkasians, Ossetians, Armenians and Azeris all managed to co-exist with their neighbors without hatred. I have met many people from some of these groups and they aren't that different from each other with respect to appearance, clothing, housing, manners, food and attitude. Why have they turned on each other? Can any of them claim to be better off after fighting a so-called war of liberation?
Bob Levey: Maybe you missed Brother Tito, who ruled with an iron (and murderous) hand. It's a lot easier not to assert your independence when you think you might get killed for doing so.
Bob Levey: That'll do it for today, chers amis. Be sure to join us each Friday at the same time for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," which promises to elucidate issues and insult Buffalonians on a regular basis. Also, check out "Levey Live," the Tuesday version of our show. It airs from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. Our guest this coming Tuesday, April 20, is the new editor of the Style section of The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson.