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Levey Live: Speaking Freely

Friday, May 14, 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 users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Dan Murano/

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.

Never fear, Bob was here, LIVE ONLINE, typing at you today from his creatively cluttered office high atop The Washington Post building.

Here is a transcript of today's session:


Bethesda, MD : Bob: Why are Metro's escalators & elevators always broken? Every week in Bethesda there's always a couple escalators out of service. I know the stuff is old, but instead of pouring money fixing old equipment, why not bite the bullet and buy and install new stuff? Also, what are your thoughts on Abe Pollin's decision to sell the Capitals and part of the Bullets and MCI Center?

Thanks Bob!

Bob Levey: It's not just that the escalators are old. They were never top of the line to begin with (to save money). And the company that made them no longer exists, so parts are very hard to come by. But don't be so hasty to recommend biting the bullet. You'd be the one who has to bite it. To replace every escalator in the system would probably double fares overnight, and maybe worse. That, in turn, would chase a lot of people back into their cars--which would in turn raise fares even further. I'm afraid that the creaky, clunky, semi-rotten maintenance system we have now might be best in the long run.
As for Pollin, I'm sorry to see him go. Great sense of civic responsibility. Great owner.

Annandale, VA: Hi Bob,
Do you know what the next decade is supposed to be called? If this is the Nineties, would the next decade be called the "Naught"ies or the "Oh"ties or perhaps the "Zero"ties? What was the first decade of this century called?

Bob Levey: The one I'm hearing is the Aught-ies. Has a nice ring! The first decade of this century didn't have a snazzy name, as far as I've been able to determine

Rockville, MD: Why do you think the Post put the story of the interview with the assassin of Rabin on the front page just days before the Israeli election?

Bob Levey: We print it when we get it, regardless of any impact on an election. If Laura Blumenfeld had gotten the story three months ago, or three years ago, we would have run it then. Please don't smell a conspiracy here, or anywhere in The Post's "play" decisions. It just isn't the way we work.

Adams Morgan: Today's column about the prom dinner was nice, but you clearly don't understand that these indignities happen to teenagers all the time. It is no wonder that teenagers -feel- alienated -- they've been made to feel as aliens in their own society. If not the tip, then they're seated in the back. In stores, they get followed around like criminals. Bosses don't believe them when they call in sick. I could go on ...

Bob Levey: ... and so could I, having been a teenager myself once. I agree completely. If teenagers are on line right now, how about taking a cue from Adams-Morgan and weighing in? What indignities have you suffered? How would you suggest they be stopped (no, I will not recommend a free set of brass knuckles for everyone born in the early 1980s!).

Saginaw, MI: In your Thursday column, you were mentioning the pamphlet provided by Cellular One regarding -safe- use of car phones. Do you think a revised edition should be published informing drivers that these phones should be used for EMERGENCIES only, and not to just "chat"? No one can pay full attention to their driving while doing something else, including yakking on the phone. I hope the Maryland delegate who was brave enough to introduce preliminary legislation banning the use of car phones except in the case of EMERGENCIES has luck with getting it passed; the sooner the better! Those people who talk and drive are a menace-danger to themselves and more importantly, to others on the road.

Bob Levey: Who could disagree? But I'm not waiting for some legislature to save us from ourselves. I'm hoping technology will do it. Why not cell phones that simply DON'T WORK if used when a car is running? Couldn't we build phones that could somehow "hear" if a driver tries to use them inside a moving car? Sure, it might be a passenger (and not the driver) who's trying to make a call--but still, there has to be a way.

By the way, I hope you don't have the severe nut cases out in Michigan that we have here. The other day, a reader of mine saw a guy making a cell phone call and ALSO drinking a cup of coffee and ALSO driving at 60 miles an hour. Yes, all at the same time. Yes, he lived to tell about it. Yes, I'm glad I wasn't driving right beside him.

Colesville, Md.: Well this week has certainly shown it's a new day in Washington.

Will this new era of Snyder and Leonsis be a good thing in Washington - with both of these being local guys who are buying teams they're actually fans of?

Bob Levey: Can't be a bad thing, if only because new blood always means new ideas, new players, new excitement. Tell the truth: Weren't you bored to tears by the Redskins, Capitals and Wizards this past season? New ownership assures that, even if these teams lose next season, and for many seasons, they'll at least be interesting.

Bethesda, MD: Just what did happen with the phone lines in Bethesda this week? There are about 3,500 all week.

Bob Levey: I tried to find out, but I couldn't get through!

Arlington, VA: Another Metro question-statement: I don't mind paying rush hour fares if I get rush hour service. I started commuting by Metro this week, and noticed that during the afternoon rush hour, trains arrive every few minutes until about 7 p.m., when the frequency drops dramatically -- I had to wait more than 10 minutes -at 7 p.m.- for a train at Farragut West for the last two nights. That may not seem like a long time, but when you've already worked 12 hours, have a cold, and then have to pay rush hour fares on top of that, it tends to get a person worked up!

Bob Levey: Seven p.m. is when Metro's version of rush hour service ends, so of course service dropped off at 7. A far better question is why we pay for rush hour service between 3 and 7 p.m. that's no faster than service the rest of the day. I'm afraid such pokiness is the rule, not the exception.

washington, d.c.: The new owner of the Caps is 42 years old and the potential new owner of the 'Skins is 34. Will we see a teen CEO someday?

Bob Levey: If he can make a zillion bucks on a computer-based business, it wouldn't surprise me. I can't wait for the headline: CHILDISH ATHLETES TO BE PAID BY ONE OF THEIR OWN KIND. (Now you know why they don't pay me to write headlines!)

Colesville, Md.: What a loss in Ms. Greenfield!

Is the Post planning any particular way of honouring her?

Bob Levey: Meg Greenfield is one of the finest people I've ever met, inside the newspaper business or out. I'm sure The Post will hold a memorial service. I just asked this morning; plans aren't firm yet.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think we're being properly apologetic to China for bombing their embassy? I don't. We've mumbled hasty apologies and sent a condolance book, but I don't think we're paying proper attition, and the apologies don't seem really sincere. What about recompensating the families, offering to rebuild a new embassy, and doing some real serious public apologizing to China for this mistake? I realize we have our issues with China, but come now, we bombed their embassy.

Bob Levey: I don't know what more officialdom can do. They apologized publicly and privately. They explained how it happened. They took steps to be sure it won't happen again. If you just want to Clinton-bash, I can understand. But be fair: It could have happened on any president's watch. Incidentally, I do agree that compensation to the victims' families might be a good way of mending fences.

Los Angeles, CA: Bob, my son and I recently came to DC to visit some family. Two weekends ago we were playing with a frisbee on the Elipse when we were approached by a Uniformed Secret Service agent who confiscated our frisbee because it was a matter of "National Security" When I pointed out that the "National Security matter" was bought at the Air and Space musuem, he threated me with arrest. The when I asked for a reciept and a badge number he called me a "Wiseguy"

I'm all for protecting el Presidente, but we'd like our 15 dollar toy back. How are we supposed to treat a uniformed Secret Service agent who will not provide any info, but has the uniform and a gun? I was totally aghast.

Is this how DC is now run? the Aerobie is now a weapon? And the next time we decide to play with something from a gift shop, where should I go?

Bob Levey: Wow! I'd complain directly to the chief of the Secret Service. If that gets you a bunch of closed (or slammed) doors, call your Senator or representative. Meanwhile, a coupla questions: Were you playing with the Frisbee in a way that might have been construed as aggressive or confrontational? Did this happen to be when the NATO folks were in town, and security jumpiness was off the charts?

Accokeek MD: Bob: I heard you're going to write another column about the enormous grassroots efforts underway to save Sholl's cafeteria. In the meantime, interested parties can't appeal to or negotiate with the real owners of the building at 1990 K Street N.W. because no one knows who the real owners are! The records in the D.C. government are mysteriously missing! Can you get to the bottom of this?

Bob Levey: I'll sure try. Thanks for the tip. Yes, I do plan to keep beating the drum about Sholl's Cafeteria. A great place. It would be a huge loss.

Laurel, MD: Wayne Curry and others believe that TRIM prevents Prince George's County Government from providing many services. If that is the case, why doesn't he just request from the citizens that property taxes be raised ten to fifteen cents to help improve services, mainly our schools. I'm sure the residents would not object to this proposal.

Bob Levey: You're "sure" that residents wouldn't object to having their taxes raised? You must be smoking forbidden substances. By the way, I completely agree that a small tax increase would pay big dividends, in schools and many other ways. But please don't think that it would sail politically. Anything but.

Vienna, VA: Bob, this is an etiquette-safety question about bike helmets. Some neighbors down the street have two little girls, about age 7 and 9, who proudly ride their two-wheelers all around the neighborhood. Neither of them ever wears a helmet. This bothers me no end, but I hesitated to speak to the children or their parents about it for fear of making enemies. However, I have now decided that if either of those lovely girls has a head injury that could have been prevented by wearing a helmet, I would not be able to sleep well at night if I hadn't said something about it. Any ideas on how I should approach the issue? I don't know these neighbors at all, though I did bring the family muffins when they first moved in.

Bob Levey: This is always so delicate, and there's never an answer that'll work 100 percewnt of the time. Perhaps you saw my column of Thursday, about a Mom who saw toddlers playing with plastic automatic weapons in a public park. It drove her around the bend, because it happened to be just a few days after the Littleton shootings. I suggested she should have approached the toddlers' mothers (who never stopped gabbing while their little darlings were going ack-ack-ack). But that wouldn't be to everyone's taste, for fear of getting a right hook to the mouth. In this case, however, since the parents know you (however slightly), I canm't imagine not knocking on the door and offering a friendly bit of advice. Just be sure not to preach.

Capitol Heights: Bob-

I'm only 23 and I understand the frustrations that many teenagers feel. When I walk into a mini-mart -conservatively and professionally dressed- I am followed around the entire store. I have to keep looking over my shoulder just to make sure they're not trying to rob me! The store around the corner...for the past year, I've bought things from the store, spoken kindly to the owner, yet his employees follow me around as if I'm about to steal something.

I have never stolen a thing in my life. I am a professional young woman.

When I go into United Colors of Bennetton, I could be the only customer in the store, and the sales lady refuses to help me.

Going places with my boyfriend is a different story. People ignore me when I am standing right in front of him, and ask him "Table for one?" I've stood there and said, "No, two." And they don't hear me. He tells them, "What the lady said." Which always throws the waitress or waiter off like they are seeing me for the first time.

--It goes beyond the teenage realm

Bob Levey: Sounds to me as if this has more to do with your gender than it has to do with your age. Yet the message beams through loud and clear: The world belongs to adults. By the way, there's a flip side to that. I recently took about 25 young adults out for pizza. I always intended to pay, anyway. But when the waitress brought the bill, she looked directly at my gray hair (!!!) and placed the bill in front of me with a self-satisfied snap! She never asked who was supposed to get the bill--she just assumed "Daddy" was the moneybags.

hoboken nj: I have to say that the police are the worst when it comes to abusing teenagers. My daughter's boyfriend walked her to a job interview and waited outside for her - middle of the day - someone called the cops on him for just standing there and the police questioned him quite rudely... Same boy once saw a car theft in process, ran up to a police car and tried to tell them about it - HE was threatened with arrest if he didn't shut up... and he is a suburban white kid. I shudder to think what black teenage boys go through.

Bob Levey: You know darn well what they go through--suspicion, rudeness, possible false arrest. I always hoped that this would change once most police forces had significant numbers of minority officers. But it hasn't.

Bethesda, MD: Have you checked into the claim of a $3000 saving by not flushing regularly. Seems far-fetched to me, based on the numbers given and the price of water, even from WSSC? I think you could flush with Perrier at that cost.

Bob Levey: Not Perrier. Piper Heidsieck champagne! Yes, the figure was incorrect. Correction coming in the column very soon

East Lyme CT: Bob,

What makes the D.C. area a great place to live in? What would be an effective argument to get someone to move to NOVA or the D.C. area?


Bob Levey: The day I started at The Washington Post, nearly 32 years ago, another reporter said to me: "This is the only place in the world where you can pick up the phone and get the answer to any question before lunch." That was true then; it still is. I love Washington because it's full of smart people. But many cities can say that. What's different about D.C. is its sense of purpose. People are believers here. They care. They work tirelessly. They believe that there's more to life than bucks.

Vienna, Va: Ok, playing Devils advocate, I'm nervous when people are chatting away on cellphones in their cars, but is there a difference between talking on a cellphone or talking on a car speaker phone or talking to a passanger in the car? Is there a difference between dialing a phone and fumbling around the car for a tape or CD?

Bob Levey: No difference. We should all keep eyes glued to the business of driving. But that homily comes from a guy who has been known to read a "booklet map" while driving (true confessions!).

Somewhere way out west ...: What is up with Yeltsin, anyway? There is no place for a head of state, especially one who could and needs to play such an important role to be so petulant. Maybe there's a better word, but the visual I get is of a 2 year old pitching a fit because he can't get his way. The world needs better.

Bob Levey: The world certainly does, but how can we achieve that from 8,000 miles away? And how can the Russians acheieve it when their political system is so disorganized and their treasury is so broke? Be glad you don't live in that country. I think the worst is just around the corner for all those millions, who were so hopeful just a few years ago.

DC: With regards to "youth" discrimination, I have found that it happens at all ages - being looked down upon and thought the worst of by your elders. It's unfortunate too. I recently went on vacation to Florida with my husband and another couple. We are in our late 20's -although may look younger-, clean cut, with responsible jobs and good lives. We stayed at a nice inn - and were probably the youngest staying there. We were talked down to by the staff and stared at during breakfast and happy hour. I thought it would change as I got older, but it hasn't. There will always be "ignorant" people out there that think the worst of younger people.

Bob Levey: Well said. The irnoy is that, in your late 20s, you can still be looked down at by waiters who are even younger than you!

Frederick, Md.: Hi Bob,
It's not that I read your column with a microscope in an attempt to trip you up. But in yesterday's -5-13- edition, you referred to police officers as cops, i.e., "Cops don't like to sit in judgment..."
My AP Stylebook says "cop" is often a derogatory term for police, and counsels reporters to confine its use to quoted material.
Does the Washington Post have its own set of style rules -as many publishers do-?
Just curious. Thanks! -And no, I don't think you were being derogatory in your reply to the lady with thte question about the toy guns.-

Bob Levey: The Post certainly has its own stylebook (and it's a very good one, edited by my late friend and former editor, Ned Purcell). I can't find my copy in this scrapheap of an office, but as I recall, we never refer to "cops" except in colloquial or non-political contexts. I think my reference passes the test on both grounds. But I'm with you on your general point. We shouldn't be disrespectful to police officers, ever.

Los Angeles, CA: Bob, It's Wiseguy again. We were in DC the weekend before after the NATO folks were in town.

My son wanted to play with the new frisbee, and the Elipse was was great looking place, all that grass, and a father and son throwing the thing back and forth. Unless at 34 year old man and a 7 year old throwing a frisbee back and forth is threatening, I'm way off base.

The officer was downright nasty about the whole thing, we were the only people doing anything other than walking.

My son never wants to go near DC again, and I'm frighten to think of what he thinks of police now.

Has there been a rash of nasty Secret Service in DC lately, and one last question, was the officer in his jurisdiction to confiscate our frisbee without a reciept?

thanks, Bob

Bob Levey: As far as I know, the Secret Service hasn't been taking Nasty Pills lately. So I'd say your experience was an aberration. Still, I'd complain, loud and long. You were treated terribly.
As for your son never wanting to come to Washington again, tell him I'm going to write a column soon in which I recount the reasons why he should. Just don't ask me to provide the airfare, OK, Dad?

FFX, VA: Bob,
Re: Teenagers

Being 28, I can fondly remember my teenage years. Yes we too were followed aroiund the store, yes, we too were ignored by salespeople. Guess what, the same things happened to our parents, it happens to today's teen, and it will happen to their teenager eventually. Teens need to realize that the whole world did not decide to hate teenagers within the last 15 years. Don't take it personally. By definition, your teen years will end when you turn 20, and you can watch the next generation being followed.
Is it right? No.
Will it continue to happen? Unfortunately.

Bob Levey: I salute your wisdom. If only teenagers could complain and get the same results as their elders. Hey, just 45 seconds ago, I advised a 34-year-old Dad from L.A. to complain to Capitol Hill. He'll get taken seriously because he votes. But a teenager in the same rotten situation would not be taken seriously because he probably doesn't.

Washington, DC: I used to run a summer camp in GA and we took our teens to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. From the moment we got there to the moment we left, they were treated like potential criminals. The guards searched every one of my kids but only every few adults that went through the gates. At souvenier stands they refused to allow the teens to see merchandise outside of the display cases. Every one of my kids behaved beautifully and I was so offended by the way they were treated. On the way home they talked more about the way they were received than the game they had seen. If we treat kids like scum, they will inevitably live up, or down, to our expectations.

Bob Levey: Amen and a half. Yet adults didn't just wake up one day and decide to be suspicious of teenagers. At some point (probably many points), teenagers did steal, or dump soda on a merchant's display of expensive sweaters, or harass innocent passersby. Years ago, I did a column about a store in Upper Northwest Washington that happened to be just down the street from Wilson High School. The store posted rules one day that forbade anyone under 25 from coming into the store, except by him- or herself. This sounds like unconscionable age discrimination, doesn't it? But when you consider what the owner had been through (routine shoplifting, games of tag in the aisles, kids making out in the dressing rooms), I can't blame him.

Alexandria: Hey, I know for a fact if the LA Dad and kid write to the Secret Service and-or the President, they will get the frisbee back. I've seen plenty of sporting activity on the Elipse, and the only time I've seen access restricted is when the President is departing. I think that officer was way out of line. Plus, it might restore the kid's faith in DC.

Bob Levey: Let's hope. Yet I believe it'll take more than one letter to the Secret Service. Nothing has "throw weight" in this world like a letter from a member of Congress. You want to see the Secret Service suddenly find that Frisbee? That's the way it'll happen.

FFX, VA: Bob,
Any chance of getting this great forum extended past the oh-too-brief 1 hour it is now? It just passes too quickly.

Bob Levey: Such a sweetie you are! Time for a brief Bob Levey commercial: "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" does run for just one hour a week, 'tis true. But there is a Tuesday version of "Levey Live" also. It appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's usually built around a well-known guest, and a theme. Yet you'll still see glimmers of the same brilliant Levey wit, the same spirited repartee, the same fabulous insight, the same blazing typing speed. Give it a whirl.

Alexandria, VA: Bob,
Why isn't the Post reporting on NATO illegalities in this War? The bombing itself is a violation of the UN Charter. The continued bombing of civilian water & power plants is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Such bombings, combined with punishing "sanctions," have led to the deaths of over 1,000,000 people in Iraq since the end of the Gulf War. ONE MILLION PEOPLE. And you're not reporting that either.

Perhaps the American people would not care to support such massive & indiscriminate killings in their names - if they were aware of it?

Bob Levey: We've reported all of this more than once. But it isn't our job (or our intention) to try to sway American public opinion. That's for the politicians--and in case you've missed it, they can't make up their own minds which way we should go.

Washington, DC: Hello Bob-

I missed your talk with Chief Ramsey the other day. Here is some information I would love for someone at the Post to look into...

I have a friend who is a "white shirt" on the department. He was at one time acting commander of his unit at Headquarters. This man has spent 31 years on the department, and he is what America dreams of when it comes to the perfect cop. He has never committed any form of corruption, even when directed by his commander, who later became chief of police. He lives each day doing his best to help the community. He treats them like human beings, not criminals and victims. He's the best cop any department could ever ask for.

After showing a loyal and non-problematic 31 year career, how does DCMPD reward him? They transfer him out of his high-ranking position -where he helped turn the unit around which was in shambles due to police corruption by an officer who was later arrested- without an explanation. For a month and a half, his name never appeared on any transfer list. He was told to pack things up, b-c he's moving back into the section. They put him back in uniform patrolling the street -practically on a foot beat-. In essence, they demoted him. There are only two people on the department who can orchestrate a transfer like this...the Chief of Police and Chief Gainor.

When he first reported to his new section, the Commander and several Captains congratulated him on the excellent work that he did with the unit he was just transferred out of. [Edited for length]
I really hate what the department is doing to him. He is a wonderful man, and deserves better respect. Demotion should come to those who are corrupt.... But for some strange reason, the department would rather stay in its ways, and remain corrupt. Is the Chief really doing the job we brought him in here for?

Please, Bob, try to help this officer out.

Bob Levey: Could you e-mail me at with some more information--mainly the name of this officer, how I can get hold of him and whether he'd be willing to talk on the record? Thanks

Alexandria: So wrong on needing more than one letter! How do I know? I used to work in the WH office that handled letters to the President looking for help with issues--including problems with the Secret Service. Once in a while, we'd get one where someone had a run-in while the President visited the town. We'd see the letter, pass it to the Service, and later see a response--usually positive, ESPECIALLY in cases like this one. I think if the kid writes the letter, it will be especially effective.

Bob Levey: OK, L.A. Dad. The horse's mouth says you've got a good shot. Please send me a copy of whatever you write: Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071

Alexandria, VA: Bob: For years the Post has touted the coming of the new printing presses, including color. So, what's going on? Color in early editions of the paper were horrible, while the final colors are fine. The new presses tear the pages, fold the edges of separate inner pages, and cut off the printing on the sides of the pages. Not only that, but the bottom of some pages looks like someone took pinking shears to them What gives?

Bob Levey: Growing pains. Our new plant in College Park is only four months old. We're still learning its kinks, and it's still learning ours.

Washington, D.C.: TO Wiseguy-
I am SO sorry you had such a bad expierence in D.C. I'm sure that Secret Service fellow was under pressure from the NATO bru-ha-ha, but that's no excuse for the way you were treated. D.C. is a wonderful city with some incredible cultural, historical and natural sites to take in, and I do wish you and your son would come back to visit. -I live in Northern Virginia and work here, so it's not like I have much interest in yout tourist dollars- but this city has so much to offer, and some of the nicest people I've ever met staffing museums and parks, and I hope if you ever come back, you'll run into them, too.

Bob Levey: Well said. I second all the motions

Alexandria Va : Why is traffic held up on Constitution and New Jersey Aves. for as much as 10 minutes by a light that is switched on red? Traffic gets terribly backed up. It appears that it is switched by guards or police?

Bob Levey: I'll check it out, but my nose (which never fails) tells me that this is a manual switch, thrown by a U.S. Capitol police officer to assure a smooth trip by some Capitol Hill biggie.

Colesville, Md.: In reference to the above question on the Chinese Embassy bombing: do you really think it was a mistake?

Bob Levey: I possess no inside information, so I can't (and won't) presume to doubt our leaders. They said it was a bum map. I believe it.

wASHINGTON, dc`: Are you familiar with the lawsuit just filed in US Court asking for full citizenship for DC residents?

If so, what do you think?

Bob Levey: Sure am. I doubt that this will fly, because we have a long tradition in our country of not allowing the courts to do what the legislature won't do. Yet I have my fingers crossed. How half a million Americans in D.C. can be denied the basic rights of citizenship is beyond me. Even farther beyond me: Why other Americans don't seem to care.

Washington, DC: It's pretty interesting watching the Senate go through contortions over gun control. The most interesting one is McCain, however, who now is willing to go along with some of the President's proposals. Is he a conservative with some liberal streaks mixed in, or a liberal with conservative streaks mixed in?

Bob Levey: I'd say conservative with a little liberal, although those labels never meant much, and mean even less now. I admire McCain for thinking for himself. What he does best is to AVOID licking his finger and sticking it up into the wind before deciding what he thinks. He's a principled guy--and when's the last one of THOSE you've met in high office?

Bob Levey: That's it for today. Thanks so much for being aboard. Please book passage next Friday (and every Friday) at the same time. And as I commercialized earlier, check out the Tuesday edition of "Levey Live." Our guest on May 18 will be Bob McCartney, The Washington Post's new foreign editor. That show will appear from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time.

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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