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Levey Live: Speaking Freely

Friday, August 6, 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.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Dan Murano/washingtonpost.com

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 DC. Bob's columns.

Here is a transcript of today's session:





Germantown, MD: I know some people out there are complaining that the drought restrictions prevent them from washing their cars. There are waterless car washes available. We have used one in particular with great success -Dri Wash n'Guard- on everything - our new car, our old clunker, and my mother-in-law's mint condition muscle car. There - now they have no reason to complain.

Bob Levey: Thanks for taking care of this earth-shattering problem. Now tell me why people need (or want) to wash their cars at all? Do they REALLY care how dusty their buggies look at red lights, where only total strangers will see them? I have much better things to do with the ten-spot that a car wash always seems to charge me.


dc: Congratulations, I think the devotion of a significant part of yesterday's column to the terrible problem of answering machine messages that the caller doesn't like is the most trivial issue that you've addressed. And many have been very trivial...

Bob Levey: Speaking of earth-shattering issues..... Sorry you were displeased, DC. You must be one of those folks who doesn't feel good in the morning until you've read about nuclear war, famine, plague and artillery appropriations. I'd rather write about issues that matter to real people right here in River City--and my fans (all but you) say they agree.


Warrenton, VA: So what is your take on Hillary's Talk interview? Was it a calculated attempt to get it behind her now? If so, it seems to have backfired. My theory is that she is a double agent for the vast right wing conspiracy!

Bob Levey: Good theory, but I think it's far more simple. I think she hoped to get out in front of the zillions of questions she knew she'd get on this subject during her campaign. Instead, she elicited many more zillions. How uncharacteristically clumsy of her. She's usually a lot more slick than that. And usually a lot less whiny. What's with that nonsense about how she'll no longer discuss this? It was SHE who brought it up, and now she wants to damn reporters for seeking more!


Falls Church, VA: Thanks Bob for this forum. I don't know if any Congressmen see this but I would really like them to know that I do not want a 1% tax cut nearly as much as I want the national debt paid off. It's not fair to stick my future children and grand children with a massive debt. It's like taking your family to a restaurant, running up a huge bill, then telling the waiter to give the check to your son. Maybe I'm in the minority on this. What are your thoughts?

Bob Levey: I couldn't say it better or agree more. The saddest part of this "disconnect" between real voters like you and the cretins who serve on the Hill is that they really think a) that partisan solutions are desirable and possible and b) that voters will be fooled by the sleight-of-hand that they're pulling. All these incumbents have done is to pass a bill that they know is doomed (because Clinton said so). But they think they can go home and say, "Hey, I fought for you folks." The folks can see through this better than the elected folks think.


Bethesda, MD: If there are water restrictions in Maryland, and an emergency water situation in Virginia, and residents of those states are being asked to conserve water -in common sense kinds of ways-, why are downtown WDC office still hosing off their sidewalks every morning? This is a practice that seems wasteful to me anyway, since a broom would do the job more quickly and efficiently. Any thoughts?

Bob Levey: It's yet another argument for regional government, a cause I've been smitten by ever since I washed up on shore here 32 years ago. By the way, hosing down sidewalks should be illegal (or at least restricted) even during periods when it has rained for the last 40 days and 40 nights. Waste is waste, gang, and waste-not-want-not is still mighty solid advice.


Bowie, MD : Am I the only one who thinks that Billary Clintham has made yet another blunder by bringing up last year's "mistake" again? Jeez. What some people do for publicity. And what some people think is politically astute leaves a lot to be desired - she should fire the person who convinced her that it was a good idea to bare all.

Bob Levey: She'd have to fire herself. But really, the issue is the INCREDIBLE self-absorption of the Clintons. They seem to think it's all fresh between the two of them and the country, that we still look to them for leadership and standards. Them days went away about six years ago.


Arlington, VA: Hey, Bob, and producer! I love the show -it's a great way to enjoy lunch time-. Is there any way Metro could put out a "Metro Etiquette Guide" for tourists and regular riders who seem to have forgotten common courtesy? My big gripe is about people who can't wait for riders to get OFF the train before they get ON. Can't they realize that they will get on the train, but in order for them to do it, riders have to get off? Thanks, I deal with this every day at Ballston and just wanted to get it off my chest.

Bob Levey: Some Metro train-drivers are pretty good about making announcements, so on their trains, anyway, there'd be no need for a copy of The Metro Rules. But many drivers are minimalists. They give you just the stop, and that's all. I've often urged Metro to pre-record standard warnings (don't block doorways, don't eat or drink) and play them at regular intervals. The Great Minds at Metro are afraid of ticking people off through constant badgering, of course. But I'm with you. I think more people get ticked off my rude and selfish passengers.


Atlanta, Georgia: I think that the person who thought the answering machine column was trivial might have the same problem I do- I just don't understand what your column is about. To simply offer enjoyment as a response is uninformative and unimaginative. I'm not trying to criticize; I'm honestly trying to understand.

Bob Levey: All right, I'll try again.
The column is about Bob Levey's Washington, which is distinct from Bill Clinton's or Madeleine Albright's Washington. It's really about Joe Blow's Washington. It bypasses "normal" news to take a look (often humorous) at situations we all recognize and all have feelings about.
What is the column "about?" Anything that crops up. And that's the point. I field an incredible number of calls, letters and e-mails. My readers use me as a way to vent, rant and praise. I have a dialogue with them that appears in print. We're all passengers on the same wayward planet.
I'm looking to write about common threads and common concerns. By the way, that is sometimes easier than it might be, because so much of The Post is devoted to agenda-driven and front-burner news. None of my colleagues would dream about writing a column on answering machines. But as soon as I heard from that woman, I knew it was a "Bob item."


Herndon, VA: I truly wonder what happened to the brains of the people who make the decisions about whether or not Fairfax County -and the Town of Herndon, too!- has water restrictions or not. So far, they have "voluntary" restrictions and are saying that there is no crisis situation yet. Uh, how can that be when we get our water from the Potomac River - which right now is resembling a puddle? This must look -real- bad to our neighbors around us -like Loudoun County and Maryland-....

Bob Levey: It's especially hard to understand in a place like the Virginia burbs, where water by the gazillions of gallons goes to keep lawns alive.


Washington DC: Does anyone find it interesting that Hillary Clinton is looking at setting up a home in NYC -albeit through Senate- and Bill shows no interest in a follow on? He has indicated setting up residency in other locales and ever possibly back home which indicates to me that the happy couple may not be a united front after-all post-presidency.

Bob Levey: I suspect they'll stay married, at least on paper, and that they'll have a commuting relationship--she in New York, he wherever he chooses to write his memoirs. Question for the house: Would you spend real bucks to read Bill Clinton's self-justifications about eight disappointing years? Not me, bro.


Washington, DC: I read the other day about the treasury having too much money - how is that possible? If the treasury has too much money, how come they don't feed, clothe and house some homeless, feed the children in D.C. that are practically starving in our own back yard? And another thing, how can we afford to help so my other countries, and can't house, feed, clothe and make sure the poor have adequate medical care if we are the richest country? This country stinks, and the sad thing about it is it is getting worse and will continue to do unless we look after our own. The government is only concerned with keeping the rich richer and the poor poorer!

Bob Levey: The country doesn't stink. The management of the Treasury Department stinks. How this situation could have been allowed to last for more than one second is just amazing to me. Too bad DC doesn't have a "real" member of Congress. Wouldn't this be a good cause to leap on? Hearings, headlines, the whole bit?


Arlington, VA: Who care about a 1% tax cut? Will it make a real difference for ANYONE?

However, I HEARTILY welcome the marriage penalty relief. I fail to understand why 46% of the married couples in this country are forced to pay, on average, and extra $1,700 -my husband and I pay well over $2,000- a year just to be married. So much for family values!

Bob Levey: What I'll never understand about the marriage penalty is how decades of Democratically-controlled Congresses allowed it to live on--even though women and working couples were strong Democratic voters.


Warrenton, VA, : Bob- suggestion for dc and trivial issues. Don't read your column. I do and enjoy it.

Bob Levey: Much obliged


Manassas, VA: Bob, I noticed that Hillary focused on the psychobabble analysis of President OJ's infidelity. I wonder what her Oprah explanation is for perjury and obstruction of justice?

Bob Levey: No doubt that her wondrous husband was trying to protect her...


Arlington, VA: Bob -

Is there a website that I can use about road construction projects? I'm curious as to when the GW parkway project -especially by Spout Run- will -ever- be finished. Thanks...

Bob Levey: Ever-wonderful washingtonpost.com has road construction information. So do the websites of the state highway departments in both Maryland and Virginia. The GW Parkway is a federal road, so you might have to hunt a bit for that one. Try the US Department of Transportation web site, and/or the National Park Service site.


Takoma Park MD: Along with the Metro etiquette, can we start some kind of "fight litter" campaign for all the visitors. Walking from L'Enfant Plaza I'm picking up trash all the way to the office.

Bob Levey: More should do it, and a few brave warriors do. I just finished a column item for later this month, wherein a jogger has picked up nearly 3,000 bottles and cans in the last year.


Arlington, VA: My parents are obsessed with having a green lawn -fortunately for them, there's no drought in their state at the moment-. During a recent dry summer, however, my mother felt the lawn was looking a little brown, and so called ChemLawn. The guy never showed up for his appointment the next day. When my dad called to ask where he was, he said that he couldn't find the house. He thought he had the right address, but when he saw how green the lawn at that house was in comparison to the rest of the town, he knew he couldn't be at the right place! My mom made him come out the next day.

Bob Levey: I hope she feels the money was worth it, because I don't. The missus and I sprang for one of those never-fail chemical lawn services precisely one time. The grass looked artificially green--kinda like the top of a pool table. Water works wonders.


Washington DC: Hey Bob do you think that the District should evaluate their teachers based on the students test scores alone? and not the overall performance?

Bob Levey: I'm for an overall performance evaluation, as measured by a committee of parents, administrators and (get this) fellow teachers. And I hope the teachers' union will get behind this, before it gets run over by it.


Fairfax, VA: Bob - Your thoughts on Metro staying open until 2 am on weekends? I can tell you a lot more people would come into the city -and not drive home drunk-. And for those who don't think there are enough people up at 2 am to use it, have them drop by Adams-Morgan on any Friday or Saturday night!

Bob Levey: Amen and a half. By the way, I took a call from a cynic the other day. He thought that keeping the subway open until 2 a.m. would just induce more people to drink more booze for more hours, knowing that a train would safely whisk them home. I pointed out that a 40-minute ride to Shady Grove or Vienna tends to sober up even the most severely addled boozester.


Fairfax, Va: Boy, you don't take criticism or people disagreeing with you very well. But, hey, the chat is half-way through and you haven't yet whined about how little money you're paid!

Bob Levey: My chance! Let me tell you, dear friend, that when a first-year lawyer makes more than I do, by a whole lot, and he doesn't even know how to find the men's room, it rankles. Sorry you thought I didn't take criticism very well. I think it's more a matter of not taking over-general, under-knowledgeable criticism very well. After all, anyone who has read my column more than three times can easily see what it's about.


Arlington, VA: Last week, you were asked about grad school for journalism. In my mind, and most of my colleagues -except for the one in grad school!- agree, grad school may be valuable in certain fields, but not in journalism. I know too many good reporters and editors who never took a journalism class -they're better than me, and I majored in journalism-. Do you agree or disagree that grad J-school is a huge waste of time and money?

Bob Levey: I think grad school in journalism will get you even with the pack if you haven't had a lot of experience on your college paper, or many summer internships. I'm speaking here of getting Job One. Getting a good Job Three will depend on skill and drive. No school in the world can teach you that.


Arlington VA: Hi Bob,

Yesterday Metro and Mayor Williams unveiled the new name of the Woodley Park Metro stop. It is now officially Woodley Park-National Zoo- Adams-Morgan stop. Who are these guys trying to kid? Adams Morgan is .6 miles away. Even the zoo is a stretch at .4 miles. Who's bright idea?

Bob Levey: The Metro board. They're trying to "extend" the "definitional range" of every station. Hey, if we're real lucky, we might soon see "Silver Spring/Baltimore."


DC Metro Area: Bob, website for the GWP is http:--www.nps.gov-gwmp- and the website for updates on the traffic situation resulting from the construction is http:--www.efl.fha.dot.gov-

Bob Levey: Thanks!


Vienna, Va.: Bob, this is a really banal question, but what is beach traffic like going on Rt50 East over the bridge on Friday night? We're going to the beach -for the first time in years- next weekend, to Chincoteague, and I was wondering if you know when one should plan on leaving Friday night -waiting until Saturday morning not really an option if we want to get out there early enough to go fishing at sunrise!-7ish?

Bob Levey: It isn't a banal question at all, but the answer will be: Leave either before 3 p.m. or after 8. Otherwise, you will be doing the stop-and-go boogie for HOURS.


Arlington, VA: I am recently new to the area and have a question which I hope you can clear up for me:

Why do people put white t-shirts on their car door when the car breaks down on the highway? Is this some sort of sign to the police that the car is not abandoned? I know that if you leave your broken down car you should write a note, but I have never heard of putting a t-shirt in the front door. No one in my office understands this action either.

Would you please clarify this?

Oh - and I enjoy reading your column - especially the 'trvial' subjects!

Bob Levey: White of any kind (a handkerchief, a towel, a t-shirt) means, "I am broken down and need help." That's so cops don't waste their time pulling over if the driver is merely adjusting her stockings, tying his tie or comforting the baby.


DC: If the Metro stays open until 2 a.m., that's great- I'm all for it. But how are the people in Georgetown -where a lot of the bars and clubs are- supposed to get to it? They're not sober enough to walk all the way to Foggy Bottom, that's for sure! I've often wondered how much taxis pull out of Georgetown on the weekends.

Bob Levey: You've got it right on the noggin. Cabs are everywhere in Georgetown after midnight because the drivers can't miss getting good fares. Also good tips. Many people are going to the suburbs, so the fare might be $20, and the tip might be ten. I don't mean to suggest that cabbies are taking advantage of drunks--just that some drinkers are so glad to get home in one slightly sodden piece that they'll tip well out of gratitude.


Arlington, VA: Why don't you work from home?

Bob Levey: Three reasons: 1) Charlotte the cat, who thinks she has a lease on my lap. I couldn't work with her bulk sitting on me. 2) I really like (and thrive on) the energy in The Post's newsroom. Any time I need to get a fix of liveliness, I go get a drink of water. I come back with the latest on politics, love, sex, Capitol Hill, baseball, sometimes all of the above. Charlotte knows only about politics! 3) I can't concentrate as well at home. I'm forever "taking a minute" to pay bills, straighten pictures, ya, ya ya. Not a prescription for handling a big daily workload efficiently.


Arlington, VA: Bob

I generally enjoy your chat though I tend to disagree with you. That having been said, I'm going to have to take you to task about your "George W. doesn't have experience and isn't outstanding" cavalcade of comments over the past few weeks. He is the governor of Texas, which if it were independent, would have one of the largest economies in the world. This gives him equivalent experience to almost every reasonable president of the last two decades. In fact, your comments sound like Walter Lippman's denounciation of Roosevelt in the 1930's. To paraphrase, "he is a nice man who would very much like to be president". Lippman wasn't right then and I don't think that you are right now. Thanks for the show, though.

Bob Levey: I see your point, but Austin ain't Capitol Hill. To play in the major leagues of politics requires major-league experience. "Handling" a state legislature (which W. says he has done--debatable, I say) is nothing like building a national consensus. Look at how much trouble Jimmy Carter had with that problem--and he had been governor of a large and growing state, too. As for foreign affairs, I guess you could say that glaring daily at Mexico from the governor's mansion is foreign experience. But I'd rather have someone in The Big Job who has really negotiated with a foreign leader, really MET a foreign leader.


Washington, D.C.: Bob, I've been in the area for almost a decade and it is still difficult for me to pass homeless people on the street. I've heard people who work with the homeless say it is better to donate money to organizations than to give change to someone on the street. What do you think?

Bob Levey: I agree absolutely and have written so many times. Giving one homeless person one quarter isn't going to solve that person's problems. The homeless need drug and alcohol counseling, job training and psychiatric help. The quarter you give goes all too often for drugs and booze. And don't fall for the guys who say they just need a buck for something to eat. The hard-core homeless all know that soup wagons ply the streets every night, 365 days a year. The homeless can always eat--and never have to pay.


Kensington MD: Who is your pick in a Gore-George W race? Bradley - George W?

Any veep guesses for any of these?

And does it matter whether Bush used cocaine?

Bob Levey: I'm still betting on Gore as the next president. His experience is too wide and too substantative for people to go anywhere else. That isn't offered as a partisan comment; I don't "do" partisanship. It's just a cold-eyed look at the field.
I can't see Bradley getting the nomination. First he declared politics is broken, yet now he wants back into it? Makes me skittish.
As vice presidential candidates, I'm betting on John Kasich with W. and Dianne Feinstein with Gore.


Arlington, VA: Re the Junior Bush --

As a Texan, he probably considers talking to people from other states "foreign policy."

Bob Levey: You must be from Oklahoma! Cute!


Alex: What are the MUST DOs when going to the Baltimore Orioles Game?

Bob Levey: Bring lots of money. Be prepared to spend it.


Vic's admirer: How is Vic today? Have you let him out of the cage yet?

My real question: how did Foggy Bottom get its name?

Bob Levey: Vic remains quarantined in his Rosslyn tiger cage, for his own good. He recently was heard to murmur something about being set free so he could take the subway home. We then knew that he was still delusional, because Vic NEVER takes the subway, despite several "chalk talks" about how it would save him time and money. The guy even drives when he's coming from Rosslyn to the Post! That's three stops on the Metro and eight minutes--but the Vicster would rather spend 15 minutes fighting traffic on K Street and $10 to park.
Foggy Bottom was named by 18th Century settlers who noticed that it got foggy in that neck of the woods.


Washington DC: I just had to drop a note about how dashing your photo is! Most men can only HOPE to be that good looking post-30!

On the noted side, do you know how one would go about getting published or start writing articles, if only for hobby? I have been asked numerous times by peers to start writing professionally but haven't a clue and wouldn't know if this would be a life-altering change...at the moment, just for pleasure.

Bob Levey: Flattery does work! I chose your "question" ahead of 30 others. Dashing? "Gray" is the word you're looking for. But thanks anyway.
As for starting on a writing career: It depends on what kind of writing you'd like to do. If journalism, try "stringing" for local papers. If books, you'll need an agent and lots of good luck. If magazine pieces, you'll have to have a very solidly evolved idea first, and a willingness to do 18 rewrites.


Manassas Park, VA: So you are off for three weeks, must be nice...

Anyway, please tell me the Post will run something else in your spot. Although NOTHING can replace Levey's Washington, could they at least put something there instead of more Ads? How about offering an 'essay contest' to local high school english teachers? They could send in short stories from their students and the best of the bunch get to be Bob for a day. There are some really creative minds out there that could use a little exposure. I'm sure your readers remember your series from the VA tech student.

Just a thought... Have a great vacation.

LOU

Bob Levey: I answered this question a week ago, and pointed out that those "useless" ads are actually pre-budgeted at the beginning of every year. We are a business, after all, and we need to bear that in mind. Otherwise, I couldn't earn my less-than-a-first-year-lawyer salary!
However, if I were a betting man (and with my lousy salary, I have to be), I'd guess that this may change. For one thing, we could "keep" Bob readers a little more effectively if we ran "Best of Bob." Running kid submissions would be a surefire winner--lots of happy grandparents. And we used guest columnists in my space in 1997, when I was out for six weeks after my heart surgery. People inside the building and out seemed to like that little experiment very much.


Papua New Guinea: What is your favorite restaurant?

Bob Levey: Jane Freundel Levey's kitchen. After nearly 20 years together, she has kept me fat in the right ways and skinny in the right ways. Woman could be a BIG smash on K Street if she chose.


DC: Hey, Vic has to show off that muscle car he was telling us about! He can't do that on the Metro.

Bob Levey: But he can show off his real muscles on the Metro! Under the Potomac, as the train goes 65 mph, I'm told that primal urges leap to the fore....


Arlington, VA: Because I love my sister, I've agreed to go the Barry Manilow concert with her tonight. Any advice? And does anyone out there have a good way to get to Manassas on a Friday night -concert starts at 8-?

Bob Levey: I've heard lots of badness about Nissan Pavilion this summer--traffic woes, expensive food and drink, hassles with gatekeepers over whether you can bring in your own camera (you can't). So I'd go very early and be prepared to spend scads of money to keep fed.


Arlington, VA: Frankly, Bob, I'd prefer someone with no foreign policy experience to Gore. I've forgotten where he did this, but I seem to remember Gore inciting large riots in one of the South East Asian countries due to his comments about the government. Have I got the wrong politician?

Bob Levey: I think it was Nixon!


Alex, VA: I find it errie that the local news drives around looking for "water violators" Does this bother you at all?

Bob Levey: I find it eerier that the governor of Maryland wants to give every violator (even the thousands-of-gallons-an-hour violators) a warning before a fine. As I said on WTOP radio yesterday, that's like giving a baseball player four strikes.


Kenmore,NY: Hi Bob My question is regarding the IRS, i am wondering...do you think there is a peoblem in america with the IRS system and also do believe it will ever be terminated?

Bob Levey: I don't believe the IRS will ever disappear, if that's what you mean. Nor do I believe it should. The last three commissioners have sincerely tried to improve things, and I believe they have. Stupid hassles have been reduced. So have vengeful audits. And once in a while, you can actually get through to a real human on the 800 number. I'm for fixing what still needs fixing, not tossing the whole thing over the side.


arlington: Don't fault the first-year lawyer for making a career choice. You can still go to law school -your cue to complain about tuition and your poverty-. Also, you can bet that guy doesn't get three straight weeks of vacation! It must be rough being Bob Levey...

Bob Levey: I'll ponder just how rough it must be throughout every second of these next three weeks. Thanks!


Dulles-ville, VA: Tell the guy going to Nissan Pavilion at Stonehenge to leave NOW.

Bob Levey: Amen, and thanks


Bob Levey: That's all you get for this sultry Friday. Join us next week, same time, same station. And don't forget our Tuesday show, "Levey Live." On Aug. 10, it originates from Bristol, Conn., at the Eastern Regional Little League playoffs. My guest will be the head of Little League on the East Coast, Donald Soucy. The Tuesday shows appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time.



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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