You can always tell the Washington callers from the outlander callers. Locals never apologize for interrupting you. Outlanders always assume they have -- and apologize in advance.
Thus began a phone conversation last week between Emmett Miller, of La Porte, Ind., and Robert F. Levey, of Workaholicton, D.C.
Brother Miller was calling on the recommendation of his cousin, George Miller, who lives in Herndon. Emmett and his family are coming to Washington next month "to do the tourist thing," as he put it. So Emmett called George and asked for advice.
Alas, George has lived in the Washington area for only six months. He didn't know much about our monuments because he's still trying to figure out Interstate 66 (memo to George: You'd do better to avoid it, brother).
So George recommended that Emmett call Levey. "He knows everything," Emmett says George told him.
That isn't true or even terribly close, Millers. Still, like a great running back, when I see an opening, I bolt for it.
Here, as recited to Emmett over the phone, are Levey's Ten Hints About Having a Good Time as a Washington Tourist (and About Being a Good Guest in the Bargain).
1) Park your car and leave it parked. Nothing will kill your enjoyment of Washington faster than going around the block 635 times in an effort to park near the Smithsonian. Our subways are safe, cheap and convenient.
If you're wondering whether they're popular with tourists, chew on this: Metro itself is now the third most popular tourist attraction hereabouts, according to the D.C. Convention and Visitors Bureau.
2) Do a little homework. No, Mount Vernon is not right next to the Kennedy grave. No, you can't just waltz up to the White House gate and start the tour. Dozens of great guidebooks can help you plot your path (and not waste your vacation time). Use them.
3) Be willing to walk. No offense to the Tourmobiles, but you will see more, and see it more closely, if you hoof. This is also the best way to come home with good close-up photos.
4) Ask natives for help. We won't snarl at you or mug you. We might chuckle about the way you dress, or the way you drive, but we'll be glad to point you in the right direction.
5) See off-the-beaten-path sights. You'll never get to know Washington if all you see is the Mall. Have coffee at local spots. Visit all-local museums. Eat at a place that isn't recommended by drab-as-dishwater AAA.
6) Carry water with you. It always kills me to see tourists paying $2 a bottle to buy Coke and Sprite from sidewalk vendors when they could be quaffing H20. Which is more refreshing, too, especially on a July day?
7) Wear comfortable shoes. Would you march up the Parthenon in high heels? Would you tackle Nob Hill in loafers? Then why wear oxfords to ascend the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? Buy walking shoes. They're no more expensive than sneakers.
8) Don't do too much in one day. Once you've padded around the Capitol, the Ellipse and Arlington National Cemetery, you'll have several miles on your odometer. A leisurely lunch break will restore your feet as well as your belly. If you push from sunup to sundown, you'll feel it -- and regret it.
9) Don't make silly assumptions about Washington. How many times have I heard tourists fret about the safety of downtown, or proclaim that all Washington politicians are hopeless? Don't condemn it until you've "done time" here like the rest of us.
10) Don't compare us to Orlando, New York, Paris or anywhere else. This is a living city, not a theme park. It's also a world capital that's home to more smart and dedicated people per square inch than anywhere else. See us (and enjoy us) for what we are. Don't complain that you've had better caviar in Paris. If you came here for caviar, you were bound to be disappointed.
SEND A KID TO CAMP
In memory of a grandparent, in honor of a teacher, in gratitude to a helpful neighbor . . .
Many gifts to our annual Send a Kid to Camp fund-raising campaign commemorate the good deeds or good work of others. We're happy to accept such gifts, and happy to notify the good folks who inspired them.
Just follow the directions below when you're making out your check or money order. If you'd like us to notify someone else, enclose a note with your check, providing us with that person's name and address.
This is an especially meaningful way to honor people who have loved children and/or the outdoors. Many thanks for your support.
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of June 22: $109,969.82.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.