Orange, orange, everywhere orange! Orange cones. Orange barrels. Orange signs. Construction workers with orange hard hats flailing orange flags. Orange stripes spray-painted on the streets. It's hard to drive or walk anywhere in the Washington area without seeing orange, marking yet another construction or repair job.
It seems like every square inch of pavement is being dug up, put down, milled, filled or tilled. Every street corner, it seems, has been decurbed, the sidewalk reduced to rubble, as some howling crane lowers a massive concrete drain into place or feeds fiber-optic cable into subterranean regions. Every block has a building going up, or a big hole where a building will go up. Jersey barriers have replaced curbs, DETOUR signs are as common as yard-sale notices.
One has to ask: Orange you frustrated?
Sure you are! You can't help it--it's biochemical!
"Orange is the caffeine of colors," says Paula Scher, a partner with New York's Pentagram design firm and a woman who knows from color. Construction companies use orange because it's highly visible, sure. But that's overlooking a key element of colors--the emotions they stir. Blue soothes; orange excites. Each orange barrel, each orange cone you pass--is a slap in the face. Whap! Whap! Whap!
It's no wonder Washingtonians are so wired after yet another day of sucking down orange cone after cone--they're over-caffeinated.
Which only adds to the mounting frustration with Washington's summer construct-o-rama. From Rockville Pike to Suitland Road, there's no relief, no quiet place safe from the pounding jackhammers and shrieking asphalt saws, the choking dust and ceaseless orangeness.
Not to mention the average daytime temperature has been 6,000 degrees. And it's been as dry as a barely vermouthed martini in a Death Valley bar patronized by the bleached skeletons of really thirsty steers.
The monuments are surrounded by upheaval--long stretches of Independence Avenue by the Lincoln Memorial have been taken away. A scaffolding rises alongside the Capitol dome. And perhaps the world's tallest scaffolding--555 feet and then some--enshrouds the Washington Monument.
Up Connecticut Avenue, the raising of two new apartment buildings has turned Van Ness into Van Mess. Klingle Road linking Mount Pleasant and Cleveland Park has been funneled into one narrow lane that looks (and drives) like a crater-filled concrete luge. George Washington Parkway in Virginia, where rush-hour traffic inches through construction, ought to be renamed George Washington Parking Lot.
It's the same everywhere. Downtown Silver Spring has been spaded up, readying it for town houses and businesses. Montgomery County has a record number of school construction projects ($100 million worth) racing to finish in time for the Sept. 1 start of classes. Drivers on Rockville Pike are forced to perform an asphalt slalom, weaving around lane-taking dump trucks and workers planting trees in the median.
Area residents have been reduced to kids in a sensory-overload house of horrors, balled up in a corner, ears covered, chanting "Mommymakeitstop Mommymakeitstop!"
Consider Joan Habib. She has a fine house on a fine street in Northwest Washington. Well, until two weeks ago, Woodley Road was a fine street. Now a two-block length has been bisected by chipped Jersey barriers. At one end, there is a sign that reads STREET CLOSED. It is orange.
Outside her house, a yellow backhoe rips up and loads chunks of her street into a groaning dump truck. She looks down the road and rolls her eyes.
"When they started, it looked like 'Jurassic Park' out here," she says. "They had these backhoes with scoops on one end and drills on the other end doing a ballet."
It'll just be like this for another 11 months, the city says.
"I have lived in this house for 35 years, and I can tell you--I have never, ever in the last 35 years seen the streets that I use this torn up," she says. She is a real estate agent and spends her day--or tries to--ferrying clients around Northwest. All of her shortcuts have been terminated by concrete barriers and detour signs.
But this is only anecdotal evidence, right? Every summer is the hottest, every sundae the creamiest. We are a nation of hyperbole.
Except for this time. It's true, local governments confirm: It doesn't just feel like there's more stuff happening now, there actually is.
Linda Grant says so. She is the public information officer for the District's Department of Public Works.
"There's just a lot going on all over the city," she says.
The reason is prosperity: The Washington region, like the rest of the nation, has enjoyed half a decade's worth of growth, which provides tax dollars. And, as projects can take two or three years to move through the funding pipeline--from proposal to bidding to actual construction--this summer, right now--more projects are underway in the District than ever before, Grant says.
Grant seems oddly unruffled by the maze of construction around the city. But that is probably because she walks three blocks to work. We hate her.
Nevertheless, she urges frustrated residents to calm down and remember the DPW mantra: "Short-term pain for long-term gain."
"If we were having a normal-temperature summer with normal rainfall, patience would be in a lot greater supply," she says, cheerfully.
Tell it to the folks trudging out of the Mt. Vernon Square-UDC Metro station at 7th and M streets Northwest. Ride the escalator to the surface at the end of another hot, hard day and come face to face with three cranes, heaving and hoisting steel beams into the air on the construction site of the new convention center.
Down a dust-and-gravel detour pathway between cyclone fences, hot waves of dirt blow on you like Dust Bowl devils. Just down the street, a huge, flashing arrow is stealing a lane of traffic. Its lights are yellowish-orange.
Cross the street to your apartment, and it's dusty inside, natch, but maybe the pounding will probably stop in time for dinner. Watch out for the metal plates in the road--darn! Another heel!
Barry Williams minds Farragut Park for the U.S. Park Service. Here's how he deals with the dust and noise each morning as he walks to the Mt. Vernon Square Metro:
"I just say a little prayer and go on in," he says.
Matthew Robinson walks out of the Metro. He is a tall, sturdy man, but he is a tiny figure compared with the dirt canyon gaping behind him. He has adopted a pragmatic view of the construction chaos that is heartbreaking in its resignation.
He shrugs. "It's part of the neighborhood."
Crosstown, over by Union Station, Kathy Davis talks a good game. She's a longtime D.C. resident, so she's happy to see something getting done after so many years of nothing. She uses words like "infrastructure" and "decadent" (meaning D.C. streets, we're pretty sure).
But just get her going about her Mercedes, and the $2,200 worth of damage last January. Her front end was ruined by a hole that was left uncovered after city crews dug up the street.
Now, when she sees orange, she avoids it. From several blocks away, she saw that this corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street was being ravaged. So she bailed out and parked her Benz blocks away.
"I'm not driving up there where I don't know what's going on," she says, pointing at the cones. "You develop a strategy for dealing with it."
As she speaks, motorists stalled in front of her--funneled into one lane on North Capitol to avoid the construction at the corner--start laying on the horn. Heat waves billow up from the pavement.
"Oh, Lord," she says, "these people with their car horns!"
If sounds had colors, car horns would be orange. The entire city seems to meld into one permeating, orange haze, as oppressive as smog.
Every day is a Code Orange Day.
There may be, however, one shard of hope. Somewhere, leaning up against a wall in a government garage, draped in cobwebs, is a sign that will, someday, be grabbed by a construction worker.
It is an orange sign, but we will want to see it. Some will drop to the ground, wracked with great, gulping sobs of joy. Parents will pull small children close, confident that their world will be a better one. Senior citizens will smile with satisfaction, knowing they finally will be able to depart this plane in peace. The sign will say: