Tracy Howell plays in a dart league twice a week at a bar called Bunker Hill in Waldorf, just a few miles from his home. Bunker Hill is the kind of place Howell likes: Small and cozy, full of recognizable faces, "sort of a 'Cheers' atmosphere," as he puts it. Sometimes a dozen or so people show up to throw darts, other times as many as 30. Playing partners are chosen at random each night in order to keep the mood congenial and the field of competition level. Howell, 37, is thinking about joining a pool league at Fast Eddie's, down on Route 1, but his work -- he's a computer consultant subcontracting to the Army -- keeps him busy enough that he might not want the commitment.
Whenever Howell does find free time, though, he's content to spend it comfortably outside the Beltway, along with the 65 percent of poll respondents who said they rarely if ever come into the city for their leisure activities. There was a time when he used to go downtown much more often, to run in charity events, for armed services shows and exhibits, for the Fourth of July festivities on the Mall, but lately he's finding less and less to do in the District. And that's fine with him.
"A guy I work with was at the Pentagon on 9/11. He got up to use the bathroom and his office was destroyed," Howell says. "That's got to be a sign from somewhere. It's not that I really worry about terrorism so much, though, like a terrorist attack or anything. It's the security. For most of the big events, you can't even bring in an ice chest anymore, and now it's a four-hour wait on the Fourth. I'm a small-town kind of person, and for me, it's the crowds -- people are a little bit rude -- and the traffic, too. They're not paying attention to what they're doing or where they're going."
Howell grew up in Lafayette, La., a city of 80,000 people where, he says, "you could always find your niche of friends." He thinks of himself as a small-town guy, and prefers to spend his time in Old Town Alexandria. "You've got to get down there early to get parking, but it's got a kind of nostalgic, personal feel. Getting there across the Wilson Bridge, though -- now that trip is worth a whole article by itself."
For all of Howell's growing indifference to the "big events" in the District, he hasn't given up on the place entirely. He's only waiting for the right opportunity. "I heard a rumor there were some good blues clubs down around the White House somewhere. That's the kind of thing I like. If it's got good music and good atmosphere, I don't care where it is. I just have to have a reason to go."
-- Scott Berg