I'm a human being, not an ostrich, so I'm not going to pretend there's no crime in Washington, D.C. But it steams me to hear that our fair burg is The Crime Capital of the World, or that you can't walk the streets here, or that this is the only city in the world where people triple-lock their doors when they take out the garbage, or some such.
Sure, we have crime. Just as surely, we don't have much more or much less than any other city this size.
Still, the rest of the country thinks the D.C. in our name stands for Dodge City, not District of Columbia.
A lot of it is a hangover from 1968, when rioting in our streets discouraged thousands of tourists from coming here. Many outlanders still cling to that impression.
But I sense change in the wind. Last month, because of a newspaper column, the citizens of Baltimore had a golden opportunity to reconfirm the popular suspicion about Washington. Not a single one of them took advantage.
The column concerned a dreadful series of events that took place after the Michael Jackson concert at RFK Stadium. Eight women from Baltimore came down in two cars to hear The One-Gloved Wonder. Rather than fight the motoring masses near RFK, the women parked at New Carrollton and took the subway.
After the concert, they tried to retrace their steps. But they accidentally boarded a train to Addison Road. When they realized their mistake, it was after midnight, and the subway was closing, and they didn't know where they were and what were they supposed to do?
A Metro employe who was just getting off work offered to drive two of the women to New Carrollton so they could pick up their cars. Nice. But another Metro employe closed and locked the Addison Road station and insisted that the remaining six women wait outside on the steps. Rotten.
Just how rotten became apparent within minutes. Two men sauntered past. One pulled a gun with a six-inch barrel and demanded money. He got more than $100 -- and the women got the daylights scared out of them.
My friend Dan Rodricks described this tale eloquently in a column in The Evening Sun. He told how furious the women were at having been locked out of the Addison Road station. He told how they blamed Metro's unreadable and incorrect destination signs for their plight. He told how the cops took more than an hour to show up.
"Wall," I said, to the tan piece of metal that stands near my left ear, "I will bet you a million bucks that old Rodricks has been inundated by calls from the Washington haters. I will bet you that he has heard from every one of his readers whose third cousin ever had her purse snatched here. I will bet you that he has heard adjectives leveled at this town that no newspaper would ever print."
The wall didn't reply, as usual. So I called Dan to see if he would.
"Not one," he said.
"Not one person cursed out the capital of the western world?" I asked, in amazement.
"Not one," he said. "A lot of people felt very sorry for the women, of course. And the women are thinking of taking legal action against your subway system. But no, nobody said it was something about Washington that made this happen. In fact, a number of people said it was the kind of thing that could happen anywhere."
Precisely. My thanks to Dan's refreshingly fair-minded readers. Maybe if everyone reacted so nonhysterically to stories of Washington crime, we'd bury a long-exaggerated reputation once and for all.