They're here. You know who they are, those people hogging your bathroom, sleeping in your bed, itching to go here, there, everywhere.
They're your loved ones.
As everyone knows, Washington is an exquisitely scenic town populated largely by people who originated someplace else. This situation has a sometimes happy, sometimes dreadful consequence: It produces packs of visiting friends and relatives.
Behold the cherry blossoms; the Season of the House Guest is upon us.
Last year, 17.9 million tourists visited Washington. At least one-third of those tourists were friends and relatives of area residents, according to estimates from the Washington Convention and Visitors Association; that's about 6 million people demanding to be entertained.
Getting at the specific trials involved in these visits, however, is a delicate undertaking. To comment publicly on guests currently ensconced in one's home would not be nice, nor would it further good family relations. Thus, it falls to the Washington residents who find themselves between visits to tell the story of The Reluctant Washington Host.
"In the beginning," said Jim Lewis, a stockbroker and North Carolina native who moved here seven years ago, "I entertained with great gusto. I took them to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the whole shebang. But after the first wave, after I had gotten to the top of the Washington Monument about five times, I began to learn a few things.
"I learned about the tour buses," he said. "I learned how to get up real early in the morning and deposit them on the tour buses. And then I learned even more. I learned how to call a cab to come right to the door to take them to the tour buses."
Yes, it's a story of mixed emotions, pleasure at seeing familiar faces giving way to relief at seeing those now more-familiar faces go home. First, a noble resolve to be the perfect host; then, a noble resolve that begins with the phrase, "Never again . . . . " Never again to mediate an emotional dispute between visiting children who want to eat vendor hot dogs and visiting parents who want to eat dinner at a nice restaurant. Never again to accompany a picky teen-ager in a long hot search for just the right commemorative T-shirt. Never again to stand in line outside the White House with two grouchy adults and four fidgeting children.
"Sometimes they're just on their own," said Kim Russell, an Indiana native and assistant press secretary for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "I point them in the right direction and give them a map."
Lewis, who has a far-flung collection of friends and relatives who enjoy visiting Washington, said he often tries to deter the visitors, but with little success.
"Over a seven-year period, I've had a lot of repeats," Lewis said. "Those repeats get less and less attention and less and less encouragement to come in the first place. I'll say, 'Oh, the crime is up. The weather's bad. I'm really busy. The cherry blossoms aren't so great.' I paint a very dismal picture."
Nothing, however, stops his sister from Kentucky, he said.
"My sister is the worst, the absolute worst," he said. "She expects door-to-door pickup and delivery. She draws up a list of places she wants to go and then she is like a Nazi with her checklist.
"It doesn't matter how weary anybody gets, how cranky anybody gets, she's going to do everything on her list and that is that."
What's more, Lewis said, he must also contend with the unspoken disapproval of certain guests who don't understand the appeal of his eclectic Adams-Morgan neighborhood. "You can tell they have to hold their tongues," he said.
But, in fairness, that's only the bad side of having out-of-town guests. There is a good side, some say.
Often, guests mean good company and conversation, a good excuse to eat out, a good reason to get off the couch and go explore the city.
"I find myself going to places with them," said Thomas Murphy, who happens to work for the convention and visitors association.
"If you live here, you tend not to see things. Having visitors forces you to go."