Rose Bolton, a tourist from Detroit, was reading the inscription on the Friendship Archway in Chinatown when she began complaining about her trip.
"They say New York is cold and unfriendly," she said. "But D.C. is the coldest."
This was her first visit to the nation's capital, and although places like the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial had brought tears to her eyes, her treatment by the merchants and residents had left much to be desired.
Friends who had accompanied her to a nurses convention here recently agreed.
"Merchants act like they don't want your money," Shirley Wilks said. "Then, when they take it, they snatch it from your hands."
As millions of tourists descend on the city this summer, there will no doubt be much stress and strain. But if any group should be grateful for the influx, it is the one that will reap millions in profits.
However, while I accompanied some of the nurses on their first-time look at the city, it became apparent that the vast resources available were not being used to make these trips as enjoyable for tourists as they could be -- nor as profitable for the city.
For one thing, Washington is not just an institutional amusement park known as the Mall. Yet woefully few efforts are made to show off the riches of the rest of the city. That's bad, particularly considering the District's quest for statehood.
Government officials are asking D.C. residents to write and call friends who live elsewhere and ask their representatives in Congress to vote for D.C. statehood. However, millions of visitors usually end up huddled in a federal enclave and leave with a pleasant memory of the monuments but a sometimes negative view of the people who live here.
Complaints abound, and a sampling of tourists invariably turns up annoyances that certainly could have been avoided. "Why do people bristle when you ask for directions?" Bolton asked. "In New York, they'll either tell you -- or say they don't know. Here, they frown at you."
One nurse said that when she asked a tour bus driver to speak more clearly, he suggested that she get off and catch another bus.
Couple these kinds of encounters with the image that is being projected from Washington these days --
corruption and scandal on all levels --
and the city certainly takes on an image unworthy of statehood.
"You come here wanting to see how your tax money is being spent, and "They say New York is cold and unfriendly. But D.C. is the coldest."
seeing the monuments and museums gives you a good feeling," Wilks said. "But when you stop dealing with inanimate objects and start dealing with people, well, the people turn out to be colder than stone."
Nobody ever said the life of the tourist was easy, but herding so many people into such a small place probably brings out the worst in everybody. The service industry becomes complacent, and many visitors are visibly irritated.
For some of the nurses, however, all was not lost. In fact, after leaving the beaten tourist path, some were delighted by their receptions at places such as Howard University, Georgetown University, radio station WPFW and Chinatown.
Despite the hardships of traffic jams and long lines that the tourist season brings to the city, tourists generate billions of dollars, making the tourism industry second only to the federal government in the Washington area.
This kind of success would not be possible if somebody were not doing something right. But more remains to be done.
With guards poking through the pocketbooks and camera bags of each visitor at museums and security barricades popping up all over town, it just seems that people could go an extra yard to combat the coldness that has become a part of Washington.