If it's not one plague that has Washingtonians concerned, it's another.
Unlike the cicadas, which arrive only every 17 years, the tourists come every single summer -- and in every other season too. They shall forever be with us. And so, seemingly, will Washingtonians' annoyance at sharing their city with this horde.
I'm talking about the capital-T "Tourists," the ones with their every possession strapped to their bodies, an array of maps and one or more of the following items: sun visor, stonewashed jeans that taper down to screaming-white sneakers, hat that says "FBI," T-shirt bearing the name of a city, digital camera.
As social beings, Tourists travel in tight units, shouting, "Stay together! Stay together!" to other members of their colony as they swarm among D.C. commuters at rush hour.
Not unlike the cicadas, which strive to make the most of singing and mating in the few frenzied weeks they have to live, Tourists buzz with a single-minded mission: see every monument in Washington before their vacations end.
They have other peculiar customs too. For some reason, they refer to Metro Center as "Metro," as in:
"Linda, are you sure we're going the right way?"
"Yeah, we change trains at Metro."
They photograph and film everything in sight. And their disrespect for our escalator norms is front-page news ["Standing on the Left? You Must Be on Vacation," May 17]. With a line of rushed, sweaty commuters behind them, Tourists will stand two abreast, placidly holding hands and gazing at the glory that is the inside of Federal Triangle.
So the Tourist can be a hard species to love. That's clear from the vicious response the very word evokes from Washingtonians. Tourist-hating is one of the last socially acceptable forms of prejudice.
But it's time for detente. I propose a truce between "us" (the residents) and "them" (the vacationing masses). Yes, "them," of the White House tours and Pentagon snow globes. We have plenty of better nominees for membership in the Axis of Evil than people who just want to get to the Renwick.
And I think there's hope. Washingtonians managed to develop an affection for the invading cicadas, even to the point of complaining that their neighborhoods didn't have a sufficient number -- and we're talking about big bugs with huge red eyes. Can the Tourist really be more horrifying?
Believe me, I can lose patience with the throngs of Tourists on my commute too. I'm a fast walker -- the kind who gets annoyed in Manhattan because people are moving too slowly. Some days, I swear that if I see one more youth group standing between me and the closing doors of the Blue Line, I'm going to jump in the Potomac.
But should I lustily mow them down, as one anti-tourist Web site suggests? As annoyed as I feel when my stride is held up, I would feel worse if someone's memories of his or her visit to the capital included blunt-force trauma.
And if we're going to rout all evildoers on the public transportation system, why stop at the Tourist? We have the business suits who try to hold open the Metro doors and get pinned in the doorway. And the urban parents with the mine-is-bigger-than-yours double-wide strollers that take up the entire end of a subway car. If we're deporting people, I want these people to go too.
And do we have to make comments in such snide tones about states and regions beyond the mid-Atlantic? We don't just sneer at "a bunch of Tourists"; we sneer at "a bunch of Tourists from Tennessee," as if disgusted that they have the audacity to venture beyond the Smoky Mountains. Fill in any other state, and the message is: If you're from elsewhere, go back. We were here first. And, by the way, you're tacky and gauche. Thanks for coming.
This attitude makes little sense in a place in which the label "Washingtonian" includes people from all over the world who have made the District home. Could it be that even some of the sneerers first saw Washington from a tour bus?
Washingtonians have no monopoly on culture and refinement. How civilized is it to snarl at someone while pushing past them in the subway station? Stomping on people is not a sign of good breeding, either, even when done with a Prada boot.
This is the capital of a nation built on immigration, whether of merchants from Eastern Europe or freckled eighth-graders from Seattle. Tourists don't bite, don't mate in public and do minimal harm to native plants and trees. Let's keep this in mind when choosing between welcoming them and squashing them like bugs.
-- Elizabeth Khalil