The vape smoke smelled like cherry vanilla, or birthday cake. Something sweet and simple and optimistic.
It was just like everyone’s outlook outside the South Arlington vape shop, which is flanked by a payday loan place and a mumbo wing and pollo ala plancha carryout, the kind of working poor strip mall that is the future home to a kombucha bar, beard oil boutique and Kobox Cryogym, once the AmazoEnians move in.
“Amazon? It’s all good. Jobs are good. More jobs, more money. It’s all good news for us here,” said Ted FitzChristopher, 47, a construction worker who rents an apartment in South Arlington and knows he may be pushed out by 25,000 tech workers coming into his neighborhood.
“It’s all part of progress,” he said. “I’ll move if I have to. There’s still lots of work for people like us.”
Hear that? He’ll move.
And that can only work if one thing happens.
We. Must. Fix. Metro.
Listen. All this talk about Amazon’s new headquarters coming to Northern Virginia is great. But the truth is, our region has been growing faster than a Fortnite party. We’ve added the equivalent of 12 Amazons worth of jobs in less than two decades, according to the D.C. Policy Center’s analysis.
And the housing, homelessness and traffic issues that walloped places like Seattle have been a constant struggle for us here.
But the arrival of a corporate Goliath — founded by the same guy, Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post — is a tremendous opportunity to finally get Metro fixed.
It’s hard to believe that the Amazon folks did anything but airlift into Crystal City when they evaluated the place for HQ2.
But they actually rode on Metro, said Paul Wiedefeld, the dauntless general manager of Metro. “When Amazon first came to the region, the first thing they did was get on the trains, that’s what they did,” he told Fox 5’s Tom Fitzgerald. “It was key to their selection process.”
Were they drunk? Blindfolded? I’m guessing they didn’t have to wait at the platform for single-tracking.
Metro — once a shining gem of our region — is now a joke. A cautionary tale.
“It’s so sad. So sad,” said Tony M. Ridley, former chairman and chief executive of the London Underground, at the International Transport Forum in Germany last year. “I knew the people who built the system, and they did a good job. . . . Now, it’s a hell of a problem.”
And it is the key to making so much work. Real, effective, far-reaching mass transit expands the affordable housing market, alleviates gridlock, reduces greenhouse gasses.
But ridership has been falling because the folks who ran Metro didn’t account for running an aging system. And the folks who fund Metro — our elected officials in the DMV — didn’t want to pay for its full cost. So Wiedefeld is now trying to untangle years of disrepair.
There have been moves toward fixing this. There is a planned $15.5 billion infusion of badly needed cash over the next 10 years. And the addition of Amazon promises more than $100 million annually in regional tax revenue that can go into fixing Metro. Because the addition of all these jobs isn’t going to affect just National Landing, as the Amazon folks are rebranding it now. This affects the entire region.
So we need to think bigger, and to challenge Amazon to help make it happen.
Until we get those flying cars, how about light rail? Hydroplane ferries? Maglev? Monorail? Why on earth is Amazon already experimenting with drone delivery, but we can’t express-send ourselves anywhere?
Japanese officials unveiled their insane, rocket maglev train earlier this year, flying across the land four inches above tracks at 311 miles an hour.
It’s been hotly debated whether Americans will embrace a proposed superconducting magnetic-levitation train — SCMaglev — from D.C. to Baltimore. It’s the future, but it also could devastate the neighborhoods in its path. It would have to be a delicate and thoughtful process. But it’s what forward-thinking leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt would’ve done, argued one Washington Post reader, in a letter to the editor last month.
“I cannot imagine Roosevelt (or any New Dealer) endorsing a “no-build” option,” wrote Greenbelt resident Robert Snyder.
We used to be a nation that built things. The transcontinental railroad, highways, airports. We went from Orville and Wilbur flying on a giant dragonfly at the beach to walking on the moon in about 60 years.
And now we can’t get it together for the Red Line to be on time?
Every summer, when my kids travel by train to University of Notre Dame in Indiana for a hockey camp, Amtrak announces delays on their return trip. Not an hour. Not two hours. At least four hours. I think wagon trains made better time.
Mass transportation — robust, modern, high speed and everywhere — is the key to helping fix everything in our region.
What have we done instead? Hot lanes. We’ve further divided the classes and widened inequality, so a chief executive can get his BMW to his office (monthly parking included) for a $47 toll and the construction worker who gets fired if he’s late has to leave his house two hours early to cut through traffic.
Oh, and scooters. We’ve got scooters in the mix.
Amazon’s arrival is an opportunity to get transportation right.
“Look, it’s not Amazon we’re worried about,” said Brian Hargrove, 45, the sweet smell vaper from D.C. who joined our conversation in South Arlington. He is all for jobs and progress in the region. But he thinks government is more concerned about corporations than communities.
“It’s the politics of this place that scare me.”