Monday, January 14, 2008

The Washington DC Metro Area

Larramie has tagged me with a "7 Local Knowledge Meme" which is where I get to tell you something interesting about where I live. I thought this would be a fun one to do since I live in a place, similar to NY, that is considered a tri-state area. Growing up in NY, the tri-state area was NY, New Jersey and Connecticut, although I think I went to Connecticut only once in my entire life. I'm not crying over it. But here in the metropolitan DC area, I live in Maryland and have worked in Washington, DC and Virginia. It is virtually impossible to live here and not cross over all the borders. So here are seven interesting facts about this diverse area:

1. "Inside the Beltway" - This phrase is a peculiar one specific to the DC metro area and typically is a reference to the American political system. It refers to the Capital Beltway (Interstate 495), a fully enclosed looped highway that encircles Washington, D.C., and refers to all the power and importance of the offices of the Federal government, its contractors, lobbyists, and the media which cover them which all tend to reside within the beltway. I use the phrase solely to indicate where I live because I live inside the beltway in a suburb of Maryland that is literally ten minutes from the DC boundary. The beltway itself is a nightmarish traffic congested monster that you try your damndest to avoid but which you inevitably find yourself trapped on at any given time during your commute, unless you take metro and then you have your own set of headaches. Only on the Beltway have I found the sunshine phenomenon. Apparently metro area drivers who drive the beltway every single day of their working lives, do not understand the concept of a visor or sunglasses to overcome this local phenomenon of the sun rising or setting over parts of their commute. So you find yourself driving around a bend and slamming on your brakes because the idiots before you have stopped or are driving at a crawl because the sun is in their eyes. Hey Dumbass, put your visor down, take your foot off the brake and drive. It never fails that the idiotic behavior of one always causes a major traffic snafu. Unfortunately the rain or snow phenomenon is apparently more than these drivers can handle.

There is an intense rivalry between Virginia, Maryland and DC drivers, all who point fingers at the others as the worse drivers in the area. As a native New Yorker, and not to be immodest, but New Yorkers tend to be good drivers, I can say quite impassionately that they all suck. Seriously. I've been here ten years and here are somethings I have noticed. While there are good drivers in all three areas, the overwhelming selfish driving of the many tends to stick to your memory the longest. For example, Marylanders have a tendency to forget to use their blinkers and do not really understand the concept of merging and yielding. I swear if you get a bad Maryland driver in your car and you put on your blinker to turn, they would ask you "What's that clicking noise?" Virginians, on the otherhand, will use their blinker but cut you off so close that the blinker almost feels like an afterthought. They also have a tendency to speed like crazy, cut you off and slam on their brakes. And DC drivers tend to drive like they are the only drivers on the road. They never seem to turn their heads before making any lane changes or turns but on the otherhand, if you are in their way, they tend to use their car horns most frequently. I can usually tell just by their moving car violations who is driving the car. If you see a car cut across four lanes of traffic to make an exit that they should have just missed, it's usually a Marylander. If you are trying to merge onto the beltway on a high speed merge and the car way behind you in the left lane speeds up like a maniac and cuts you off just so you are not in front of them, that's a Virginian. If you are in the right lane and someone comes behind you, tailing you real close and starts honking their horn and giving you the finger, it's a Washingtonian.

2. "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Another interesting fact about the metro DC area is that it is swimming in lawyers. In most jurisdictions, being a lawyer automatically excuses you from jury duty. But in the DC metro area, there are simply too many attorneys to do that. Saying you know an attorney is not a threat you can use on anyone around here, cause most people have 3 or more in their family. Teachers have to send notes out reminding the parents that then only need one or two lawyers to come in for career day. Between all the politicians and the lawyers, this is why there are so many assholes in Washington.

3. Chinatown Friendship Arch - Photo credit to Washington DC Convention and Tourism Corporation. The Chinese Friendship gate is the largest single span Chinese gate in the world. It would indicate the beginnings of a large and wonderful Chinatown in the nation's capital. But that would be a huge lie. Chinatown in DC is all of one block long. Ok, maybe I exaggerate. All of two blocks long. There may be about 20 restaurants in this 2 block stretch, but you'd be hard pressed to find standouts here. While Full Kee in Chinatown does get regularly good reviews, some of the best Chinese food you will get in the area is out in Rockville, Maryland in little hole in the walls like A&J and Joe's Noodle shop. Now I used to go to Tony Cheng's Mongolian barbecue for lunch but I stopped going years ago, not because of the food, which was still good at the time, but because of the people. At lunch, Tony Cheng's had an all you can eat that you can stuff into one large bowl policy. They had a large buffet style area where you could pile up fresh vegetables, tofu and all kinds of meat. Now I love meat, but I do believe there is only so much meat a human being should ingest in one sitting. And for me, the best part was piling the bean sprouts high with just a little meat, cause the bean sprouts always cooked down. Then you let the very good chefs take over and put together a delicious sauce for you that they stir fry on their Mongolion flat stove. You would eat this with rice or with a delicious sesame bread pastry that opened and you could stuff with your stir fry. It was awesome. But it woud bother me to see people with 5 pounds of meat into their bowls, piling it up like some crazy meat tower only to see the same people waste more than half their meat later on. The restaurant did not let you take leftovers home, you cooked what you could eat and you were asked to try not to waste. And yet you would still see massive quantities of food being thrown away. This bothered me so much, I just couldn't go back anymore. I don't have any problem with people acting like pigs and eating most of their food (although I do find it disgusting even for a little piggie like me), but the sheer greed and waste part of the equation truly drove me crazy.

4. The Washington DC monuments at night - Photo by Scott Ableman. If you ever come to the DC area, you must take a drive around the monuments at night. First off, it's usually easier to find parking. Secondly, the view is incredibe. Most of the monuments are lit up so they look simply spectacular. In March or April, when the Cherry Blossom Festival occurs and the trees are in bloom at the Tidal Basin near the Thomas Jefferson memorial, take a stroll as the sun sets and watch the shimmering rays glint off the tranquil waters and breathe ethereal light to the fragrant blooms.

5. Museums - There are 19 Smithsonian museums in the area. 19!!! You've got the classic ones that everyone goes to like the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum as well as the Gallery of Art. But then you also have the new National Museum of the American Indian which is now a must see. But the Smithsonians are not the only museums in town. The most popular museum by far these days is the International Spy Museum, the world's first museum dedicated to international espionage. Here you will find the wreckage of the 9/11 planes. A chilling reminder of the times we live in.

6. College town - Surprising to think of DC as a college town, but it has many all located in the DC metro area. Georgetown, George Washington, American, Catholic, Howard, University of Maryland and George Mason University are the big ones in the area. There's also Trunity, UDC, Strayer, etc. Lots of education to be had in this political town.

7. Food - Last but not least, eating in DC has gotten better and better over the years. There is definitely more variety in terms of ethnic cuisine as well as top chefs opening up amazing restaurants. For diversity, it has become relatively easy to find good Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Korean, and Indian food around the area. There is little Vietnam in Arlington and Koreatown in Annandale and pockets of other local places where diversity in cuisine reigns supreme. And you have got the great established restaurants like Citronella for french or Galileo for Italian as well as a large variety of young hot chefs who have opened up their own restaurants for some amazing eating experiences. DC is not boring when it comes to food. Instead of providing a huge list of good restaurants, I would say one of the best guides to eating well in the Washington area is the Washingtonian magazine. It provides lists and write ups on all the restaurants around town. From cheap eats to luxury dining, they cover them all. It is a great resource for anyone who loves their food and finds themselves in Washington.

So these are my local facts. I hope they gave you a taste of the DC area and why you should come for a visit. And I would love to see if anyone else would post their local facts. If you are willing to do so, please leave me a comment so I can come and learn more about where you live.


Anonymous said...

Good info on your local world. Bad drivers seem to be everywhere, though. Our locals have pretty much all the characteristics you describe. New Orleans certainly has good food, though. I'll give it that.

Anonymous said...

Cool. I haven't been to D.C. in almost 20 years. Gotta get out there again some time.

Anonymous said...

I knew this would be fascinating, Ello, and it is/was. Ironic about your tri-state theme, though, as you carried it into your personal life by having three the beltway. ;)

Anonymous said...

I love visiting D.C., but you're right about the crazy drivers. I was there for two days and almost got in two accidents. Great demographic breakdown of their psychoses, though. :)

This was a great, thorough intro to the DC area, Ello. Really, you should write for Fodor's. ;)

Anonymous said...

That was really interesting ello. Give me a couple of days to think about it and I'll post seven facts about where I live on my blog.

Anonymous said...

hey mellow ello meant to tell ya..headed to your neck of the woods in MAAAAAAAHHCH. Coming down to the area for the Bruins caps game. My buddy lives in VA. but we are gonna come to DC, see the game, flip over cars, light fires, start riots and then leave.

Anonymous said...

Since my job is to sell to the federal government I've been to DC dozens of times and it is an awesome place to visit! I love the Dupont Circle area with Embassy Row and The Phillips Collection, Old Town, love love love The National Gallery and I agree -- there is no end to the great restaurants. It got to the point that every time I'd travel to DC, I'd take an extra day or two for site seeing and I haven't scratched the surface. There is no end to the things to see and do there -- I hope to be out in Feb/Mar and see more -- maybe even an Ello sighting :))

Anonymous said...

I see no bakeries mentioned here...

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Old Town and Georgetown. The flavor of life in these places - it's special.


Anonymous said...

Years ago I visited a friend who lived in DC. I will never forget taking a walk at night and hearing bagpipes. We followed the sound to the National Cathedral, where several pipers were playing.
Then there was a woman who sat at the entrance of the National Zoo--her name was Mary Garry Murphy.
We used to do a craft show in Gaithersburg MD. The traffic at 11pm was frightening!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post, Ello, and since I don't have to drive in your neck of the woods, I found your descriptions of that very funny. I suspect I'd feel very differently if I lived there.

As for the people who waste meat in restaurants, this honestly drives me wild. One of the reasons I hated running an inn (we did this for two years) was the amount of food people wasted. I just can't bear watching people take food they aren't going to eat: it makes me physically sick to see it thrown out.

Years ago, I went to a Polish restaurant in Chicago. It was an all-you-can-eat place, but there was a sign on the wall telling patrons that anyone with vegetable leftovers would be fined $1; anyone leaving meat would pay $2. The ladies who served as waitresses were women you would not want on your bad side: they watched diners with an eagle eye and I saw no leftovers there. What great women, and what a great restaurant. I was able to enjoy my meal, and I practically licked my plate clean.

Anonymous said...

You make me happy that I don't have to drive in that area! Another place to add to my must visit list. If only my bank account could keep up.

Anonymous said...

How did I miss this post? I am crazy about DC. And, I gotta tell you, DC-ers are the nicest people I've ever met. Well, at least in comparison to Ohioans. Every time I go to DC, I end up being stunned once or twice by how nice someone is. Truly shocked, I'm not kidding.

I am head over heels in love with DC. I hope you do more posts about DC!

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