You can't prove unfriendliness... or, maybe you can

One of the big difficulties I've had in trying to convince people that Washington should be nuked from orbit (because it's the only way to be sure) is that a lot of my complaints have to do with intangible things that are simply unmeasurable. I can tell you that people here are less friendly than in most places, but... how could I possibly know for sure? There's no way I can know everything about everyone in such a big city. I could just be hanging around in the wrong neighborhoods or something. I think that I'm generally a good observer, and that my observations are accurate, but that's not exactly scientific proof to you, the convincee.

And that's why this blog is great. I can collect all kinds of great anecdotal evidence over a period of time, and it all keeps mounting into one gigantic Case Against D.C. The friendliness thing falls squarely into this category. The best I can generally do is tell you about my experiences, and there have been a few. But it's not even the individual encounters that wear you down... it's the cold, poisonous atmosphere over a long period of time that makes one (or, me) miserable.

And that's what's nice about going to other cities; you tend to get a feel for how human beings in the civilized world treat each other. San Fran was a great example, because, like I posted from there, the super-friendliness of people was really freaking me out. I don't like being the typical tourist on vacation, and I try to be prepared ahead of time as far as knowing where I'm going so that I don't have to rely on asking someone. But in SF, people were volunteering information without me even asking. This happened multiple times; people on the bus would see me looking at a map, and would ask if I needed any help. When we biked around the bay to Tiburon and were looking at ferry times, a friendly old guy who was walking by spoke up and let us know where to catch the ferry and to line up early, since they only take a limited number of bikes, which was good to know.

People coming up to you and helping you out in a big city can be disconcerting, because sometimes they have ulterior motives. But these were generally just people genuinely wanting to help us out. (I credit back-to-back airings of Dance 360, weekdays on the local UPN affiliate.) And it's so nice, because it makes you feel like a human being again. You forget what that feels like when you live in a rage-infested craphole.

For example, take a look at this DCist post last week while I was gone. It was a call for crazy tourist stories, which obviously can be fun. But it sort of had an unintentionally funny bent to it, in that a lot the things Washingtoniers got mad about were a little unreasonable. The original poster lamented missing his elevator because tourists asked him if the elevator actually goes to the zoo. Which, yes, is a little silly, but if you're not from here, it's easy to get confused by Metro stations with names that were assembled by committee, like "Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan/Connecticut Ave./Calvert St./Bruce Lee Chinese Restaurant/Sherry's Mini Mart". Or you might very well think that an elevator that says "Zoo" would take you there. If you're not from here, you don't know.

Then, there was this great comment:

Last week a stereotypical tourist family--you know, bright pink and green fanny packs, cameras and fat children--were standing near the Archives/Navy Memorial Station looking confused. The mother turned to me as I was hitting the escalator to go home after a long work day and asked, "do you know where Pennslyvania Avenue is?" I pointed at the sign near the intersection of 7th and Penn and said, "you already found it." I walked down the escalator and shook my head. I really have no patience for moronic tourists.
Yes! What morons! Our street signs, sometimes placed on the correct side of the street, often tell you what street you're on. If they're not missing.

Yeah. If you read some more comments, this should come as no surprise:

The thing is, this city is confusing. The layout is confusing. Street names are duplicated in weird places. I still get lost all the time in unfamiliar neighborhoods... and sometimes in familiar ones. If it isn't a missing street sign, it's poor lighting or a weird traffic pattern that trips me up. People who try to visit me invariably somehow wind up stuck in Anacostia. Even people who try to deliver food to my apartment have wound up wandering around for hours, in vain. The neighborhoods here can go from nice to sketchy very quickly, which can make it even more intimidating for an outsider who doesn't know where they're going.

So why do we treat being lost as a crime? Why are we in such a hurry to get where we're going that we're ready to crucify tourists for asking us to take 30 seconds to show them how to get to the White House? Whereever you were going in such a hurry, it probably wasn't that great a destination to begin with. Your table at Capital Grille? Will wait 30 seconds. Hurrying to a Congressional internship? Brownback can wait another 30 seconds for his damn photocopies. Got to get home in time to see The Apprentice? You may need professional help.

And yes, tourists are funny. When you see one on the Metro waving a wad of cash around and saying, in a loud voice, "What am I doing carrying all this cash? I hope I don't get mugged!" (true story), it's just funny. But the utter disdain we seem to feel towards these people is unwarranted. They're still under the illusion that D.C. is the center of democracy, and have not yet realized that we have made a traveshamockery of it. They have come to check out their nation's capital. Nothing wrong with that.

So, for the rest of the time I live here, if I'm someplace familiar and I see someone who looks confused and needs directions, I will place my misanthropy on the shelf temporarily and help them out. Hopefully, they will feel like a human being again, and so will I.

But enough of that happy stuff. You did not come here for happy stuff; you came here to listen to me bitch, and then to tell me my problem is not enough poontang. Or maybe it was too much poontang. One of those. At any rate... let's get it back on.

1 comment:

  1. James you are an absolute genius! I am in the same boat my friend... I moved here from CA...
    Man I hate it out here!