Moving along...

In case you missed it, I haven't been updating as much here lately. This hasn't been because everything in DC suddenly became wonderful, but rather because spending your days looking for things to hate is tiring. I've been told countless times, "if you hate it so much, why don't you move away." Truth be told, I don't hate it, and you can't make much of a life for yourself in a city if you constantly focus on the negativity.

I started writing here back in November 2008, and I think this site has provided readers with some good stories about some important issues. At the end of the day, though, it stopped being fun. Since this is a labor of love for me, I find little reason to continue working on something that is no longer enjoyable.

I still believe there are important stories to be told about our city, and I will continue to write about them, but just not here. This site has, I believe, run its course. Rusty and James and the others who came before me had their own stories about DC, and ultimately they left the city. I realize now, the entire concept of this site is based on something that many of us who live here dislike--the whiny complaints of people who don't care to stay. There will be no essay contest to determine the next person who can complain the loudest. Instead, I will do the Internet a favor and be done with it.

I leave with no hard feelings towards anyone, and I'm left humbled that I could, in my own way play a small part in the DC media world. I'm proud of the stories about Metro and Alice Swanson. I'm glad I could make a few people think about important things. I'm also glad I could make some people laugh. I have no regrets, other than any amount of time I ever spent worrying about "internet drama" and having "beefs" with other bloggers. It's very easy to get caught up in the blog echo chamber and forget exactly why you ever felt the need to sit down and write. Before you know it, you're forgetting about how the city's social safety net is falling apart, and instead refreshing your RSS to stay ahead of the curve on what the newest wine bar or tapas restaurant is.

All of that said, there are some good people doing some good writing about DC. I urge you to support these people in whatever way you can, even if it's just through a thoughtful comment or email. Most of us do this for free, and it is generally a thankless task.

As for me, I've decided to spend my spare time doing things that make me happy. This seems like quite a novel concept here in the District. I still want to make a difference in my community, but I realize I can do more elsewhere than by writing on this particular blog.

If you're curious to read what I'm up to, feel free to visit my blog. If you're a Tumblr user, you can do the whole 'follow' dealie.

Thanks for (most of) the memories,



Spotting a near-mugging

This evening I had stepped outside of my apartment building to enjoy the nice post-storm weather. As some readers know, I live along the border of Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. I've lived in this place for a little over two years, and I've written about how I've witnessed a few things that have led me to call the police. I've heard gunshots, I've seen car accidents, the usual city stuff. Tonight was a first, though, as I saw two men getting ready to rob someone.

I had stepped outside and was on the phone, when I saw two men standing around near the street corner. I thought it was a little odd, as there's nothing at this corner and they didn't seem to be talking to one another. The corner in question is between a side street and a major street. There's a lot of foot traffic on the major street, but very little on the side street. As soon as you turn the corner onto the side street, it's dark, and there's no building entrances or storefronts or houses for the whole block.

I saw the two men step back from the corner, maybe 10-15 feet down the street. There are bushes along the side street, so anyone walking up the major street wouldn't really see the men. Then they put masks on their faces and put up their hoods. I could only see them through the bushes while in the driveway of my building. I could see them watching the people on the major street, I assume, waiting for someone to turn onto the side street. At this point I called 911, and was promptly greeted with the bilingual hold message. I'm unsure if they spotted me, but I went back inside the lobby where I could still see them through a window. I was on hold for roughly 3 minutes or so, at which point the started walking further down the side street.

Once I got through to an operator, I gave the location and left a call back number, and the police were on scene probably within another 5 minutes or so. They called me back and asked if I could still see them, the answer of course being no at this point. They walked up and down the side street and then left.

Of course I don't blame the police for not finding them, by the time they arrived I'm sure they were blocks away. I wasn't able to provide a very detailed description, mostly because I wasn't too keen on walking up to them to see better. It's what, maybe 65 degrees out, so clearly there's no good reason for them to have bandanas or whatever they had over their faces and their hoods up. I have no idea if that's enough probable cause to search someone for weapons, but maybe it should be.

The point here isn't to criticize the police response, though the hold time was a bit frustrating. Instead, it's only to say again what is obvious to most people in a city--it's extremely easy for someone to mug you. They could have easily robbed someone right there, mere feet from an intersection. I've lived in the city for a while now, so I know what suspicious behavior looks like, but I saw people jogging with their iPods and walking their dogs while on their phones, and otherwise being very distracted. This happened around 9:45pm, which I think a lot of people might not be on their guard.

So yeah, everyone, always be aware of your surroundings.


Greetings from Texas, and the non-election election

I'm writing this from the lovely city of Dallas, Texas. I'll use the word 'interesting' for now. I'm not talking interesting in "I can't think of anything else to say," but actually of interest. This is a city with a downtown completely built around cars, with huge parking lots and parking structures the size of skyscrapers. However, there is also a very rapidly growing light rail system. I don't have a car for my trip, so it's been interesting trying to navigate using the light rail and buses. Times like this make me join the chorus of be thankful for Metro. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the DART light rail, it goes a few places and seems moderately useful--but it's more expensive than Metro. Metro has it's problems, many of which are serious, but keep in mind that DC is one of just a few cities in the United States where it's actually practical to live without a car.


Hey, let's talk about Election 2010. Last year, it was sounding like Decision DC 2K10 would be something interesting. Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham's office was mired in an alleged bribery scandal, Mayor Fenty's administration was the source of all sorts of graft and corruption, and even Council Chair Vincent Gray had his share of scandals. Remember all of that? Ted Loza, anyone? Remember how he was accused of nearly forcing a mistress to have an abortion, and how Jim Graham's credit card paid for an abortion? Remember well... pretty much everything Fenty did? Parks and recreations contracts? The school firings? More contracts?

Well, it's now halfway through March in an election year and there's essentially nothing going on. Vincent Gray is humming and hawing about running for mayor. Rumors continue to persist, and some media reported yesterday he would announce a run this week. Color me completely underwhelmed. Gray isn't exactly fired-up to run, and has said he's got concerns about "what happens if I lose." That's called politics, Mr. Gray. Honestly if you're too afraid of losing the election to become the Mayor, I can't imagine you'd have the wherewithal to actually govern as mayor. Meanwhile, Fenty has enough campaign money to put a significant dent in the city's epic budget gap. Let's be real here: it's very unlikely there will be a real race for mayor this time around, and Fenty will sail to re-election. He'll be super-lame duck, knowing he's got all sorts of career prospects in development and construction after his term ends. I'll be honest, I like some of the things his administration has done, but we still have a mayor who governs with little sense of responsibility or transparency.

What about in Ward 1? This could prove interesting, I just got an email blast from Jeff Smith. He's rocking the Fenty colors a bit, and has a working web site. He's in favor of what anyone pondering a bid for CM would be... safer, cleaner streets... less vacant properties, "better parking enforcement," all of that. Also in the running is Bryan Weaver, who also sports the Fenty colors. In fact, Fenty, Weaver and Smith's logos look a heck of a lot the same. Though, to be fair, Smith's green selection is a bit lighter in shade.

There's probably room for one strong challenger against Graham, but who knows if there's room for two. Ted Loza's trial isn't going to happen until well after the primary. It's unclear what/if anything new will come out from the Loza trial, but any news from that won't break until just before or after the general election. I don't see how two challengers can possibly unseat Graham in the primary, and there's be little time to run any sort of independent campaign with the news of the Loza trial. For now I'm likely counting this race out, too. I'd love to be wrong about this, though.

So yeah, Election 2010 is shaping up to a whole lot of boring. If Gray steps in, then we might see some sort of interesting jockeying for Council chair, which might free up the Ward 2 CM spot, if Evans ran for chair. That would be some sort of news.

The interesting campaigns might turn out to be that of Clark Ray for at-large, and some of the other Council spots. But, interestingly enough, the seats all mired by scandal appear to be the safest seats this time around.


Why do you tease us, Metro?

Spotted at the South entrance to the Dupont Circle station: a sign advertising the ability to add value to Smartrip via the Internet. This has been promised to us by WMATA for years, but has not yet been implemented. They have, apparently, printed banners advertising the service. When will we get it? Who knows, for now I'm awaiting comment from Metro.

UPDATE: From Ron Holzer at WMATA:
The banner in the pictures has been up for a couple of years. It was installed to notify customers that our fare vendors now (then) accepted credit cards and you could purchase fare cards and SmarTrip cards from our website using a credit card, which you still can do at http://www.wmata.com/fares/purchase/.

To avoid confusion with future online/credit card programs, the banner will be taken down.

On the 'blogosphere' and such

A few weeks ago I decided I was sort of over the whole 'blogosphere' thing. It's not so much that I don't find some writing on some blogs to be worth reading, it was more that I was completely overwhelmed with the whole thing. I had fallen into the whole trap of trying to post everyday to increase pageviews, scouring RSS and Twitter to break stories, and all of that other nonsensical stuff that doesn't actually result in any sort of interesting reading.

I've also been extremely busy, and when the pace of life picks up, something that causes stupid 'stress' will be the first thing to hit the backburner.

So yes, I have not been as voraciously consuming news about DC as I used to. I realized that I had, in fact, become something that I sort of hate about DC. I had become the self-important blogging blowhard, who at times took himself too seriously and spent far too much time writing about things everyone else had already written about.

I haven't opened by RSS reader for three weeks. I'm doing this to try and find a better balance between 'staying up on things' and 'obsessing over things.' There's a place for bloggers in the world of media and the world of writing, however I think most of the time we write for the wrong reasons. We imagine there is some sort of pressing demand for our pieces--we see readership numbers and feel a compulsion to write something. We feel like we need to keep the 'momentum' going, so we copy and paste links and press releases. But that's not quality writing, and unless those news stories are accompanied by some sort of thoughtful commentary or insight, it's generally wasted effort.

It's easy to take yourself too seriously when you begin to think your writing is popular. It's easy to think our blogs are all that and that our comments will make some sort of difference in the world. In reality, though, we should write about what we think is important, and write what we feel. As such, I'm writing a bit less. I write when something strikes me as important, or when I happen to see something amusing (e.g. photos).

At the end of the day a blog isn't going to make you into a rockstar. In most cases it won't ever earn you a dime, and certainly not a living. In this town we have a lot of bloggers, and a lot of them hope it will lead to their big break. Not to crush anyone's dreams here, but it's extremely unlikely your food blog is going to get you a book deal. It's very unlikely that your neighborhood blog is going to turn a profit. Blogs are wonderful because they give us a medium to express our own voices. It's a shame when we distort that in order to get more pageviews.

tl;dr: I've ignored the DC blogosphere for three weeks now. I feel like I haven't missed much at all. The blog echo-chamber is hard to escape, but I'm glad I'm no longer just regurgitating the same things everyone else has already talked about. Bloggers should write from the heart, and spend some time thinking about what they want to say. There's rarely a prize for posting X number of posts in a day.


Immediately I feel less pity for West Elm

Say hi to Mr. Clean for me.

Why do we have such a lack of inspiring candidates for DC offices?

I was reading a bit about the whole Eric Massa resignation hubub, and noticed all of the local government officials that might be running for the open seat. This got me thinking about how elected officials in the District government have little to aspire to. For those on the Council, the only higher elected office would be mayor. For the mayor, that's the end of the line. Now, of course, not everyone in a city government wants to run for statewide office or Congress, but at least the potential is there. I have to wonder how that complete lack of potential affects things here in the District.

Just to be clear, of course,  DC is not the only big city in the United States with corruption problems. Chicago, Detroit and others face scandals on par with or above what we have here. However, what we also have in DC seems to be a complete lack of a field of qualified and enthusiastic candidates for political office. We have a mayor who has been implicated in all sorts of unethical and possibly illegal contracting scandals, we have a Councilmember who admits to funneling city money to his girlfriends, we have other Councilmembers who are out of touch and do nothing. We have all of this, and we are in an election year, yet we've barely got a campaign for any of these offices going. The "best" hope for unseating the mayor is the Council chair, who has his own ethics problems and isn't at all excited about running.

So here's where the question comes up, is it difficult to attract people interested in public office because of the barriers to entry and the lack of higher office? All campaigns are expensive, but for someone serious about starting a political life, running for the DC Council wouldn't necessarily be impossible. But, it's sort of the end of the line. If you dream of eventually serving in Congress, you absolutely would never live in DC or run for a DC elected office. What would you do? Serve on the DC Council for a few years and then move across the river to Virginia or out to Maryland? Yeah, I'm sure your political resume will get you far over there. What we end up with is a situation where the best you can hope for is making connections to the business world for when you eventually leave office. If you are a lawyer, you can probably get a job with a law firm. Maybe you can consult.

Maybe I'm on the wrong track here, but I think this does have a non-trivial chilling effect on the pool of potential candidates. I don't like to say that I want more ambition out of politicians, but sometimes it might not be the worst thing. Aspiring to higher office means more drive to get things done, and more reason to be squeaky clean while doing it. The scandals we see coming from Barry and Fenty are the sorts that can sink a gubernatorial or senatorial campaign. I could definitely see in some other city, a young upstart sweeping in to Ward 8 trying to turn things around, aiming to then run for state legislature or Congress. With ambition, a candidate might be willing to take more risks, and challenge the status quo more. Instead, we have nothing. We have a "why bother" attitude. We've got one "federal" office, a non-elected representative. Not exactly a blockbuster position.

So what sort of options do we have here, short of throwing our hands up and abolishing the idea of elected office for the DC government? Well, of course, giving the delegate to Congress a vote might help. We'd at least have something a bit more important to aspire to.

All of this, of course, is just speculation. What do you think? Do you think there's anything to this? Do you think we could attract better candidates for political office if there was somewhere to go after the Council?


No, really, some good news for WMATA

It's too early to say for sure, but Metro's choice of Richard Sarles for interim General Manager may be a very good one. There's a whole lot of analysis up already about Sarles, but the big bullet points are that he's a rail guy and will not be a mere caretaker during the search for a permanent GM. I'm going to refer you to Greater Greater Washington and We Love DC for some more detailed information on Sarles.

This year has been big for Metro news, sadly with more accidents and deaths, but also with a bit of optimism for the future. When John Catoe announced his resignation back in January, it became clear the choice for the next General Manager could be "make or break." We've got huge budget problems, as well as infrastructure issues, all on top of the lingering and serious questions of safety. Personally, I believed that the next GM (interim or permanent) needed to be an outsider would have the ability to shake things up. Now, I'll admit, the term "shake things up" is vague and often just means "do something! anything!" and often results in a lot of talk, some layoffs, and a lot of arms waving around.

Sarles has five years of experience running NJ Transit, and had previously worked for 20 years at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He has degrees in both engineering and business. He's handled budget problems, often without having to raise fares. He recently retired from his job at NJ Transit, so his future career doesn't so much depend on what happens at WMATA.

I don't want to say Sarles is the perfect choice, he fits the bill. He has experience handling some of the same issues plaguing Metro, and he's an outsider. While he doesn't have much to gain career-wise at Metro, he also has nothing to lose. If the Metro Board is willing to stand behind him and the decisions he makes, he could work to implement the sorts of long-lasting change the agency needs. "Creative destruction" is a term I like to use when discussing what needs to happen--a vast reworking of the organization chart as well as a complete overhaul of management style. Sarles has an opportunity to come in and lay a true groundwork for the future.

Of course, as is almost always the case in life, and especially with anything political, change can be very difficult. Sarles will face pushback from the Metro employees union, and may face some pushback by the Board. If the Board knows what's good for them--and for their own political lives--they should let Sarles do the work and not attempt to sell him down the river if his ideas prove unpopular. The sort of change needed at WMATA will not be popular.

Along those lines, I'd also like to tell everyone to stop complaining about the $0.10 fare hike. The fare hike is, sadly, necessary in order to provide service. We'll be facing a bigger fare hike down the road, and no, these generally don't come with better service. Prices increase over time, and while this fare hike will be hard for some people, for many (especially Metrorail riders) it will have a small impact on personal budgets. While it's easy to grip that you have to pay more for the same (often poor) service, these are the facts of life. When the price of gas goes up, we generally don't whine that the gas isn't better quality.

Metro needs a new management style, and it needs money. Sarles is the first step. We'll dedicated funding and we'll probably need a big fare increase. However, if we can target the fare increase to make the least impact on people, and if we can improve agency-wide efficiency, there is plenty of room to be optimistic.

Yes, you read that correctly, there's reason to be optimistic for Metro's future. Who would have thought that sentence would be typed on a grey Wednesday morning in March.