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Local Lore: The French fry incident

4 Jan

You'll never look at French fries the same again. © cyclonebill at Creative Commons

If you’ve taken the Metro with any sort of regularity, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that no one eats on the train. Besides the occasional commuter with coffee or a clueless tourist with a candy bar, no one eats on the Metro. How is that possible? How did the Metro system get so many people to cooperate? It’s simple: The French fry incident.

The year was 2000. The day was October 23. It started off as a typical afternoon for two 12-year-old girls as they entered the Tenleytown-AU Metro station. One of the girls, Ansche Hedgepeth, took a French fry out of a bag she was holding and ate it. Unfortunately for her, Metro was in the process of cracking down on illegally eating in the Metro system after rider complaints, and a plainclothes officer saw her. Hedgepeth was handcuffed, searched and taken away. Apparently, minors in DC charged with a crime have to be taken into custody. If she’d been an adult, Hedgepeth would have just received a fine.

The incident made the news and many people baulked at the extreme measures. But setting an example out of Ansche sure had the desired effect. It’s 11 years later and people still remember it. Now if they would only have a zero-tolerance rule for escalefters.

The Wilson Bridge: A History

17 Nov

If you happen to be stuck in traffic on the Wilson Bridge, you might feel sorry for yourself, but trust me: You have no idea how much worse life could be for you.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge opened in 1961. (Interestingly, Woodrow Wilson’s widow Edith was supposed to be the guest of honor at the dedication ceremony, but she died that morning.) It connects Alexandria, VA to Oxon Hill, MD, carrying both Interstate 495 and Interstate 95. Only it wasn’t supposed to include 95 (long story), just 495, and so by 1999 it was carrying 200,000 vehicles a day even though it was designed to handle a max of 75,000. Eventually the highways on either side of the bridge widened from six lanes to eight, but the bridge obviously couldn’t expand, and so it created a terrible bottleneck.

Oh, and did I mention Wilson is a DRAW bridge? It would open for boats about 260 times a year, backing up traffic something awful. In fact, my first memory of the Wilson Bridge is as a child in my mom’s car, watching the bridge go up.

There are a couple famous Wilson Bridge incidents that most long-time residents will probably recall. The first was in 1987 during a snowstorm; traffic was so bad that many commuters ran out of gas and spent the night stuck on the bridge in their cars. The second was when a man jumped off the bridge, but only after a seven-hour standoff with police during rush hour (the man survived the jump).

Thankfully, in 1999 construction began on replacing the bridge with two side-by-side draw bridges (one for outer loop and one for inner loop). The new bridges are also much higher, reducing the number of times they have to open for boats to about 60 a year. The first cars drove over the bridge in 2006 and most of the project was completed in 2009, with a few odds and ends scheduled to be completed by 2013. My most favoritest part of this whole story is that there was a “Toughest Bridge Commute Contest.” Commuters wrote in to tell their harrowing Wilson Bridge tales and the winner got to blow the old bridge up.

Marion Barry: Stranger than fiction

15 Oct


The man, the myth, the legend © dbking


Only in DC could a mayor be convicted on drug charges, go to jail for six months and then be elected as mayor again.

Now that you live in DC, you might occasionally here the phrase “Bitch set me up”—it’s what Barry said in 1990 after a sting operation caught him on camera smoking crack—he was referring to an ex-girlfriend turned FBI informant. There was a lot of drama during the trial in which some jurors refused to believe certain evidence even though it was never contested in court. The jury ended up being ‘hung’ on most of the charges, and Barry was only convicted of one possession charge.

Amazingly, Barry was re-elected in 1995 and served as mayor for four more years. In 2002, he was arrested because traces of marijuana and cocaine were found in his car, but no charges were filed and he said the drugs were planted. In 2004, he won a seat on the D.C. Council, which he still has (if you live in Ward 8, he represents you). In 2005, he was placed on probation for not filing income taxes for several years. In 2008, he again failed to file his tax return, which extended his probation to 2011.

I’d like to take a quote from Barry’s website, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading: “Marion Barry, Jr., has dedicated 40 years of his life to public service living by the motto of ‘always fighting for the people.’ He is one of America’s most accomplished public officials living today. He is directly responsible for the success of more African American Millionaires than any other person in the country. He served an unprecedented 16 years as Mayor of the District of Columbia taking the once sleepy southern migration hub to a major metropolitan city.” I feel I need not comment on this quote–it stands pretty awesomely on its own.

In July 2009, Washington City Paper published an article about drama between Barry his ex-girlfriend, which included a controversial front-page headline. Also in 2009, HBO produced a documentary titled The Nine Lives of Marion Barry.

He’s embarrassing, he’s corrupt, he’s a womanizer, but he’s ours.