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Presenting Your Survival Guide to DC

23 Apr

cover of -ebook

I’m so excited to announce the So You’re New to DC e-book!

The e-book has updated, expanded and new information, including 27 ways to meet people in DC (with tons of links), transportation essentials, a neighborhoods chart where I asked friends to give their insights, annual events and more.

The e-book is targeted toward people in their twenties and thirties (since that’s the age range that I’ve lived in DC). That’s not to say that people outside of that age range wouldn’t get anything out of the e-book, but I want to be clear that it doesn’t include advice on topics like buying a house (I focus on renting), school districts, etc. I also decided not to include topics that could be easily found elsewhere, like the region’s restaurants. I wanted to focus on things that either wouldn’t be easy to find info on or that you wouldn’t even know you should Google.

It’s been a labor of love, and I hope you like it!

The law of the land

6 Apr

© Ed Brown via Creative Commons

It’s completely possible that in one day you could wake up at your home in Virginia, commute into DC for work and then go to a friend’s house in Maryland for dinner. This type of situation is pretty unique to our area, and one consequence is that you’ve got to be aware of which laws apply where.

Smoking in restaurants

Prohibiting smoking in restaurants and bars perfectly illustrates the typical progression of these types of laws in the DC area. In 2007, DC banned smoking in restaurants and bars.  In 2008, Maryland followed suit. Virginia approved a no smoking law in 2009 but with the provision that restaurants with a separately-ventilated smoking rooms were allowed (tough luck for the employees, I guess).

Talking on the phone while driving
Way back in 2004, DC prohibited driving while using a hand-held cell phone. Just last year, Maryland implemented the law. In Virginia you can still chat your heart out. Interestingly, Virginia doesn’t allow texting while driving (nor do DC or MD).

Plastic bag tax
In 2010, DC implemented a plastic bag tax of $.05 per bag, with funds going to clean up the Anacostia River. Maryland’s Montgomery County looks poised to pass their owe bag tax soon too.

Note: The differences in laws are largely a result of political makeup. About 90 percent of the district’s residents are democrats as are roughly 60 percent of Marylanders. Virginia is far more neck and neck, with Northern Virginia generally voting democratic and Southern Virginia voting republican.

The four quadrants of DC

16 Feb

DC is divided into four quadrants with the Capitol Building’s rotunda as the center. The dividing streets are North Capitol, East Capitol, South Capitol and the National Mall. Therefore, the Mall is basically split down the middle: The Smithsonian Castle, Air and Space Museum and Lincoln Memorial are in southwest DC, while the Natural History Museum and American History Museum are in northwest DC.

Street and number addresses start out at the Capitol so there are many identical addresses. That’s why it’s VERY important to note the quadrant, otherwise, you could be looking for a building on K Street SE, for example, when you are really meant to be on K Street NE.

Streets running north and south are numbered (1st, 2nd, etc.) and streets running east-west are letters (interestingly, there’s no J).

The quadrants aren’t identical sizes and they never were. At one time it was an almost perfect square but now—see that big chunk out of southwest?—that’s Arlington and Alexandria, which the district eventually gave back to Virginia.

Northwest is the largest of the quadrants, covering over a third of the city. Its neighborhoods include Federal Triangle, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Adams Morgan and Georgetown, among others.  This quadrant is typically what people think of when they think “DC.”

Southwest is the smallest quadrant and is really just a sliver of the city. Southwest is dominated by the waterfront area as well as the Bolling Air Force Base and Anacostia Naval Station.

Northeast’s neighborhoods include Pleasant Hill, Fort Totten and much of Capitol Hill, among others. The National Arboretum and Gallaudet University (a well-known school for the deaf) are also found here.

Southeast is bisected by the Anacostia River and contains the Library of Congress, Eastern Market, Nationals Stadium and the newly revamped Navy Yard.

SoberRide: Save this number

21 Dec

‘Tis the season of holiday parties and questionable decisions; one of which is drunk driving. But not to fear! The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) offers free taxi rides home (up to $30) through its SoberRide program. Since 1993, WRAP has provided over 49,000 rides. Rides are available from 10pm to 6am now through January 1. So save this number in your cell phone: 1-800-200-8294.

Think you’ll be okay to drive because you’re only planning to have one or two drinks? Well, a 2005 Washington Post story made a lot waves and may make you think twice.

So now that you know how you’re getting home, check out City Stream and the Express for places to celebrate New Year’s. Have fun! Be safe.

It’s snow time

15 Dec

Snowmaggedon 2010

Without a doubt, my favorite childhood memories are waking up on a school day, peaking outside, seeing a blanket of white, and falling back asleep knowing that my snow dance the night before had worked and that I would be sledding and playing Monopoly that afternoon.

Well, it’s just as good a feeling—if not better—to get a snow day off of work. True, last year’s Snowmaggedon was a bit ridiculous, but even though shoveling out my car is no easy task, it’s worth an unexpected day off.

DC doesn’t get a ton of snow every year (my boyfriend estimates that it’s about every fourth year), which is why when we do get a blizzard we’re pretty unprepared and schools and companies shut down. But here are some tips for the next time it happens.

Check the operating status. The federal government posts delays and closings here, and most other companies and organizations follow its decision. Make sure to find out your work’s policy. The biggest disappointment is when “liberal leave” is in affect, which means that you can take off but you’ll have to use a vacation day. For school closings and delays, check the school’s website or tune into a local radio or TV news program (which often has a scroll at the bottom of the screen).

Capital Weather Gang. During last year’s storms, the Capital Weather Gang was my go-to guide. It’s informative, up-to-date and, at times, even funny.

Get your gear now. Don’t wait until a huge storm is predicted to get shovels, sleds and long underwear. You’ll be out of luck.

Make a plan. What would you do if your power went out for a week? It’s happened to plenty of people in the DC area, and it’s worth thinking about how you would deal with such a situation.

Know what to expect. My apartment complex loans out shovels, which I wish I had known the first two years I lived there. No matter where you live, you should find out from neighbors what your neighborhood is like during a snow storm. Is there an especially slippery sidewalk? A good sledding hill? A road where cars constantly get stuck? These are things you should know.

Check Metro. During snow storms Metro stations located above ground are often closed. Metro buses often aren’t running or are running modified routes. Check the website before you head out.

DC airports 101

9 Nov

Dulles mobile lounges are known for their space age look. © Ad Meskens

One great thing about living in DC is that we have three area airports, which gives you more chances for cheaper flights, but you should know the pros and cons of each airport before booking.

Reagan National Airport (which everyone refers to as simply “National”) is in Arlington and the closest of the three to downtown DC. It was built in response to Congressmen complaining that they needed an airport closer to DC. National is the only airport that is accessible by Metro—National Airport stop on the Blue and Yellow lines. Though this airport is generally preferred over Dulles because it’s smaller, there are few flights to the west coast and none internationally (with the exception of flights to Canada and the Bahamas), so flying from National isn’t always an option.

Dulles International Airport is perhaps best known for its “mobile lounges” which transport passengers to concourses and directly to planes. These are being largely phased out, however, thanks to the AeroTrain people mover, which opened this year and transports travelers much faster. Make sure to arrive at Dulles with plenty of time to spare—security lines can be out of control (though they’re working on improvements). While there’s no Metro stop near the airport, which is located in Dulles, Virginia, there is a shuttle from West Falls Church Metro on the Orange Line. It costs $10 one way and $18 round trip and takes about 20-30 minutes. If you’re driving, take the Dulles Airport Access Road from 495, which makes getting to the airport much easier.

Booking a flight from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) always sounds like a fine idea, but once you have to actually get to and from the airport, it’s another story.  BWI is much closer to Baltimore than Washington; it takes about an hour to get there from DC and longer if you’re coming from Virginia (If you live in Maryland, on the other hand, it might be the closest airport to you). Metro offers a BWI bus service that runs about every 40 minutes from the Greenbelt station on the Green Line.

Insider’s Tip: When you’re looking for flights online, enter airport code “WAS”, which searches all three airports at the same time.

5 questions to get answered before signing a lease

27 Sep

1. How far is the Metro? If you don’t drive to work, this question is critical. Don’t take the leasing agent’s word for it–what she might consider a “short walk” might actually be a mile. If a Metro stop isn’t close by, then see if you can commute conveniently by bus, but be aware that buses in DC aren’t known for their reliability.

2. Is there a 24-hour concierge? If not, you’ll need to get packages delivered to your work because it’s quite possible that they could get stolen from outside your door. I also feel much safer knowing that there’s someone monitoring the building 24/7.

3. What’s the parking like? Even if you get your own parking space, what about guest parking? Many apartment buildings have very limited guest parking.

4. Are there bed bugs? It’s an unpleasant topic, but DC is currently ranked 9th in the country for bed bugs. Ask the landlord but also look at apartment reviews to see if anyone in the building has complained about them.

5. What’s the laundry situation? If you don’t have a washer/driver in the apartment, make sure to look at the laundry room to see how many machines there are for the building. The last thing you want is laundry wars with neighbors.


16 Sep

I had a very traumatic experience on the toll road I-66 (not to be confused with the famous Route 66). Did you know that there are roads that are carpool only at certain times of day? No, I didn’t say carpool lanes, I said entire roads. Well, it’s not a horrifying myth, it’s a reality. While there are signs, if you don’t know what to look for they’re easy to miss.

So there I am, an intern at a non-profit, driving to work for the first time. I usually took the metro but that particular day I was driving a sea turtle expert visiting from India from my office to a private middle school in the city (you know, the usual) so that she could give a presentation on conservation. So I innocently follow the directions on my GPS and … what’s this? A cop is pulling me over as I am attempting to pull onto the road! So yeah, cost me $85 and I was none too happy. Actually, my dad ended up paying the fine because I was resolved to fight it and he didn’t want me to. But still, it was annoying.

Don’t make the same mistake I did. You can’t use 66 during morning rush hour if you’re heading into the city, and you can’t use it during evening rush hour going out of the city. Unless you find a friend, or sea turtle expert, and then you can drive on it at your leisure.

Don’t be an escalefter

12 Sep

The surest way to reveal yourself as a DC newbie is to stand on the left side of a Metro escalator. Left is for people who want to walk up or down the escalator. If you want to stand, do it on the right. Otherwise, there is a very high probability–depending on the length of the escalator and time of day–that you will be yelled at (something to the affect of “Stand on the right!”).

People who are in a hurry walk up the left side of the escalator and don’t take kindly to being forced to stop. It’s a common mistake that tourists make, but residents should know better.

SmarTrip 101

12 Sep

What is a SmarTrip card?
It’s a rechargeable farecard that costs $5. You can use it for Metro trains and buses. Until recently you could go into the negative on your SmarTrip card, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.

Why buy a SmarTrip card?

First and foremost, you need a SmarTrip card because you do not, under any circumstances, want to look like a tourist. But there other reasons too:

  • You need the card to park at a Metro lot. (Not applicable during weekends when parking is free.) At the majority of Metro stations you need a SmarTrip card to exit (I know of at least one exception: New Carrollton). So at these stations there is a machine that will allow you to purchase a card. Parking is available at these stations. Insider’s Tip: If you realize that you forgot your SmarTrip card and don’t want to purchase another one, the person in the parking booth (if it’s staffed) can write you a ticket for the $4.50. They try to tell you that you need to go back inside, but you really don’t. The people in the cars behind you will be mad that you’re taking so long to go through, but that’s worth 5 bucks to me.
  • SmartBenefits. Many employers will allow you to deduct the amount of your choosing from your paycheck to go directly onto your SmarTrip card, which is referred to as SmartBenefits. This amount is not taxed.
  • Safety. Register your SmarTrip card and write down the number that’s on the back in case you lose your card or it gets stolen. That way you can transfer your balance to a new card.

Where do I buy a SmarTrip card?

  • Online. Purchase the card online and Metro will mail it right to you.
  • Metro sale offices. There’s one right inside the Metro Center station (and there’s always a line). Here’s  a list of other locales.