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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!

Q & A: Biking in D.C.

8 Oct

Biking in the cityTo learn the ins and outs of biking in D.C., I consulted an expert. Jon Gonzalez from WABA (Washington Area Bicyclist Association) shares what newbies need to know to get started.

What are the most important rules of the road that the area’s new bicyclists should know?
I think there’s a general concept that’s a little more important than specific rules. When they are on the road, cyclists should act like a car, and I feel like a lot of people are confused with what that actually means. When a bike is on the road, the only difference is that the bicycle is allowed to filter. So that means bikes should stop at all stop lights, stop signs and yield to pedestrians.

What does filter mean?
It’s when a bicycle can jump the line of cars at a stoplight. This is recommended because it increases the bike’s visibility, so the chances of getting hit are reduced. It’s just a safe practice. That’s really the only difference between cars and bikes on the road.

Do you consider Washington, D.C., a bike-friendly city?
Yes, 100 percent. Especially because of the outside connections into the city like the Key Bridge or Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda, which make getting into the city quite easy. Then once they’re in the city, there are all kinds of shared lanes, bike racks, things that connect the city.

What is the biggest danger or hazard that local cyclists face?
Literally the cars and trucks on the streets. But I think an even more important danger would be an uninformed public. This is how a colleague of mine recently put it: The bike culture has grown so rapidly that all the other road users haven’t had enough time to learn and adapt to the changing environment. There are cars that don’t realize that bikes have rights when they’re in the street. And then there are cyclists who need to realize that they have rights, and they have the right to be in the road. It’s safer to be in the road than on the sidewalk where there are pedestrians.

If someone is interesting in biking to work but feels a bit overwhelmed by the idea, how would you recommend they get started?
Find a bike buddy. There’s probably at least one other person who rides to work. That person may not be an expert but they will have tips or know of a particular road that’s best. That person knows what you will have to deal with.

For those looking to bike just for fun, what are—in your opinion—some of the area’s best trails?
My favorite trail is the Anacostia River Walk Trail. It’s a loop that starts and ends around Nationals Park. There’s a great mix of outdoorsy stuff like the pirate ship playground. It’s family-friendly, there’s a good mix of restaurants and shops, and a nice off-street trail. My favorite ice cream parlor, Ice Cream Jubilee, on Yards Park is there, too.

One of my readers’ biggest questions is how to make local friends. Are there any ways they can meet people through cycling? Any groups or events you’d recommend?
WABA has 5,000 members and every couple of months we have large group rides where 400-500 people show up for a ride and we all tour the city together.

I run the Bike Ambassador Program, a safety and education program that encourages responsible bicycling in the city. We like to come together and do outreach events during the week and go on social bike rides on the weekends. There’s an orientation coming up soon—we’re always looking for new people to share our love of cycling with.

There is also a great Facebook group called Women and Bicycles that is a fantastic resource for female bike riders in D.C. They also set up their own social bike rides and do fun bike things together.

Mormon Temple

27 Jul

Washington TempleUpon moving to DC it won’t take long to either see the Mormon Temple as you drive on the Beltway (aka 495) or hear it referenced on a traffic report (i.e. “backed up past the Mormon Temple).

No matter your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), there’s no denying it’s a strikingly beautiful building. It’s the tallest temple in the country and cost 15 million to build. Dedicated in 1974, 750,000 people attended the open house and I’ve heard (aka my mom told me) that afterward they ripped out all the carpet and replaced it.

Surrender DorothyYou can’t actually go inside the temple (which is technically in Kensington, MD) unless you’re literally a card-carrying Mormon. This even applies to wedding ceremonies. There is a free visitors’ center open to the public but, if the Yelp reviews are to be believed, you’ll likely be asked about your religious beliefs and be encouraged to consider converting. Each Christmas there’s a popular annual lights display along with various holiday concerts and events.

The Temple looks like a white version of the Emerald Palace in Wizard of Oz, and for a long time many people’s favorite part of the temple was the “Surrender Dorothy” graffiti that was painted on the Outer Look overpass nearby from the 1970s to 2007.

Read three stories about the Mormon Temple, including the time when a guman took the people inside hostage.

12 Metro tips to make your ride more enjoyable (or at least more tolerable)

29 Mar

© David L. Jennings on Creative Commons

12. Choose your car wisely. Ever since the June 22, 2009 accident, Metro opreators are required to pull up to the very front of the platform, and that is often where you’ll find the least crowded car. However, not necessarily! In the morning, I find the third car to be less crowded, and in the afternoon on my way home, it’s the first car. It’s worth figuring out the least crowded for your commute because on busy days it can make the difference between squeezing in and having to wait for the next train.

11. Don’t be an escalefter. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.

10. Who do we appreciate? Eight! I’m not sure why more people don’t pay attention to the number of cars a train has, which is listed on the board. When I see that an eight-car train is coming, I shriek (in my head) “Eureka!” and head for the end of the platform. The last car on an 8-car train is always virtually empty, no matter how packed the other cars are.

9. You have time, I promise. You really, really don’t need to start making your way to the doors while the train is still moving. The only thing that’s going to do is cause you, or someone else, to lose balance. I have never seen or heard of someone not making it out in time, so chillax.

8. Express yourself. I get a lot of my news—admittedly probably too much—from the Washington Post Express. Reading it makes my commute go a whole lot quicker. Insider’s Tip: Many of the stories on the front inside page will help you while listening to that week’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me.

7. The announcer suggests moving to the center of the car for a reason. On a crowded train the center of the car is always less crowded than by the doors, yet many people won’t move in even though there’s much more breathing room.

6. Don’t be that person. “Doors closing” means that the doors are closing. Do you really want to be that person who gets a bag stuck in the door? Or worse, the person that causes the doors to malfunction and the train to be offloaded? Awkward!

5. Have an intelligent journey (get it?). You should not only purchase a $5 SmarTrip card, but you should register it. That way when you lose it, which you will eventually do, you won’t lose the money you had on it. Oh, and ideally you should write down your SmarTrip number, otherwise when you call Metro they will give you a-ti-tude.

4. Calm is key. Speaking of SmarTrip, my friend Victoria opines that you don’t need to move your card frantically on the scanner to get it to work. (You’ll notice how many people do this now that I’ve pointed it out.) Just place the card on the scanner and wait a second.

3. Plan ahead. Metro’s online Trip Planner is a great way to plan a trip if you’re going someplace new. You can find out how to get somewhere, how long it will take and approximately when the trains are scheduled to arrive. It also shows bus routes.

2. Don’t be a jerk. If you see a pregnant woman or an elderly person or someone who obviously looks like he/she might need to sit down, ask! There’s too many people on Metro who just bury their nose in a book, pretending they don’t notice.

1. Keep your stuff to yourself. Metro thefts have been on the rise as of late, so avoid flopping your Ipod on the seat next to you or placing your Blackberry in an open bag.

Dear Virginia … No smiles for you

6 Feb

This past summer my purse got stolen, so I had to go to the DMV for a new license. I wasn’t stressed about the photo because I’d assumed they’d use the same one, which was—if I do say so myself—pretty good. I was tan, I’d just gotten my hair done and I did my makeup.

But, to my horror, they said I needed to retake the photo. I hadn’t washed my hair or put on makeup, but oh well. So I sit down and smile.

“Oh no, you can’t do that anymore,” the lady tells me.

“Do what?”


Say whhaaaaat?

As it turns out, since 2009 Virginia’s DMV has banned smiling in photos because one day in the future they plan on having facial recognition technology. Apparently smiling screws that up. To be clear, you are allowed to turn the corners of your mouth up, but under no circumstances can you show teeth.

So I get my license, and it looks like—I kid you not—a 1920s mug shot because, in addition to no smiling, it’s in black and white. Virginia is not the only state that has a smiling ban, but Maryland and DC allow smiles, which makes Virginia’s licenses look downright depressing in comparison.

A friend of mine was recently at the DMV when a new resident learned about the policy. He turned to her and said, “What kind of people don’t let you smile?” It is a rather dismal welcome to the state.

My boyfriend moved from Maryland to Virginia a year or so ago, and he thinks the Virginia DMV is fantastic in comparison. According to him, the lines aren’t as long and the staff is much friendlier. He thinks sacrificing a smile is more than worth it.

Groupon: Zipcar deal

11 Jan

After reading Megan’s post (below) about going car free, were you thinking about getting a Zipcar membership? Well, if you’re a DC resident, today is the day!!

The website called Groupon, which has a different deal every day, is offering a Zipcar membership for $30 (normally it’s $115). If you haven’t used Groupon before you might be wary, but don’t worry,  it’s a legitimate site and I’ve never had any issues redeeming Groupons I’ve purchased.

The pros and cons of going car-free in DC

10 Jan

My friend Megan moved to the DC area a couple years ago from suburban Pennsylvania. It’s her year anniversary of going car-free, and she was kind enough to share her thoughts on the decision.

I officially survived my first year living car-free. Last winter after finding out my car was going to need an expensive repair and realizing I didn’t use it that much since I commute to work on the Metro, I sold it and adopted a car-free lifestyle.

I live in Arlington one block from the Court House Metro and a short walk from CVS, Whole Foods and bars and restaurants. Also, I have a dry cleaner, gym and convenience store in my apartment building. These conveniences and access to public transportation provided assurance that I could survive without owning a car.

To eliminate panic for times a car is absolutely necessary, I signed up for Zipcar, an hourly car sharing service. My boyfriend and I mainly use Zipcar for one or two hour trips to Giant and Target. If we’re in need of a car for a weekend trip, it’s cheaper to rent one from Hertz or Enterprise (I usually take Metro to the rental places at the Reagan airport). I also have several friends who own cars, so if necessary, I ask them for a ride.

At times it’s really frustrating not having a car, but for the most part I have been happy with my decision. The largest benefit for me has been the huge amount of money I’ve saved by not having to pay for repairs, insurance, registration and $50 a month to park at my apartment building.

If you are considering living car-free I would suggest doing an analysis of your expenses with a car vs. expenses without (be sure to include costs for Zipcar and weekend car rentals) and identify how many places you go frequently that are not close to public transportation. It’s also important to evaluate if you’re willing to give up the freedom of hopping in your car at any given moment to go somewhere. It takes a lot more time and energy to live without a car and you must be willing to accept that challenge.

I know that at some point I will probably own a car again, but for now car-free is the way to be.

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.

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.

Local lingo: The Mixing Bowl

10 Dec

The newly constructed interchange map (blue), superimposed with the old interchange map (red). Thanks to creative commons user MPD01605.

Have you ever been driving on 495, 395, or 95 and suddenly found yourself on the wrong freeway? If so, I bet it was in the Mixing Bowl. Officially known as the “Springfield Interchange”, the Mixing Bowl is where these three roads collide in Virginia. It’s one of the busiest highway junctions in the U.S. (which isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s ever driven through it). On the Beltway (aka 495) the interchange is at exit 57 and exit 170 on interstate 95.

As confusing as the Mixing Bowl is, it used to be much worse before reconstruction. There used to be lots of weaving and merging as local and long-distance travelers drove around each other. Constructed in the 1960s, the interchange was supporting much more traffic than it was designed to, and accidents were common. Reconstruction started in 1994 and was finally completed in 2007. And though it’s much better now, you still need to stay alert when you find yourself in the Mixing Bowl, lest you want to be lost. I still find it amazing how intense the Mixing Bowl is but, just like with the Wilson Bridge, I really shouldn’t complain.