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It doesn’t matter whether you Google, you Bing, or you Yahoo—not every answer is found on the Internet. Oh, sure, you can ask Siri how guns get into D.C., but she’ll tell you that “there’s no match found for that.” (No, Siri doesn’t work for the NRA.) Humans, it seems, are still valuable sources of information, for now. So when we asked for what’s been on your mind, you came back with some great queries: Why are neighborhoods still on listservs? Who enforces traffic on Eastern Avenue? What is the deal with our collective New York inferiority complex? Aren’t food deliveries left on doorsteps a health code violation? What follows is the Answers Issue, where we try to put a few of those burning questions to rest. Got more for us? Drop us a line at email@example.com, and we’ll see if we can solve them, too. —Steve Cavendish
D.C. Code offenders serve their sentences in federal prison in dozens of states all over the country. They used to go to the Lorton Correctional Complex, located in Fairfax County and which the District operated, but the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act, which Congress passed in 1997, required the prison to close and its prisoners to move into federal custody. Ever since Lorton closed in 2001, D.C.’s felons have resided in federal prisons hundreds or thousands of miles from home.
Most D.C. offenders are in prisons in the eastern United States: The state with the most is West Virginia, with 939, followed by Pennsylvania (747) and North Carolina (486). Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and South Carolina fall into the next tier, with at least 150 inmates each from D.C. Some D.C. offenders are nowhere near the District though. California, Arizona, Oregon, and the other Washington combine to house about 174 prisoners total from the District (precise numbers were not available for all states).
Though D.C. is unique in its lack of a state prison, federal prisoners all over the country face the prospect of incarceration in a distant state. It’s the prerogative of the Bureau of Prisons to decide where federal inmates will serve their sentence. The agency aims to place offenders within 500 miles of home, but it often does not, for capacity or security reasons.
The arrangement is not all bad for the District. The city no longer has to bear the huge costs of operating a prison. Lorton’s closure lifted a financial burden off the city, which helped it emerge from the Control Board era. But the distance does affect prisoners, often beyond their time in detention. Contact with loved ones, social services providers, and members of their religious community may help offenders prepare better for life outside of prison. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has pushed to keep more D.C. offenders close to home, and she has had some success. In 2010, the Bureau of Prisons agreed to let offenders with sentences of six months or shorter be housed at the D.C. Jail—and the feds cover the costs. Juveniles convicted as adults used to be sent to a facility in North Dakota. As Norton puts it, “They sent you all the way to Siberia.” Now they can remain in D.C. until they become adults. Norton says her ideal scenario would be for BOP to build a new prison near the District, but that would require the unlikely support of Congress. In lieu of that, Norton says she wants to get BOP to convert its prison in Cumberland, Md., or Petersburg, Va., into a D.C.-only facility. Since that’s a long shot too, Norton has a more modest goal: Let prisoners spend their final year at one of the two or three prisons closest to D.C., assuming they’re not already there. “I think this is doable,” she says. —Zach Rausnitz
Yes, that’s right: D.C.’s streets are teeming with chickens. In December, Popville posted a bystander’s photo of a bird, and NPR last year captured a loose chicken outside of its office and quickly burdened it with its own Twitter account (@NPRChicken). To put a precise figure on the seething masses of poultry running amok in the District: Last year, the Washington Humane Society rescued into its custody 17 chickens, according to Chief Community Animal Welfare Officer Scott Giacoppo. “We get our fair share of calls,” he says, noting the permanent presence of a coop to house rescue birds at one of the organization’s facilities. At least four of those came from owners who surrendered their birds after animal control officers informed them it was illegal to have them.
To reiterate: You are not allowed to keep a chicken in D.C. Do not purchase any chicks by mail in the hopes that you will nurture a quaint, clucking coopful of laying hens. You’re not Martha Stewart, this isn’t Westchester County, and Blake Lively isn’t coming over later to Instagram anything of yours. Do not purchase chicks for your children on Easter. Do not get a wild hair to slaughter your own dinner. No chickens for you, District resident.
There’s another source of roaming chickens in the city: Practitioners of Santeria purchase chickens, goats, and other farm animals for sacrifice, and those animals, maybe sensing their impending public executions, get loose. Giacoppo says his team has found sites where ritual slaughter has occurred, and the rescue organization gets about a call a year blowing the whistle on (illegal) religious animal sacrifice. Of course, the actual number of sacrifices far outnumbers the cases reported, so there are very good odds that the next time you see a chicken racing around the city, it’s running for its life. Do not add to its misery by signing it up for a Twitter account, no matter how precocious that idea might strike you at first. —Emily Q. Hazzard
The two wrongs here don’t cancel each other out. Bicyclists are required by law to have a front white light and a rear reflector. Drivers and passengers are required by law to open car doors in such a way as to not interfere with traffic, so the cyclist’s lack of light doesn’t absolve the driver from responsibility to open the door safely. Both the driver and the cyclist screwed up, and they could both be cited at the scene for their respective failures. In practice, police have a great deal of discretion in these matters, and at the scene could choose to ticket one party, both parties, or neither.
Where it gets especially interesting is when after the incident, either the cyclist or the driver attempts to sue the other for damages. D.C. is a contributory negligence jurisdiction, meaning that if you’re even one percent responsible for the events that precipitated the crash, you’re unlikely to collect any civil damages as a result. This is just as true for the cyclist as it is for the driver—they were both negligent in some way and since neither is 100 percent blameless, neither will win in court.
Takeaway: Avoid this whole situation because it’s a mess. Bike with lights at night, and always look before opening a car door. —Brian McEntee
We have email to thank for that. Even though everyone hates it, everyone has it. Even better, people check it regularly. And it’s all one needs to register for a listserv, no matter if it’s a Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or a work email address. Google Groups, one alternative to the listserv, requires a Google account in order to participate. That’s a low hurdle to clear, but anything that gives listservs an advantage amplifies the network effect (where services grow more useful as they become larger). Why bother taking up a Google Groups habit when you can connect with more of your neighbors on the neighborhood listserv?
But, eventually, the reason for listservs’ staying power could become their undoing. Email is bad. Nobody likes it. Users of Slack delight over the chat service in part because it eliminates a great deal of intra-office email (arguably the worst kind of email). Perhaps someday neighbors will move their listserv discussions to Slack communities, with channels for information about local #creeps or #rabidanimals or #schools. Then, if you aren’t a parent, you can opt out of the #schools channel.
The app Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods, provides some of this filtering. It lets users choose to see messages pertaining to only their immediate neighborhood or include a broader geographic area. They can filter messages by category, too. But it can’t match the user base of listservs, at least in my neighborhood, where Nextdoor has only 133 registered members and no new postings in six weeks. There may be a future where people reach a large audience of their neighbors without relying on email, but we’re not there yet. —Zach Rausnitz
I’ll admit: When I heard that the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum’s IMAX theater was switching from a 70mm projector to laser digital projection, I figured the only place left to catch movies projected on film was the AFI Silver Theatre. No so. Though digital projection dominates theaters in the D.C. area, there are still some other places that sporadically screen in 35mm. The National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium and Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium still have the capability to project film, but they’re under renovation until fall 2016 and summer 2017, respectively. The Library of Congress’ Mary Pickford Theater also has 35mm screening capabilities.
From time to time, Landmark’s E Street Cinema uses its capability to screen 35mm in its largest auditorium, mostly for special engagements and select films in their Midnight Madness series. While none of the other indie theaters in the D.C. area screen film, I’m told the Alamo Drafthouse in Ashburn, Va., is getting a 35mm projector installed later this month, which means District cinephiles will now have a reason to trek out to Ashburn, Va. —Matt Cohen
“The dual tags are found on vehicles that are co-titled between an individual who is a Virginia resident and a D.C. taxicab company,” says Neville Waters, a spokesperson for the D.C. Taxicab Commission. The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles “requires a District address to register the vehicle, and Virginia requires their license plate if the driver wants to park at his Virginia residence,” he continues. So for cabbies who live across the Potomac and don’t want to walk across the Arlington Memorial, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, or Francis Scott Key bridges to get home every day, doubling up on license plates is the legally sanctioned way to go. They get their taxation with representation, and can be for lovers, too.
Waters explains that “the dual-plate practice is a leftover from the long-ago Councilmember Jim Graham [who] brokered [a] deal when D.C. residency became a requirement for vehicle registration.” This motivated some drivers to co-title their cars with District taxi companies. What’s up with that, you ask? In brief: DMV politics (the region, but also the agency with the long lines). —Andrew Giambrone
It’s not completely uncommon for bread or produce deliveries to arrive before employees of the restaurant, and leaving food packages on the doorstep is not a health code violation in and of itself, according to the D.C. Department of Health. That said, it is very possible that leaving the food unattended outside could lead to violations. For example, the food, depending on what it is, may reach unsafe temperatures, which is a violation. Or if people or pests tamper with the food, it could be considered contaminated or adulterated, which is also a violation. DOH officials say that they can’t legally prevent establishments from getting food delivered on their stoops, but if any violations are observed or documented, the agency will take regulatory action.
The person posing this question sent along a bunch of photos of deliveries, mostly bread, left at the doorsteps of restaurants, including Duke’s Grocery. Owner Daniel Kramer says they receive deliveries of fresh bread from Lyon Bakery every morning, but it’s not standard practice for them to sit unattended. “This appears to be the rare delivery that arrived a little while before we did that morning,” he says.
Meanwhile, Michael Bonk, chef of The Pig, says that boxes of vegetables are occasionally stacked on the sidewalk at the restaurant’s front door before anyone arrives to bring them in. Tuscarora Farms delivers the produce twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. “If you don’t like their delivery time, then you don’t order from them,” Bonk says. “I get here every morning by 9 a.m., but sometimes they get here at like 7 o’clock in the morning… I try not to have it ever happen, if possible.”
Bonk grew up in Wilmington, Del., where he remembers bakeries making deliveries first thing in the morning. “Everyone would have their rolls out for two hours before the sub shops would open,” he says. “So it’s not that odd to me for it to happen… I definitely understand the concerns, but I think it happens quite frequently, depending on what product you’re looking at.”
Bonk says he’s never had any problems with boxes being tampered with. He also insists that everything in produce boxes is washed and transferred into new containers. “We never go straight from delivery to your plate,” he says. And items like meat are never left unattended outside. “That would make me really worried,” he says. —Jessica Sidman
While the company’s name is officially Sbarro, the Union Station sign reads “Sbarro’s Pizzeria.” Scandalous, I know. Sbarro spokesperson Adrienne Sender says the pizza chain’s branding has changed over the years, and what you see is simply an older style. Sbarro began a nationwide rebranding, including a new logo and remodeled eateries, last fall. The Union Station outpost is scheduled for its own revamp in the “near future,” so it likely won’t have that rogue signage much longer. —Jessica Sidman
It depends on what type of jewelry design you would like to pursue. Do you want to learn about beading? Soldering? Precious metal clay?
“Start real simple to learn basic skills,” advises local jeweler Rachel Pfeffer. “Start with beading or wire wrapping, then move on to a class that involves metalsmithing.”
Bedazzled (1507 Connecticut Ave. NW) offers classes on the fundamentals. Check out earring design on Jan. 31, introduction to beading on Feb. 21, or advanced wiring techniques on Feb. 28. If you are willing to travel to Old Town, Art League’s (105 North Union St., Alexandria) metal jewelry classes begin on Feb. 15. You’ll learn about jewelry layout, soldering, chain making, and stone setting.
Sitar Arts Center (1700 Kalorama Road NW) offers a jewelry design class for students and adults, and its spring schedule starts on Jan. 25. Finally, JewelryClassDC (52 O St. NW, Suite 105) offers a number of level one classes in late February. These eight-week courses focus on essential techniques and metalsmithing safety practices. You’ll walk out with four professionally finished products. —Kaarin Vembar
In November, WAMU dropped Edwards, citing a change in the way that its listeners get their traffic news. It seems the smartphone made Edwards, who had been doing traffic reports on D.C.-area radio since 1984, obsolete.
“I was sad and disappointed,” Edwards says from his home outside Sarasota, Fla. “I worked very hard for almost four years to give the best traffic I possibly could for WAMU. That was their goal. They just felt like times had changed and phones and tablets are the way to go. I disagree with that. I believe that radio traffic is still a very viable and necessary piece of the puzzle as far as information for travelers.”
Edwards moved to Florida in 2012 and did his broadcasts, ironically, using technology, like the network of webcams on the area’s highways. But that progress is something you should ignore when you get behind the wheel, Edwards says.
“You don’t want to drive looking at smartphones. First of all, it’s illegal and it’s not wise at all. And radio traffic is immediate. And anyone who says it’s not doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he says. “Even though I’m in Florida, I can look at the traffic camera on I-395 at Duke Street, see an accident and ‘Pow!’ put it on the radio five seconds later. That is immediate. Since I’ve left, I’ve had literally hundreds of emails from people saying how sorry they are that I’m gone, which is very heartwarming, and I’m very appreciative of that.” —Steve Cavendish
The District handles the traffic enforcement—mostly. Eastern Avenue NE’s position right on the border between the District and Maryland’s Prince George’s County looks ripe for jurisdictional disputes, but Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Lt. Sean Conboy says MPD handles most traffic issues on the street. That’s because, per Conboy, most of Eastern Avenue falls inside the city limits. But the District hasn’t always had such a simple relationship with the streets on its border. In 2014, MPD realized that it had inadvertently placed one of the city’s many speed cameras inside Maryland, on Southern Avenue. The camera was eventually removed and replaced with another one that didn’t infringe on Maryland’s sovereignty, thanks to a work crew armed with a tape measure.
It’s not a real inferiority complex, OK?! We are just as much of a city as New York. And you know what? New York is not that great, if you really think about it…
Dammit. I see what’s going on here. All right, the inferiority complex is real, especially among D.C.’s newcomers, but a funny thing happens the longer you stay in the District: You find yourself comparing dicks with other big American cities less and less. And here’s a theory that might explain why this measuring up gets old with time: Because of D.C.’s rich historical association with power and intellectualism, the city tends to perform a kind of bait-and-switch with visitors or recent transplants. You come here expecting to rub shoulders with senators or witness Pulitzer-grubbing journalists having tete-a-tetes with shadowy sources at historic bars, or at least feel some kind of power infuse your daily life. But usually, you’re not important enough to hobnob with anybody who’s anybody except on the rarest of occasions. And so you find yourself in a perfectly great city with its own everyday kind of charm and wit, and with a music scene that generally doesn’t give a fuck about what New York is doing, surrounded by people going about their lives entirely agnostic to the power boners happening mere blocks from whatever. If you’ve been here a few years and don’t realize what the District has going for it, and you’re still smarting over how not-powerful the very best parts of the city are, you don’t understand the city. You probably never will. Go home. You don’t intend to stay, and we probably don’t want you to stick around, anyway.
But here’s another theory: Certain storied New York news media (we’re looking at you, Old Gray Lady) can’t seem to give this city the time of day when they report on the goings-on that happen outside those storied halls of power, so the bait-and-switch endures. Remember when recently one of their travel writers suggested that a solid visit would entail a trip to CityCenterDC, a meal at Momofuku, and a visit to a museum that did not yet have an opening date? Remember how writers at publications worldwide ascribe import to D.C. things according to their proximity to the White House? If you discovered that D.C. was a city you weren’t at all expecting, it’s perhaps because the District’s charms are still well-kept secrets to those who don’t really care to live here. Maybe we like it that way. —Emily Q. Hazzard
Ah, Rock Creek Parkway: the serpentine road that slithers for roughly three miles from the Lincoln Memorial up to Calvert Street NW, just west of Connecticut Avenue NW, and partially abuts the Potomac. Why hath you so little signage?
The “classic example is that my girlfriend and I were driving up Massachusetts Avenue NW trying to get back onto Rock Creek Parkway,” the reader explains. “We passed the entrance initially because we thought that couldn’t be the entrance to the Parkway…it’s unmarked and next to a school, etc….and is also closed during some hours if you read about it enough! I don’t think I’m the only one that is confused.”
Let’s deal with the second part of the question first. Like some other roads in the District, traffic on Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway (as it’s officially called) changes direction based on the time of day. It goes south one-way between 6:45 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and north one-way between 3:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except on federal holidays). The parkway is open to traffic in both directions outside of those times—which is to say, not during rush hour.
The number of signs is constant: There are at least six entrance and welcome signs to the parkway. But even the National Park Service knows that’s not enough.
“As an urban park in the heart of the District, Rock Creek Park has complex geographic boundaries,” says a spokesperson for NPS, which oversees Rock Creek Parkway and Park. “The NPS is working with partners to seek funding to develop a master plan to update and improve signs for transportation, interpretation, and wayfinding along the park’s roads and throughout its nearly 3,000 acres across the District. We’re committed to making sure park visitors can easily identify locations as part of Rock Creek Park and navigate their way through the park while learning about and enjoying its natural, cultural, and recreational resources.” —Andrew Giambrone
Old Ebbitt Grill claims to be the “oldest saloon in Washington,” but it really depends when you start counting. The restaurant likes to trace its lineage back to 1856, when William E. Ebbitt opened a boarding house called the Ebbitt House with a bar. But that building no longer exists, and the bar didn’t have a name of its own at the time. The watering hole has closed, moved, and reopened numerous times since then. In 1910, it was called New Ebbitt Cafe when it opened inside a newly renovated Ebbitt House hotel at the corner of 14th and F streets NW.
In 1926, the building was razed to make way for the National Press Club building, but elements of the decor were salvaged for a new location at 1427 F St. NW (just around the corner from its current digs). For the first time, the restaurant and bar was dubbed Old Ebbitt Grill. Clyde’s Restaurant Group owners John Laytham and Stuart Davidson purchased the place in 1970 in a tax auction. (As the story goes, Laytham came for the beer stein collection but ended up dropping $11,200 for the entire business.)
Old Ebbitt Grill moved into its current, much larger home at 675 15th St. NW in 1983. Relics of its past remain, though. One of the oldest artifacts is a clock that hangs near the front entrance—it dates back to the late 18th century. “The animal heads along the bar are all from the original Old Ebbitt. All the steins are,” Managing Director David Moran says. Items from previous iterations of the restaurant aren’t hidden in any back closet. “Most of it’s on display.” —Jessica Sidman
Ah, existential angst. It’s one of the more satisfying angsts a person can have—nail-biting over whether you put your underwear on inside out or whether your retirement portfolio is really as diverse as it ought to be just don’t scratch an itch the way a plaintive wail into the night does.
I feel strongly that there are other local writers who could answer this question handily: Solo-ish’s excellent stable (they truly specialize in angst of all kinds) or perhaps Martin Di Caro, whose angst over Metro’s foibles might be some of the most gut-wrenching this century will ever see published. On the other hand, our own Jessica Sidman’s view of D.C. steakhouses is a very pure and focussed angst with an aftertaste of futile rage… you get the idea.
But it’s my turn at the wheel, so I’ll point you in the direction of an anthropologist named Roy Wagner, one of the wildest thinkers in the entire discipline. He teaches at the University of Virginia, one of the least-wild institutions ever erected, because it’s an ode to old white men, a group historically noted for their primordial fear of wildness and blase disregard for the angst of others. Wagner is none of these things, and his theories are actually so bonkers they can melt steel. His signature idea is that reality, culture, and lives—that is, the thing that you’re doing and submerged in all the time; which is to say, in a sense, the soup of life—are crafted, performed, and constantly built by way of shifting and rearranging and giving meaning to symbols. It’s the doing of the thing that makes the thing and gives it meaning; the symbol stands for itself, as he put it. Actually, in the very preface for Symbols That Stand for Themselves, probably his most psychedelic and planet-shifting book, he writes that “Its argument is that the human phenomenon is a single, coherent idea, organized mentally, physically, and culturally around the form of perception that we call ‘meaning.’” Physically?! Where it gets even crazier is his later work on the work of observation itself (in other words, anthropology), and the idea that by observing cultural phenomena, anthropologists are engaging in yet another act of symbol-creation. It’s a bit like the opposite of definition by observation; it’s holographic representation and creation by observation. Turtles all the way down, and at some point I think we might start talking about actual turtles.
If it’s all just a performance and reflection and yet therein lies the profundity, join the rest of us in the herd and just keep going through the motions. Eventually we will find life’s meaning, although no one will believe us when we tell them about it. —Emily Q. Hazzard
Disclaimer: The U.S. Census Bureau thinks in terms of tracts, not neighborhoods. Some tracts cross neighborhood lines, and they vary significantly in size, so there’s no surefire way to rank neighborhood density. That said, the first, third, and fourth most densely populated tracts in the city are next to each other in Columbia Heights. Together, they form the slice east of 16th Street NW, west of 14th Street NW, north of Florida Avenue NW, and south of Spring Road NW. An average of 56,104 people per square mile live within those bounds, compared to 10,364 residents per square mile citywide, not counting water. Directly east of these three tracts—still in Columbia Heights—are the seventh, ninth, and 10th most densely populated tracts in the city.
All of this is sufficient evidence for us to conclude that Columbia Heights is the most densely populated neighborhood. Other dense tracts are not far away. Out of the city’s 179 Census tracts, the top 10 by population density form a contiguous blob stretching from Columbia Heights south along 16th Street to the eastern part of Dupont Circle, then southeast to the tract that lies between Logan Circle and Massachusetts Avenue NW. All 10 touch either Massachusetts Avenue, 16th Street, or 14th Street, claiming many relatively tall apartment buildings. These figures are based on the 2010-2014 American Community Survey’s five-year estimates. Once we get a complete Census again, in 2020, look for the rankings to shift, especially if the big new buildings in NoMa and Navy Yard fill up as fast as the cranes have risen. —Zach Rausnitz
Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier has emphasized gun enforcement recently, providing the public with glimpses of all the cold, hard steel her officers have taken off the streets. The numbers are daunting: MPD reports that it seized 994 illegal guns in the first three quarters of 2015, and that guns are responsible for close to 70 percent of homicides in D.C. Over the past five years, the department has recovered an average of 1,922 firearms per year.
So in a city that has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and almost no licensed gun dealers, how does all that weaponry get to the streets of D.C.?
MPD Lt. Leslie Parsons says there are several ways. “Guns end up in D.C. typically by way of straw purchase in surrounding jurisdictions,” Parsons says, referring to the legal purchase of a gun for someone else. “They’re also sold person-to-person in a legal sale and brought into the District. And if you see thefts of guns from private licensed dealers and homeowners, those guns can be brought into the District and sold.”
When MPD confiscates an illegal gun, says Parsons, it refers the information to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which traces the weapon to its original purchaser to determine whether they have purchased more than one gun, or several, or have been involved in a straw purchase. “We work closely with ATF,” Parsons says, noting a difference between street-level policing and the ATF’s more far-reaching investigations.
Likewise, ATF agents don’t investigate the individual cases involving the guns it receives from MPD for tracing, according to a spokesperson from the Washington Field Office, although the agency does recover guns from Virginia that end up on D.C. streets. Such was the case with 24-year-old Lawrence Monte Morgan, of Waldorf, Md., who in November was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in a straw purchase. Morgan, along with co-defendant Jamal Baker, purchased 12 guns from various federally licensed firearms dealers in Virginia in 2014, with Baker attesting that he was the actual buyer. ATF agents discovered, however, that Morgan had helped Baker select the guns, reimbursed him for the purchases, found secondary buyers, and cut Baker in on the profits. Law enforcement later recovered several of the guns, including one that was involved in multiple shootings in the District.
Yet large-scale gun-trafficking cases involving neighboring jurisdictions are not all that common, and in the District, gun trafficking cases in federal court are a rarity. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office says that MPD and ATF have the most hands-on information regarding the origin of guns in D.C. Those cases, however, most often involve gun possession and do not extend to where the gun came from.
That may change in the coming months. D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine recently hosted Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to discuss collaborative efforts to reduce gun violence in part by limiting the availability of illegal guns. “All of our jurisdictions have to live with the consequences of the proliferation of illegal guns, and the trade in guns is regional, so we believe any solutions must be regional,” Racine says in a press release. —Jeffrey Anderson
The short answer: The crest is all natural. In the early days of D.C., Pierre L’Enfant widened Tiber Creek, a tributary of the Potomac, and turned it into a canal that would empty into the river. The Washington City Canal ran along what is now Constitution Avenue, so this block is one of the terraces that would have stepped down the valley. If you were standing at the corner of 13th and F streets in the mid-19th century, a hill that sloped toward the canal would have made sense. But because D.C. had no separate storm drain or sewer system, the canal became an open sewer; engineers and planners decided to pave over the existing canal and reroute it underground. This explains both why Constitution Avenue is so flat and why its elevation is only seven feet above sea level.
The longer answer involves L’Enfant’s original plan for the city. He made F Street a major residential thoroughfare because it was the first street high enough above the flood-prone valley that could accommodate a wide road. According to David Maloney, state historic preservation officer with the D.C. Office of Planning, L’Enfant could have positioned E and F streets slightly closer together to account for the topography in this particular location. If 14th Street seems slightly flatter, that’s because it was smoothed to allow horses to pull streetcars. Subsequent building over the centuries and the paving of the streets emphasizes the block’s pitch, but the elevation difference has existed since the beginning. —Caroline Jones
Smithsonian Institution spokesperson Linda St. Thomas says the museum currently has “no thefts to report.” If that’s true, it’s a change from the past, when the collection was a favorite target for thieves. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Smithsonian was subjected to what it calls “an unprecedented amount of theft,” with pilfered artifacts as diverse as George Washington’s false teeth and a machine gun. But it wasn’t just museumgoers doing the lifting—at one point, a crew of felons actually managed to get hired as guards and the crooks made off with swords and medals. While many of the stolen items eventually made their way back to the Smithsonian, they don’t always. In 1981, two years after the disappearance of Catherine the Great’s gold snuffbox—valued at $125,000—the FBI revealed that its “Operation Greenthumb” found the box had been melted down. —Will Sommer
Putting aside the fact that this is a loaded question (not all drivers are kvetchers, you know), why don’t cabbies partner with Uber or other app-based rideshare services like Lyft and Split to make what many riders assume is better money? Well, that’s just it: Not all Uber drivers make more income than traditional cabbies, many of whom are classified as independent contractors like their peers. That means they don’t get benefits like healthcare or pensions.
Still, licensed taxi drivers do drive for Uber. “When consumers summon a taxi through the Uber app, the driver is the same licensed individual who can be summoned through a street hail,” says Neville Waters, a spokesperson for the D.C. Taxicab Commission. “However, many taxi drivers have found that driving for Uber is not as lucrative.” They also may not like the culture of the company, which has been criticized by some workers’ groups for allegedly not caring about the welfare of its partners.
Kaitlin Durkosh, a spokesperson for Uber in D.C., says its drivers “love the flexibility and the chance to be their own boss…. We have current and former taxi drivers on our platform, and welcome anyone who wants a flexible opportunity to sign up to partner with us.” In other words: Working as a cab driver and using Uber to connect with clients aren’t mutually exclusive.
After listening to hours of ’80s pop and dad rock (which, to be honest, is pretty par for course for me), I’m pretty sure I know what you’re talking about. I believe you’re referring to moments like the 35-second mark in Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” and the beginning of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
At any rate, if there were no vocals, what you’d be referring to is what’s known simply as a “drum fill,” but the addition of vocals makes this a little different. From my extensive research (about an hour of Googling), I haven’t found a proper name for the specific technique that you describe. So I did what you asked: I asked a local drummer—two, in fact—to name it.
Jimmy Rhodes, who drums for the local instrumental post-hardcore trio Black Clouds, says he would call it the “Seismic Stop, because you know once the rest of those instruments come back in, that volcano is just going to fuckin’ explode.” Brandon Korch, who drums for the local bands Polyon and Maloso, says he’d call it “Snack Time, because all of the other instruments get to take a break/grab a drink/eat some chips/catch a three-second nap while the drummer and singer do all the work.”
So next time you’re at a show and witness this moment of magic, you can shout out “OH SHIT, IT’S THE SEISMIC STOP,” or “Y’ALL, IT’S SNACK TIME!” People will inevitably stare, but that’s your chance to explain to them what you mean. This is how trends start. —Matt Cohen
“There’s no official answer,” says David Maloney, state historic preservation officer and head of the Office of Planning’s Historic Preservation Office, “but you would need to look at the process by which an 18th-century city planmaker would draw a new city on a map.”
Yes, for this answer we have to go back to the 1790s, when Pierre L’Enfant was designing D.C.’s historic core. “Starting from the idea of laying out various important points of topography, public buildings, and sites, the Baroque landscape/urban design idea was to put major landmarks in a visual relationship with one another, sometimes orthogonal [intersecting at right angles], sometimes on various radiating axes,” Maloney writes. “For Washington, Pierre L’Enfant placed the major landmarks, with the most important ones on the great cross-axes at the center of the city, and then interconnected all the other major points of interest and the major landmarks with the system of radiating avenues. Further, he then overlaid a grid on top, meaning it had to be somewhat uneven grid because it had to adjust to the major sites and avenues that were already plotted. Thus some blocks are longer than others, depending on where the streets needed to intersect. You can see this all over the city.”
In Capitol Hill, Maloney explains, the 600 block of Maryland Avenue NE may be as long as it is “because L’Enfant generally favored streets intersecting with his major parks on the center lines, thus ensuring lots of streets leading people and goods to the major squares.” Fourth, 5th, and 6th streets frame Seward and Stanton squares; 7th, 8th, and 9th streets frame the square where the Eastern Market Metro station is located; and 11th, 12th, and 13th streets frame Lincoln Park. “The radiating avenues coming out of these parks meant that the blocks that were not among the street triads framing the parks tended to be longer, because the diagonal avenues would otherwise cut up buildable areas into portions that were too small or irregular to be practical,” he writes. That’s why the blocks between First and 2nd streets, 6th and 7th, and 13th and 14th are among the longest on the east side of the city. “It’s the intersection of geometry and land platting considerations.” —Sarah Anne Hughes
Ben’s Chili Bowl didn’t respond to requests for comment about this question, so the future of the mural remains unknown. Although the offending image of comedian Bill Cosby is visible to the public, it’s painted on the side of a U Street NW building that the Ali family owns, so they’re the only ones who can decide whether to change it. Last October, an artist known as Smearleader pasted an image of Kim Jong-un’s face over Cosby’s, but another artist, Kevin Irwin, removed it because he felt it disrespected the original artist. In that situation as well, Ben’s owners chose not to comment.
Various online petitions encourage the restaurant’s owners to remove Cosby’s image or to replace the mural with one that celebrates women, but they’ve only been signed by a few dozen people collectively (three on a White House petition; 230 on MoveOn.org) and no actions have taken place. If you’re eager to make a point about the mural, vote with your wallet and hold off on ordering half smokes until things change. —Caroline Jones