City Paper is not for tourists
Hey Washington City Paper, here’s a question for you: Why does anyone need an “Answers Issue” in the age of Google?
Maybe not every city does. But Washingtonians display an enduring curiosity about the arcana of their city, and sometimes a simple search only yields hearsay and misinformation. Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to believe everything you read on the Internet?
We like to think it takes a small crew of local-minded journalists to really get to the bottom of these mysteries, so for the fourth year in a row, we’re serving up carefully researched answers to your burning questions. We also like to think of each question as a little love letter to our paper: “City Paper,” cries the reader. “I need you!”
Questions ranged from the practical (Where can I find good udon? Can we smoke weed yet?) to the improbable (Can I get a tour of Dupont Underground?) to the quasi-mystical (Which local meteorologist is the best?). Unlike last year, we fielded no animal-themed questions, but we did get a bunch of geography-related stumpers.
We hope these answers tide you over until next year. In the meantime, we’re looking to you, the reader, to gin up some more mysteries. Keep it weird and keep asking. –Emily Q. Hazzard
The District didn’t have anything to do with this work of public art. Rebecca and Yancey Burns own the home at 1208 6th St. NE, one side of which is visible from Florida Avenue, and decided this past March to commission the mural to celebrate and better identify the neighborhood. After consulting a list of artists provided by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, they decided to hire Coby Kennedy, a D.C.-raised graffiti artist and car designer who has painted city-commissioned murals in Eckington and Blagden Alley, though none in this exact style. The entire process took about two weeks during last year’s cold snap, and though he couldn’t feel his hands during part of the painting process, Kennedy still describes the work as one of his favorites.
The Burnses first heard the area referred to as “Old City” by their neighbors, who’ve lived in the neighborhood for decades. “We’re not quite NoMa, not quite Union Market, not quite H Street, and definitely not Capitol Hill North,” Rebecca says. “So we asked our neighbors, the Halls (who have been in the neighborhood since the ‘50s) what they call our neighborhood, and they told us they’ve always called it Old City.” (The Burns’ home is located in Old City 1, as defined by the D.C. Tax and Revenue Office.) Since Florida Avenue formed the northern boundary of the L’Enfant city when it was first designed, this neighborhood is one of D.C.’s oldest, though now it’s commonly referred to as Near Northeast.
As for whether or not the residents call themselves “Old Citizens,” they certainly could. However, the preferred term for a resident of the District is not Petworthian or Georgetowner or Hill East-er; it’s Washingtonian. —Caroline Jones
Now? Probably not. (Unless you’re a reporter or have internal connections, in which case, whoop-de-doo for you. Stop clogging our inbox.)
But check back in a couple of weeks. Tours will soon be open to the public, according to Braulio Agnese, a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit Arts Coalition for the Dupont Underground, which clinched a 2010 bid for the site and signed a five-and-a-half year lease with the city last month. ACDU will set up an online ticketing system where locals curious about the history of the abandoned trolley station underneath Dupont Circle can sign up—and pay a $10-$20 fee—for a guided look-see. Tours will be limited, in part to preserve a sense of exclusivity.
“Subterranean spaces are compelling in and of themselves, whether it’s a hole in the ground, or a cave, or a forgotten basement space somewhere,” Agnese says. “[The Dupont Underground] is in such a prominent location and has been sitting here completely lost to the local memory. It was a major bit of infrastructural work that happened in the ‘40s, and that history is all buried and forgotten.”
The 75,000-square-foot space will start hosting one-off programs—concerts, site-specific art installations, special events—later this year and, ACDU hopes, eventually become a community gathering space that advances the city’s homegrown arts and culture.
For now, though, it’s a rough draft. When you do take the tour, you’ll have to sign a waiver to enter, since it’s not yet up to code. The floor’s uneven, the lighting’s a little dim, and it’s far from ADA-compliant. “It’s not like pieces are falling from the ceiling,” Agnese says, but it’s “kind of like a construction site.” Luckily, you have some time to bedazzle your hard-hat. —Christina Cauterucci
The answer’s clearer if you look at old maps of the city. Currently, it looks like that little block of F Street between 1st and 2nd streets SE comes out of nowhere, and G could just as easily be renamed F to fill out the grid. But before the freeways got in the way, it made more sense. A map of the early Pierre L’Enfant grid shows F Street SW extending eastward to South Capitol Street, then pausing for a block and picking up where that itty bit exists today. The jog at Marion Park also shoots E Street out farther to the south as it heads east, leaving it about equidistant from D and G streets, with little room for an F Street there. —Aaron Wiener
I assumed initially that the reason was environmental. In many countries, it’s common to paint the base of trees white in a practice called whitewashing, which protects trees from dehydration or cracking caused by the sun, or from insects. The Liberian Embassy isn’t the only building with white-painted trees: The Inter-American Defense Board at 16th and Euclid streets NW also features trees in these botanical knee socks, and there are probably others.
But when I called the embassy, the answer I got was a little cryptic and far more intriguing. “The first reason is solidarity,” said the embassy’s Wede Tamba, relaying a message from the deputy ambassador. “And secondly for purity. Third is because of our [annual independence] celebration on July 26, and most of the time during the celebration we paint it white.” —Aaron Wiener
This one had just about everyone stumped, from Takoma history buffs to city planning officials. The questioner shared a photo of the pond in her backyard, which looks like an oversized, kidney bean-shaped concrete bathtub, and said she knows of at least five more in the surrounding blocks. Very mysterious.
But not so to Brendan Meyer, a historic preservation specialist for D.C., who posits a theory (and emphasizes it’s just that). His office’s library is full of home improvement books from the 1950s, which taught enterprising homeowners to work with, among other materials, concrete. The books had lessons in mixing concrete, pouring sidewalks and bird baths, and building pools like the one in the photo. “We speculate,” he writes, “that the pond and the others are 1950s vintage and homeowner DIY projects.”
The 1950s timeline makes sense, Meyer continues, because of two recent innovations in concrete: the development of easy-to-mix Portland cement and the invention of moisture-proof bags. After the Great Depression and World War II, he says, homeowners could easily buy bagged concrete that they just had to mix with water.
And why Takoma? Meyer says the ponds could just as easily have appeared in other middle-class, spacious D.C. neighborhoods in the 1950s. “But we come across regularly a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ pattern of unorthodox home improvements. They concentrate simply because one person does it first, the neighbors see it and like it, so they copy it. Nothing mysterious in that.” —Aaron Wiener
The current owner of the Adams Morgan deli, Mark Kim, has run So’s Your Mom for nearly a decade, and the place has changed hands a couple of times since it opened in 1984. One of the original owners, Alan Balaran, sold the business in 1989 and is now an attorney in D.C. The self-described “misplaced Brooklynite” opened the deli with his landlord, Marty Feldman from the Bronx, because the two felt there was no place in the city to buy real meats. (They used to travel to New York to buy their sandwich stuffings.) Before that, Balaran managed a bar across the street from So’s Your Mom called Columbia Station, different from the one that exists in Adams Morgan now, that had a sign on the door reading, “proper attire discouraged.”
So, about that name: “It was an insult when I was a kid. That was all. It probably had a few more expletives, but that was sort of the gist of it,” Balaran says. “It was really kind of simple.”
Jason Kim, the current owner’s son, says his father has never considered changing the name. In fact, the deli as a whole has remained almost exactly the same as it was from the beginning. “It works,” Kim says. “We just felt no reason to change it.” —Jessica Sidman
Misaligned pedestrian signals have probably been hit by trucks, buses, or other large vehicles, says Michelle Phipps-Evans, a spokesperson for the D.C. Department of Transportation. The equipment is pretty sturdy, she adds, so correctly mounted lights aren’t usually affected by gusts of wind.
If you see an out-of-whack pedestrian light, contact 311 by phone, through its app, or through its website. “Generally people have been tweeting us,” says Phipps-Evans with an air of calm patience, the opposite tone that people with complaints commonly use on Twitter. For twisted-but-not-broken lights, you can expect a repair team to arrive within two hours of your report and within 24 hours if the signal is completely out.
Phipps-Evans adds that she doesn’t know of any accidents caused by downed fixtures, but advises everyone to be cautious and exercise common sense: “Personally, I would look at the [pedestrian light] behind me to see if it’s safe to cross. We want people to be patient, we’re not everywhere so we don’t know where everything is off.” And while readers might feel briefly thrilled by the satisfaction of publicly shaming DDOT on social media for such outages, it won’t speed up the process. —Emily Q. Hazzard
Haven’t you seen Speed?! The U.S. Capitol Police figure that terrorists have. Capitol Police wary of someone turning a bus into a mobile bomb have flagged down buses as they approach the Capitol since January 2004. After checking that the bus hasn’t been stolen or hijacked, police flag the bus on.
As for whether it actually prevents terrorist attacks, it’s hard to know, since no stolen-Metro-bus plots have ever been carried out (or foiled, to my knowledge). But there is something that draws crazies to buses. The Belgian terror cell busted last week reportedly planned to take over a bus. Just last October in Anne Arundel County, Md., a couple stole a school bus from a parking lot. The Capitol Police probably don’t have to worry about this pair, though—police say they just wanted to make a cigarette run. —Will Sommer
Yes. No. It’s complicated.
It’s true that D.C. has liberalized its marijuana laws over the last year, but Colorado we’re not. In July, D.C. decriminalized the possession of less than ounce of marijuana, dropping the penalty from possible jail time to a $25 ticket. And in November, 65 percent of D.C. voters cast ballots in favor of Initiative 71, but even that only really increased the amount you can legally possess to two ounces, as well as permitted the home cultivation of up to six plants and the unpaid transfer of up to an ounce.
So you can grow it, carry it, and pass it off to friends, right? Well, this is where it gets complicated. Initiative 71 isn’t yet law, and it’s unclear whether it will ever become law. Congressional Republicans say they blocked the ballot initiative in a December spending bill, but D.C. officials disagree. They’ve transmitted the measure to Capitol Hill for the usual 30-day review, prompting some Republicans to threaten a lawsuit to keep the city in line. The congressional review ends on Feb. 26, but it remains to be seen how long the legal wrangling over Initiative 71 could continue thereafter.
You could claim a medical necessity and register for the city’s medical marijuana program, of course. Last year, D.C. officials scrapped a restrictive list of qualifying conditions, making it substantially easier for the mildly infirm to gain access to legal pot. But there are even caveats there: You’d have to buy your weed from one of the three dispensaries in town, which means higher prices, and you still wouldn’t be allowed to smoke in public.
So, unless you’re a registered medical marijuana user, smoking weed remains illegal. But that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t partake; pot prohibition hasn’t stopped millions from doing so already, nor should it stop you. Take some basic precautions in how you procure your pot and where you smoke it, and don’t be an idiot and drive after you’ve smoked. —Martin Austermuhle
To crown the area’s best meteorologist, we could theoretically cobble together forecasts for every day over the past months or years. Comprehensive data on past weather is readily available online, but past weather forecasts are another story. For some forecasters, everything they publish gets timestamped and archived on their organization’s website. For others, this week’s forecasts disappear online like newspapers thrown in the trash.
Regardless, tracking forecasts for every ordinary day isn’t the right way to say who’s best. This isn’t the English Premier League, so meteorology champions are not made in the regular season. It’s during snow season in D.C. that you find out which meteorologist has the grit to come through when it really counts.
The most accurate meteorology team this winter has been the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. Sure, they were an inch or two short in their prediction for Jan. 6, the day D.C. had the greatest accumulation so far this year. But the local ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC weather teams weren’t any closer.
The Gang really distinguished itself the day before Jan. 12’s freezing rain episode, which caused a two-hour delay for federal agencies. “Major roads that are treated should be mainly just wet,” the team predicted on Jan. 11. That turned out to be correct. It was also an admirable display of restraint for weather-predicting types.
Compare that to a story from the Fox 5 website on the night of Jan. 11. “Seriously, this is a serious situation and you need to be aware of the potential problems BEFORE you try to leave your house on Monday,” the story says. “There’s no nice way to put it: If you live in the D.C. region and you travel on the roads—or sidewalks—to work/school/wherever you need to go, your trip will be impacted.”
Capital Weather Gang’s team had the skill and the steadiness of mind to emerge from the competition this season when it mattered most. —Zach Rausnitz
During the headiest days of Cold War mania, the District had over 1,000 fallout shelters. If you go looking for one when the Big One hits, though, you’ll just die tired.
The real problem with fallout shelters, however, is the same one Washingtonians faced 50 years ago: in the event of a nuclear strike on D.C., everyone in the city limits would fry. Fallout shelters might be useful for Baltimoreans 40 miles away, but they’d be useless in the event of a direct attack here.
For another—and this is hard to know for sure—the shelters are probably all gone by now, consumed by the ravages of time and the District’s rapacious real estate market. If you do find one and hope to survive on its half-century-old rations, though, the city isn’t vouching for your safety. The District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency doesn’t track any of the remaining fallout shelters.
All that’s left, then, is to enjoy the remaining fallout shelter signs. Fallout shelter enthusiast website District Fallout estimates that the signs you can see today represent just 5 to 10 percent of the District’s original fallout shelter sign population. That number should keep slowly declining as old buildings are torn down.
In the event of a nuclear attack on the city, of course, they (and you) will be gone much faster than that. —Will Sommer
While technology may be advancing, the government still runs on paper.
“Taxicab drivers’ manifests must be kept for two years and made available upon request from a government agency, generally for a court-related matter,” says a spokesperson for the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Manifests include information like place of origin and destination, fare charged, and the number of passengers transported. The paper copies are kept by the drivers, who must make them available upon request. Drivers can be fined $25 for failing to complete and maintain the manifest, $50 for failure to have an approved form in their possession, and $100 for failing to make the manifest available to a hack inspector, law enforcement official, or DCTC employee.
When asked if the electronic payment systems now required in all D.C. cabs will one day allow for a paperless system, the spokesperson said, “Presumably there may come a time, but currently street hails must be recorded on a paper manifest.” —Sarah Anne Hughes
As we’ve learned, the federal government can close for a number of reasons, from a holiday to a congressionally-caused shutdown to some light drizzle. But just because employees of The Man have the day off, that doesn’t mean regular D.C. residents and visitors can skip feeding the meter.
In 2015, the federal government will observe ten holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, while D.C.’s parking meters will not be in service on 11 holidays designated by the D.C. government. The additional city holiday is D.C. Emancipation Day, which marks the passage of an act in 1862 that ended slavery in the District, freeing more than 3,100 people and allowing Councilmember Vincent Orange to organize a $20,000 prayer breakfast.
Should the federal government close for another reason, like snow, D.C. parking meters will be in service, even if a snow emergency is declared. Meters are not in service on Sundays.
If you don’t want to pay for parking on the other 302 days a year, become a D.C. councilmember: They do not have to feed the meters or, in most cases, observe parking regulations. —Sarah Anne Hughes
There aren’t, exactly, although there’s still plenty of room for confusion. There’s a Randolph Street NW (in Petworth) and a Randolph Street NE (in Brookland and Woodridge). And then there’s the Randolph Place in Bloomingdale. This caused no shortage of mix-ups a few years ago, as befuddled 20-somethings attempted to visit their friends in one of the newly gentrifying but still unfamiliar neighborhoods of Petworth and Bloomingdale and ended up in the wrong one.
But Randolph Place isn’t completely illogical or unique: Two blocks south of Randolph Place is Quincy Place, which also has a sibling street in Petworth. On late-19th-century maps of Bloomingdale, Randolph and Quincy places don’t appear. Instead, like other small streets, they were added into the grid, following an alliterative pattern used elsewhere in the historic city. The street north of R Street NW near Logan Circle became Riggs Place; north of S was Swann Street. (And north of Q was Corcoran—close enough.) In Bloomingdale, it was the same, with Quincy, Randolph, and Seaton moving in north of Q, R, and S.
Now if you want to get truly confused, Randolph Street actually used to be named Omaha Street, while Taylor was called Quincy. But let’s save that for another time. —Aaron Wiener
There isn’t one, because you haven’t written it yet! Sadly, local history experts could not provide us with a single comprehensive source, but we did get a few suggestions.
An employee at the D.C. Public Library’s Washingtoniana collection, based out of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, could not make a definitive suggestion, but said they “generally refer people to” Amy L. Alotta’s George Washington Never Slept Here.
That book—a researched history of D.C.’s major streets—is also what the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. recommends, according to Collections Manager Anne McDonough and Director of Development Adam P. Lewis.
“The streets were largely renamed by the D.C. Commissioners in the early 1900s,” Lewis explains, adding that annual reports from the Commissioners of the District of Columbia from that era may be helpful. (Those can be accessed through hathitrust.org.) Articles from the Washington Post on the subject—“Streets Named Anew: Commissioners Fix Highway Nomenclature for Suburbs” from August 1901 and “New Street Names: Nomenclature for Section in the Far Northwest” from August 1905—also contain useful information, says Lewis.
For related information, McDonough recommends an 1897 address by federal judge Alexander B. Hagner given before the Columbian Historical Society. “Street Nomenclature of Washington City,” says McDonough, “includes some great historical suggestions for alternate names to streets.” You can check that out in person at the Historical Society’s Kiplinger Research Library and through JSTOR with a membership. —Sarah Anne Hughes
Sushi Taro (near Dupont Circle) serves a teuchi kamatama udon that’s not only the best bowl of noodles around, but one of my favorite dishes of any kind in D.C. The Japanese restaurant makes its own slippery white noodles, which have just the right amount of chewy al dente bite. They’re topped with shredded nori, tempura crunchies, grated daikon, green onion, bonito flakes, and best of all, a creamy poached egg. It’s not quite a soup: The noodles ($12.95) come with a small side cup of soy-based broth, which you can pour over the dish. Mix the ingredients together, and don’t be afraid to slurp. —Jessica Sidman
This one has a clear and unambiguous answer: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is our fair city’s most consistently rewarding home for brand-new and nearly-brand-new works for the stage.
All but a handful of the company’s 35 seasons to date have featured at least one world premiere. In the early ‘90s, Woolly’s was the first stage on which a trio of Nicky Silver plays, er, played: Fat Men in Skirts, Free Will & Wanton Lust, and The Food Chain. In 2000, the theater hosted the U.S. premiere of Tracy Letts’ Bug. In the 21st century, it’s been the first home for pieces by Sandra Tsing Loh (I Worry), Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (The Velvet Sky), Sarah Ruhl (Dead Man’s Cell Phone), and the monologuist Mike Daisey, who “birthed” (his term, sorry) the post-9/11-hysteria-themed If You See Something, Say Something and the troubled (that is, partially fabricated) Apple exposé The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Woolly.
Woolly’s superb 2010 production of Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park overlapped with its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in New York City by one week; the play went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Woolly remount the following year. That triumph seemed to usher in a new golden age for new plays at Woolly: The next three seasons brought the world premieres of Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, Anne Washburn’s stunningly perceptive Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, and Aaron Posner’s Chekov remix Stupid Fucking Bird, which also earned a Woolly remount along with productions in at least a dozen other U.S. cities so far. No other D.C. company comes close to Woolly’s record of introducing important new works to the world. —Chris Klimek
Bars and clubs can’t serve alcohol past 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends (although there are extended hours on certain holidays for registered establishments). The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration sent me a spreadsheet with the operating hours of every place in its database as of Aug. 27. While some places list operating hours beyond 3 a.m., it’s tough to find any that actually stay open that late. (There’s typically not much point in staying open if you can’t sell alcohol.) One exception: Flash at 645 Florida Ave. NW. It usually closes between 4 and 5 a.m. on weekends and 2:30 or 3 a.m. on weeknights. For New Year’s Eve, the club hosts a party that runs 16 hours—from 8 p.m. til noon the next day.
For the most part, if you’re looking for somewhere to go after last call, restaurants provide the best refuge. The Diner in Adams Morgan and Tastee Diner, which has three suburban locations, are open 24/7 for your pancake or burger cravings. If you happen to be in Annandale, Honey Pig and Yechon serve Korean barbecue at any hour. Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe never closes on Friday and Saturday, and the recently opened Surfside at 1800 N St. NW serves tacos at all times.
Other good options in the wee hours that don’t involve a Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smoke: Fast Gourmet, which is open until 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and Amsterdam Falafelshop, whose 14th Street NW and Adams Morgan locations are open until 4 a.m. on weekends. New Big Wong, a favorite after-hours spot of restaurant industry folks, is also open until 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. —Jessica Sidman
What you can legally do with archery equipment in the District depends on how you intend to use it. Although one Metropolitan Police Department public information officer wondered aloud whether a bow and arrow would be considered a dangerous weapon, archery enthusiast Dave Burpee, a member of Northern Virginia Archers, quickly set the record straight: “If you can kill a moose and a grizzly and a cape buffalo with a bow, you can do some damage.” If that somehow doesn’t impress you, note that Katniss Everdeen can take out not one but two fighter jets with a bow and arrow.
The D.C. Code says you can’t “possess, with intent to use unlawfully against another…[a] dangerous weapon,” and you can’t kill or trap any wildlife in the District. So while you’re in D.C., don’t aim your weapon at anything living, and we don’t recommend walking around downtown with an arrow notched in your bow. However, Jonathan Clingerman, a D.C. police detective and member of Northern Virginia Archers, says you can transport your bow in the city “with no issues.”
Legal issues aside, there aren’t any archery ranges in the District itself. But if you’re interested in firing a bow, it’s easy to get started. “Find a club and show up. Talk to people,” suggests Burpee. There’s a dazzling array of equipment to choose from, so club members will often let newbies try out their gear. You’re likely to start practicing on a flat, paper target, but 3-D target options are available (and thrillingly diverse): Bury an arrow in anything from your run-of-the-mill deer model to the Michelin man, dinosaurs, giant frogs, zombie heads, or basically anything else toward which you feel a deep-seated rage or irrational fear.
There are a number of clubs and learning opportunities in Maryland and Virginia. The Belvoir Bow Hunters Club meets at Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia, which has an “Olympic-grade” shooting facility, says longtime member David Coleman. The DC Archery Club (a Meetup group with almost 400 members) convenes regularly at Lake Needwood, and Northern Virginia Archers has practice ranges in Fountainhead Regional Park, near Clifton, Va. Prince George’s County Department of Recreation offers archery lessons on Sundays in spring and summer at Adelphi Manor. —Emily Q. Hazzard
For the most part, unfortunately, no. DC101 is really the only station that consistently programs a reliable type of “independent” and alternative music. And even then, most of the artists that the station plays have been on the Top 40 charts at some point.
However, there are a few exceptions that are worth checking out if your commute takes you through Northwest or near University of Maryland. There’s Radio CPR, the volunteer-run Mount Pleasant-based community station. Though its programming varies based on who’s DJing, you can usually expect independent, punk, and experimental music. There’s also WMUC, UMD’s radio station.
While many other local schools (including George Washington University, American, and Georgetown) forced their student-run stations online by selling their frequencies long ago, UMD is hanging on to its radio real estate. It’s a low-watt station, so you won’t be able to hear it more than a few miles from campus, but it’s got the eclectic mix of up-to-the-minute music expected of any reputable college station. —Maxwell Tani