City Paper is not for tourists.
Your internship in the nation’s capital will be a blast no matter what. One minute you’ll be working on key issues on the Hill, the next you’ll be attending a reception replete with heavy hitters and policy wonks. And come quitting time, you’ll be sticking your head through the sunroof of your buddy’s Jetta, shouting to chicks on M Street. Still, your time here is short. Depending on your assignment, you’ll have eight to 10 weeks to make the most out of your intern experience.
That leaves little time for trial and error. Unlike residents, you don’t have the luxury of choosing a bogus weekend outing, or going to a terrible restaurant, or taking the Metro when you should be riding the bus. It’s critical that you make the best moves right off the bat. To assist you on your way, we’ve compiled the following tips for staying on the inside track. Remember to relax and have funyou’re on top of the world in the nation’s capital.
So many things can go wrong in the big city: Your electricity fails, your car gets stolen, you get mugged, you find a dead cat outside LuLu’s, your trash sits out back too long.
Relax. There’s one sure-fire place to go whenever things go wrong: the city government. D.C. spends more tax dollars per capita on its residents than just about any other place in the country. The generous outlays go directly toward helping people like you get through the day. So just call 727-1000, which is the city’s main switchboard, and explain your problem. The switchboard operator in all likelihood will immediately dispatch a city employee to address your problem. If not, you will be transferred to the appropriate person. Problem solved.
In most big cities, parking is a huge headache that clouds every decision about where you eat, drink, shop, and so on. Not so in D.C. Sure, every street in the District is pocked with signs stipulating when and where you can park legally. But in practice, the District is more like a European city, where you can park on the sidewalks and in front of hydrants with impunity. Although city workers are quick to respond to your complaints and requests, they are slow to jump on you for parking violations, especially if you’re from out of town.
Cab rides are cheap, safe, comfortable, and enjoyable. The drivers know the city like nobody’s businessthanks to a rigorous training course run by city authorities. Fares are governed by an easy-to-follow zone system that leaves no room for ambiguity or interpretation. If you think your driver is overcharging you, think again: Drivers are penalized severely for violating cab rules, and they just don’t do it. Don’t embarrass yourself by challenging them.
Metro, the city’s subway system, is dirty, crime-ridden, slow, and hotter than hell in the summer months. Stay away from Metro, except as a ride home after a late night of partying. And if you do ride, make sure to stand on the left on all escalators, a holdover from the British occupation here.
After a week of sweating on Metrobuses, sweating at Garrett’s, and sweating at your intern softball games, you’ll want to take a nice refreshing dip in a sparkling swimming hole. Gather some buddies, hop into the Jetta, and head out to the National Arboretum in Northeast. Follow the road to the far end of the plot, run down the hill, and leap headlong into the Anacostia River below. The river is fed by thousands of cold freshwater springs that have been refreshing overheated Washingtonians for centuries. No need to bother with flip-flops or protective footwear: The Anacostia’s bed is all sand.
If you can’t make it to the river, try the Northwest Washington home of political commentator Carl Rowan. Rowan is such a man of the people that he opens his private pool every summer to the community. Jump right in; there’s no need to call ahead or knock.
Another way to beat the heat is to camp out right smack on the Washington Monument grounds. The best approach here is to grab a keg or beer ball and plop it on the grass. As you drain a mug of brew, you will bask in the cool winds coming off the highlands of Arlington County. And don’t worry about open container laws: Park Service police, who patrol the Mall, have long said they’d rather have revelers drinking on the Mall than drinking and driving around it.
When the day is done, head out for a stroll on scenic New York Avenue NE. The choicest stretch of this pedestrian heaven runs from the Wendy’s at the intersection of Florida Avenue all the way up to the Checkers at the intersection of Bladensburg Road. In between is a jumble of quaint shops, hotels, and storage spaces that attracts a nightly throng of sidewalk traffic.
The Washington area is one of the finest places anywhere to sample the world’s cultures. Some places around town, though, are better than others for multicultural exposure. The No. 1 cultural mixing bowl around here is without a doubt Old Town Alexandria. From the waterfront boardwalk just off King Street all the way back to the National Bakers and Confectioners Association deep in Old Town, you’ll find a global microcosm of the most fascinating sort.
Keep in mind that D.C. is a bastion of haute couture. If you’re a woman, for example, prepare to be mocked and ostracized if you step off the bus or subway wearing a suit and white Reebok aerobic shoes for comfort. That sort of stuff just doesn’t fly here.
If you’re a guy, don’t even experiment with staid, conservative business attire like the classic blue shirt with white collar. You’ll get laughed right out of happy hour at the Ha’ Penny Lion.
Washington loves mavericks, so don’t fall in with the crowd that faithfully follows the trends of the day. A good way to establish your trend-bucking credentials this summer is to develop an interest in, say, cigars and martinis.
You won’t be able to finish your internship without a visit from your parents, so plan a set of activities for them right away. If they come on a really hot weekend, there’s no better retreat than King’s Dominion, which is just an hour south of D.C. King’s Dominion gives you and your folks a break from the concrete, stifling heat, and crowds of the District.
If your parents insist on staying in the District, be sure to stop by the Ibex Club on Georgia Avenue. Don’t let the darkened neon fool youthings are always hopping at the ‘Bex. Your folks will soak up the soothing music and atmosphere. They’ll want to stay all night. CP