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Waking up in the District can be a rousing experience. You put the coffee on, let Spot out to take a pee on that three-week-old pile of garbage, and scoop up a copy of the Washington Post to find out what kind of fun and games your tax dollars have been up to.
“Ring Used Religion as Cover to Sneak Drugs Into Lorton,” read the headline of the story in the Sept. 27 edition. The details? A group of prison “volunteers” posing as believers in the Moorish Science religion sneaked into the city’s Lorton prison. It turns out their liturgy involved selling dope and shooting porn videos.
Ah yes, nothing like a little community news to not only accompany that morning coffee, but make you spill it as well. Things might settle down for a day or two, but then a reporter will get jumped in a District school or some more dead people will turn up on a District payroll, and life will seem new again. Network TV takes a lot of abuse for mixing news and entertainment. Here in D.C., the two are fused from the start.
No such luck in Prince William County. Take, for example, a sample of headlines of community doings down yonder: “Truce in Beaver War,” “Ostrich Makes Feathers Fly at Prince William Fair,” and “No Hot Topics in Manassas Council Race.” This last zinger, courtesy of the Post’s weekly Virginia section, quotes a 16-year city council incumbent: “We really don’t have any issues.”
And you know you’ve left the District when you read these Prince William gems: “SAT Scores Hold Steady,” “Superintendent to Stay,” and “School Dispute Ends.” Prince William’s Potomac News, drowning in nonstories, does what it can to make little out of nothing. Front-page heads announce, “Ramp Proposed for Lot,” “Board Approves Project,” and “Suspect Is Located in Jail.”
Prince William’s only scandal this year involved a Potomac High School activities director charged with placing a hidden camera in the girl’s bathroom. That was just after residents of a Prince William subdivision found a bear wandering outside the 2-inch-thick walls of their carpeted town houses. “My husband got up and said, ‘Holy Cow, there’s a bear,’” one shaken resident told the Post.
Some stories are simply perplexing: “Kids Find Dog Fight Training Ground,” declares a Page One banner headline of the Potomac News. Another profiles a Dale City man indicted for allegedly trafficking in turtles and snakes. In fact, animal stories almost outnumber weather stories. The county fair, featuring three 7-foot-tall ostriches pulling chariots, attracted 20 animal-rights activists this year. Police arrested the leader of a poultry-rights group on a trespassing charge, making this the most controversial fair since a mule climbed a 30-foot tower and dove into a 6-foot-deep tank of water in 1988.
One story managed to masterfully combine weather and creatures: “Penguins to Help Area Handle Winter Weather.” Don’t ask.
Potomac News has room for a regular section called “Hobbies,” packed with helpful crochet stories. And the Lifestyles department apparently thinks only kids have lives. One day’s features covered how to combat boredom in kids, how to make them eat vegetables, and how to deal with attention-deficit disorder. Suddenly, the Reliable Source looks hip. City life, thank God, has little time for news-you-can-use.
To be fair, Prince William underwent its own juicy crises this year, as activists protested a new railroad route, fought a planned radio tower, and debated the extension of water and sewage pipes into rural regions. In nearby Fauquier County, 513 residents signed a petition demanding their own zip code, unique from Prince William’s. Worthy causes, all, but clearly not the makings of fast and fun living.
Deep down, I think, Prince Williamites might agree. Last summer, for example, 200 Prince William teachers forayed into the District for a glimpse of the wild side. The legion of educators, sporting fanny packs and camcorders, took the field trip into Adams Morgan to help them understand minority and immigrant students. Larry Bell, head of multicultural education for Prince William schools, armed the teachers with maps of the ‘hood and recommended nine Hispanic restaurants for lunch. Bell warned them not to wander off and explained to the Post that “Adams Morgan is a friendly place, but it’s still the city.”
And that’s just how we like it, thank you. Washington is brimming with the things that keep fanny packs at bay. So take comfort in the angst and infamy. This is living.