Washington, D.C.: A guide to awkward conversations

Everyone at some point will find themselves chilling at a party or an event where they don’t know anyone. One minute one is lingering on the fringes of conversation comfortably, cool drink in hand. And then all eyes turn: Your interrogation as begun. Better be ready to answer these played-out questions in an interesting way or it’s going to be a long night.

1. What do you do? Don’t get too into it, no one really cares.  While the most popular question in D.C., this is also the one most likely to bring out boring answers. You’re better off making something up. Suggested: I play the buckets in front of Verizon Center.

2. Where are you from? Don’t be too specific — people only want to know how many minutes Hoboken is from The City, not that you were the youngest elected city councilman. Suggested: I’m from right here, sonnn!

3. What neighborhood do you live in? Then, depending on the popular stereotype of your neighborhood, prepare for subquestions: a) If you don’t mind me asking, how much is the rent? OR b) I heard it’s dangerous there; is that true? Suggested: Actually, I live off the land.

4. How do you get to work? This is like pulling an emergency fire alarm — you are never going to befriend someone while talking about the easiest way to drive to Dunn Loring or HOW MUCH THE METRO SUCKS. Great opportunity to make something up: Oh, I get to the office by rickshaw!

5. Where did you go to school? Because everyone that lives in D.C. went to college, obviously. Actually, more than half of people aged over 25 don’t have a bachelor’s or better. Similarly, not everyone in the city works in politics or the government. This one’s easy: Just get offended. 

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Sprucing up

A corner store on East Capitol Street, post-renovation.

A corner store on East Capitol Street, post-renovation.

In the past I wondered aloud (on the Internet) whether the crappy stores in my neck of the woods would go out of business, a la Eastern Thrifty Market, or adapt to a more upscale clientele that is undeniably moving and grooving into basically all of Ward 6.

15th and East Capitol Street.

15th and East Capitol Street, pre-reno.

Formerly known as D.C. Express Market, The Cupboard (at least that is the new name of the establishment according to a receipt) has taken a pretty grim looking storefront and adding plantings and a nice new paint job; though the steel cage still comes down when the store is closed. I also notice the clutter of signs is now gone, replaced by upscale tease that is Green Mountain Coffee.

One would hope and think that a revamped exterior would also beget some fresh produce and products beyond chips and beer that are still the only draws of this place and many others like it. The cashier said  that is on the way; I am not sure if I believe him. 7-Elevens at least serve bananas. I like the new cupboard, but the owners need to make sure the fancy new cabinetry isn’t bare inside.

Update: Since this post got picked up by the Hill East email group, wanted to clarify the store has some produce now, as noted by the owner in the comments. A step in the right direction; we are all happy for the upgrade and I shan’t be attending S.E. Market anymore.

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Drunktank, DCCranktank the same thing to Google

Perhaps this explains my low traffic numbers.

Perhaps this explains my low traffic numbers.

There are a million different strategies to increase your web traffic, but almost all of them rely on getting Google to spit up your site at the top of its search queries.

Even though this blog has been around for more than a year, Google suggests when you search for it that instead you were probably searching for “drunktank.” That would be a pretty rough typo.

I’m kind of insulted that being around for 14 months and having drawn a modest, but five-digit number of visits Google is directing people instead to “drunktank.” It’s a problem that would drive me to drink, but I’m pretty sure where I would end up.

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Shady lenders lurking as the Hill appreciates

Vacant houses and prominent intersections across Hill East have been targeted by speculators -- and probably rip-off artists.

Vacant houses and prominent intersections across Hill East have been targeted by speculators -- and probably rip-off artists.

They move the people out, raise the value and sell it at a profit.

Furious Styles’s monologue in “Boyz N The Hood” was my first explicit notification of the sometimes-nefarious forces behind the “g word” — gentrification. We don’t get a lot of land speculation in the Maine suburbs, but the DMV sure does.

The idea is to target decrepit houses the owners are desperate to get rid of as well as those who need housing and basically run wild with lowball offers and runaway loan deals on purchase and home repairs. There’s an entire book about this industry, “Broke USA.” The “poverty industry,” as Gary Rivlin dubs it, wants to simply rip off your neighborhood — it’s deeper than trying to flip your property, these leaches just want to get you in debt and often project themselves as being community assets.

"Cash for your home." You know what that is?   -- Furious Styles

"Cash for your home." You know what that is? -- Furious Styles

There are about a half dozen vacant, boarded-up houses on A Street SE; at least three of them have signs as seen above and to the left, advertising impossibly good deals and quick real estate transactions. But the proprietors are smart enough not to put their names on the signs or even on their voice messages. 800 346 9889 goes straight to the mailbox of someone named “Spoon” who wants callers to leave their name and number. I declined.

A bit disturbed by the appearance of these signs, I tried to use my very modest vertical leap to rip down a sign wired onto a telephone poll after a night of revelry revelry. I failed, because whoever put the sign up really wanted it to stay there. Shown in the top photo, a beautiful old house that has looked like a frowning jack o’lantern for months if not years has a sign that someone keeps knocking down. One of the schemers keeps propping it back up.

From a handful of tomes I have read on the topic, real estate transactions should always go through a reputable lender, the kind willing to put their name on their legally placed signs. Vacant properties in Old City are certainly worth in the six figures even if the house is a teardown. And like Rent-A-Center or Aaron’s, no credit check and no money down on real estate repairs or purchases means being charged multiple times what a product is worth in interest. So if anyone can jump higher than me, I’d love if you could pluck these signs down.

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Fatboy’s take: Modern-day superhero

Fatboy's take on Aug. 26, 2011.

Fatboy's take on Aug. 26, 2011.

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Want to learn to love the Nats? Hate the Phils first

The quickest way to become a Nationals fan is to attend a game against the Phillies at Nationals Park.

I was there on Saturday, the most-attended game ever at South Capitol Street. As you may know, 90 percent were Phillies fans.

The atmosphere was great, if tense. Any running of the mouth by myself or Squirrel Master was met with quick and unimaginative retorts (After being asked who the Phils’ starting left fielder is, one fatso said, “Are you challenging me when your team is 20 games back?!?!). But I have been to about a dozen Nationals games in the new park and can attest to never feeling the same buzz that I felt on Saturday. The crowd was super loud and decked out, a very memorable experience. But to those that boarded MegaBus to get to the game…

-Why the generic insults? F&# you you F#*in’ bum? Not really the first thing I think of to yell at a family event. And let’s be real, MLB games are indeed family-friendly. Phillies fans are not.

-If they are at a sold-out game and are NOT in your own city, why did spme Philly fans think it was legit to try to move up and steal peoples’ seats? The same group of knuckleheads would swoop in any time someone got up: Dudeskies, those people are coming back! Plus, you are yelling in my ear.

-Hating on Jason Werth is just weak? He left for more money than Philly would pay, and he is playing poorly. Does that necessitate a “Jayson Werth-less” champ when he catches a routine fly? No. Hate one of our good players, not our bad ones.

-When did you get those Hunter Pence shirts? Any good sports fan knows the older your team jersey, the more respect you get. Hunter Pence was traded to Philly less than a month ago — just enough time to buy those T-shirt jerseys we saw all over the park this weekend. Hardcore, brah.

I grew up in New England, became a Red Sox fan and went to Maryland, where I became a Terps basketball fan. I know obnoxious fans. It’s what has gradually driven me to the Nationals; the Red Sox national success story became my nightmare. Pink Red Sox hats and scuffle-ready chowderheads with B hats roaming Portland represented everything wrong with my team’s success.

But it’s those obnoxious Phillies fans that may, may have pushed me over the fence I have long been straddling between the Red Sox and Nationals. It felt good to be one of a handful cheering for Washington in my section, the kind of glum moment that leads to a lifelong bond with a team. The opposite, in fact, of the phenomenon Thomas Boswell described on Sunday, a Nats comeback win over Philly.

Out of perhaps 25,000 fans left in the park (a 71-minute delay for a thunderstorm thinned the crowd), it seemed maybe a hundred were Nats fans. Yet the instant the winning run was waved home, half the park stood and cheered. Who are they, these secret, ashamed or cerebral Nat fans?

Actually, all it took was four hours being around people who can’t afford tickets to Citizens Bank Park to convert me. I’m not ready to denounce the Red Sox, but I am ready to denounce the Phillies.

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Nats a wild card contender, on paper

From today's paper.

From today's paper.

Chalk this agate under things we haven’t seen this decade: The Nationals being included in the Wild Card race standings.

It’s a tad bit misleading: Yes, the Nationals, at 58-63 are technically a team with a shot at the Wild Card spot, however unlikely. But so are the Pirates and Rockies, who have the same amount of wins as the Nats but more losses, placing them fractions of percentage points behind Washington’s baseball team. And those teams conveniently — and understandably — didn’t make the hometown paper’s cut. It is in the press’s interest to increase fan interest in the Nationals.

Even though the Nats are a long shot for any sort of playoff berth, the team is certainly the best it’s been since the first year in town, 2005, when at this point in the season the Nats’ record was a winning one at 64-57. The two next, err, best (less bad?) records the team put up in Washington were in 2006 and 2007, and on Aug. 18 of those years the team’s record was 54-68 and 55-68 respectively.

The fact that a mention of the Nats being more than a dozen games back in the race is evidence of the steep mountain of losing that the franchise is climbing out of. But it’s still encouraging and if I was working the baseball page for the Post that day, I would’ve included it too.

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