It’s that time of year again. It started last month, actually, in an unholy convergence that happens every spring. Two misery inducing seasons start when those pretty pink cherry blossoms pop out all over the tidal basin– allergies, and tourists.
It’s summer and many people are planning their vacations and many of you will be heading towards our nation’s capital.
To make your trip more enjoyable (to me) I’ve decided to write up some tips, maxims, and pleas…
First off, and this is true when vacationing in any city, it’s easy to forget that everyone around you isn’t also on vacation. We aren’t looking at the sights and enjoying the day. We’re late for meetings. We’re remembering to buy milk on the way home. We’re stressed out because we’re understaffed and running late and haven’t called our mothers in awhile and you’re standing there, blocking the sidewalk so you can take a picture of your two-year-old in front of something we walk by everyday. Heck, you’re taking a picture of your two-year-old standing in front of my place of employment, blocking the entrance. Please, enjoy yourself, but don’t unintentionally rub the fact that you’re on vacation and we’re not in our faces. It makes us cranky.
Here are some more DC-specific things:
If you want to blend in, pack clothing that is gray, black, navy, brown, khaki, or white. Make yourself an ID badge and hang it around your neck on a lanyard. Walk very quickly while checking your Blackberry. You don’t have to be checking in with the office (you are on vacation, after all). You can play solitaire, just look very seriously at your cards.
More seriously, don’t wear short shorts and tank tops. Yes, DC in the summer is hot and humid, but it’s not the beach. We don’t want to look at it. More importantly, we like our air conditioning and even though it’s really hot outside, it’ll be really cold in any building you enter. Dress appropriately.
No, I do not know where the Hard Rock Cafe is, please, stop asking me. Why is it that every time I go downtown, people ask me this? If you want a good burger, find a Five Guys.
DC has excellent food to fit all budgets and tastes. We have excellent Chinese, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, El Salvadorean… plus, Maryland style crab cake is a local thing. We do great seafood.
DON’T DRIVE. Seriously, don’t drive. Please, for the love of all that is good in the world DON’T DRIVE. I even have really good reasons why you shouldn’t drive in DC:
You won’t be able to park anywhere.
TRAFFIC CIRCLES, yeah, yeah, you’re from New England, you can handle a roundabout or circle. Well, ours are big and congested. Ours have traffic lights on them! Can you figure out which light is for you? Because I have some practice, and I still get confused. Plus, most people are not from New England and think such things only exist in Olde England.
DC has some of the worst traffic in the country. Please, don’t add to it. “Beltway Gridlock” usually doesn’t refer to Congress– the beltway is often gridlocked. Please, don’t make it worse. And, I understand you don’t know where you’re going, but that is no excuse to cut me off and then drive 20 miles an hour under the speed limit in the left lane.
DC has excellent public transportation! It’s often faster than driving. Take advantage of it!
In general, do not leave your hotel before 9am. That’s the tail end of rush hour. If you have to drive, don’t you dare do it during rush hour. Yes, I know, you have a busy day scheduled of gawking at white buildings, but while you’re trying to figure out the 395/295 interchange at a mere 30 miles an hour, there are people stuck behind you. These people aren’t on vacation. They’re late for work, and it’s your fault.
Even if you’re taking the metro (which you should!) don’t do it before 9. Look at the metro fares, see the expensive peak times in the morning? Don’t travel during those times. Read the paper, enjoy the free hotel breakfast. You can’t have any food or drink on the metro and the train is hot and crowded and there are lots of people in suits who haven’t had their coffee yet. They’re cranky and really don’t want to see your fresh-eyed I’m-on-vacation-smiling face that early in the morning. Especially if you have a double-wide stroller.
Speaking of the metro– our escalators have rules. Escalators aren’t rides, but sometimes you can’t walk– I’ll admit the ones at Dupont Circle can kill you. Whatever you do, don’t block the left side. The right side is for standing. The left side is for walking. Don’t block it with your body or your bag or your child. If you stand on the left side, you might get shoved out of the way by someone who is late for work.
When you have successfully navigated the escalator, don’t stop right at the top to regroup with your family and friends. We can’t get around you. The same goes for right outside the metro doors when getting off the train. Throughout your DC vacation, remember that this is a town of people who have places to go and things to see. They walk very, very quickly and are often checking their Blackberry while doing it. They will run right into you because you are in the way and making them late.
Please, please, please, pay attention to traffic flows and high foot-traffic areas and don’t block them. If you need to stop to decide what you’re going to do next or to look at a map, go off to the side. Don’t do it where people are trying to rush by. You’ll make them late for work.
There is a great tram service that will take you to all the sights and places you want to see. I highly recommend it– it’ll get you closer than taking the metro and you won’t be making anyone late for work, plus it’s cheap and an excellent tour of the city.
Be prepared to walk. All the monuments have steps. Often, lots and lots of steps. Most things are close enough together that there’s only one metro stop, or one tram stop, but even though they’re close they’re not right next to each other. Also, most people don’t realize this, but it’s hilly here. Capital Hill, is, in fact, a great, big hill. Start training now.
When walking, be aware of traffic lights. You can tell a tourist because they wait for the light to change. Most people here wait for lack of traffic. But, be careful, because if a car comes and you’re crossing against the light, you’ll get hit. If you are a large group, please, be careful when waiting for the lights to change– you’re probably blocking the sidewalk and making someone late for work.
Really, don’t drive.
I hope you enjoy your trip to DC. I really do. I understand the thrill. I used to be a tourist and I used to do all the things that now invoke unspeakable rage. I still get a goofy grin on my face when I step out of Union Station and see the Capital, especially at night. I love driving across the 14th street bridge and seeing before me the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capital, the Washington Monument, and in the foggy distance, the National Cathedral. I love getting onto 50 and driving past the giant statue of the Iwo Jima memorial. Even though I live right by it, I will always be awestruck at the size of Arlington Cemetery and the rows and rows of matching white headstones.
I love it when people visit and I get to play tour guide. But, when I play tour guide, I take the metro. I pull people out of the way. I make sure no one blocks the left side of the escalator.
I hope my guests have a great trip to DC and didn’t make anybody late for work.