The Vapors

The fireplace and hallway. See the peaceful Buddha

Sometimes I feel like it’s not just the house that is coming under fix-it.

On Friday, the contract proposal was announced by a flicker of blue on the right side of my screen. At that moment, I was reading about category management–because that’s actually a thing–and the quick slide in and out at the corner of my laptop almost escaped me.

Except not really. It was after 5 pm. To be fair, it was just barely. Like 5:04:21 pm or so. I was expecting the email. They said I’d get it by the end of the week. This firm is all about making commitments. I really like that about them.

The email was here and wasn’t going anywhere, so I followed a link to an HBR article about new-fangled procurement models. This is a joke in that I don’t know anything about old-fangled procurement models. I was studying.

The Spouse was on his ongoing work-about, in which he works for daze on end sans respite. But he does have running water. And coffee. It’s not the Outback. It’s The Mall.

My brain was twitching just behind my right eye. It wanted to open the email. It saw that glimpse of aqua and processed the letters to see that they were in the right place–like a partially completed crossword puzzle–to expose the name of our Project Manager.

Open. Open. Open.

The reptilian part of my brain was shutting down that idea. There would be nothing good exposed via that email. My internal crocodile knew that we had blown significanltly past our original scope. The number would be huge. To survive we should slither-swim by. With half-closed eyes. Our tails waving goodbye.

Open. Open. Open.

Enough croc-brain! I have the smelling salts in hand. I opened the email. And I sucked air. But I was still breathing.

The next few days I walked around with a new hallway, a new kitchen, a new bathroom, a new deck, a new den, a new office, a new staircase swirling around in my head. I really liked it.

I also turned the finances around and around and around. It seemed fair for the work. It’s still huge. Like a big rock wall in the desert. How to get to the other side? I couldn’t sleep.

I never can’t sleep.

Big decisions are so hard. What we can do can be different than what we should do. Capacity is as much about pushing limits as being within limits. I turned to Dad.

My dad hated debt. He didn’t want to have obligations hanging over him. He was adamant about keeping things in good repair. He’d replace a roof at year 14 of a 15 year lifespan. He mowed his lawn and shoveled his walk. He was responsible and sober.

As I walked to the subway, I wondered what my father would say about this big investment.  I began the budget analysis, and I heard his words. They were coming from behind my right ear, from the back of my head. It was about those shoes. He was speaking clearly.

In middle-school, I wanted a pair of shoes. They were white and had teardrop cutouts next to the buckles. They would be my first pair of high heels. Many girls at school were wearing these very shoes. At my behest, Dad drove me to Bakers Shoes. I tried on the desired pump. I walked up to him and asked him if he liked them. He said, “If you like them, buy them.”

If you like them, buy them.

Dang. I was feeling like Ray Kinsella from Field of Dreams hearing his daddy’s voice in the cornfield.

If you like them, buy them.

That was it. He was telling me to follow my heart. Not the money.

I wasn’t expecting that. Not at all.

I’m not saying that my dad actually gave me advice. I know that he’s been dead for nine years. I know that. That said, I think that he was telling me something.

I told you. This is not just about the house.

Thou Shalt or Shalt Not

Two stone tablets. With markings that are likely words, but that I can't read. I hope the words aren't racist or profane.

Stepping on the train platform at Metro Center I heard the rumblings of The Disembodied Voice. It droned incomprehensibly. It was a baritone mumbling rapidly, as if  he were cruising through The Rosary at a funeral. I hoped the message wasn’t important. I couldn’t make it out.

Then. It hit me. Our public transportation is not of this world. It is guided from a different one. A world lorded over by a god that we don’t know. And that god is most definitely an Old Testament god. One who is vengeful and punishing. We clearly don’t understand him. He’s trying to talk to us, but we don’t get him and that pisses him off.

The god–the WMATA god–is warning us via signs, if not quite plagues, of his displeasure. Fires. Rats. Floods. Cracked rails. Filled condoms placed on the shoulders of passengers. People running up the down escalators. Wild animals overtaking stations.

Tragically, there is no Aaron to translate for us. There is no proxy-Moses to learn from the WMATA god and bring his commandments down from Mt. Vernon. We don’t know how to appease the irritated diety.

The safe response to the god? A shut down.

Many people are praying. Sadly, some are taking the Metro–and its god’s–name in vain. Mostly in anger. Frequently adding vulgarities.

Stop it! You. And you. And you over there, too. And y’all. You are NOT helping.

What if there was a prophet to lead us out of the desert that is Metrorail? Carrying the laws carved on the tablets? Maybe if we knew and followed the commandments, we could ride in peace.

What if the laws were already written and we were simply ignoring them? Would they look like this?

The Ten Commandments of WMATA

  1.  Thou shalt use headphones with all audio and video devices. Seriously. The Metro God hates your music.
  2. Thou shalt not box out fellow passengers who are trying to exit the train. It is a sin to make anyone ride a single extra stop. Let them go in peace.
  3.  Thou shalt give your seat to someone who needs it more than you do. This requires you looking for those needier outside of your field of vision despite your prayerful stance above your phone. Look up!
  4. Thou shalt call the stupid Metro number, which is randomly called out in stations, rather than 911 in an emergency. Metro police do not play nice with other jurisdictions. They are holier than thou.
  5. Thou shalt report any unattended packages to a transit police officer, station manager or train operator. Thou shalt not be troubled that they pay no attention.
  6.  You. The one tossing your backpack in the door when the chimes ring. And then yelling about it being stuck. And then not pulling it out. And then making the train unload. And making not only the Metro god but also the entire metro village very angry. And very vengeful. Thou shalt stop doing such. Thou art making bad juju.
  7. Thou shalt not lean against the train doors. Lean on the escalator handrail. Or lean on your fellow passengers. Especially if thou hast been drinking.
  8. Thou shalt not gum up the flow. For the love of everything good in this world, whilst on the escalator, stand to the right and walk on the left.
  9. Thou shalt not run on the escalator. Run down the up escalator or up the down escalator. Thou shalt not run in the station, run on the track bed, run with scissors.
  10. Thou shalt not take your stroller, wheelchair or wheelie backpack on the escalator. This is a way for pilgrims to show their humility to the WMATA god, because instead of using a convenient entrance you will walk 3/4 of a mile out of your way to an elevator entrance. And then the elevator will be out of service. You shalt be thrice blessed for your penance.

Know well, riders, that our ongoing sins, our wanton disregard of these commandments, has angered the god. And we are being punished. Perhaps, if we humbly follow these commandments, we could ride the train to the promised land. Or, at least, make it home on time. Amen.

Dear Tourists, Let Me Help

weinermobile in front of the Capitol. I took this one.

Tourist season has befallen my fair city. As the hoards fill up our streets, hostels, chain restaurants and The Mall (we don’t shop there, by the way), I thought I’d offer some advice to smooth the stay.

Dear Washington, D.C. Tourists,
Welcome! I am super glad to host you in our fair city. A few things to help us get along better.

  • First, Washington D.C., is actually a real city. We vote for a mayor and a city council. We have schools where children study. People here have jobs and go to church and buy groceries and sit around dinner tables where we eat food just like YOU. Unlike you, though, we don’t have a vote in Congress. So don’t complain about your Congressman. We’d love to have one (and two Senators) to deride. But we don’t. And we’re U.S. citizens, too.
  • Second, D.C., is not Main Street, U.S.A. at Disney World. You can’t just walk into the streets and criss cross like it’s an amusement park. It’s not. There are traffic rules that you should follow.
  • Third, I know you don’t walk as a mode of transportation when you’re at home. You might walk on the treadmill at the gym or around your cul de sac with a neighbor for your New Year’s resolution. But here, we walk to get to work or to shop, and to grab a coffee or a beer.
  • Please please please, don’t start walking when you’re on the corner and you’re talking to your friends and not looking. Cars here are like your cars at home–made of metal and will hurt if they hit you.  We won’t mow you down because we’re mean but because you randomly walked in front of us without looking. Don’t jaywalk unless you learned this skill in Manhattan. Then you own it.
  • Key takeaways: Look for the traffic signals. If the light is RED do not walk. If the light is GREEN, go ahead. There are also signals that are RED with a hand that means, DON’T WALK. Really, nobody wants to run you over. Okay, to be honest, sometimes we do, but we wouldn’t. Not on purpose.
  • Fourth, I love it when you use our subway. We call it the Metro. It stops you from driving the wrong way on our one-way streets. It also stops you from running our red lights because you don’t see the traffic signals on the sides of the roads. We know you look for them hanging in the middle of the street. I don’t know why we don’t do that. But we don’t. Be careful.
  • Fifth, speaking of the Metro, if you’re not sure where you need to go, just ask anyone. People are happy to help you get to your destination. Seriously. They are. The thing we don’t like is your confusion at the turnstiles that blocks us from getting to the train. This is super-especially true during rush hour. An idea, please don’t use the subway during our rush hour. You are really screwing with us natives.
  • Also, this is weird, I know, but when you’re on an escalator in D.C. don’t stand next to your friend. Stand on the right and walk on the left. Leave the left side of the stairs open so people can walk. We are in a hurry because we have to go to work. We’re not on a vacation. We are glad that you are, though.
  • Sixth, this brings me to the costs of stuff in D.C. SHUT UP. You don’t have to pay a penny to go to the zoo and gawk at baby pandas; see the capsule that landed on the moon, the Wright Brothers’ plane and the real space shuttle up close; gape at the Hope Diamond and a stuffed woolly mamouth;  visit the East Room and watch the Secret Service watch you at the White House; and be in awe at pretty much everything–seriously look up, down and all around–at the Library of Congress. Also, there is crazy amazing art and culture–like Monet and ruby slippers and the lunch counter from the Greensboro Woolworths–at the Smithsonian. The Capitol Grounds, near the Supreme Court, have beautiful fountains, a botanical garden and lots of steps. Not to diminish the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington memorials, the homage to those who served and sacrificed in wars and the newer monuments recognizing Dr. King and FDR.
  • Back to the costs of things. Please don’t complain about prices for sandwiches or cokes. This is what we pay, too. We just live here. Also, speaking of prices, when you do eat out, please don’t be cheap. People waiting your tables and serving your drinks do this for a living. Tip. Really. You can tip.

My brain is awash with so many more things to help you with, but I know you’re already overwhelmed. Please, though, know this well. This is your city, because you are an American and this is our nation’s capital. And it is our city, because every day we drive and walk and bike past and work in and near the amazing landmarks you came to visit. We feel lucky to live here. You feel lucky to visit here.

We can do this together. We survived the Pope, we can work with you. Have fun!
Doc Think