Washington DC, 12/25-1/1

As I look over this body of work, however meager it is, I see that although I’ve been to the DC area a few times, I’ve never really bothered writing about it.

Not that I’m going to put a dent in that streak today, although I’ll touch on it a little.

First, some disclosure. I grew up in the DC area, so I’m intimately familiar with all the touristy stuff available. It suffices to say that you can spend weeks in DC and still not cover all there is to see. You can spend a week alone just in the Smithsonian. There is so much to see, and a most of it is free or nearly so.

I’m thinking that the reason I haven’t been there, but maybe once in five years for business, is shear cost. For what I do,  DC is way too expensive for a training venue. We’ve had them in Baltimore. But the last time I was in Northern Virginia on business we held a class in Herndon. It wasn’t well attended, and some of my gear was stolen. I remember thinking to myself ” What the hell! $300 a night?! In Herndon!?”

The whole thing was a loss. Although when asked where I’d like to go this quarter I put that on the itinerary. We’ll see what comes of it.

Don’t go there in the winter. The weather is miserable. It’s cold as hell.
Don’t go there in the summer. The weather is miserable. It’s hot as hell.
Best times are spring or fall. The cherry blossoms are amazing, as are the fall leaves if you manage to hit either at the peak. Within a few hours drive is Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Annapolis, Manassas battlefield, and skyline drive. Lots to see.

Although as far as driving is concerned, you’re better off not doing it or doing it as little as possible. Traffic is astonishingly bad. Parking, if you can score it, is at eye-popping cost. Park at a metro and ride the train. If you drive into the city, do yourself a favor and park a few blocks north of the mall. Like in the more business district around the White House. You also may consider eating at the restaurants there or in Virginia. The museum restaurants are expensive, the food is mediocre, and they are staffed by legions of the incompetent. We dropped $40 on three of us and all I got was a slice of pizza and a vein bulging on the side of my head.

More fun to write about is the simple act of trying to get to the DC area at Christmas time. My preference is to fly into Reagan National. It’s closer to DC, closer to most of my family, and it’s a lot newer and nicer. Dulles is out in the hinterlands and ranks up there with London’s Heathrow as the most miserable airport in existence. However, this year none of that was happening for us. No matter how far in advance I tried, airfare to DC was way too expensive, considering it was my own dime and I’m paying for the five of us.

What to do? What I always end up doing in such circumstances – Flying the premier budget airline – Southwest.

Let me state (I’ll be nice), categorically, that I admire Southwest. They’re profitable. I’ve never had a bad flight on them, they’ve never lost my bags. They are what they are, essentially a greyhound bus with wings. And, I’ll concede that since I don’t fly them much, I don’t have the “boarding groove” like I have with American. Now I know you can check in on the web and score a better place in line. But when I looked at that, seemed to me they wanted $10 a head for the privilege. That’s another $100. How bad could it be?

You’d think living a dozen miles from Southwest’s ground zero – Love Field in Dallas, that I’d fly them more often. NOT. Thanks to a certain dipshit congressman, even now they aren’t allowed to fly many places direct from Dallas. (That would be Jim Wright, thank you). And for a lot of my travel, American is half the price and triple the convenience. Unfortunately, That wasn’t the case this time. The cheapest way to get to DC, and it wasn’t all that cheap, was to fly on Christmas day into Baltimore on Southwest.

So we go to Love field. Unlike DFW, where there is a choice of airport parking venues and fees, there’s exactly one parking facility at Love. And, It’s not cheap. And, you have to shlep to the terminal. So started our trek north. Unlike DFW, Love field is a dumpy puss-hole of an airport. Reminds me of National in DC when the federal gummint still owned it.

We checked in and got decent – not great, boarding numbers – Group B15 or something like that. For the uninitiated, Southwest doesn’t assign seats. They have “festival seating”. You sit where you can. There is no first class. The earlier you check in, the lower boarding group you get, the better the chances of scoring the seat you want. Or seats together, if you are traveling in a group. This is where having your “boarding groove” on helps. Knowing the system is everything. There is a method to this madness, since it seems to me that Southwests planes get boarded a whole lot faster than American’s. Keep in mind, anywhere you go from Love field you’ll have to connect – so I’ll do this drill at least twice no matter where I go. Still, I didn’t find myself muttering “Geez! put yer shit in the overhead and plant it! What the hell are they doing? how tough can it be to sit in a @(#$($ seat?” all that much.

So you board the plane, feeling more and more like Forrest Gump boarding the school bus as you make your way back. A lot of times, the plane is doing a “touch and go” so even though you got what seemed like a decent boarding group – the plane’s half full when they start boarding since not everyone got off. So I’m seeing nothing but middle seats until the very back. The closer you get to the back of the plane the less likely the chance that you’ll get a decent seat and you can’t go back, there’s a line of people behind you.

There is a culture though, with Southwest. It is what it is, and most people are reasonably friendly. We’re all in the same boat after all. There are two types though that make this tough – the Poachers and the Savers. The Poachers are usually women with small kids. They plop the kid at the window and they take the aisle. After all, who wants to sit next to a kid? There was at least one of these on each leg of our trips. The worst was a woman doing this, and the husband sitting in the other aisle seat. Had I been alone I’d have compelled her to move out of spite. On one of our legs, the lady behind clearly wasn’t poaching, although I wish she had. Her progeny spent most of the flight digging it’s toes in my back.

Then there are the Savers. You see that you’re screwed, no window or aisle seats likely so you settle for a middle seat only to have a girl say “this seat is saved”. This happened on the last leg of our return trip, the dude was stuck. Can’t go back. He was being nice too- yet she dug in, her friend being within grabbing distance – two people maybe, of the seat. Tough luck. The stewardess jammed her and the dude took the seat.

Southwest’s stewardesses are pretty cool. They’ll jam a poacher or saver in a second if they see them.You want to sit with your friend? Board with her and take your chances. Thems the rules.

On the way there, Colin and I scored aisle and middle in the last row. The other side had a rather large dude in the window seat, so we took seats across the aisle with a skinny person at the window. Down the aisle waddles a fairly large couple, and plops down in that row. The poor dude spent the flight smashed against the window. This prompted a conversation with the stewardess where I learned something new. I knew that Southwest only flies Boeing 737s. What I didn’t know is that the fuselage tapers towards the back, and they wanted the same number of seats (6) in a row, so the back seats are narrower than the others. All this time I thought it was my fat ass. Another reason to try and board early.

Would I fly Southwest again? Sure, if I had to. As I said, I’ve never had an awful flight on them. They are what they are. The web reservation is top notch, easy to use. The email alerts as good as any. The planes always left on time, the staff is cheerful. Unlike American, the stewardeses more often than not don’t look like the crypt-keeper. If I plan my trip wisely, I’m never on the plane longer than two hours. I can, and have, put up with anything for two hours.

Perhaps in 2014 when the Wright amendment is supposed to expire, they’ll be more worth the effort.