One of the funny things about DC is that I grew up here, But then I moved. So I look at it differently now, like a foreigner .
Fall and Spring are the best times to hit this city. In the spring you have the cherry blossoms, as well as crab apple, apple, pear, and dogwood trees, which are all stunning. And Fall, the colors are jaw dropping. I, sadly, have no choice. I go in the summer when it’s stifling.
This time I’m in crystal city, which is in VA. Picture a diamond inside a circle. The circle in DC would be the beltway. Used to be 495, now it’s a combination of 95/495, depending how you go. Reason being, that they stubbed out 95 at New York avenue, and called it 395, or Shirley highway. It’s the only city where I’ve been that does not have a highway through it. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for this, but the most plausible is squabbling. Same reason Redskin stadium is in MD, and not Potomac Yards. Or where the Potomac Yards used to be. It’s ugly strip malls now.
Now, cut a diagonal slice, west to southeast along the Potomac. South is VA, Arlington specifically. And that’s where I was. Crystal City is all along VA Route 1, across the tracks from Reagan National airport, and sports an underground mall, like Houston. Dallas has one as well. Lots of condos, restaurants and shops. The very picture of yuppie heaven.
So, no point renting a car. The hotel shuttle picked me up. I could walk anywhere I needed to be, and the office was a block from the subway, which was one stop away form the airport.
Let’s dwell on DCA, or Reagan national. National to the locals. Used to love it. Flying out, you elbow through security like anywhere, go to the gate. If you are leaving, going home, and stuck, it blows.
The new terminal building has a massive atrium, with stores, shops, and restaurants. Sadly, terminals B and C stub off of it. So it’s before security. Each terminal has a number of food stands, and one sit-down bar. One.
There are two concepts for airports – baggage, ticketing, and security up front, everything else behind security. Or everything before, like a shopping mall, and the terminals are where you go to fly out. Here’s the deal, that model is only good for pickup, drop off. Land, traverse security, sit in bar, wait for ride, wait for group. The problem here is that each terminal, with it’s security, stubs off a shopping mall. You can’t really go from one terminal to the other without re-entering through security – a fatal flaw.
With all the airline mergers, you now have to get from terminal B (the old airline) to C (the new one) and guess what? In typical DC fashion, no one thought of that. And this upgrade was done long after security was a thing. So now, like Dulles (Aka the 7th circle of hell), you take a bus across the tarmac to the other side. Dimwitted as hell. I watched the wretched make this trip a dozen times while waiting for my plane.
I forgot how cool crystal city was. On the shuttle to the Hotel, I spied a Legal Seafood. I hit that place hard as soon as I dropped my bags. They sport a McCormick & Schmicks as well. Lots of places to hang and eat. It hit my simplicity gene – one that has been manifesting itself for some time now. How cool would it be to live in a condo – no lawn, no busted up house – and waddle to restaurants and bars when the mood hits? Plano, where I live, is growing such an ecosystem. And I’m drawn to it. What’s stopping me is the tools, woodworking hobby, car hobby, and soon to be a 75lb shepherd/lab mix mutt.
BTW, if you aren’t working, and are a tourist, there are some “Must hits” in DC – Smithsonian (which you can spend a month eyeballing for free) , the mall in the spring for cherry blossoms, the monuments. Incidentally, if you go you’ll notice they aren’t staffed. So next time there’s a shutdown, and you see NPS staff blocking access, realize the only reason they are there is to block access. Normally, memorials are wide open, like a rock formation.
When it was time to flee, I hit the metro. It seemed to be the thing to do since I was a block away and it used to be something to brag about. My train was filthy, threadbare, and stunk. Wow. It went from the nicest to the shittiest I’ve been in 10 years. And it was like $4 for one stop, and I had to buy a fare-card – so $7 to go one stop. Don’t know where the money is going there. But it ain’t to upkeep, for sure.
When I got to the airport it was a total fuck all in the terminal. Only place to grab a meal were stands. The only “Sit down” place was a kiosk type bar, very much like Newark, and it was standing room only, $16 for a salad with a handful of dry-ass shrimp, 8 bucks for a crappy can of beer, 11 for a draft. I’ve seen restaurant rescue, so I get the small menu concept. But two two lousy sliders, no soup, not much else. National Airport was my favorite when I lived here. Now, I look at it like the American terminal – i.e. the chump terminal – at LAX.
So what have we learned? Not much. Let me sum it up as a former denizen of DC.
If you are going to go, go in the spring or fall when the weather and flora and fauna are worth it. You’ll fly in and out of a crappy airport. Not one of them is a good choice. Maybe BWI, since it’s marginally cheaper to fly there. You’ll pay confiscatory New York City rates for a hotel room similar to a $80 room anywhere else in the country. Traffic, which I haven’t mentioned because it didn’t apply this trip, sucks worse than anything you’ve probably ever seen. Public transport blows – it’s worn out. You’ll be lucky to survive. I may have mentioned it earlier, but the affordable hotels in DC proper are probably surrounded by hookers. I used to drive by them every day on the way to/from work.
It’s worth seeing I suppose. The memorials and Smithsonian are cool. At one point, my boss was making noise as if someone would have to hit Point Barrow Alaska. Or a town more remote. No Hotel, no restaurants. Given the choice, I’d go there first.