How to Survive in DC: An AWP Guide

I’ve compiled the following tips for my writer-tourist friends arriving in DC this week. I hope they help!

1. Escalators
STAND on the right.
WALK on the left.
LAY DOWN UNDER THE FEET OF DCers if you violate this rule.

2. Visiting a Starbucks
Our Starbucks are not like normal Starbucks. Please keep in mind the following guidelines.

a. There may or may not be a line. If you can discern a line, get in it. You must “box out” like in basketball to prevent skipping from people who are busier and–frankly–more important than you.

b. You may be familiar with Starbucks’s friendly baristas who are happy to help you, customize your beverage, etc. We don’t have any of those. We have embittered, surly folk whose job it is to actively prevent you from getting anything you may have ever wanted in your entire life.

c. Since the baristas will not call out your drink (or fail to do so correctly), someone may “mistakenly” take it. Please understand, in DC, there are no mistakes.

d. If someone takes your drink, pay it forward. Steal someone else’s. DC: trickle-down economics works!

3. Weather
Our weather is unpredictable, but one thing you can be sure of is that it will be unbearable. Be sure to pack the following:

Sweaters
Umbrellas (2–1 will fail due to high winds and/or be stolen)
A swimming suit or board shorts
A parka
A light cardigan/tank top set
A warm hat
Sunscreen
Crocs (just kidding–are you even reading this?)

4. Socializing with the locals
You can identify most DC residents easily, as they begin conversations this way:

“Hello! I am [DC Resident’s name].”
“Hi, nice to meet you.”
“Yes, it is. What do you do?”

Recommendation: do not reveal you work in the arts, are an artist, enjoy art, or advocate for arts funding. Instead, say, “I am a lobbyist.” This will make most people vanish into thin air.

5. Riding on Metro

Here’s a tip from a nearby DC insider: “Avoid the Red Line like an STI.” The Red Line routinely experiences delays, single-tracking, and other debacles, rendering it nearly useless. Fortunately, this year’s AWP is located: on the Red Line.

Purchase a dollar-value farecard rather than a multi-day farecard (which come with all sorts of pointless time restrictions). You can roll the dollar value over onto new cards, should you need to reload, and you can also precisely calculate your roundtrip fares using the fareboard at the card machine.

Make sure you insert your farecard into the turnstile so that the arrow points toward the machine. It will pop out the top. Pull it out and the gate will open, allowing you to pass through.

6. Having a drink or two

Recommended frequently: multiple times throughout the day.

Happy Hour is the dominant drinking mode for DCers, and you’ll find generous and festive happy hours throughout the city.

7. The Smithsonian

Worth seeing: First Ladies’ dresses, Portrait Gallery, Hirschorn. Skip: the rest.

DO NOT GO INTO THE NATIONAL AQUARIUM unless you are interested in paying $20 for the equivalent of looking at fish tanks in your neighbor’s living room.

8. Eating

As much as people in DC love to drink, they also love to eat. There are a ton of great restaurants around, no matter what kind of food you’re looking for. If I were you, here’s what I would cry about having missed:

Ben’s Chili Bowl (U Street)
Matchbox (Gallery Place/Chinatown)

That is all.

Enjoy your visit.
Jaleo (Penn Quarter)

Cue the dueling banjos

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Our GPS device is like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

First, you should know that she gives directions in a British accent. I’m totally serious. She sounds a little bit like Helen Mirren, if Helen Mirren were giving you driving directions while being AutoTuned. Her crisp diction and cold demeanor keep our driving focus on the task at hand, not, say, gossiping, as we might if she had a Southern accent, or craving Polish sausage, if she were from the Upper Midwest.

I’ve recounted the story of how we set her compass toward Kings Dominion outside Richmond and, trusting fully in her navigational skills, followed her instructions without deviation. And we were surprised, then, to hear her announce “Arriving at destination–on right–” as we pulled up next to a small brick McMansion in rural Virginia.

On our trip back from Atlanta, she decided we’d seen enough of the interstate for one one-month period (and granted, we’d driven about 3,000 miles of them). While I slept, she convinced Beau to take an offramp onto a U.S. Highway that started out freeway-like but ended up as a divided highway with stoplights running through the tiny towns between Lynchburg and DC.

It didn’t seem to take us any longer than the interstate would have, and the scenery was pretty enough. Virginia’s stretch of I-95 is a punishing corridor of nothing, broken only by the too-infrequent rest area or tobacco industry headquarters. For a while, we were grateful for her sly transgression and went along with it. I even searched on my phone to see if we’d be fortunate enough to get within ten miles of a Pei Wei, but no luck.

As we drove the winding roads, we passed few cars. It seemed like we were one of the few people using Labor Day as a travel day. But I was still slightly unnerved. I called my sister-in-law and told her we were in Deliverance territory. She told us to run if we heard anyone fire up a banjo. I assured her running was our default response to hearing banjos in any context.

At one point, we passed a minivan. A gray-haired gentlemen sat behind the wheel, remarkable only for the Day-Glo yellow sign he held up in his door window. On it, he’d written, “OBAMA means everything free but self-respect.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked Beau. Beau didn’t know. I looked back at the driver. He refused to look over at me, and so his face remained in stern profile, unblinking, the sign unwavering. I kept hoping he’d flip it over and complete the thought, the way composition students are taught to back up their claims with evidence, but he didn’t move. And then our little fuel-efficient Scion (a four-banger!) overtook his Goliath of a minivan and the man and his sign vanished in our rear view.

It’s times like those when I’m grateful for having the Psychotic Helen Mirren-brand GPS in puckered up against my windshield. Look at all the strange I get to witness just by getting behind the wheel! Who knows where we’ll end up next time? Milwaukee, Montauk, Monaco…only Helen Mirren knows for sure.

Pop quiz

Which of the following situations should prompt one to relocate from his or her home, should they occur nearby?

a. A hurricane
b. 55″ of snowfall
c. A collision of two Metrorail trains on the Red Line
d. A crazy person strapped with explosives, carrying a gun, holding a building hostage
e. An 5.5 earthquake
f. 2 grisly home invasions resulting in 4 murders, including the murder of two toddlers.
g. All of the above

Choose carefully.

Summer’s here and it’s pissed

It must be summer in Maryland, because it’s either raining, hailing, or sizzling outside. I just walked the dog and felt like my skin was simultaneously peeling away from my body and developing blisters.

What does this mean? Well, it means this past week was DC Pride. It’s important that this festival occur at a time of year when everyone smells awful and every enclosed gay space smells like a locker room with broken bottles of Abercrombie & Fitch cologne littered about.

Such was the case on Friday night when I took in the drag show at Town, which featured some very special guest ladies: stars (and losers) of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 2 Morgan McMichaels, Tatianna, and Sahara Davenport.

Here’s the skinny on these skinny ladies:

Sahara Davenport had clearly just invested in a new Bedazzler, as just about every stitch of clothing on her body (which wasn’t much to begin with) was encrusted with shiny glass and beads. It was like Britney Spears in the “Toxic” video, if you could retroactively subtract 9 cheeseburgers. Her performances weren’t great. She was clearly not America’s next drag superstar. C-

Tatianna was, I thought, really unpleasant on the show and I had given her low marks on the internal scoresheet I maintain in my head. Although RuPaul often lauded her for serving up Real Girl action, I was like, meh. Drag’s more fun when it’s bawdy and inappropriate, not aiming for realness. After all, these are men in dresses. But let me say that having done drag from the age of 14 on, Tatianna she was the hell she was doing. She was a fantastic performer, great dancer, and–yes, girls, this matters–knew the words to her songs. A+

Morgan McMichaels was also really good. She was fun, had great songs that suited her, and she was gabby on the mic, which I like. But she was definitely lip synching in Tati’s shadow, unfortunately. A-

I wish I could write more, but honestly, they were serving $2 rail drinks and I’m not proud.

The regular ladies of Town were, I think, subdued a bit as a tribute to their guests. We got a little Tina Turner medley and “Barbie Girl” starting with the queen in a foamcore Barbie box that she broke apart. The production values are definitely going up.

It took about five minutes of dancing for the entire lower level of Town to smell like a dirty gym sock. The humid air was thick like cashmere–so at least it felt expensive. We danced for a while, but honestly, neither my heart nor my nose was really in it.

The Four Seasons

Maryland style:

SPRING:
Monday: Cold and cloudy
Tuesday: Sunny and warm
Wednesday: Rain
Thursday: Rain
Friday: Cloudy and humid
Saturday: Cold and cloudy
Sunday: Rain

SUMMER
Monday: Hot and superhumid
Tuesday: Hot and superhumid
Wednesday: Rain
Thursday: Hot and superhumid
Friday: Hot and superhumid
Saturday: Rain
Sunday: Rain

AUTUMN
Monday: Rain
Tuesday: Cold and rainy
Wednesday: Cold and rainy
Thursday: Cold and rainy
Friday: Cold and sun–er, nope, that’s a streetlamp because it’s so dark outside; Rain
Saturday: Cold and rainy
Sunday: Rain

WINTER
Monday: Cold, dark
Tuesday: Cold, dark
Wednesday: Cold, dark, rain
Thursday: Cold, dark, rain turning to snow
Friday: Cold, dark, and everything is covered in ice
Saturday: Icy, cold, dark, rain
Sunday: Slushy, cold, dark, rainy

Story/Stereo….ROCKED.

On Friday, The Writer’s Center kicked off a re/newed free event series called Story/Stereo that featured readings by our first two Emerging Writer Fellows, Suzanne Frischkorn and Neil Smith, as well as a musical performance by local band Roofwalkers.

There was a great crowd–near capacity–in the auditorium for the event, and there was great energy and enthusiasm all night long. I was so excited to see young people in the audience, and I knew they would really enjoy the band as well as Suzanne and Neil’s work. Suzanne read from Lit Windowpane and shared some work from her new manuscript, which was awesome, and Neil read from his novel-in-progress Heaven Is a Place Where Nothing Ever Happens. Both writers received high praise from Howard Norman, who introduced them and discussed their work.

Roofwalkers did a cool collab with Suzanne (you can read a bit about it at her blog), and then everyone sold merch and signed autographs. This is the first time I’ve sold t-shirts and posters at a literary event, but I love it! The Story/Stereo posters and shirts are super cool.

The next event will be Oct 2, featuring Alexander Chee and Srikanth Reddy with musical guest Bluebrain.