Thursday, December 31, 2009

... and the "naughties" are finally over

Note: Click Naughty Cat At Your Own Risk
Hope all you cats have a great time tonight! Catch you on the flip side.

*Naughties: Best term I've seen so far to describe this awkward decade. You know, like the eighties, but with "naught" for the zero. Funny, huh? Not so much? Well, screw you. What do you call it, the zeros? The 2000's? Whatever, I call it the naughties. Anyway, who cares, it's over in a few hours.

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm Engaged


Though it does not begin to describe my wonderful fiancee.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

...And To All A Good Night

Have a wonderful holiday everyone!

National Chrismas Tree Lighting 1

My first national Christmas tree lighting, in which the first lady read "Twas The Night Before Christmas" to me and my first lady.

Steamed Over Parking Spots

A good blizzard always brings out the best in city folks. Sunday, as many emerged from their snowbound homes for the first time, I saw dozens of my neighbors out and about, shoveling their walks, or their elderly neighbor's walks, and helping people dig their cars out. Everyone was cheerful an enjoying the glorious, sunny post-snow day.

It also brings out the strange. While not a unique phenomenon, in DC, the act of digging your car out of a street spot apparently grants you ownership of it until the snow melts. As quickly as cars started moving out of their snowy prisons and onto the crusty streets, the vacant spots were filled with pylons, lawn chairs, and pleading notes and candy canes. Gotta love the hippies... I'm guessing the lawn chairs were more effective.

My favorite one is below. Monday around noon, I saw this one on Webster Street NW. It cracked me up so I took a picture. If you can't see what's behind the chair in shot #1, proceed to shot #2 for a better view.

Mah Parkin' Spot 1
Ironing out the parking situation

On my way to work this morning, at 7:15 AM, I was pleased to see that the ironing board was, in fact, an effective way to keep people from stealing your hard-earned spot. I do have to wonder how they will press their shirts for Christmas Eve, though.

Mah Parkin' Spot 2
Hard pressed to find parking

Hmm... that looks a like a pretty nice dining room chair, too. It's going to be a wrinkly, standing-room-only Christmas dinner, I guess.

As hilarious as this is, it does beg the question. Clearly, someone is willing to go to great lengths to defend their parking spot, nay, their honor against any and all invaders. They have moved much of the contents of their dining room, and laundry room, to the sidewalk in order to ensure parking.

So far, I've observed the spot twice, occupied only by furniture and laundry accessories. No sign of a car, either at noon on Monday, or at 7:15 AM, two days later. In this day and age it seems that parking, even rarely needed parking, is now at least as valuable as your home furnishings.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Paradox: Garbage Trucks vs. Unplowed Alleys

Sunday, the mayor's office jubilantly announced that normal trash collection would resume Monday. I am curious to know how that worked out for everyone who had trash collection yesterday. Because in my alley, there are 18" of glorious, untracked snow. At least there were as of yesterday morning. As of this morning, it was more like 12" of glorious untracked snow, with 3" of ice melt that had refrozen into a spectacular impenetrable shell.

Today, that question has been answered by DDOT. I received this little note by way of the Ward One DC mailing list:

(Washington, D.C.) – The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and Department of Public Works (DPW) want to remind residents that as a policy the District does not plow alleys.

“The District does not plow alleys,” said DPW Director William O. Howland, Jr. “We do not have the resources and in the majority of the alleys there is no place to push the snow. It would be too difficult and labor intensive to plow any type of alley, whether narrow or wide, in the District.”
I am having a hard time getting my head around these two seemingly diametrically opposed notions.

DC does not plow alleys.
Normal trash collection will resume Monday.

These really exist. Not in DC, though.
In my mind, I am trying to put a square peg into a round hole. I have even tried turning the square peg sideways. I am now thinking about going to the basement with the square peg, and chopping the corners off it. I am sure I can make it fit in the round hole, but it will not be pretty, and there will be a lot of damage to the square peg. And using the miter saw on small blocks of wood is very dangerous and sometimes results in the blocks of wood flying across the room. I will wear safety glasses.

Umm... anyway... where was I? Oh yes. Garbage trucks in unplowed alleys. Alleys which, actually, DC has not only not yet plowed, but has no intention of plowing.

Yesterday I complained about the fact that many side streets near where I live had apparently not yet been plowed. DC has an online snow-plow tracking tool that is actually very cool. It will show you where snow plows went interactively using a time-lapse map. It also confirms that a lot of Petworth was not plowed at all.

But here's what I don't get. In the press release reminding us that the alleys are not (and will not) be plowed, they said:
“We are receiving numerous requests from residents, higher than in years past,” said DDOT Director Gabe Klein. “Our crews are focused on clearing the District’s 1100 miles of roadway, in particular the residential and side streets. We just do not have the resources to plow alleys.”
This note was interesting for several reasons.
  1. Why are residents higher than in years past? Is marijuana use on the rise in DC? Or is it the quality of weed that's improving?
  2. So, you are basically admitting that more than two days after the snow stopped, you still haven't cleared all the roads.
  3. DC has 1,100 miles of roadways. That's a lot, but actually less than I would have guessed. Very useful information.

DDOT's web site says that "The District has 330 pieces of equipment and 750 personnel available for any given storm. This includes additional contract plows, if necessary, for major weather events."

So we have 330 snow plows and 1100 miles of roadway.

That means that if we mobilized all the snow plows, and each of them plowed one mile of road every 30 minutes (which seems like a pretty conservative estimate), then every single mile of road in DC could be covered in about, oh, two hours.

Let's account for mismanagement and bad routing and double that, to four hours.

Let's account for half of the snowplows being broken down and double that, to eight hours.

I am really trying hard to think of other reasons to add more time to this estimate, but I can't come up with any. DC should be able to go over every inch of road in this city in eight hours maximum.

It is now approximately 50 hours since the last snowflake has fallen.

Can you tell me again why you are too busy to plow the alleys? Actually, never mind the alleys. Why I am still driving on 4" of hard packed snow and ice until I get to 16th Street?

Monday, December 21, 2009

DC Snow Removal Up To Usual Standards

...for the Barry Administration, anyway. Yeah, this was a record-breaking snowfall. No, I don't exepect miracles. But at the same time, there hasn't been a snowflake coming out of the sky since late Saturday night.

Nor have I seen a snowplow since sometime Saturday. Nor have I seen any evidence of salt or sand on the roads, anywhere.

So, did Adrian Fenty decide that closing the DC government applied to snow removal as well? I have to say, though, I admire his optimism. Apparently, normal trash collection is scheduled to resume today. That will be quite a neat trick, since no vehicle of any sort has traveled through my alley since before the snow. I will be very impressed if the garbage trucks can drive through 18" of snow.

I heard anecdotally that a lot of snowplows had broken down. I don't suppose that there's any connection between the 700+ speed bumps that Fenty put throughout the city, and the inability to remove snow from the sidestreets? Couldn't be. Great thinking, there. Aother brilliant Fenty move: just do whatever you want, without thinking about the consequences.

Petworth - 8 AM on Monday. Illionois Avenue and 4th Street.

Petworth - 2 days later

11th Street in Columbia Heights - Sunday Afternoon

11th Street

Adams Morgan - Sunday Morning. At first I thought this guy was an idiot for trying to turn onto Euclid Street from Columbia Road. After he got un-stuck and traffic started moving again, I realized why. 18th and Columbia Road was basically unplowed and it was obvious that most cars wouldn't be able to pass.

Adams Morgan Snowbound

As of 8 AM today, everything looks pretty much the same as it did on Sunday morning. So what were the snowplows doing all day Sunday? Or did the speed bumps kill them all?

I guess we'll just wait it out like the old days.

Up here in Silver Spring, everything is perfectly clear.

Yo, Fenty, here's a bit of advice. If you are going to install thousands of speed bumps, maybe you should consider that we actually have snow here. That's why we have snowplows. Though given how few I've seen this weekend, maybe you forgot about them? So here's something for you to check out: The snow-plow compatible speed bump.

Now that I've gotten the obligatory DC snow fail criticism out of the way... pretty awesome, eh? A few highlights are below. More pictures here! Enjoy.

My day started on Saturday with the realization that I did not have a snow shovel. I did, however, have a four-wheel drive truck. And there's nothing I like more that tooling around the city in the middle of a blizzard. So I started with a trip to Home Depot to solve that shovel problem.

I wasn't sure how it was going to work out, since you'd figure there had been a run on them on Friday. Luckily, even as the DC government was not prepared for the storm, Home Depot was:

Home Depot Was Prepared

After the first of many sidewalk shovelings Saturday, N. and I ventured in to Columbia Hieghts to find some breakfast and take in the spectacle. The Heights was packed and there was a wait. We were too hungry to put up with that nonsense - and frankly, I find The Heights to be the pinnacle of mediocrity. So we walked to Ruby Tuesday's. Plenty of seating!

So typical of Cohi attitude... we'll pay more for crappy food, as long as it's not a chain. Personally, I think RT has better food than The Heights. It also comes with a lower price and less attitude. Our server was fantastic. I am slightly concerned about the presentation of the bloody mary though:

Bloody Suggestive

RT closed their doors for the day right after we finished, as did much of the downtown in Columbia Heights. Our post-brunch Target trip was thwarted. But we ran into a friend who was about to head downtown to catch Avatar 3D and decided to join him. It seems likely that the Metro would be a disaster (and it was from all accounts) so we drove instead. The movie didn't work out. Shockingly, it was sold out an hour in advance. How did all those people get there? Guess we weren't the only people with that idea. But we had a lot of fun tooling around the city taking pictures.

Apparently, you didn't need necessarily need four wheel drive to get around. At least, you didn't if you are a completely idiot like this guy.

Snow Bike

It seems that that guy wasn't the only one who just couldn't give up his bike in the middle of a blizzard. Ah, Wonderland.

Wonderland Bike

As usual, everyone in DC freaked out and packed the supermarkets at the first sign of snow. We tried to go to Giant to buy a couple things on Saturday afternoon -- the lines were at least 20 people long. Umm... no.

So off to my new favorite alternative, the Petworth Safeway. It was far more civilized. There was plenty of parking and the lines were minimal. We got what we needed. Though certain things were hard to come by even there...

Low Eggspectations

Sharing the Road took on quite a new meaning on Sunday, as pedestrians took to the streets as the only passable place to walk. Many people were out trying to dig out their cars or just walk down the street. Huge props to my neighbors - the sidewalks were 100% clear on my street as of mid-morning on Sunday. It was not so great in many other places.

Share The Road

Park Road between 14th and 16th on Sunday.

Sharing The Road

There was a lot of fun stuff to see out there. Everyone was great. My neighbors were all helping each other dig out on Sunday. Our dogs regarded the snow with some suspicion at first, but soon enough were having a blast. These guys had the right idea though:

Dog Boots

All in all, I love a good snowstorm. It's been a long time for me - I was out of town for the big one in 2003. Glad this one finally lived up to the hype.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Restaurant Week '10. Or Weak Restaurant '10. It's Your Choice.

Once again another Restaurant Week is upon DC. This once annual, and now sort of semi-annual event, is a chance to eat out at some of DC's finer establishments for a low fixed price. From January 10 - 17, 2010 participating restaurants agree to give you a full course meal for a fixed price of $20.10 per person for lunch, or $35.10 per person for dinner. Considering that entrees in the $25+ range are rather commonplace, and even classically cheap places like Pasta Mia are charging $18 for a bowl of pasta (yes, it's true, I was just there), this is a great way to live like the other half on a somewhat reasonable budget.

Or is it?

The problem with Restaurant Week is that a lot of places don't get it. Back in the day, we used to look forward to this every year. The event was embraced by many local restaurants. It was actually their idea, a good one, a way to drum up business during the typically slow August doldrums. But as the tradition took hold and most area restaurants participated, the value has become questionable.

The problem isn't Restaurant Week itself. The problem is that it seems a lot of places participate because they feel they must rather than because they think it's a good business opportunity.

Typical Restaurant Week entree
What this means, practically speaking, is that a lot of places basically phone it in. They offer an extremely limited menu. The waitstaff sometimes seems put out for actually having to (gasp) provide you with the same quality service as everyone else, because you are ordering from the Restaurant Week menu. You sometimes find yourself looking at the pathetic, limited selection of appetizers and entrees, and wondering, if I even wanted a Banana Slug Terrine, followed by Mom's Favorite Tuna Noodle Casserole, would it be worth $35?

Let ask a very pointed question to all Restaurant Week participants.

If we aren't going to be able to order anything that's not from the "kids" or "last night's leftovers" section of the menu, then why did you bother participating?

Contrary to what some latecomers to Restaurant Week may believe, the point of RW isn't to unload all the crap that's going bad in your fridge. It's not supposed to be the restaurant equivalent of flying super-economy class on Continental Airlines.

Because you know what happens when you do that?

We don't come back. Oh yeah, and there's a good chance we'll write something evil about your restaurant on our blog. Oh, you think that nobody will read that? Well, think again. Google "columbia heights eating". The sixth hit is my stupid joke post from yesterday about soylent green. From yesterday! And compared to, say, an actual food blog, or, really, just about any other blog, I am nobody. Yet I still have enough google street cred to be on the first page for some pretty basic searches. That's right - if you screw me at restaurant week this year, I will destroy you.

I am always amazed how many supposed businesspeople seem to have no idea about how to run a business. Restaurant Week, a clever invention of actual people who own restaurants, is a way for these places to fill empty tables during slow times, and to get people in their doors who wouldn't otherwise be there. People who may, in fact, be having their first experience at your restuarant during Restaurant Week. People who will come back if they liked their meal, and tell their friends, about the sort of experience they had at your restaurant.

Nobody expects you to go broke or give away the farm. But if there's no value, then you have done nothing more than created an unhappy customer. Or more likely, a one-time customer. If we can't actually order anything other than a tiny, crappy subset of your menu, or even worse, really lame stuff that you concocted just for RW out of leftover bread crusts and beet ends, then why do you think we'd ever want to come again? If we walk away feeling like our so-called bargain dinner was a rip-off, did anyone win?

It's really quite simple. If you don't think that you have anything to gain by having a decent RW offering, one that actually represents the majority of the offerings of your restaurant, then please don't participate. Because to do otherwise makes the customer feel gypped, and probably will hurt you in the long run as word gets around. And believe me, word gets around. There is nothing people in DC like more than to gab about restaurants online.

So where do I go?

I would like to single out Ten Penh as the one place that has always had a stand-up restaurant week. It's a relatively expensive restaurant that always offers basically their whole menu (maybe excepting the lobster) during RW.

I am sure there are others. Unfortunately, I haven't been lucky enough to have gone to one of those during RW in the last couple years. Sad statement, that. The bottom line is, choose your eateries carefully. Many places have their RW menus online. Don't patronize places that don't get it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wanted: Greener Eating Options in Columbia Heights

That's right, I am making a call for the first truly green restaurant to come to Columbia Heights and satisfy the needs of all the crunchy crusaders.

We need a Soylent Green Shack.

In an era where conservation is crucial, what could be more green than Soylent Green?

Solent Green looks green, sounds green, and is made entirely out of people. That's right - it's 100% recycled. Nothing goes to waste, and no additional natural resources were expended in its creation.

I googled "Soylent Green Shack" and there were zero hits. None. I just wanted to make sure that when its time comes, google will verify that you heard it here first.

Trademark pending.

Stange and Wonderful Things

A collection of completely unrelated things.

On one of our routine trips to DCUSA recently, I saw this pasted to a light pole near 14th and Park. Holy dog boy, batman!! What the devil is it?

Boston Terrier @ Columbia Heights

Then this morning at the office, on my way back from an urgent snack stop, I saw, perhaps, the cutest thing I have ever seen:

Child Rope

I found myself with a bunch of apples a couple weeks ago that turned out to be kind of mealy. Since I can't stand wasting food, I ventured into previously uncharted cooking territory. I made an apple pie. I happened to have a pie crust in the freezer from some thanksgiving or Christmas dinner past... and it was delicious.

So this past weekend, I decided to take it up a notch and combine the delciousness of apple pie with the greasy goodness of deep-frying. Apples, sugar, and biscuit dough, as it turns out, are ridiculously good.

Fried Apple Pie

Monday, December 14, 2009

Animal Farm in Columbia Heights

Is this puppy not cute?
Since the last time I posted we got a puppy. His name is Charlie, though we have taken to calling him Jumby. The name was taken from this bad horror movie we saw called The Unborn, which was mostly memorable because of this evil little demon child thing that keeps saying "Jumby wants to be born now!" Wikipedia defines Jumbee as "the generic name given to all malevolent entities," so this is probably where the movie got the name from. Either way, it fits.

This brings the roster to two human beings, two cats, and two dogs. Then there's the cockroaches, though they seems to have packed up and gone to winter somewhere else. Or maybe they just moved somewhere that they can get a little peace and quiet. Because that sure ain't our house. But it's all good.

Charlie is very cute. Though N. insists he is getting uglier by the day. I deny this, though I do accept that he's got some old face going on, and his hair is pretty weird. He's like half shorthaired and half longhaired. He started out soft and fuzzy, but now there's all this wiry terrier long hair growing in along with the short silky hair. And he's got this weird Fu Man Chu thing on his jaw, as well as a white soul patch on his chin. Okay, he looks a bit like the dog version of a skinny hipster at Wonderland, so maybe he's not going to win any dog shows. But he's still pretty cute.

However, he unquestionably has a heart of evil. His days consist of tormenting Sully. That, and biting my ear, and peeing and pooping on the floor right after he's been taken outside. Sully mostly just tries to get some quality sack time on the couch, but Charlie thinks that biting his tail would be a lot more fun. So Sully often ends up under the bed, which has always been his private place. Charlie doesn't see it that way, though, and generally follows him there too. Below is a picture of Sully hiding under the Christmas tree.

Chrismas Dog 1
Please, please leave me alone!
Poor Sully can't seem to find any respite from the little beast, so he seeks the shelter of our indoor evergeen. Or wherever he can go that he thinks Charlie won't find him. There aren't very many places that count.

Though there is evidence that secretly Sully likes the new member of our household. Charlie is too small to get on the bed by himself. So Sully could just hang out there, but he seems to never do so since Charlie's been around. I think he's just putting on a show. Or he's not very smart. Either is quite possible. That gadget at the left of the picture, by the way, is some crazy hot-water wet-vac contraption that N. had gotten for cleaning up Sully's accidents years ago. It's both awesome and necessary for having a puppy.

Back to Jumby vs. Jumbie, though. Though he is definitely a malevolent spirit, there is substantial evidence that he is, actually, a far worse variety than that described by Wikipedia. In the article referenced above, there are a number of ways to protect yourself from a Jumbee. Let's see how these might work with our demon:

1. leaving a pair of shoes outside your door; jumbies don't have feet and would spend the entire night trying on the shoes to get them to fit before moving onto you.

Leaving a pair of shoes outside my door could only have one result: chewed shoes. Quite the opposite, we have found it necessary to leave our shoes on top of tables, speakers, and radiators to avoid destruction. Jumby 1, Jumbee 0.

2. leaving a heap of sand or salt or rice outside your door; jumbies are compelled to count every grain before the sun rises.

Clearly, this fabled Jumbee is an inferior variety to our own. Ours is capable of eating everything in its path, except his own food. This includes Sully's food, toothpicks, my ear and ankles, the rug corners, his doggie diapers, pine bark mulch, and leaves. So any such stray organic matter would be nothing more than a snack to Jumby. So our Jumby would simply devour this (probably even the dirt) and bark until we gave him more. Jumby 2, Jumbee 0.

3. when coming home late at night, walk backwards so that the jumbie would be unable to follow you inside.

Charlie's Favorite Toy
Charlie's favorite toy. It used to be Sully's favorite toy.
Well, I'm not quite sure about this one. Our Jumby is already inside, and the only result of coming home late at night is that he wakes up and starts barking uncontrollably. Though I do frequently walk backwards to avoid stepping on the little beast, it certainly doesn't stop him from following me. And biting my toes. Jumby 3, Jumbee 0.

3. if one is being chased by a jumbie, cross a river, as they cannot follow over water.

I can't speak for the river trick but I will give that a shot whenever I have a chance. This dog appears to have no fear whatsoever, though. Even when Sully gets really annoyed and growls and barks and snaps at him, and even though Sully outweighs him by 30 pounds, he doesn't really care. Actually I think it makes him charge Sully even more. At this point lets assume he can't swim, though, and give a point to the Jumbee. Jumby 3, Jumbee 1.

4. Leave a rope with many knots by your door step. Jumbies love to try to untie knots, so they will forget about you while trying to untie the knots.

Absolutely true. He loves knotted things. Rope, the ends of the oriental rugs, shoelaces. All are a delicious snack. However, there's not a lot of untying going on, just unraveling. But as for this stopping him from chasing us down, not so much. This dog is as ADD as a goldfish. Jumby 4, Jumbee 1.

Clearly, Jumby is a superior form of demon that will not be stopped by these silly tricks. Victory: Jumby.