Friday, February 27, 2009

DC Government to Homeowners: Everything's Just Fine, So Pay Yer Taxes

According to the DC Examiner, residential property values are down a mere 3.67 percent in DC since the same time last year.

Let me clarify that. According to the Office of Tax and Revenue, property values are down a mere 3.67 percent in a year.

“We are very fortunate not to have our values plummet as they have in other parts of the country,” said Richie McKeithen, director of Real Property Tax Administration.

That is fortunate indeed, Mr. McKeithen. How convenient that despite the fact that hardly anyone can sell their homes, and I personally bought a house in Petworth last October for 27% less than it sold for exactly four years before, property values seem to be holding in DC according to the tax man.

I just looked up the proposed 2009 assessment for the house that I bought for $245,000. Four years ago, at the peak of the real estate market, it sold for $340,000.

2004 Sale Price: $340,000
2008 Assessment: $385,100

2008 Sale Price: $245,000
2009 Assessment: $394,120
Update... 2010 Proposed: $342,320

That's quite a bit of math right there. So, you claim property values have declined 4% citywide in just a year, a figure that is suspect at best. My own property is not just arguably, but actually worth nearly $100,000 less than it was at the peak of the market, since that is what it sold for. Yet despite all that, you decided it would be fun to raise my assessment by 2%. And not just raise it, but raise it to a value that is $150,000 higher than I bought it for not three months ago.

Well since I originally posted this, I got my proposed 2010 assessment. It did indeed go down from 2009, by more than 10%. Unfortunately, we're still a cool hundred grand over what I paid for it.

Wow. These are the same guys who gleefully raised our property tax assessments as values skyrocketed in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the tax man seems to think that property values are holding up miraculously in the District. Meanwhile, banks are foreclosing on cardboard boxes under the Whitehurst Freeway.

As much as I love DC, it would be nice if once, just once, I didn't feel like I was being shaken down for the privilege of living here. I guess I need to appeal this one.

Information on property tax appeals can be found here. Copied from DCRA's web site:

If you wish to appeal your assessment, please use the application found below. Print out and complete the form, sign it, attach any supporting documents required, and mail or fax it to the following address:

Government of the District of Columbia
Real Property Tax Administration
Attn: Appeals Section
PO Box 176
Washington, DC 20044
Fax: (202) 442-6796

You must file your appeal within 30 days of the date of your assessment notice. The statutory deadline for filing appeals is April 1.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pepco Responds!

Just kidding. You didn't really think they give a crap about customer service did you? Damn, it feels good to be a monopoly. But they did provide me with priceless entertainment in the form of the response to my email two weeks ago requesting that they stop charging me for services they did not provide.

Original online inquiry: February 6, 2008. Here is the automated response I received.

"Thank you for contacting Pepco. Our goal is to respond to inquiries within 48 hours. If you are sending this e-mail over the weekend, a representative will contact you regarding the inquiry within two business days."

Response received today, February 19.

Pepco Customer Service

For the record, 13 days is a fair shake longer than 48 hours. But that's pretty much irrelevant, since the response they finally sent can be distilled into the much more concise statement, we're not going to deal with your shit and we're not afraid to tell you that.

Luckily, I happened across this internal document from Pepco's customer service department which explains everything.

Pepco Customer Service

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pick My Transom

Help me out please. I have the aesthetic sensibility of a blind swamp rat. Below is a really bad photoshop job of my house with a transom. Following are ten sample designs to choose from, provided by the artist who will be making this for me. It doesn't have to be one of these either, I can do whatever I want as far as the colors go.

The rub is that I am definitely going to paint the ceiling of the porch and the porch itself. I like red and all, but really, it's a bit much. Most likely I'll make the ceiling the traditional tar-heel blue, and paint the porch some kind of neutral color, but I'm open to suggestions there too. The brick will definitely remain unpainted.

So, my appeal to anyone who can even dress themselves without being mistaken for Elton John. Which one do you like best? Or any alternative proposals?

UPATE: Well, I had kinda settled on that design, but nothing is set in stone (or lead) yet. Alterative designs are here - scroll to the bottom to see other options.

House Transom Mockup



I Got Nothin' So I'm Gettin' Out Of Dodge

Nada. Zilch. What the hell?

For the last couple weeks I have had more ideas for blog posts than I knew what to do with. I have three drafts that I never finished. Sometimes if I have an idea but I don't have time to research it or flesh it out, I'll just make a draft so I remember it. Then I can go back later and use it.

Unfortunately, the ideas from last week all seem kind of lackluster today. Whatever it was that I thought was funny, ironic, insightful, or just taunt-worthy, today seems sort of "eh."

Good For What Ail's YaI probably just need a change of scene. Luckily, I'm going to New Orleans on Saturday, for Mardi Gras. My first. I've been to Jazz Fest nearly a dozen times and never really had any desire to go to Mardi Gras. I like parties as much as the next guy but my impression of it was always of a bunch of frat boys pissing themselves. But my friend Andy who lives there sold me on it. Sure, there is the whole Bourbon Street business, but that's just a tiny part of it.

The real Mardi Gras is an event that is at the core of New Orleans culture and history. People prepare for the parades and parties for months leading up to it. The entire town basically shuts down for two weeks. The part of it that everyone thinks of - puking on your shoes, or people showing their tits for a cheap necklace, really has nothing to do with the real Mardi Gras.

So I decided it was, actually, ridiculous that I have been to that city almost every year since 1996, but had never experienced Mardi Gras. I'm looking forward to it - especially with the guided tour. I will be taking lots of pictures.

A few pictures from my 2008 Jazz Fest trip. See them all here.




Haircut 1


Hand Grenades

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why I Heart Why I Hate DC

"Dave" over at the blog why.i.hate.dc finally managed to come up with this hilarious commentary this week, after months of the blog itself being high on my list of things I hate about DC. You see, this blog has had a number of different writers since the longtime guardian Rusty checked out a year or so ago. Yes, things have been a little rocky.

Writers on why.i.hate.dc must meet a number of criteria before being allowed to take the helm of this venerable blog:

  1. You must not be from DC.
  2. You must be under 26 years old.
  3. As a consequence of #1 and #2 you must have lived in DC for less than 4 years.
  4. The exception to #3 is if you went to Georgetown, GW or AU for undergrad. It is acceptable, and even ecouraged, to have lived in DC between 4 and 8 years if you meet this qualification.
  5. Your hometown must be in a midwestern state.
  6. If you live in DC, it must be west of Rock Creek Park. Otherwise you must live in Northern Virginia or Bethesda.
  7. You must bitch about crime constantly, even though you have probably neither witnessed nor been a victim of one.
  8. If you ever actually become a victim of a crime in DC, despite living in AU Park or thereabouts, you must move out of DC within three months and find someone essentially similar to yourself to replace you at why.i.hate.dc.

A candidate meeting these qualifications is generally well suited to write snarky, long-winded missives that detail the trials of the five-minute delay they experienced on their rush-hour metro ride from their apartment in Van Ness to their desk job at Metro Center. Yes - this is the perfect why.i.hate.dc writer.

While Rusty himself sucked in his own uniquely hypocritical, sheltered, suburban-transplant way, I had a soft spot in my heart for him. Sometimes, his predictable rants would make me laugh. The rage with which he would declare DC uninhabitable over such rare events as a power outage in the middle of the summer would make me chuckle. So I missed him when the blog floundered following his flight to Columbus, Ohio.

As of late, though, we have seen a single guardian replaced with five others who share the burden - nay, the responsibility - of keeping this blog alive. Which is why it has been so troubling to see so little of the old DC anguish and fire from a Chevy Chase perspective that we once hated but loved. So it was a sad day when I read a post that began with "I Love WMATA" from "Dave," one of the five new writers. What a change from the glory days of why.i.hate.dc when a typical post would be entitled "I Still Hate WMATA."

Well, Dave finally got it right today. Some genuine sarcasm with a post that stabs right at the heart of the corner-bodega-shopping, ANC-meeting-attending, gentrifying-neighborhood-living, Bethesda-moving-when-kids-go-to-school DC resident.

That's right - he made fun of neigborhood bloggers. And even more importantly - I resemble those remarks. So let's see how my blog stacks up against Dave's list of tips to making a successful neighborhood blog.

Your blog's banner must include a photo of either the local Metro station, or a group of rowhouses. Check!

You should only live in a neighborhood that's considered "gentrifying." Only fellow gentrifiers read blogs. Columbia heights? Check!

At a minimum, one post per week must be dedicated to the discussion of dog parks. I don't give a crap about dog parks. No points.

You should always discuss how awesomely friendly your neighbors are, in so much that the people who have "lived there forever" say hi to you. Good grief I mentioned my awesome neighbor yesterday! Is this guy actually using my blog as a model?

Hearing gunshots warrants an immediate "live blogging" event. You should definitely make note of how long it took the police to arrive. You should also mention that while you aren't sure what actually occurred, you intend to call the police station to find out. You may or may not post a follow up, explaining how unhelpful the police were on the phone. Well, there were no guns and I can't live-blog since I detest large, internet-enabled phones, but I have definitely discussed my near-involvement of crimes and police response time. Check!

Highlight how much the neighborhood has changed since you moved in, and how you now feel comfortable "walking anywhere you want" before 7 PM. I got that blown out of the water, here's a post with pictures of Columbia Heights in 1913!

You should lament how despite the growing number of restaurants and bars, you have yet to find one that's "cozy" or "neighborhood" enough for you. Don't mention that any place that would meet this criteria is EWWW waaay too gross for your taste. Can't get on board with this one - I love my neighborhood joints.

Post a lot of poorly composed, low quality photos that you took with your iPhone/cell phone. I think I get bonus points for this post which involves poorly-composed cell phone pictures, a fire, and police.

Lament the lack of a good (name brand) grocery store in your neighborhood; when a new, name brand grocery store arrives, lament the harm done to local grocers. I'm not actually that kind of whiner. I want as much new stuff to open as possible and I have no use for crappy businesses.

Talk endlessly about how you ride your bicycle to work, and how much you hate DC drivers. Leave out the fact that you most likely don't even ride on the street, and you mow down a few pedestrians each week. Check!

Refer to your neighborhood with a ridiculous acronym (i.e. BloMi for Bloomingdale). Check! Though it was tongue in cheek...

Attempt to have constructive dialogue about race relations on your blog. Check!

Become frustrated about the lack of constructive dialogue about race relations on your blog. See above post.

Highlight the fact that you have, on at least three occasions, ridden on the city bus. Check!

If you follow these tips, you should find yourself linked by DCist and The Washington City Paper in no time! Maybe you can even become blog friends with Tina.

Got not one but two pictures in DCist just last week. And I've been quoted in the Washington Post Express blog log a half a dozen times. Do I win? I have no idea who Tina is, though.

Well, anyway, that's not even the whole list from Dave's post but it should be pretty clear that my blog is, in fact, the archetypal neighborhood blog. Thanks, Dave, for finally making me laugh. You were one dc-loving post away from the "unsubscribe" button.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Front Door: Out With The Old, In With The Older

Following up with yesterday's post, here's a picture of my new door. I am going to have a stained-glass transom with my house number made to fill the gap above the door. You may notice there's no crosspiece between the top of the door and the plywood right now. I decided to hang the door before installing that so I could get the fit at close as possible and just haven't gotten around to it yet. Luckily it's been warm so I'm not getting in too much trouble with the gap, but I should be have that finished today or tomorrow.

And I'll be damned if I can't find a single picture of the old front door! I know I took a bunch of pictures of the house from the outside before I bought it but I can't seem to find them. The picture I put on my blog when I first bought the house has my realtor in the doorway so you can't see the door at all. But believe me... it was hideous.

Any thoughts on paint color? I have considered doing some kind of a crazy mount-pleasantish thing with lots of different colors accenting the profiles...

Click the photo to zoom. Also be sure to note my awesome next-door neighbor taking a nap on his porch. I really love my street.

New Old Door

Post Number 198... two to go. God help me if #200 is a V-day post.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Home Improvement Update - New Door

Over the weekend I replaced the front door of my house. The old one was a disaster since day 1 and half the door frame broke off a couple weeks ago, leaving a 1/2" gap for half of the height of the door on one side. Not good for the gas bill. Replacing a door is a pain in the neck no matter how you slice it. The easiest way is with a pre-hung door. This means you buy the door already in the frame, everything's already put together for you. All you have to do is set it in your old rough opening, shim it, seal it, and presto - new door.

In practice, even putting in a pre-hung door is a fairly substantial hassle. When dealing with old houses - especially when the rough opening for your doorway is made of brick - nothing like this goes well.

I didn't have the luxury of a pre-hung door, because being the crazy presevationist that I am - and also a cheap bastard - I wanted to use a vintage door. A new, pre-hung, custom-ordered exterior door is easily two thousand bucks. And unless you get into crazy handmade stuff that could run in the multiple thousands, it probably won't even be as nice as a typical vintage door.

So I had gotten a door I liked a while ago from The Community Forklift which is very cool, and also has an awesome brass lockset and handle, probably a $300 value! All that was mine for the low, low price of $12.50. (It was half-price door day at the Forklift! Woo hoo!). Now it wasn't perfect- missing a pane of glass. I had to rekey the locks. One of the cylinders didn't work - had to buy a new one. At this point, I've spent $22.50 on a lock cylinder, $25 rekeying two cylinders, $20 on two new panes of glass (I got a spare), $14 on the two pieces of glass I destroyed trying to cut a new pane myself (ha ha), $35 on the wood for the door frame, and $7 on a strike plate for the lock. I'm sure I'm forgetting something.

So... door itself - $12.50. Other stuff to make door work - $126.50. Still. Even the crappiest pre-hung door at Home Depot is about $200 and this thing is cool.

Oh, and did I mention about 16 hours of labor taking out the old door, cutting the frame, setting the new frame, trimming the new door to size, sanding for an hour to correct the awful job I did with the circular saw, mortising out the hinges and lock strike... and it's still not done. And it's definitely not perfect, although it's nearly there. At least I can lock it now, unlike the first night when I simply ran out of steam around 9 PM. I set a ladder with a toolbox on it in front of the door as my makeshift alarm that night.

I still need to find something for the transom. The original on my house was a wreck and not worth saving. I think I would like to get something with my house number made from stained glass.

I forgot to take pictures... will post them tomorrow! And my front porch is still a mess so I'd like to clean it up before unveiling to the world.

Note: This is post number 197. Three posts away from the 200...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Get Over It: You Can't Change Adams Morgan

In the category of "most boneheaded ideas of 2008" is the Adams Morgan taxi stand. The latest in an apparently never-ending series of futile attempts to civilize Adams Morgan, has been nixed after it unsurprisingly failed miserably. And a good riddance, I say.

I don't know the exact history of this idea, but it reeks of yet another hairbrained scheme from certain neighborhood activists who incredibly think they can turn Adams Morgan into a classy neighborhood. These are the same people who constantly whine about the trash and noise, who got a moratorium on new liquor licenses, the ones who vehemently opposed the bars staying open late during Inauguration Week. They complain about parking and tourists, despite the entire existence of Adams Morgan being predicated on a constant flow of tourists.

Listen up, girls. Adams Morgan is a partier. He's loud and boisterous, he has lots of friends, he likes to stay up late and get drunk all the time. He's the life of the party. That's why you were attracted to him in the first place, remember? Because he was the coolest kid and you wanted to be with him.

Well guess what. He's not going to change. Not for you, not for anyone. So now you've been dating for a couple years, and all those late-night benders just aren't as much fun as they used to be. You want to stay home and cuddle up in front of a movie, but he's out playing quarters with his buddies at 3 AM. You want to talk about paint colors, but he wants to play Guitar Hero.

I've got some news for you, sister. It's not him: it's you. He hasn't changed one bit - he's exactly who he was the day you met him. He's the same frat boy you used to think was so cool. It's you that changed, and you better believe he's never going to. Not for you and not for anyone.

So you've got two choices. You can accept him for who he is, or you can dump him and move on. Because men don't change and women do. So either learn to live with that big doofus that is Adams Morgan or move the hell out, because your puny attempts to change him will never succeed. Either quit your bitching, or call back that nice boy who had a crush on you, but wasn't quite cool enough for you back in the day. Sure, he's kind of boring, but he won't let you down and he'll do anything you say. You know, Cleveland Park.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

No One Has A Job Anymore, Creating Numerous Job Opportunities

As our economy and entire way of life hurtles towards oblivion, and most Americans sit home, biting their fingernails, wondering at what moment the electricity will be cut off, a silver lining is emerging.

I happened across this unfortunate, yet oddly humorous web site called The Layoff Daily. Generally the news of hundreds of thousands of jobs evaporating before our very eyes should not be chuckle-inducing. Quite the opposite, it should inspire fear and dread, and should cause most people to begin learning Mandarin so they can avoid accidentally insulting our impending Chinese Destiny Overlords, an act which would result in death by a thousand cuts.

But for now, or at least until I too am laid off with the rest of America, it's kinda funny. Because it doesn't just show you who's getting rid of people, it shows you who's hiring. Here are a few entries from (the much shorter) Column B that made me laugh in an awkard, painful way.

California Highway Patrol - Apparently, CHP needs people to replace Ponch & John. Since nobody in California is employed any more, obviously, crime will increase proportionate to the number of idle people. Since idle hands do the devil's work, you know.

Of course, California is completely broke and can't even pay people their tax refunds from 2008. But, being able to carry guns around, drive through red lights, and generally do whatever the hell you want is probably not such a bad thing right about now. Definitely a winner, even though you won't get paid.

Our Recommendation: Move to California; stop paying taxes immediately; quit snorting blow long enough to pass the drug test.

Rhode Island Unemployment Call Center - They're looking for 40 people to fill out their ranks, for obvious reasons. Preference given to applicants with incomprehensible foreign accents, which is a strong indicator of extensive call-center experience.

Sands Casino, Bethlehem, PA - These guys are hiring a whopping 1,000 people to staff their new bastion of evil. What's the first thing you do when your job goes south? Head to the casino with your worthless house title and see if you can find a sucker who'll let you bet with it.

The Federal Government - Well duh, since we just elected a communist muslim african muggleblood terrorist as president, he needs to fill the ranks with his evil henchmen.

GEICO -- The insurance giant is hiring 870 people!!! If you happen to have a kitschy cockney accent and are 6 inches tall and green, you are guaranteed job security for life. Obviously, this is a result of having to deal with the investigation of record numbers of "accidents" as people burn down their unsellable houses and failing businesses.

FBI -- Hiring 2,950 people?!! Well, probably a good idea, but it would have been nice if you'd decided to bring in someone who spoke Arabic about 10 years ago, instead of trying to kill everyone in the world who speaks Arabic. But better late than never.

Border Patrol -- hiring an unbelievable 11,000 people!! Well, if they just offer a job to everyone trying to illegally enter this country, you could probably kill two birds with one stone.

On the other hand, since former investment bankers are now fighting each other for a job as a short-order chef at Denny's, there probably won't be a lot of reason for Mexicans to be heading our way anymore.

No, the reason for this is almost certainly for exactly the opposite reason: to try to prevent the entire population of America from fleeing to Canada. Where there are also no jobs but at least you can smoke weed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Think You Made A Wrong Turn...

Sorry for yet another boring post about Google Analytics, but apparently I am obsessed. One really fun thing is that you get to see what search terms people used to find your web site, and some of them are hilarious. Here are some awesome ones for my blog.

"Obama sex toys" - This post is the 12th result in google. A whopping 23 people found their way to my web site looking, apparently, for an Obama-themed vibrator. An item that is sure to be worth a fortune on Ebay in ten years...

"Meat My Ass" - This post about my first Krav Maga experience has, bizzarely, become Google's 20th hit for this query. I will refrain from postulating a theory about what they were actually looking for.

"Quick Hell Update" - Oh my god I'm the third Google result when looking for news from the underworld. In January, four people got to my site with this search.

Okay. I apologize if you have completely glazed over. Moving on...

The Gibson, Less Paul

...he had to go home early last night. (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.) But the other four of us went in for a drink and to check out the new spot next door to Marvin on 14th Street.

While The Gibson sells itself as an under-the-radar, old-school drinking, speakeasy sort of joint, it's already gotten plenty of press online so I don't feel bad blogging about this place -- it's no secret. This is no hummingbird to mars.

But regardless, the shtick is kind of fun -- no sign on the door, reservations sorta required, the attendant by the door brings you right to your table. The interior is beautifully appointed - plush, oversized booths, dark wood throughout, wainscotting on the walls. Our server was friendly and attentive, and put on a nice show for us with citrus flame bursts to finish the drink performed at the table. I had a Sazerac and another gin based cocktail, the name of which escapes me right now. Both were delicate and delicious.

I felt that the prices were very reasonable - the mixed drinks offered on the menu ranged from $8 to $14. The menu was limited, but the waitress seemed to know how to make a good number of old traditional drinks. While this certainly not at the low end of drink pricing in DC, it's far from the worst. And you're not just getting a generic Grey Goose and whatever that a bartended pours every three seconds at your typical snooty watering hole, you get a custom-made, old-school drink for about the same price. And you get to consume it in a low-key, no-standing-room environment.

I have give the owners kudos. Unlike the sister operation Marvin nextdoor - though by sister I mean the wicked, red-haired bastard child stepsister -- everything is classy and professional. Nine bucks at Marvin for a watered-down, short-poured, generic drink, usually served with a healthy side of arrogance from the bartender, or eight bucks for a Sazerac and a nice conversation? No comparison. Make a point of treating yourself to The Gibson.

I forgot my camera last night, but Sexy Fitsum took the awesome picture above, found on Flickr.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Neighborhood Terminology: Lingo in Cohi

Over on Prince of Petworth another raging debate has fired up over neighborhood boundaries, nick names, and so on. I would like to settle this debate once and for all. Here is a comprehensive list of all the terms you you will need during your stay in Columbia Heights.

CoHi: Gentrified parts of Columbia Heights.

SoHi: The rest of Columbia Heights.

Holand: Short for Wonderland.

CoHo: A girl at Holand.

Targay: Where you buy everything in CoHi

Target: You, walking home from Targay after dark.

Fixie: Transportation used by CoHi residents, curiously rejecting 100 years of advances in gear and brake technology

Upper: Entertainment used by CoHi residents

Fixer-Upper: Home of CoHi residents.

Derbilicious: Breakfast burrito and bloody mary at Red Derby

Derbauchery: What you were up to right before you got thrown out of the red derby last night

Jack: A cigarette, usually someone else's. Usage: "Spare a jack?"

Jacked: What happens to CoHi residents who wear their iPods and send text messages while stumbling home at 4 AM

Jackass: New resident of CoHi who hasn't yet been jacked, and therefore wears their iPod and sends text messages while stumbling home at 4 AM

I think that about covers it.