Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Buckingham Village, Parking, White Plastic Erasers

Buckingham Village and Our Neighborhood
Or: There is a “there,” here, Part 1.

If you’re a dog owner, then you understand that some people you only know by their dogs, people who you see and say to your spouse, “Hey, that’s Willie’s owner,” or “Isn’t that the guy who owns that huge lab?”

Rainbow’s owner was one of those people for me. I saw her at Costco the other day, but didn’t say hi. Where I usually see her is walking Rainbow in my backyard which is shared condominium space.

Or I’d see her anywhere throughout the neighborhood. She’s an older woman with graying hair and light blue eyes and skinny legs, who often wore a pair of shorts and an old T-shirt. She once told me, in her German accent, she walked at least five miles a day all over the county.
Rainbow was her grey-and-white schnauzer who, as often as not, was off his retractable leash to trot where he pleased, but never too far off the sidewalk, and never too far away from his owner.

Although I’d see her quite often in Arlington Oaks, she lived in Buckingham Village, at the corner of North Thomas and 4th Road, at least, that’s where I often saw her. She’d sit outside on a folding chair with a friend or two, in the dirt under the shade of an old oak. She and her friend never failed to say hello and ask of my children.

There’s a plastic tape barrier at that corner now. And I don’t want to get melodramatic, though it may be too late, but it hit me when I saw the barrier that I hadn’t seen her in weeks, and I should have said hello at Costco.

Perhaps I’ve just missed her (my family and I had been out of town for awhile) and I’ll see her again soon enough. Perhaps she never lived on but only visited that corner, or perhaps she’s been relocated within the complex, but it struck me that these are the times to come.
Whether you’re for the Buckingham Village demolition and reconstruction or against it, the face of Buckingham will change, and some of what made Buckingham the neighborhood we know will change with it.

With change comes disruption. I realize that I’ll be among the least bothered, and Rainbow’s owner will be (or maybe already has been) one of the displaced, but I don’t see any real way around it. The memorandum of understanding the county worked out with Paradigm looks like a good document to me, allowing change with the least disruption.

Still, it makes me feel ill.

Cheapskate Parking

It was blistering hot outside— told me it was 91 but only felt like 89 degrees last Tuesday, Aug. 22. In that kind of heat, I often find myself moseying over to Murky Coffee in Clarendon to score an iced coffee and use their AC and internet instead of mine. At times I get lucky, and a parking spot is open in front of the joint (there’s only five, so you have to get lucky), but as often, I head to the meters along Fairfax Drive behind Murky.

What burns my goat is that a guy can’t get lucky at the meters.

I pulled my VW into a spot that someone had just vacated, and to my delight (I’m a cheapskate, remember), there were four minutes left on the meter. But I’ve been mugged more than once before by these steely-headed bandits. Either the machines haven’t worked, or I’ve paid money into them to have them suddenly stop working.

So I was standing there, computer briefcase in hand, longing for cold iced coffee (remember, it only feels like a brisk 89 degrees), and there were four minutes on the meter. I can go inside, put my briefcase down and run right back out again, or I can choose what I chose.

I grabbed nickels and dimes and started to pump them, slowly, into the meter, just waiting for the meter to cut out on me. The first nickel in and I got lucky! It added four minutes. A dime added another eight. I got up to 59 minutes on the clock, and all I had left were two quarters.
That steely-headed hombre didn’t flinch—I saw his large adam’s apple bob up and down and thought I heard him say, "How many minutes do you think I have left? You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya punk?"

I pumped a quarter worth of steel into him, and he gave me only one minute more.

Frustrated, I walked inside to get the iced beverage and returned one-hour later to see that the meter that fronted my car was a one-hour meter (d’oh!). The meters on the other side of the median, three feet away, are two-hour meters. It’s one median, a sort of makeshift parking lot, and the meters are different?

“That’s cruel,” I told Sarah Stott. She’s the parking manager at the county’s Division of Transportation. She chuckled and then told me over the phone about how the county has five different colors on the parking meter heads, each one represents a different length of time. From yellow at a half-hour to green, a full 12 hours. The county also has meters that take park smart cards. If I wanted a handy keychain to remind me of which color has how many minutes, I could swing up to her office on the 9th floor of county building in the Courthouse neighborhood and get one.

Kids in tow, I met Ms. Stott there on Friday. She’s a nice woman with a firm handshake and colorful shoes. The kids and I got keychains, little rubber ones that look like cut-out heads of parking meters.

By the way, those times when I thought the stupid meter was busted, could have been that I was pumping nickels into a blue, red, or green head—they take quarters, dollar coins and park smart cards ONLY. This, of course, would have been obvious to me had I only read the stupid meter.

“They’ll tell me they’ve put in two dimes and nickel,” Ms. Stott said on the phone, “And I’ll tell them that it’s quarters only, not twenty-five cents.”

To parents of first graders in the Arlington Public Schools—Great News!

The white plastic erasers, required in the backpacks of our kids next week are real. Thanks to the help of Monique, a wonderful young woman at the Staples in Bailey’s Crossroads, I found the box of four.

“They’re German,” she told me, after zeroing in and grabbing my daughter a pack.
(FYI, I grabbed the last box of “large” glue sticks. Sorry, find your own.)

The bad news, I’ve gone on-line to find a link to the supplies list, and the list I’ve linked to is different than the one sent home! Sheesh. Get it together APS, some of us are anal, you know.
Department of Corrections:

Scott McCaffrey, my friend and former boss who I don’t hold accountable for the list of subscribers the paper sends free copies to, tells me that I got some details from my last post wrong: the Sun Gazette arrives by mail to the nicest houses in Arlington, not on lawns, and the Sun Gazettes haven’t appeared in 7-11s for nearly six years. My bad.

But I still can’t get a local newspaper in my neighborhood. The Sun Gazette boxes near the post office on Glebe Road were removed years ago (I believe that was back when it was the Sun Weekly). This goes for the Arlington Connection, too. I would happily read and even spend money at their advertisers’ places of business, if only I knew who they were.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Festival Buckingham, Busses and Affluence

Festival Buckingham
Hot and a little windy
An overfull crowd on Pershing Drive
People huddled in the shade
A block party, Pershing shut down
Ritmos Latinos boom from the speakers
People milling by tables set by the county
Housing aid
Groups to join
Face painting
Food—carne asada
Brideway 242, Mama Rose’s Ices
Bubbles at the BCCA tent and kids to pop them
And dancers in feathered head dresses
Purple, red and white jump fountain-like from the heads of teenage girls
While the wind threatens to pluck the plumage
And men hold masks to their faces in the dance
Other husbands and wives who’d huddled under the scant shade of wilted trees
And some who spent time under the misting tent fill the spaces
In front of the tables and make a gauntlet for the dancers to run
An emcee barks Spanish for the love of Bolivia
And the crowd cheers
Thank you BU-GATA for a great show.

If the county builds a better bus system, will the students come, and if so, how many more than currently ride?

That’s one question Seth Rosen at the Arlington Connection failed to ask county administrators in his article “County Targets Teens and Transit” in last week’s (Aug. 16-22) Connection. The answer is an implied “Yes,” to the first half, but the second half remains ignored.

Some of the ideas the teens had for increased use seemed like good ones—the student discount on tickets, for instance, should be implemented. Price was a major factor cited in a countywide transit survey of teens.

What confuses me, though, is that a teen may become a county AIM (Active! Involved! Motivated!) member (it’s free), and then head to one of the bus system’s Commuter Stores with the AIM card and get $25 worth of fares (metro and/or bus) for $12.50 each month. That is, the county and Metro seem to be doing just what the students say they want.

The simplest solution, it seems to me: a couple times a semester, have an AIM employee and a Commuter Store employee swing into the local high schools and set up a registration table. Then, sell the tix right there. Since students in the article also said they’re confused by the system, the Commuter Store people could hand out maps or answer questions. There, be done with it.

But no, the quick, straight path is not the Arlington Way—first we must study, and then STUDY SOME MORE, and then have public comment, and then….

All this studying is to try to find ways to make buses cool—ain’t gonna happen. Until buses pick you up at your house and drive straight to your destination (without stopping for anyone else) they’ll never have the pull of a car. Don’t spend a zillion dollars in order to increase teen ridership by seven people.

At the county fair, the Sun Gazette handed out can cozies with its relatively new tag line: “In the community, with the community, for the community.” Isn’t that nice? It’s the tag line handed down from their new owners (of about a year) American Community Newspapers.

Funny, but I still can’t get a free copy in the Buckingham neighborhood (even the 7-11 on South Glebe near the TJ Center no longer has a stack on Wednesdays). C’mon ACN, we’re in your community, why don’t we get our copies dropped onto our lawns?

But then you notice the other tag line: “Reaching the most affluent audience in the Washington, D.C. metro area.”

C'mon, Buckingham is in just-barely-North Arlington. My townhouse is worth nearly about a half million dollars—that’s affluence! (at least everywhere else in the nation). Boy-oh-boy, I don’t know what a fella’s got to do to join their club.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Stepping in their own Macaca.

I’m afraid Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb is starting to sound like John Kerry, if what the Washington Post said this morning is true. Apparently, he had said that he didn't like Affirmative Action, but now has decided that he believes in Affirmative Action for blacks but not other minorities. That sounds a little too much like “I voted for it before I voted against it.” I don’t think Kerry’s playbook is the one you want to steal from, Jim. Have the guts enough to say what you feel about it--hell, there are African-Americans and other minorities out there who agree with you. Just stop waffling.

Along those lines, I’ll put in my two cents (but who really cares) about Senator Allen’s “Macaca.” Whether he meant it as a racial slur (which I believe he did), or even whether he knew what it meant, I can’t help but think that he sounded like a child in that video on YouTube. He had the perfect opportunity to make a great political point: he (Allen) was in Virginia while Webb was out-of-state talking to Hollywood types. “I’m here, and he never will be” is a rough version of what he tried to tell his supporters, but it was lost thanks to his own blunder. Even if he had called Mr. Sidarth “Bozo” or “Spongebob” the result would have been much the same. In either case he looks like he can’t handle it when people who disagree with him are paying attention to what he does. That’s not exactly senatorial.

On an unrelated note, I'm working on some better posts, keep reading. I'm just getting started.

Why I Do This

I know people out there can correct me if I’m wrong (and I’m looking forward to hearing from you), but other than me, Arlington doesn’t have someone like me. I’ve googled every combination of “arlington” and “blog” or related keywords and found little that’s so focused on our fair county. I read the local papers. The Sun Gazette, the Connection, even (as far as I know) The Examiner’s Virginia edition, doesn’t have a person, in the form of some sort of column, focused just on Arlington. The Post doesn’t have anyone so focused, even in their weekly Arlington/Alexandria supplement.

It’s high time we had one. We deserve one.

So I plan on posting about twice a week from my basement in the Buckingham neighborhood—the center of my coverage. Yet twice a week may be a bit of a stretch since the semester starts soon at Montgomery College where I teach journalism, and we’ll have to see just how much time I can devote to this space.

I don’t plan on making this simply my chance to spout opinions (we have enough of that), and I don’t plan on simply reacting to newspapers as I did in the first post. I plan on doing some of my own reporting, sometimes filling in gaps I see in coverage and other times just getting out in the community and telling people what I see happening.

If I’m any good at this (and I just might be, you never know), tell your friends and family about this site. Feel free to post a note to this blog (you don’t have to be a member or anything, just post), or email me I’ll be looking for ideas of what to write about, so let me know. And you can tell me if I’m wrong.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Methinks he doth protest too much...

In a little blurb under the Political Notes section of Wednesday's Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey posted an intriguing idea: the car tax is anti-environmental. No doubt, he was trying to reach the left-leaning populace here in Arlington (Scott's politics lean decidedly to the right) in order to try to bring people into a froth over the car tax again, and he’s hoping to get a few Greens on his side. But I don’t believe his argument shows a true fear for our fragile environment.
He said, basically, that the car tax--a flat fee charged by the county based on the vehicle's value--is encouraging people to drive old beaters that pollute more than newer cars. You don't want to pay the tax, so you'll drive a 12-year-old rust bucket, apparently, air quality be damned.

As an aside, he asks why do we pay for the stickers in the first place? The tax is regressive, he says, since it charges the same for the rich and poor alike. I suppose you could argue that the car tax is regressive; however, it’s also self-regulated in one basic way—if you don’t want to pay higher taxes, buy a cheaper car. He even says in that small blurb that the tax goes down for people with cheaper cars—poorer people by cheaper cars and the tax rate on them is lower, apparently. Hmmmm. That’s exactly not regressive.

Call a spade a spade, Scott. You don’t like the car tax, and that’s fine, but just go ahead and say it. Myself, I think they just need a way to pay for it quarterly. It doesn’t hurt as much when it’s four small payments.

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