Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Traffic, Conservation, Foxes and more...

Traffic Legislation at the State Level

Six of us crossing Glebe Road after dinner one summer evening had to wait for a van making a left from Pershing Drive. As we stepped with the light into Glebe, the van turned left in front of two lanes of oncoming traffic and into our lanes on Glebe. A police car sat in line behind him on Pershing. At the time, the Pershing and Glebe intersection held a large sign stating that failing to yield to pedestrians is a $100 to $500 fine.

I still don’t know why the officer didn’t stop him. Maybe he or she was off-duty. Maybe somehow the officer didn’t see it. (If you read my Nov. 12 post, you can imagine how I reacted.)

Or it could be that the officer thought the van had yielded to us. After all, we didn’t get hit.

The county board is supporting a region-wide push at the state legislature this January to institute a law so motorists would have to stop, not yield, to pedestrians in crosswalks. The current law that allows for a fine of up to $500 at about 100 intersections in Arlington was created under special permission from the state legislature near the end of the last decade, said Charles Denney, the bicycle and pedestrian program manager for the county.

The county’s Pat Carroll told me the police feel it’s unclear what the motorist must do with the current language—how slow is a yield?

“Drivers do know what ‘stop’ means,” she said. Ms. Carroll is the state legislative liaison for the county.

A bill addressing this made it through the state senate last year, but failed in a house committee, she said.

“We’re hopeful” regarding its passage this year, she said adding it would be hard. She blamed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates for part of the problem, especially delegates in more rural locales.

“They’re just not as sympathetic to us as we’d like them to be,” she said.

But what does “stop” really mean? Ms. Carroll said it depends on how the law is written.

How long must a car be stopped before it can go through a crosswalk? Once the pedestrian is out of the car’s lane? Out of the road completely? If the road has a median, must the driver stop even if the person is on the other side of the median? And who has the right-of-way to enter the crosswalk first? In my case, the van had been stopped before slamming the accelerator to get by us; would that count?

It all comes back down to enforcement. Make sure the police know what’s illegal and then tell them to make sure to ticket for that. I’m not sure changing the language to “stop” instead of “yield” does that.

The law must say something akin to: No driver may be in a crosswalk if pedestrians are in it.

I like that because it’s clear to see that and make a judgement: either the car is in the crosswalk or it’s not. Either people are in the crosswalk or they’re not. I this sets-up its own set of problems, but telling a driver simply to “stop” to me isn’t enough, especially if it can’t or won’t be enforced.

The Buckingham Conservation Plan Passes…

An email from Pat Hope had some good news for Buckinghamsters, so I thought I’d include it here. –Steve.

BCCA Members - On Monday evening, I presented our Neighborhood Conservation Plan (NCP) before the Arlington Planning Commission.

Members of the commission were very concerned about the lack of attention paid to Buckingham over the years and insisted - rather than waiting for funding through the normal neighborhood conservation bond process (which is on the ballot every two years and can take even longer for your project to be complete) - that our recommendations be made conditions when developers in the Buckingham area seek Site Plan Review.

In addition, accessibility issues, such as sidewalks and curb cuts, also gained particular attention and the commission recommended the county move to fund these projects immediately. Lubber Run also raised concerned but this will likely need a bond for which I think we would have the support of the commission for 2008.

At the end of discussion, the Planning Commission congratulated BCCA and approved our NCP on a unanimous vote. The final step will be to go before the Arlington County Board for final acceptance (tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12).

Next, I promised to follow-up with a BCCA giving initiative for the holidays. As many of you are aware, the Lubber Run Community Center has a terrific after-school program that sees many Buckingham youngsters, of which most are low-income children and teens.

Every year, the Center has a holiday party where Santa Claus pays a visit and delivers a toy to each child in the program from their "wish list." This year's holiday party will be on Friday, Dec. 22 at 6:00 p.m.

I recommend that the BCCA sponsor this program by collecting money to purchase toys and gift certificates for the Lubber Run after-school program.

So please consider donating to fulfill the "wish list" of Buckingham children in the Lubber Run program. If you're interested in donating ($10, $25, $50, or more) please contact me via email or phone (703) 528-8956.

We'll have to pick a date to go purchase the items so please let me know if you're interested in joining me.

Happy Holidays,



More About Arlington

“About Arlington” column appears in the Connection again this week.

I know you can pick up a copy at Murky Coffee in Clarendon and Bob and Edith’s diner (the original store) on Columbia Pike—I’m sure there are other places in the county where you can snag one.

simply call 703-917-6465, and they’ll set-up a free subscription for you (if you live in Arlington).

My column was complimented…I think. Scott McCaffrey over at the
Sun Gazette mentioned my debut as a Connection Columnist. It’s nice to know he’s still reading.

More Odd Neighbors

Hide your chickens!

In the
comments section of the last post, Miles wrote that his roommate and he have both spotted a FOX near Quincy Street and Glebe Road. We are the urban forest, no doubt.

Dept. of Irony…

From the Arlington Connection Nov. 22:

The Connection covered the county report that said teens had fewer feelings of suicide and other anti-social behavior but that their drug use was up a little. The story produced this unfortunate juxtaposition at the bottom of page 3:

“The prevalence of casual drug use among

See Teens Happier, page 4”

I’ll bet they are.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving; Winter Visitor

Happy Thanksgiving
We had a great Thanksgiving, thanks. I hope yours was nice, too. I’ll be back to some longer, newsier posts soon, I promise.

The kids and I hit "Happy Feet" at the Ballston Common Mall on Thanksgiving. Never saw a movie on a holiday before, and thought, since no family was visiting, that we'd try. My kids, 6 and 4, liked it, though I thought it was only OK, a little too derivative of other movies with a plot too close to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Buckingham’s Winter Visitor

Driving home the other day, I spotted what I thought was a fine specimen of an accipiter, or bird hawk, flying just under the canopy of oak trees near my home. It had a longish tail and rounded wings, and I was happy enough to see it again when walking home from skating. This time it was circling above the trees, and I saw it had a whitish underbelly, and no stripes that I could see.

I think it’s a northern goshawk. I’m not big birder, but I do like to know what I’m looking at when possible, so I checked out Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds, which turned up the goshawk as the most likely suspect.

The picture matched best what I saw, and part of its habitat: “in winter, deciduous woodlands.” What’s more deciduous than Arlington Oaks?

Now this is news (or, at least, neighborhood blogger news) because it usually doesn’t come this far south. My field guide is from 1980. The map shows that in winter Pennsylvania and New Jersey are probably filthy with these birds, but Maryland, it says, is about as far south as they come. The book hints that the bird has been pushing farther south, but a quarter century ago it hadn’t made it to us.

Somehow I doubt that I’m the first person to see one in Virginia, but it looked like something noteworthy, anyway.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Starbuck'd; BV Financing, sort of.

I’ve Been Starbuck’d

Twice, I’ve tried to meet with David Cristeal, in Arlington County’s housing division, to discuss the financing plans for the Buckingham Villages reconstruction. We almost met two nights ago at the Starbucks in Ballston Mall (Starbucks is an upscale coffee shop—maybe you’ve heard of them); that didn’t work though because he was at the Starbucks at the Ballston Metro stop. So last night, clear on which Starbucks was most convenient—the Metro Sbux—I arrived a little before the appointed time and waited, and waited, but then gave up apparently a few seconds too soon.

See, I thought two things. 1: I hadn’t checked my email to see if he’d written a note to cancel, and 2: what if we yet again weren’t as clear as I thought, and he was waiting at the mall Sbux? I couldn’t let him wait there for me wondering where I was, but then I thought what if he’s thinking the same of me, and is at this very moment rising from his seat to find me at the Metro store? Stuck, I waited, but didn’t want to wait until, despairing, he left the mall for home.
I checked with the barristas wondering if there were even more Sbux in the neighborhood. Of course there were, but nothing that would have been mistaken for the two stores I was thinking of, so I left for the mall, alas.

I received an email yesterday evening from Mr. Cristeal who said he’d arrived and wondered where I was. I must say publicly, I’m sorry.

Clearly we’ve been Starbuck’d.
The Onion, the best source of fake news on the web, once ran a story about Starbucks opening a Starbucks inside a Starbucks men’s room. At times, I think that was real news.

You, of course, realize that this wouldn’t have happened if we had a Dunkin’ Donuts in the neighborhood.

Buckingham Village Financing

In order to retain 300 affordable units in Buckingham Villages 1 & 3, the county will have to subsidize construction of the units, and understanding the details gets complicated, given the tax credits and grants options out there. Rather than spew wrong or vague information at you I’ll just wait until I can sit down with people, like David Cristeal, from the county to talk to about this.

My big question about the financing stems from the county board meeting of Oct. 18. The board, basically, looked at selling units in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in order to help moderate-income people buy units in BV, among other affordable housing projects.

The last I knew, none of the apartment units in a reconstructed BV are to be condos; everything will be rentals. Earlier plans listed the “Octopus” building (see the Oct. 1 and 29 posts) as being a condo, but by the Site Plan Review Committee meeting in September, presenters from Paradigm Development Corp., changed that to apartments.

The only units for sale in BV1 will be the townhouses, at market rate. The townhouses Paradigm is building across N. George Mason Drive in BV2 are listed on their signs as starting at the low, low bargain-basement price of $750,000.

I can’t believe the county is thinking of helping moderate-income people buy townhouses worth three-quarters of a million dollars. I must be missing something. So I will find out.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

BV: Scenario 8, Townhouses, GOP

Buckingham Village 2, Scenario 8

Look sideways at the latest plan for Buckingham Village 1—maybe squint a little—and you’ll see a Native American ceremonial mask. A couple rows of townhouses make up the eyes, and the large green space along N. 4th Street is a longish nose. The two large, forked and angular buildings are stripes of face paint on the cheeks. The N. 3rd Street Extension is a mouth.

I imagine I’m seeing this because (aside from my obvious dementia) this is the first plan that is quite symmetrical, like a face. Fourth Street now runs “horizontally” through the property, dividing it north and south from N. George Mason Drive to the 3rd Street Extension.

The village plan now sports two sets of townhouses running parallel to George Mason Drive, north of 4th Street and south of 4th Street. The two, large apartment buildings are closer in size now, one north of 4th Street, the other south. Symmetry. (Once again, I’m sorry that blogs are no place to show most any image.)

If the comments around the table at Thursday’s Site Plan Review Committee meeting are any indication, people were quite happy with this plan. If the county approves the money, this might just be the plan that makes its way to the Planning Commission, the sort of parent group of the SPRC, Nancy Hunt told me in a phone interview on Saturday. She is the chair of the SPRC and is a member of the Planning Commission, a county-appointed, state mandated group.

Gone are the “Octopus” and the “Stick” buildings (see the Oct. 1 and 29 posts). Turns out, the Stick existed, at least partially, for tax purposes. The size of the building at 150-some apartments, which at one point were planned to be affordable units, hit certain requirements for federal tax relief.

Paradigm Development Company, the owners of the property, still needed more than 500 units to make the property cost effective, so the Octopus had to run more than 350 units; its first iteration had 375.

County staff and Paradigm think they found some rather cost-effective ways around that tax problem, they said at the meeting Thursday. So in “Scenario 8”—somehow in a month they jumped from 2 to 8—they now have two buildings, at 240 and 284 units apiece. Each building has an underground parking garage, accessible from the 3rd Street extension.

If this plan is fully implemented, the neighborhood gets a new traffic light at George Mason Drive and 4th Street.

Cost effective does not necessarily mean cheap, mind you. This plan is decidedly more expensive than the first plan (potentially upwards of 10 million). I’ll have more about the funding on Wednesday’s post.

Scenario 8: My Take…

Overall, I like the plan, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s just because it looks nice from above. People like things symmetrical—any philosophical study of aesthetics will devote time to the beauty of symmetry.

But who cares if it looks good from above? The only time we’ll see it that way is in aerial photos or when we’re landing at National.

Building A, the south building, is 50 feet tall, a full four floors plus a pitched roof. Swing by Village 2 and look to the top of the cupola of the George Mason Apartments (you can see it now since everything around it has been razed). That is probably a little over 50 feet, but it should give a decent sense of the height.

Building A will stand across Pershing Drive from Arlington Oaks with its 30 foot buildings. One wing of Building B, also 50 feet, fronts North Henderson Road across the street from two-story, single-family homes. Buildings A and B will, no doubt, be noticeable and perhaps imposing.

I must admit, though, the courtyards facing Pershing are deep and might be enough of a break to soften the look. Henderson Road has no such luck.

The large green space along 4th Street, nearly the size of a football field (without end zones), will be a nice place for some activities. However, the plan encircles that space with the cut-through 4th Street, and it might not be a space parents want children to play in. One person at the SPRC meeting suggested making one side of that road more of a driveway, and that might work better.

Still, the traffic pattern makes more sense, and we’re going to have a couple of big buildings no matter what, so I can’t say I really dislike, overall, what I see.

I have one suggestion—the plans have always had two pools with the idea that each building would want its own amenities. However, that was when there was no central space for a pool. Putting a larger pool in the 4th Street green space might do the trick. Pools require fences which secure the green space to assuage parents’ fears, yet there would still be plenty of space for other activities on the green.

If the pool was centrally located, the courtyards where the pools are currently planned would be freed up, and would be more secure, for play space or for other uses.

A little bonus at the SPRC meeting, Thurday.

In order to show the height differences with the buildings of Village 1 and surrounding buildings, the plans show the basic layout of the townhouses soon to grow from the scorched earth of Village 2. This image is of the buildings running along N. George Mason Drive. A similar layout will run along N. Thomas Street.

One more bit about the GOP

Reading the Post on Friday, I came across an article about how the Republicans will have to take a long hard look at themselves given the loss this year of Senator George Allen and Jerry Kilgore last year in the governor’s race.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said:

"I think it is important for the Republican Party to remain committed to conservative values, lower taxes, less government, individual rights and responsibilities. We are the party that believes values still matter to Virginians, but at the same time it is important to talk about how our values relate to issues."

Now both of you who
read my column in the Arlington Connection last week might recognize that this is exactly what I was talking about with the Republicans. Cutting taxes, especially in Democrat-heavy northern Virginia, is not a vision for the state or county. That cicada just won’t buzz up here. Show me a vision for a better county, Republicans, and I’ll pay attention.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Affordable Housing, Cursing, About Arlington

Short post today.
I'm buried in papers to grade for my classes, but I should be out with a better post on Sunday.

Making Units Affordable in Buckingham

I’ll have more on this story later, but I thought I’d point out a story the Arlington Connection ran Nov. 8. The story attempts to explain how the county is planning to provide housing to lower income Arlingtonians already living in Buckingham. From what I can tell, this is part of the plan to maintain the affordability of about 300 units in the neighborhood.

It stems from the Oct. 24 Arlington County Board meeting—
watch the video parts under Item 51 on this page.

I’ll have more on this Sunday, with luck.

While I’m admitting to cursing (see last Sunday’s post)…Don’t Use the F-, S-, or D-Words:

Because our language isn’t always perfect, my wife and I had lived in fear that we’d be getting calls from our daughter’s kindergarten teachers wondering if maybe we could stop her from saying, “Son of a ---, where’s my blue crayon?” or some other choice phrase. So I thought we’d dodged a bullet given that her teachers at Key Elementary never gave us that call.

Until the other night in the car.

Out of the blue, Hazel told me, “We’re not allowed to use the ‘F-word’ at school.”
Right then, I said it to myself, realizing that she’d probably heard it from me, so I asked, incredulously, “Who did you hear using that word?”

I was hoping she’d say, Lilly, Phoebe, or Caitlin, any of her little friends, but me.

She said, “You’re not allowed to use the ‘S-word’ either.”

I repeated the s-word to myself, then asked, “Where are you hearing all these words?”

She still didn’t answer, and I was beginning to wonder if she was trying to protect someone or was afraid I’d get angry if she blamed me. She finally answered in a sort of vague way that this was merely classroom discussion, a sort of general statement of rules.

“So, yeah, you can’t call people fat, and you’re not allowed to call them stupid.”

“Oooooh! You’re right, you’re not allowed to say that.”

We say a million other things you probably shouldn’t say, I thought as I drove, but we don’t call each other stupid, a treasured Thurston house rule.

“You can’t say dumb, either.”

“That’s a good rule,” I said and was thankful to get out of the car.

About Arlington Premiers

I’ve started writing a bi-weekly column in the Arlington Connection newspaper called “About Arlington” and will feature much of the sort of information found here, but with a wider, Arlington audience. Although it will be a "column," an opinion piece, I'll be trying to get out to events in the county, talking to the people there and reporting what I see. The first piece is an election reaction—see it in the Nov. 15 edition, or on-line.

If you've got ideas for stories or events for me to cover, let me know:

Remember, you can get a copy of the Arlington Connection mailed to you free by calling their phone number: 703-917-6465 and giving your name and address.


Police Notes for Buckingham (A bad couple of days in Buckingham…)

Nov. 11:
Malicious Wounding, 4400 block of N. Pershing Drive. At approximately 2:20 a.m., a man threw a beer bottle at another man who was standing outside of an apartment building. The suspect then fled on foot. The victim was struck in the head by the beer bottle and suffered lacerations. The suspect is described as a white, Hispanic male in his 20’s, 5’4” tall, 150 lbs, with medium-length black hair, wearing blue jeans and a grey short-sleeved shirt.

Nov. 12:
Felony hit and run on the 600 block of N. Glebe Road. At approximately 10:30 p.m a driver turning onto northbound N. Glebe Road. struck two pedestrians in the crosswalk then fled the scene. Both victims were transported to a local hospital with injuries and released later that night. A witness observed the license plate of the suspect vehicle and officers were able to locate the driver. Mustapha Kassemi, 43, of Falls Church, was arrested and charged with two counts of Felony Hit and Run. He was released on his own recognizance.

Nov. 12:
Stolen auto from the 600 block of N. George Mason Drive, license plates: VA JWP7502. The car is a white Toyota Camry, 1998.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Safety in the 'Hood

Stop Signs Are for People, Too.

The man stood in the middle of Pershing Drive, swearing at the top of his lungs, arms outstretched like a traffic cop. It was only about dinnertime last Wednesday evening, but already the night was dark.

“Stop your @#$#^*%*#@ cars!” he yelled in the wash of the streetlight.

“Steve,” his wife said lightly from the sidewalk. She stood next to their friend with both their daughters. The husband of the friend had made it across Pershing already, holding the man’s son.

“Stop your damn cars!”

He held both hands up to stop one car which slowed, then, one hand still up toward that car, he shifted lanes and brought the other car to a standstill at the intersection of Pershing Drive and Thomas Street. The man’s wife, friend and their two daughters walked across the street.

Minutes before, the man and his four-year-old son had been crossing Pershing when a Cadillac Escalade approached from Glebe Road. The SUV slowed but didn’t seem like it was going to stop—though it had plenty of space and time to do so—as the man approached the yellow lines, so the man slowed his step. The SUV hit the gas and drove past the man.

So did the next three cars.

Those four cars buzzed by him as though he wasn’t a pedestrian in an intersection with a young son, as though he didn’t exist, and the man lost it.

Readers have probably guessed by now that I’m that man (the “Steve” may have given it away). I wrote that in the third person because it allowed me to see how crazy I must have looked. My wife said later she didn’t mind me stopping cars as much as the 10 decibel swearing in front of the kids (and they were some choice words).

In writing it now, I realize there was no awkward silence after that happened as my friends, family and I walked to El Paso for dinner. It could have been that I’ve done enough crazy stuff that my friends know what to expect from me.

But when four cars won’t let a guy and his kid who are standing at the yellow line make it safely to the other side at night (and the street light is plenty bright enough for cars to see pedestrians in the middle of the road), my friends knew my frustration, though they might not have reacted in quite the same way.

Chris Zimmerman was in a community walking tour a year or more ago when I brought up this very problem. He told me the board couldn’t do anything because the county’s Department of Transportation wouldn’t allow it; he couldn’t even get a stop sign he’d wanted. (Huh? Come again? Who works for whom, now?)

So I talked to the DOT person who was there, too, and he said that because the car traffic along Thomas is considerably lower than along Pershing, cars won’t stop along Pershing, they’ll blow through.

But do you think an Escalade would blow through a stop sign when a man and his son were crossing the street?

Stop signs aren’t all about motor-powered traffic.

Darkness on the Edge of Town

I was talking with a neighbor the other day about how dark it is on Thomas Street at Henderson, the site of the Buckingham Village 2 construction. So I buzzed by at night, and sure enough, it’s dark.

When the buildings were ripped up, so were the street lights. The street lights are still up, obviously, on the sides of the streets where the buildings still stand, but everywhere in the neighborhood where there’s construction, it’s dark.

I’m not sure what can be done, but people should know.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Precinct Notes

The Turnout
Nearly 47 percent of the 3345 registered voters in Buckingham (precinct 045) went to the polls Tuesday and overwhelmingly supported all things Democrat. The numbers below do not count absentee voters from the neighborhood.

Buckingham Precinct results
Arlington races:
County Board
Zimmerman (D): 909
McMenamin (R): 357
Ruebner (G): 81

School Board
Baird (D): 830
Espenoza (I): 512

Buckingham precinct results
commonwealth and federal races:
U.S. Senate
Webb (D): 1178
Allen (R): 359
Parker (Independent Green): 15

U.S. House (8th)
Moran (D): 1092
O'Donoghue (R): 385
Hurysz (I): 64

Ballot Question 1 (Marriage):
No: 1185
Yes: 343

Marriage Amendment
Lifelong Arlingtonian Alicia Kenworthy worked the Buckingham Precinct all Election Day (except for about and hour-and-a-half mid-morning, she said) trying to get people to strike down Ballot Question #1, the question that asked Virginians if they wanted to amend the Constitution to keep unmarried couples from entering any union “that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage.”

While I spoke with Ms. Kenworthy, a woman came to say that she liked the first half of the amendment that’s aimed rather clearly at homosexual couples (“That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.”), but didn’t like the second half.

Ms. Kenworthy told her to vote no, to force the powers that be to reword the question, but the woman would not hear that. Her answer was simply not to vote on the issue at all so that the question will have to be reworded.

With confused logic such as this it might not be any surprise that the Ballot Question #1 passed with a clear victory, 57 percent of the vote, in Virginia.

Send in the Air Force, retired...
You can blame Todd Davidson if your line in the Barrett Elementary School gym wound around then out the door. Though fast, he cannot be in two places at once, and if you were in the long line, most likely Mr. Davidson was signing-in people to vote at the other table.

The retired Air Force linguist who flew reconnaissance for 20 years can read “alpha-lists” exceedingly fast, so finding the voter on the list of those registered was no problem.

“It’s amazing he was that good and that fast,” said Doug First, an officer of the election.

Mr. Davidson said he was moved from one table to the other regularly. At one point in the morning he’d shortened the line at one table significantly and then, “I switched and cleared out the other line.”

Young Buckingham
This is completely unscientific, (and with luck, I’ll have time to double check this), but Buckingham is getting younger. At least that was my take at Barrett Elementary School Tuesday, about 5:00 p.m. (and my wife corroborated this from her trip to the polls at about 9:30 a.m.). I was surprised by the number of people in what I guessed were their 20s or early 30s.

So I stopped one younger looking guy and asked what gives:

“I just love the area,” said, Hud Coughlin, 32. He technically doesn’t live in the neighborhood, but has lived in the townhouses across from Ballston Mall for two years and votes in the Buckingham precinct.

He said he was happy to buy in a neighborhood that hadn’t ridden the housing bubble as fast or as high as other neighborhoods. He sees it as a strong long-term investment, he said.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Absentee Voting, Kettler's Ice, Friday Dinner

Communal Voting

I stood before the computer screen, black walls shielding my votes from other people in the small room, an alcove really, and cast my ballots on Friday. I’m going to be at work for the vast majority of the day Tuesday, so I took advantage of
Virginia’s in-person absentee voting.

The alcove on the third floor of the county government building (Courthouse Plaza #1, 2100 Clarendon Blvd.), held four computer voting stations of the same type as will be set-up at precincts all over the county on Tuesday. Two of them were already in use when I stepped into the room.

I had followed the signs through the building to Suite 320, where red-white-and-blue signs reading
Poling Place
Vote Here
Centro de Votacion
Vote Aqui
hung from a partially removed ceiling. The whole building is under massive renovation, and some handrails and furniture on the third floor were covered in a very light construction dust.

When I had signed-in to receive my in-person ballot, Donna Patterson, told me, “There’s been a lot of excitement.” She’s the deputy registrar for the
Electoral Board of Arlington County. “This year has gotten everyone excited,” she said, given all the media attention on potential problems and states with more lenient absentee and early voting laws.

“We want people to vote. That’s our thing,” she said, adding that it was unfortunate it takes media hype and fear to get people active sometimes.

In Virginia, people can’t really vote early, but only in-person absentee, as I did. This means that I
needed a reason that I wouldn’t be able to vote on Tuesday, something Ms. Patterson admitted the Electoral Board is unable to check, and they must rely on the honesty of people. But with that reason (I would be at work and/or out of the county for 11 of the 13 hours Tuesday that the polls are open), a photo ID and my social security number, I was allowed to vote before Tuesday.

This was the first time voting absentee for me (being young and generally stupid years ago in college, I just didn’t vote when I should have voted absentee), and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Part of that is that I wasn’t sure if I qualified to vote absentee or if I’d missed a deadline, and the other part, I suppose, was that given the news about how many people are doing what I’m doing, I half expected the process to be slow.

But it wasn’t slow at all; in fact, it was rather painless, and in the end, I got to wear the sticker that said “I made freedom count. I voted absentee.”

A young man who cast his votes at the same time as I did said he’d been in line for two-and-a-half-hours last year during the Kaine/Kilgore governor’s race. He was glad not to have to do that again since he said he’d be on a business trip Tuesday.

“I’ll let my wife do it,” he said, laughing a little.

Two-and-a-half-hours is too long to stand in line to vote, but I think I’ll miss the wait a little on Tuesday. Standing and waiting in line to exercise your franchise makes you realize it means something.

I’ll miss the friendly chatter with the strangers in the line next to me. I often see friends from the neighborhood and we say hello. Part of the importance of voting is the shared experience of it. When we’re standing in line to vote, we have a chance to see America as more than its borders or its people, but as a communion of sorts. We stand because we believe in the ideal of America and that voting is the single best way to come together and express that.

Although my vote will count just as equally, voting in-person absentee had all the gravitas and kindred spirit of a $40 ATM withdrawal.


Hey, That Doesn’t Say Donuts!

You can imagine my disappointment last Wednesday, when I learned the Arlington Ice Skating Center will be called the
Kettler Capitals Iceplex, after the owner of KSI, a huge regional developer, and not the Dunkin’ Donuts Glazed Icing Rink, as I’d hoped.


Still, I have to wish them luck with the endeavor, and we hope to be on the ice soon.


The Friday Evening Meal—with a nod toward community papers of yore.

Greg and Stephanie DiNapoli and their children of Alexandria broke bread with the Arlington Thurstons on Friday night. A meal prepared by Steve Thurston of undercooked steak, too-little squash, a dry tossed salad, and crackers and cheese was preceded by a “too-apply” apple-and-pumpkin soup, which was also, perhaps, a little cold, Mr. Thurston reported.

The four adults drank wine or beer while three of their children played, racing around the Thurston’s living room. The fourth child, three-week-old Alexandra DiNapoli, rested on the shoulder of mom or dad. The discussion was lively and intellectual, centering around subjects of rearing children, the impending elections and what each of them did for a living. It was the first time the Thurstons hosted the DiNapolis and all agreed it should not be the last. A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Meeting Sally Baird

A Little Wine and Cheese with Sally Baird

I drove and wound my way through some of the nicer Arlington back streets and into the Madison Manor neighborhood where Anne Bridgman and Keith Eddins held a wine and cheese fund raiser for Democratic School Board
candidate Sally Baird on Sunday. About 30 people were there with me; I stayed for about an hour.

The Bridgman-Eddins house was very nice, with art on the walls, and books on the bookshelf, including “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin, a favorite of mine.

I met Ms. Baird there, and she was very pleasant to speak with. She struck me as very capable and knowledgeable about the school system.

Her campaign manager was right on point. Karla Hagan told me, similar to what was reported in last week’s
Arlington Connection and elsewhere, that Ms. Baird was a manager in a good way, bringing together the best ideas and talents of everyone at the table.

Ms. Hagan told me this as I tried to keep myself from focusing on the fact that she was dressed like
Jessie the Yodeling Cow Girl from “Toy Story 2,” cow-print chaps, a red-yarn wig and all. Apparently there’d been a Halloween parade in her neighborhood just before the soiree.

I was surprised, though, to see how Mary Hynes, a fellow Democrat to Sally Baird and the school board chair, took over the conversation when she arrived a short while later. It wasn’t really in a bad way; Ms. Hynes, obviously, knows a lot and was covering the particular details of bringing second language education into the lowest grades. She was responding to a question made by another person in the conversation. Ms. Baird nodded and listened politely. I had to leave before I could hear the entire conversation and whether Ms. Baird had a chance to add her two cents.

Perhaps this isn’t fair, but I couldn’t help but think about how Ms. Baird is part of the juggernaut which is the Arlington Democratic Party. The school board elections are supposed to be non-partisan, but they have never really been that with the Democratic Party endorsing a candidate (and Ms. Baird has “Democrat” on her yard signs).

As I’ve said in other posts, my politics lean to the left, but at times the one-party system we have here can be a little too cozy, and Ms. Hynes’ arrival at the party just sort of reinforced that for me.

This feeling of no voice other than the Democratic-supported voice on the school board is one of the frustrations friends of mine have with the system. That’s partly why they’re supporting Cecelia Espenoza, the Independent candidate. [
See the Oct. 22 post.]

Ms. Baird’s philosophy of joining the similarities around the table is a nice one, but if everyone already generally agrees, the process can turn into GroupThink rather than a meeting of the minds.

Both candidates have the requisite backgrounds in the schools to be good board members, and both seem smart, hard-working and approachable. But I haven’t spent much time with either candidate to endorse or even be sure who I’m going to vote for.


Police Notes for Buckingham

Oct. 26:
Commercial burglary and grand larceny, auto on the 600 block of N. Glebe Rd. Between 8:20 p.m. Oct. 25 and 10:15 a.m. the next day, someone broke into a car dealership by shattering a glass door. The person or people took two car keys. One of the keys was used to steal a car from the lot.

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