Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Price of Success

My wife and I know Patricia Shrader, a single mother of two children who are close in age to my children, because we found ourselves at the same school bus stop last fall, with her kids heading off to Patrick Henry Elementary School and my daughter heading off to Key Elementary.

They live in Whitefield Commons, a low- to moderate-income apartment complex in the Buckingham neighborhood, two blocks from my house. Ms. Shrader often worked early shifts at the Harris Teeter on North Harrison Street, and when she did, babysitters brought her kids to the stop. By the end of the school year, she couldn’t get anyone to help her consistently, so I took over for her sitters, swinging by her place to pick up her kids.

But not this year.

Just five days before the start of this school year, Ms. Shrader learned that her son would not be bussed to Patrick Henry Elementary. The notice came on the telephone answering machine and in the mail. It sent her looking for another second grade class to take her son, and the news sent her son, Matthew Marcenaro, into his bedroom to cry.

Think of it as the price of success.

For the past two school years, Barrett Elementary has made “adequate yearly progress” on Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams. This means that families who live in the Buckingham and Arlington Forest neighborhoods no longer can have free transportation to other county schools. The federal “Title 1” money that paid for that transportation is no longer available.

“He was pretty upset about it,” Ms. Shrader said, adding, “And Matthew was really looking forward to going back there.”

Her daughter Emilia Corea, a sixth-grader who started this year at Swanson Middle School, catches a bus at about a quarter after 7, but Patricia walks Matthew to Barrett for 8:20.

“With Emilia it’s not such a big deal…but with Matthew, I can’t go into work until after 9:00,” she said, adding that it’s been hard to make the schedule work.

“Rather than going in early mornings…I have to do a later work schedule and get home a little later which is not really good for the kids,” she said. “They have to go to the babysitter more often than not. You know, just things like that.”

The notice about the test scores and the good news about Barrett Elementary came so late because the state did not report test scores until late August, said Linda Erdos, director of school and community relations for Arlington Public Schools.

“We are completely captive on when the state returns the test scores to us,” Ms. Erdos said.

Schools officials also said that notices were sent out to Buckingham and Arlington Forest residents at the end of the 2004-2005 school year telling those parents that Barrett Elementary had made adequate yearly progress for one year and that a second year of that would mean special transportation would dry up. Ms. Shrader said she doesn’t remember having received it.

Ms. Erdos said the county had no plans to allow students who start at one school to continue with that school with county-paid transportation. The county provides special transportation to other schools when the federal government says the school is failing.

“We have to give parents the option” of going to another school, she said. The “Title 1” money to pay for that transportation is “over and above” Arlington Public School’s normal budget. To continue to offer transportation when the school has improved would undermine the good work of the school that’s making progress, she said.
Still, parents can send their children to other schools, but parents must pay for the transportation by walking or driving the student themselves.

“If I had a car…he’d probably continue with Patrick Henry,” Ms. Shrader said.

As well, the county pays for transportation to schools with special programs, such as Key Elementary where my daughter goes; at Key Elementary the students are immersed in Spanish classrooms for half the day.

Matthew’s school year is getting better, though.

“It’s been difficult getting to know the teacher and getting to know the kids,” Ms. Shrader said. “He’s doing better. He looks forward to going to school.”

Still, she said she’d have liked to have gotten the notice earlier.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spanish Homework, Secrets and Ari Shapiro

Letras en Desfile

I was staring at my daughter’s homework: reading and math in Spanish. My Spanish is OK—I could find a bar and order a beer if you dropped me in the middle of Madrid (you know, survival Spanish), but that’s about all.

We send our daughter to Key School (Escuela Key) instead of Barrett Elementary, our neighborhood school. This choice had nothing to do with the fact that last year Barrett was still on the “No Child Left Behind” List. We just wanted her to get immersed in Spanish, to learn another language deeply. So we applied last year, and Hazel was picked in the lottery to go to Key; had she not been, we’d have been happy with Barrett.

Anyway, here I was the other day staring at the homework of my first grader, nearly clueless. First grade homework and I wasn’t sure what was going on.

She had to learn a song in Spanish. I looked up “desfile” to find out that was “parade.”

“Letras en Desfile”—“Letters on parade,” got it, and look, there’s the picture of people wearing sandwich boards with the vowels printed on their fronts. As well, each person was wearing a mask of an animal head. The animal depicted matched the vowel on the sandwich board—bear mask, “O” for “oso.” “Ema marcha como osa”—“Ema marches as a bear.” Cooking with gas. (I don’t have the song sheet in front of me right now so forgive me if Ema actually marched as another animal.)

I got to a line that was full of words I pretty much understood, but together, I was clueless what they possibly meant. I still don’t know. I’m guessing that it was an idiomatic phrase, something that literally translated doesn’t mean what it sounds like (In English, “I could care less” really means that “I could NOT care less.” “Quickly” means really quick, but “hardly” does not mean “really hard”). Or maybe I was just translating a word incorrectly in that line. In either case, I didn’t have time to futz with it, so we sounded it out and sang it like we knew what we were talking about.

It hit me more than it ever has before what immigrant families go through in this country, staring at lines incomprehensibly. My daughter is learning math in Spanish and will be taking the Standards of Learning math exams in third grade; those exams are written only in English. She must know the math cold, and I won’t always be able to help her. It’s scary as a dad to know that she’s only 6 and already she’s moving beyond me, that she’s going to have to struggle by herself through some of her homework. Worse, I might even translate something incorrectly only to confuse what she learned at school with what I’m telling her.

What a feeling of powerlessness.

Who let the cat out of the bag?

The best kept secret in Arlington, if you believe the realtors, is Buckingham Village 2 and the $700,000 townhouses in the earliest stages of construction. My wife caught the ad in the Washington Post yesterday, and we both laughed.

Best kept secret? News stories in the Post, the Sun Gazette, the Arlington Connection, and protests, a memo of understanding, county web pages devoted to it, and it’s the best kept secret? Good thing realtors aren’t in charge of homeland security!

Plus, real estate prices must still be a little crazy if townhouses worth three-quarters of a million are like cats we all should grab before they get out of the bag and everybody wants one.

If I edited People, Ari Shapiro would be on the Top 50 most beautiful list.

Some friends were just over for dinner when I told them I met Ari Shapiro of NPR just briefly today and that he was perhaps the best looking guy I’ve ever met in my life. As a fully-hetero regular guy I say that the man was just gorgeous. I’ve linked you to his commitment ceremony photo (he’s on the left) to let you know he’s not available, but I must say the photo doesn’t do him justice. Why he's wasting his face on radio, I just don't know.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Diversity, Sentences and Crime

Loving Arlington's Diversity
Just the other day I was in Ravi Kabob in my neighborhood (but this story could have happened anywhere in Arlington) to pick up some dinner.

It’s named after the Ravi River in Pakistan, so I assume that most of the men sitting around me were Pakistani. On that night, however, the restaurant also fed a couple of young, 20-something, white guys wearing T-shirts and jeans at the next table, talking books; a father, his teenage son and a teammate of the son talked football (the ‘Skins were going to need some offense), and were treated very well by the staff (they must be regulars); and a white couple nearby, youngish and married, waited for their meal to-go.

The man of that couple wore a long-sleeved T-shirt with the distinct “C” emblem from Colorado license plates. We both heard our numbers called at the same time and found ourselves sharing the crowded, tiled floor space near the register staring at our food as it got its final preparations in the Styrofoam containers.

“You from Colorado?” I asked.



“Cherry Creek.”

“Just outside Denver, right?” I asked. I knew this because my wife’s family has a cabin in a town about an hour from Denver and my wife and I have friends downtown. I told him all of that, and he listened politely and told me that he knew where my in-law’s place was. Just then, his wife walked up.

“I grew up in Lake George,” she said, pointing at my sweatshirt from the most beautiful lake in New York’s Adirondack mountains. Before I could respond, she said, “Well, a little south of that, actually.”

“Queensbury,” I said. “You’re a Spartan.”

“Yes,” she said.

“So am I.”

Then she asked what year I’d graduated from Queensbury High, and I told the truth, God help me (1984), and she responded by being 10 years younger than I. We shook hands. His name’s Greg and hers is Danielle (I hope I’m getting their names spelled correctly), and they live a few blocks south of Arlington Boulevard. They told me they came down to D.C. to work on the Hill, for
John Boehner of Ohio.

I was flabbergasted at how uncanny this all was. I mean,
Republicans! In Arlington! You see it all in this county!

I hope you know I jest.

My politics do lean a little left of center (I grew up in Northern New York—you can’t lean too far left without pulling a muscle), but I can’t help but feel in this time of campaigning that I wish the Republicans could at least mount a good fight in county races. The Republican,
Mike McMenamin’s, front page of his web site talks a lot about taxes and development. I’m tired of that line from the Republicans. If he’s going to talk development, then talk about how development will help low- and moderate income people to stay in the county.

For that reason, I’m liking what I’m seeing from
Josh Reubner, the Green Party candidate. He’s got a focused message on the housing issue, and he’s mounting a rather strong attack. Scott McCaffrey at the Sun Gazette has been looking to Mr. Reubner as a threat to Democrat Chris Zimmerman’s left, but I don’t think he’s got a chance in November (I doubt Mr. McCaffrey thinks this, either), and I don’t think he’ll peel enough votes from Mr. Zimmerman to allow Mr. McMenamins to win. We are, after all, in Senate race that will draw voters out in force come November, and that’s likely to be good for Mr. Zimmerman.

Still, it’s nice to see someone asking some good questions on relevant issues; he’s logical and passionate. Good for him.

By the way, I was at the old Ravi Kabob, not the new sit-down place—if anyone’s been to the new place, please
email me and tell me how it was.

Sentences Aren't Making Sense.

Is it just me, or is there something amiss here:

From the Sun Gazette, yesterday:

“An Arlington Circuit Court jury on Sept. 15 sentenced a New York man to 117.5 years in prison, after finding him guilty of 52 felonies and one misdemeanor that included identity theft.“Mihai Gheorghiu, 27, was part of a ‘sophisticated and organized criminal operation’ that targeted residents both locally and across the nation, said Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Evie Eastman.”

From the Washington Post, today:

“U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema sentenced Ossie K. LaRode, 23, who is homeless, to 31 years and 10 months in prison. In January 2005, LaRode, who was leading Alexandria police on a six-mile-long chase in a stolen Cadillac, hit Feltis, 41, outside a Pentagon traffic booth.”

Although I don’t mind a thief of the magnitude of Mr. Gheorghiu—he had credit cards and had stolen numerous identities—getting a very tough sentence, it seems out of whack with the fact that LaRode, who drove the wrong way down an I-395 exit ramp and the wrong way into the Pentagon parking lot where he struck Officer Feltis and knocked him unconscious before the blow killed him five weeks later, should get a mere 31-years.

I’ve taught in a medium-security prison before, so I know that it’s not the walk in the park people often believe it to be, and 31 years would be a LONG time there, but for killing the police officer, LaRode gets one-third the sentence of a big-time thief seems a little much.

I know they were tried in different courtrooms by different judges and all, but it just doesn’t seem right.

More Violent Crime
Today marks a month of this blog, and I’m already writing about another violent crime. I didn’t think I’d have done any of this, let alone a second story within the month:

Police have announced the
arrest of Carlos Antonio Ramirez (a.k.a. Carlos Rudolpho Florez-Gomez), 21, and an unnamed 17-year-old juvenile in an assault of another man (whose name is being withheld) on the 4300 block of North 4th Street, the police said.

Although the police do not have a motive for the attack outside a laundry room, Det. Steve Gomez said the 17-year-old has been known by police to have had some ties to MS-13, a Latino gang in the area. These ties put Mr. Ramirez “on the radar” for gang-related motives in this attack.

Mr. Ramirez was arraigned Sept. 18 and faces three charges in general district court: failure to identify (himself); assault by mob; and possession of a concealed weapon. As well, he faces charges in juvenile court of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. All the charges are misdemeanors. He’s being held on $3,500 bond for those charges, Det. Gomez said.

The juvenile was released to a parent and petitions are pending, police report.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Clear Your Calendars

There’s a “coming out party” of sorts in store for the Buckingham Village Apartments on Sept. 28, the county’s David Cristeal told me.

The county’s Sight Plan Review Committee will meet to discuss the latest proposals regarding Villages 1 and 3, two of the three separate “neighborhoods” within the apartment complex. Since Paradigm Companies, the parent owner of BV, wants to change the density of the property in Village 1 (read: rip down the garden-style apartments and put in townhouses, market rate apartments and a low/moderate income apartment building), the changes must go before the SPRC, said Mr. Cristeal of the Arlington County Department of Community Planning Housing and Development.

He said the rumors of “real high rises” are no longer accurate; everything shown on Sept. 28 will be five stories or fewer.

Village 3 of the complex will remain architecturally historic, so the company has maintained it must make its money by increasing the density and selling more units in other portions of the property. Changes to Village 2 are already underway. These changes fall under the auspices of the “Memorandum of Understanding” the county negotiated with Paradigm last July. Negotiations between the county and the landowner continue (with a March 7, 2007 deadline) to determine what the new Buckingham Village will look like.

Another important meeting this month is the Sept. 20 meeting of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board, Mr. Cristeal said.

By the way, the county has started a Buckingham Village web site; it includes links to major documents, meeting dates, an illegible map and other information.

As soon as I can find a legible on-line map of the Buckingham Village, I’ll link to it so that readers can see where each of the separate villages is.

Just a quick update on the Popeye’s Chicken robbery: The police posted
photos of the suspect on their web site. They’re asking anyone with information to call 703-558-2222. The photos on the web are not high resolution because the file size is limited on the web site, Det. Steve Gomez said. However, the photos sent out to other media outlets were of higher quality. Many TV stations ran the photos, he said. I haven’t heard if they plan to post the photos around the neighborhood, and nothing on the web site indicates any success in tracking the man down.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Robbery, New Park, Four Corners

Surveillance Photos of Robbery Suspect Released
Still No Named Suspects in Armed Robbery

Arlington County Police have released four photos taken from a surveillance camera at the Popeye’s Fried Chicken and Biscuits on Pershing Drive. The restaurant was robbed at gunpoint last Tuesday.

Detective Steve Gomez of the ACP said, “He’s probably a local guy” and that the police are hoping the pictures will jog someone’s memory. As yet the police haven’t gotten a name of who the attacker might be, he said.

Assistant Manager Salman Ali was hit in the head with the butt of the gun before the attacker left with hundreds of dollars. K-9 police dogs followed his trail down North Thomas Street before the trail was lost.

The police describe the suspect as a black male, six feet tall, with short hair and a neatly trimmed beard, last seen wearing a long white shirt, blue jeans, a black jacket, tan work boots, and a blue baseball cap with a “B.”

Look for another update once the ACP post the photos to their web site at a higher quality than can be done here.

A Park of Its Own

As I type this, I’m surprised at how right Walter Tejada was. At the dedication of the newest park in Arlington, the county board member said that most people driving by wouldn’t even notice this park, but that it would be a little haven for people in the neighborhood.

The Buckingham Plaza sits at the corner of Henderson and George Mason Drive, directly across the street from Barrett Elementary School; I’m guessing many of the readers have driven by it and haven’t given it a second thought as its gone from an overgrown field into a small neighborhood park.

It’s not even half-an-acre large, has but two benches, and a sidewalk that curves through it. The grass is still coming in, and the bushes look new, as though they’re surprised to find themselves somewhere other than the nursery. It’s anchored by an enormous tree in the middle.

During the dedication ceremony, I sat at one of the benches as the cars drove up and down George Mason or cut through to Arlington Boulevard on Henderson, and I knew then that Mr. Tejada was right—no one really would notice unless they had reason to be walking on that corner. And even many people who were walking to Barrett Elementary for Back to School Night seemed surprised to find the park completed.

“Buckingham now has a park that it can call its own,” said Pat Hope, president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association.

After him, three county board members, and one person from the school board spoke. Two years in the making and gone was the wrangling over whether the neighborhood could have the space; until this year, the space was an overgrown corner controlled by the school board. Gone was the discussion of how the place would be maintained; at first the county didn’t want to do it and when the BCCA said they would find people to empty the trash cans and mow the lawn, the county said that wasn’t possible either.

We were left with speeches about community and how happy everyone was that the park was finished on a cool, gorgeous night, with a deep blue sky, little wind and no humidity. It was a wonderful evening; I just wish more people from Buckingham had come out to see it. We were, as often happens at these neighborhood events, outnumbered by the county staff.

Though almost everyone had left, including the county staff and politicians, a few of us Buckinghamsters couldn’t call it a day until we were sure the Carlyle lights came on. (Thank God they worked.)

Construction Project on Glebe

With any luck, the commute on Glebe Road will be a little worse the week after next.

By then, with luck, crews will have finished underground conduits that will hold utility wires currently running from pole-to-pole above ground. If the conduits are finished, utility companies can roll out huge spools of cable and fill the underground spaces. That progress will, however, slow traffic.

This will be a major change to the corner in a project five years in the making, a job William “Bill” Roberts, a county project manager, calls the worst of the 30-odd jobs he’s worked on in Arlington. Too many interests have to be considered—cantankerous land owners, the Virginia Department of Transportation, and utility companies, he said.

The plan is that once the cables are underground, the utility poles will come down, but that probably won’t happen until next spring. First, utilities can’t be forced to remove the poles quickly, and second, some power lines must remain above ground as the corner is worked on.

Mr. Roberts said he knows it doesn’t look like much happens on the project, “But we’re working on it everyday.”

He said today that he was working on securing easements for the new sidewalks. The plans for the corner will go through final evaluations with the county and VDOT over the fall and winter and major reconstruction begins in the spring.

The undergrounding of the cables was originally scheduled for last year. Mr. Roberts admitted that delays have been the norm for this project.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Armed Robbery in Buckingham

Pershing Drive Popeye’s Robbed at Gunpoint.

It should have been a good day to rip-off the Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits on Pershing Drive. It was raining Tuesday Sept. 5, and that usually means busy traffic for the restaurant and more cash in the register.

In fact, Popeye’s store manager, Karla Garcia, thinks the man who came into the store and knocked Assistant Manager Salman Ali in the head with a pistol knew this and chose the rainy day for that reason.
As it was, the thief made off with hundreds of dollars, she said, not as much as he might have gotten on another rainy day.

The police arrived, including K-9 units which tracked the man west on Pershing and then down Thomas Street toward Arlington Boulevard when the track disappeared, said Det. Steve Gomez of the Arlington County Police.

“I don’t believe we have any main suspects at this point,” Det. Gomez said, adding later that police take armed robbery very seriously. “They are going to put a lot of effort into it [the investigation].”

Although Mr. Ali was generally OK, Ms. Garcia said he was “in shock” and hadn’t returned to work by Friday. She spoke during her lunch break with two other Popeye’s employees.

“We’re feeling better now,” she said, and the other workers nodded their agreement. Ms. Garcia said everyone in the store just stood back and let the man steal.

“What could we do?” she asked, after all, the man had a gun.

The police describe the suspect as a black male, six feet tall, with short hair and a neatly trimmed beard, last seen wearing a long white shirt, blue jeans, a black jacket, tan work boots, and a blue baseball cap with a “B.”
Det. Gomez said the man was not wearing a mask and the video surveillance camera was running.

“We eventually might put a picture out there,” he said.

Police have been canvassing the neighborhood and they have some leads, he said.

“There are people who met that description,” he said, adding, “Hopefully that will match pictures that we have.”

Dunkin’ Donuts

The Washington Post on Thursday
covered the new Dunkin’ Donuts campaign to win the coffee wars against Starbucks. If the Post reported accurately, Dunkin’ Donuts plans to expand into the Baltimore-Washington area with more than 300 stores!
That story provoked this:

Ode to the donut shoppe
(for Gary Shiffman)

I dare not hope
But do I see
A Dunkin’ Donuts
Set upon Glebe?
Where once there were some donuts found
Alas there is a Subway now.
RinConCito Chapin
Has not brewed decaf. And if
I set off on a long trip
With fried plantains I shouldn’t bother
To hold them in one hand, the wheel the other.
A donut glazed
Or toasted bagel
Decaf with these, I would finagle
To steer with knees.

Ravi Kabob, KFC,
Ol’ El Paso and the Pines of Italy
Provide fine food this is true
But for breakfast? They won’t do.
I’ve rested hope
Upon Dunkin’s Jacquelyn
Who tells me she will know
Where all the shiny stores will go.
She gave the dope, no stores are planned
For Arlington
As yet.

And therein lies my hope for the ‘hood
That if they’d look they just could
Find room to land
Some place to settle
Where I could walk
Not drive or pedal
To grab coffee and donuts in Buckingham.

Movie in the Woods

I brought my daughter to Long Branch Nature Center Friday to see “
Being Carribou.” I’d never gone to any programs at their amphitheatre, and it was very pleasant. They have bricked terraces hemmed in with landscaping timbers, and about 30 of us fit in pretty nicely. Note if you go: bring your own lawn chairs, otherwise it’s wooden benches for you. The crickets chirped from under dead leaves and the cicadas buzzed loudly from the treetops (one buzzed particularly loudly due to its unfortunate seat in the beak of a bird).

The documentary was quite interesting as the husband and wife team of
Leanne Allison and Karsten Heuer follow huge heards of caribou from the Yukon to the northern Alaskan coast. Mind you they do this wearing 60 to 80 pound packs, and they’re cross-country skiing. They stay on the tundra from mid-spring to late summer. Plus, they’re newly weds who don’t kill/eat one another by the end of the film. No small feat.

The best part for you greenies out there is that they (and of course the reindeer) end up in the oil-rich Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge to show how beautiful it really is and to speak of the effects drilling would have on the herd. Also, they bring along a President Bush doll to show him what it’s really like up there. Sweet.

My daughter is six, but she made it through, past her bedtime, and was intrigued by much or all of it. A few scenes might not be for all viewers—hunting, animal attacks, etc.

There’s another movie in the woods this October. Look for it on the
county’s calendar (I’d do it for you, but the web site isn’t responding for me right now).

Department of Corrections:

Nick Penning, in his column this week in the Arlington Connection, said that the residents of Buckingham Village were trying to have BV added to the National Register of Historic Places. That’s not actually the historic designation they’re looking for, however. They want to be labeled historic by the county and fall under the auspices of the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. This county board has teeth and would have the power to stop most changes to the apartment complex.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

There’s a “there” here, Part 2

I wish the buildings in Buckingham, my own included, were better looking.

I thought of this because I ate lunch in Gaithersburg the other day with friends from work. Gaithersburg has a pretty little downtown. They have a nice looking train station, with red brick and broad eaves to keep the rain off. The streets are narrow, walkable, with pretty store fronts. It’s not Utopia, it’s just cute.

And it got me thinking of Gertrude Stein’s quote: “There’s no there there.” Bartleby tells me she was referring to her own Oakland, Calif. There really is a “there” in Gaithersburg, and for a moment I was thinking that Buckingham has no “there” here in terms of architecture. Does the architecture in the neighborhood offer anything unique? The neighborhood has a pocket or two of architectural derring-do. The George Mason Apartments have gauged archways over windows, and a spire atop one building, for instance. But it's tough to find any flourish.

This isn’t to say Buckingham has nothing to offer.

I had back surgery a few years ago and wasn’t allowed to drive or even ride a bike, so I was happy to live here. Everything from great food (restaurants to groceries), to toiletries, to hair cutting to postal services was just a five minute walk away. It’s a pleasant walk under the trees of Buckingham, and the people are nice.

Yet our economic center, the Buckingham Plaza, is divided by Glebe “Take Your Life in Your Hands” Road. The center itself, like its residential brethren, isn’t much to look at. Most of the buildings now share the same black, green, red and white signs in an attempt to bring some cohesion to the area, and their retro style, a little history. But some of the buildings are painted (or need paint), and others are concrete-gray. The strip has no particular look. Rectangular boxes with different roof lines, columns at one end and smooth concrete at another means the place doesn’t fall into any sort of style, or time period. They’re just brick boxes.

Yet for all its warts, the center still has good restaurants, groceries and other amenities.

It’s just not that pretty. And that’s important, because prettier places are easier to save. Paradigm Companies are now beginning to renovate Buckingham Village 2—townhouses starting in the $700s are coming. Part of me likes the idea of change. I don’t look at the buildings to be destroyed and think the architecture is that impressive, or historical.

In the Arlington Oaks Community Center we have old advertisements for the area, asking “King Everyman” and “Queen Everywoman” to move into these garden-style apartments. They were made for the middle class, inexpensive and quick to build, functional and sturdy. I look at them and think “efficient”—put them up quick and use the fewest bricks possible.

There is a “there” here, it’s just less in the buildings than in the people, the open space, and the amenities. That’s what needs to be saved. The county board, in their negotiations with Paradigm to determine what sort of change will come next, needs to keep this in mind.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hello Ernesto

Even the tail of a hurricane is no regular storm.

The winds are nowhere near hurricane force, but they’re somehow more dense than a regular storm’s, full of momentum, like a rushing army. Mature trees shiver to their roots and howl in their branches.

I took my kids to Teddy Roosevelt Island on Friday afternoon. I don’t really know what I was hoping my kids would see, churning water, whitewater around the pylons of the bridge, sunken trees, a parking lot underwater, I don’t know. Partly, I think, I just wanted to know we weren’t afraid of a little rain.

The parking lot was empty. And so protected in shorts, T-shirts, sandals, rain coats, and a Disney princess and a Batman umbrella, we clambered out of the VW as the last two runners (there are always runners) fled the island. A folded blue umbrella stroller with a towel for emergencies clutched inside was my walking stick on this adventure. I told my kids to hold tight to their umbrellas. At the top of the bridge, my 6-year-old daughter told me the wind was almost pulling her off her feet. From there we could see that the river wasn’t overly high despite threats of flashfloods, and as we approached the island, I kept looking to the water for the beaver I saw there a few years back.

I spotted a turtle in the water, a gray body just visible and the dark point of a head sticking out, near a tree that hung so low, its leaves were in the water. By the time I got the kids looking in the right direction, the turtle had disappeared, so we left the bridge.

Mainly, what we saw on the island was stuff we see anywhere, only wet, very wet. All the trees stooped and drew the canopy lower.

But we hadn’t been there in years, and we hadn’t been there when the wind was loud enough to make me think I was hearing a train in Rosslyn before I realized there was no train above ground in Rosslyn. And I don’t think I, or we, had ever been there when we were pretty sure we were the only people on the island, with a potential flashflood to cut us off from the mainland. When Hazel said, “What’s that!” and pointed to Roosevelt’s statue through the branch of a low-hanging tree, it had all the feeling of exploring the rainforest and stumbling upon the dais of some lost religion.

It was serene, though rainy, and we watched a duck paddle the reflecting pool as large drops of water fell from a tree to splash and leave bubbles like snow globes on the pond’s surface. The fountains ran on as if by magic with water that blossoms and subsides to overfill giant urns.

By now, my thoughts had turned back to the river that was probably rising, and the kids were cold.

On the bridge, I saw again the turtle and watched as it plooped underwater before the kids had a chance to see it. “Maybe he only wants grown-ups to see him,” my 4-year-old Harry said. I laughed, and we stood there near the middle of the bridge looking for it, and then we saw it back near the tree where I’d first noticed it. When we left, one other car had parked at the other end of the parking lot.

Department of Corrections…

Turns out the
Arlington Connection Newspaper is available, free, to anyone who wants it in Arlington. I wrote last post that I couldn’t get a free local paper in Buckingham, but I can. I simply called their subscription number (703-917-6465) and signed myself up. (Thanks to Miles who commented and publisher Mary Kimm who emailed to put me onto this bargain!)

I’ve beaten up on the
Sun Gazette a lot lately, but I never thanked Scott McCaffrey publicly for putting this blog on the political notes column of the paper two issues ago. I’m sure not just a few people swung over at least once to check out this site. Pardon my rudeness, Scott.

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