Sunday, 19 September 2010

My Morning

I spent the morning at Arlington Cemetery. It's one of those places in Washington that you need to see and experience. My general advice is to avoid three-day weekends or anytime in July. There is parking there, if you want the stress of driving in. The METRO station is about 300 feet from the entrance. Cost? Nothing. But if you want the guided tour with the buses or wagons...that will involve some cost.

From the top four things to see.....the Kennedy tomb is within five minutes walking from the visitor center. I was expecting something huge and grand....and it's a bit more simple than that.
From the Kennedy site, it's a good ten minute walk over to the Tomb of the Unknown. It is a hilly walk, so don't think this will be a easy walk.
From the Tomb of the's a good ten minute walk over to the Arlington House. For months, I've been noticing it from the Pentagon. I kept thinking this Arlington House was huge, but once you climb to the top of the's really a fairly small house with a grand entrance.
Then, you've got this fifteen minute march out to the far extreme northeast corner of the cemetery. In fact, you reach a point where there's a gate, and you have to exit the grounds, and then about 500 feet away, is the Iwo Jima Memorial. It is huge and highly impressive.

My advice? There's no sodas, ice cream or anything that you can buy at the cemetery. Bring a bottle of water with you. If you tire easily on hilly walking....this may become a problem and you ought to use the bus service. I spent the morning walking and got fairly exhausted after two hours there.

There are a number of odd things about the cemetery. There are wives buried there. There are kids buried there. If you can find the steep incline where the Thresher crew are's just headstones and nothing else (they were never found).

If you wanted to make a day out of this, then start here in the morning (arriving by METRO), then leave and cross the Key Bridge (less than 500 feet from the Visitor Center. It's a 10 minute walk over the bridge and you then arrive at the Lincoln Memorial. You can hit both it, the cemetery, and the WW II memorial in one day before you call it quits. The Smithsonian METRO station is about a twenty minute walk from the Washington Monument, which is just across the street from the WW II point.

If you aren't up for walking four miles in a day...then don't do it. Rely on the bus tour business and make it simple.

What They Didn't Want to Say

Here in DC, Arlington, Alexandra, and southern Maryland, public movement (trains & buses) is "METRO". It's all one big enterprise. There's a number of problems with this operation, which now seem to pop up every week.

This week, the discussion came around to the METRO Smartrip card. It's a card that works like a credit card. It's got a chip embedded and you swipe it across a screen on the bus or the entry of the subway to relieve you of your money. The swipe goes back to an account that you charge up via cash at a machine once in a while.

The METRO folks have had this new technology for several years and are very proud of the card and simplicity of getting customers in and out of the subway or buses.

The METRO folks were thinking about this idea of making the card cheaper but then came to an interesting discovery. This whole process....the systems, the software, the card, and the technology....were a great sales idea. So when they bought into it....they bought pallets of these SmartTrip cards. They went back and were going to buy some more cards because they noticed they were down to just a year or two of these cards left.....then found that the company wasn't making these anymore.

You can imagine the technology company involved....grinning as they said this. These METRO guys will have to advance....whether they like it or not.

Without the particular cards to swipe....the whole mechanism comes to an abrupt halt.

The folks speaking for METRO were careful about the way they said this....and I kept thinking they'd explain to the public how this is going to trigger a problem within two years. But they avoided this discussion. They hinted that cellphones or some other common replacement would be around by then that you could load money and just swipe.

They are guessing.

The problem here is that every subway station has at least fifteen of these scanners. Every bus has a scanner. So you've got a massive system that requires things to work precisely.

It's an interesting mess. Within twelve months....they will have to expend a fair amount of money, on top of track maintenance, operations, elevators, escalators, and labor cost. My guess is at least ten million by the time they wrap this up. Then the anger of customers having to toss out another $5 or $10 for a fresh card to fit the technology will come up.

Reason #46 Why DC Sucks

I could probably wrote a 500 page book on why Washington a city or civilization, is one of the most comical places in the United States. Sadly, I've only been here nine months to notice this.

Another thing came out in public this week....involving a court case in DC....which put a fascinating DC law into proper prospective.

DC has this law....where it's illegal for a guy or gal to ride around or walk around...acting as a hired guide....unless they first plass a test, and then obtain a licenese (via the city, and pay the fee of course).

When I read this in the news...I started scratching my head on this. The law covers everywhere....grassy areas, roads, streets, sidewalks, subway areas, and even inside buildings.

There's a case going through the court system to challenge this, and no one is sure if it'll beat the deal or not.

Now, if you were with Grandma and the relatives and just walked around pointing out buildings or dopey park rangers....that's ok. If you were leading a bunch of German tourists free of charge because you felt sorry for them....that's ok. The minute you were doing this for money, you were in violation.

Talking....more or less....has to be controlled, if there's money involved. I pondered over this for a while. It's a odd way of controlling things. On one side, if you had some idiot explaining the function of the Supreme Court to run the Library of Congress, this would make perfect sense. But you'd have to wonder just if this was such a swell idea....why not make congressmen or senators take a test like this before entering their positions each January?

The other side of this leads you to wonder who grades the test and who exactly certified them in the first place? The city council? The mayor? Some local college?

The good thing is that when you do come to DC for tours and some lady steps onto the bus to act as your can feel assured that she's been tested. Hopefully, your driver just knows where the heck he's going.