Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Evil Thoughts About Tourists In DC

In theory, I don't think there's anything wrong with being a tourist. When you visit a country or a city for the first time, there are certain spots that truly must be experienced, despite what all those "get off the beaten path!" blog posts tell you, and there's no shame in following a thousand other foreigners to the Louvre, the Sistine Chapel, or Big Ben.

That being said, I have a very low tolerance for tourists in Washington, DC. I didn't mind most tourists in New York, Paris, or London - the three other tourist-heavy cities in which I've lived - but there's something about the nation's capital and the large school groups, families, and conventioneers who come here that incite evil thoughts.

Don't believe me? Here are five horrible things I'm guilty of thinking (or saying) about tourists as the height of tourist season in DC:

1. The metro is usually cranky and crowded during rush hour. Even when there aren't delays, there isn't always room for actual commuters, let alone tourists who don't have sharp elbows, on the trains that pull through. I love waiting on the platform at Woodley Park, angling myself to board the carriage before me, and watching despair fill the eyes of the adults who lead large groups as they realize that they won't be able to fit all of their students on a single train until after 10am.

2. Speaking of the metro, I am not bashful when it comes to telling children about the "stand on the right, walk on the left" rule. I'm generally pretty polite the first few times I say it, but woe betide the chaperone who doesn't echo my mantra up and down the escalator for her group. More than a few teachers/parents of unconcerned 8th graders have emerged from the metro with the stern etiquette lesson I gave them still ringing in their ears.

3. I live right behind the zoo, which is fantastic Monday-Friday and weekends from October through April. As soon as the warm weather hits, though, our neighborhood is swarmed on the weekends with families from out of town who have found the zoo parking lot full (or who didn't want to pay the fee to park on zoo grounds). There aren't enough street spots for those of us who live here, so it's frustrating to have to race visitors to open stretches of curb, but in addition to that our sidewalks are littered with food wrappers, dirty diapers, and zoo paraphernalia at the end the day on summer Saturdays and Sundays. I get a tingle of the most malicious glee when cars slow beside me as I walk Charlie around the neighborhood, asking about parking options, and I tell them there isn't much available/legal street parking without a permit and they'll almost certainly get a ticket if they park somewhere they shouldn't. (That's a lie - the city would make millions off of zoo visitors parking in the neighborhood, but I rarely see parking enforcement on our streets.)

4. Here's something that will be useful for you to know if you ever visit DC: most movies and TV shows that take place here aren't filmed here, and even the ones that are usually play fast and loose with the city's geography. Don't even get me started on how the West Wing thinks that you have to turn around on Memorial Bridge when going from Rosslyn, VA to the White House in order to get to GW, or how House of Cards invented a metro station for the first episode of season two. (Apparently Hollywood loves getting creative with the metro.) I always pity people when I hear them planning their day in DC based on movies and TV shows. This famous shot, which shows up in almost every film/show set here, makes the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol look pretty close together, but it's actually a 2.3 mile walk from end to the other and that's a really long way when it's in the upper 80s with high humidity.

5. I always snicker when I hear people - usually men and often fathers - wax lyrical about Washington using "facts" they've gleaned from National Treasure.

I know I have local readers - what are you guilty of thinking (or saying!) about tourists in DC?

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