Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It's a puzzler . . .

Lots of things I don't understand: How does the overhang at the Kennedy Center possibly stay up there? Who lives in the Kennedy-Warren? Why do people drive the way they do? (OK, I figure that last one is because they must have supreme faith in their brakes or their reflexes or maybe it's the "it could never happen to me" syndrome). I don't know, but here comes another one for me to puzzle over: why do people ignore intersections when trying to cross busy roads when they could take a couple of extra minutes to walk to the appropriate crossing area and continue living?

I witnessed a woman crossing Connecticut Avenue near Van Ness Metro station today at 8:45 a.m. -- rush hour -- and she took it one lane at a time. She waddled out one lane and stopped. Then, when she saw her chance she advanced across a second lane and stopped again. Now, I don't know if you've ever counted, but there's six of those lanes to get across and to do it one at a time at 8:45 on a Tuesday morning takes a special kind of faith that I can only dream of. There was the Veazey Street traffic light about 50 yards away but no! She was headed to a restaurant and maybe she could hear those waffles calling to her but man, I wanted to say, if you want to make it to lunch you might consider going the extra 50 yards and using the traffic signal over there at Veazey.

The other day a man was hit by a vehicle while crossing Connecticut Avenue close to the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Park and not at a traffic light. Now, I feel bad for the guy -- he died later but not before our opportunistic police force slapped him with a five dollar jaywalking ticket -- but you know, if you're going to live dangerously, you shouldn't be shocked when danger comes to meet you. If you're going to attempt to cross a busy thoroughfare like Connecticut Avenue between two close-by traffic lights, then, like those aforementioned drivers and waffle lady, you've got to have a special faith in your good fortune that day.

There's a traffic light at Ordway and there's a traffic light at Macomb. Now there's a move afoot to stick a crosswalk between those lights in the vicinity of the Theater. I don't know if this crosswalk would have a traffic light or not but if it does we can look forward to a complete logjam of vehicles right there in the middle of Cleveland Park. But then, I suppose, a logjam would remove any danger in crossing the road. Or maybe there won't be a traffic light installed, they'll give us flags instead like at Morrison Street up at Chevy Chase. Now there's some faith! Grab a flag and wave it as you boldly step out into traffic.

In an altercation between a vehicle and a human, the human is usually on the losing end. If we don't have the time to go to the crosswalk then it might be time to slow down a little and take stock of our priorities.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Should we lose the Cleveland Park service road?

Commissioner Avi Fechter of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3C (ANC3C) is proposing to get rid of the service road on the east side of Connecticut Avenue between Ordway and Macomb Streets. There's a public meeting to discuss the subject on Saturday November 19 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the second district police station at the intersection of Idaho Avenue and Newark Street.

Mr. Fechter says, "Initial DDOT analysis indicate that it is possible to close the service road, widen the sidewalk, and not lose more than 3-4 public parking spaces. Parking spaces would be diagonal, like on 18th St. in Adams Morgan and 8th St. SE (Barracks Row). Cars would back into the spaces, like they would a parallel parking space." ANC3C will meet to disuss and maybe vote on the resolution on Monday, November 23.

Not a bad idea, the east side will look more like the west side: more space for pedestrians, more outdoor cafe type seating, no more stepping off the sidewalk and being clipped by a car. I don't suppose the valet car business will suffer any, in fact, because there will be a loss of "3-4 parking spaces," it will probably be more necessary than ever. I don't know about this diagonal parking space idea though. Stopping on ConnAve in the middle of Cleveland Park to back into a space is not for the faint of heart.

Mr. Fechter is also proposing adding a crosswalk over Connecticut Avenue in the middle of that block. I'm not sure that's necessary -- a crosswalk means a traffic light doesn't it? We're not going to try that orange flag thing again are we? Aren't the crosswalks at Ordway and Macomb enough?

Avi's also got a problem with Zipcar using metered parking spaces for their vehicles. But aren't car sharing services the saving grace for those city dwellers that only need wheels occasionally? Seems to me that outfits like Zipcar and Flexcar will encourage people to get rid of their barely used cars thereby potentially opening up parking spaces.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Well I followed her to the station, a suitcase in my hand . . .

The popularity of blues is cyclical. It might be "in" for five years and "out" for eight. But plugging away through the ups and downs are the musicians on the local level, doing whatever it takes to play this authentic American art form that drives them, keeps them going.

Lots of cities have a bar or two devoted to the blues, sometimes it just takes a little searching. You don't have to be a sleuth in St Louis though, there's three blues bars within a stone's throw of Busch Stadium -- now the former home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Two of them are across the street from each other: BB's Jazz Blues & Soups and Beale on Broadway. One block down the road is the Broadway Oyster Bar. The bands that play here are mostly local and a few of them travel from one to the next of these three bars during the course of a week, making a kind of blues circle. Admission is usually free, and in the warm weather the bands at the Oyster Bar and at Beale play outside. Let me tell you, it doesn't get much better than sitting outside on a warm St. Louis summer evening, drinking some of the local brews and listening to someone singing the blues. A particular treat is to hear Kim Massie. She usually plays Beale on Broadway on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and she has a voice that has to be heard. The locals claim she sounds like a cross between Aretha Franklin and Etta James, and they're not far wrong.

Also in St. Louis is Soulard, a neighborhood that's a little off the tourist path but worth catching the bus for. It's a mostly residential neighborhood with some cobblestone streets and a bar on most corners. The bars often have two bands a day, Friday to Sunday, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. In recent years the music has changed somewhat, though, to try and attract bigger and younger crowds than the blues usually draws -- that's why sometimes you'll hear music written by Jim Morrison instead of by Willie Dixon or Muddy Waters.

Not just St. Louis of course. San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Austin, Kansas City, all have a thriving -- or at least, alive -- blues scene.

And D.C? Well, lucky for us, not only do we have a gen-u-wine blues bar but it's on Connecticut Avenue across from the zoo. Not surprisingly, it's called the Zoo Bar, and the music is live Thursday, Friday, Saturday and, just lately, Sunday nights. Sometimes there's some variation but usually, Friday and Saturday nights have the same bands on the same weeks of each month -- in other words, the band that plays on the first Saturday of the month always plays on the first Saturday of the month.

Well worth catching on the first Saturday is The Big Boy Little Band featuring the incomparable guitar playing of Rusty Bogart and on the last Saturday you can see Flatfoot Sam and the Educated Fools, a staple at the Zoo Bar for many years.

Thursday is jam night at the Zoo Bar and my favorite night. The house band, led by Big Boy Little, plays from about 8:30 to 9:00 or 9:30, and then everybody else gets to join in -- in an orderly kind of way of course. This is no usual jam night crowd of musicians, these people know their instruments and their music. It's sometimes close to astonishing to experience the quality
and diversity of the music played by these folks who come into the bar Thursday after Thursday for no pay, just for the thrill of playing the music in front of warm bodies.

There aren't a lot of national blues acts left touring -- Buddy Guy and B.B. King are close to the entire list -- so we have to rely more and more on our local musicians for a dose of the blues whether in the mid-west or D.C. The Zoo Bar is an underutilized Washington, D.C. gem right under our noses. It deserves our respect if only for hanging in there during the ups and downs of blues popularity.

And just so you don't get the wrong impression, I am in no way affiliated with the Zoo Bar, they don't know about this entry or even this blog. I wrote the above statements because I'm a blues fan, pure and simple.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Cleveland Park Bar & Grill Opens For Business

As I drove through Cleveland Park last night on my way home from work I noticed a new "Now Open!" sign above what used to be Bricks and someone was taking down the paper that has covered the windows for the last few weeks. In the interests of bringing the latest news to my faithful readers, I later slogged through last night's torrential storm to the CP strip to take a look. What was Bricks is now the Cleveland Park Bar & Grill. The new owners (three of them!) have made a lot of changes: new wallpaper, snazzy mirrors, juke box, bench seats, wall paneling, flat-panel televisions, re-finished bar, etc., etc.

Friday night was what they called a "soft opening" -- no advertising, just friends and families had been told, but the Strip foot traffic even for such a wet and wild night helped to fill the place. I guess a lot of locals have missed the Park Bench and Bricks. Incidentally, the word is that the Park Bench will reopen in a couple of weeks as the Uptown Tavern.

The menu is far from complete but there's still the wood burning oven for the pizza, plus there's now a "Dinner Menu" involving steaks, burgers, salmon, and some Italian stuff. OK, so I'm not a restaurant critic. The opening night free pizza was fine but the crusts were consistantly burnt -- seems like the kitchen staff needs a bit more practice with the oven. But let's not forget, it was free.

Starters include Italian cold cuts, pizza bianca, bruschettas and salads. The desserts are listed under the heading of "Sugar," so do with that what you will although I noticed it involved such things as ice cream, tarts, brownies, and more ice cream.

Lots of wines available. The usual lineup of beers on tap including Guinness but unfortunately, no Bass so there go the black-and-tans.

Anyway, it's good to see the place back in business, and all you lost souls that have been roaming the area all summer with no place to go -- the Cleveland Park Bar & Grill is here for you.

Friday, September 09, 2005

That Maryland must be some kind of place . . .

Every day I throw caution to the wind and travel the racetrack known as Rock Creek Parkway (RCP) -- twice. The Parkway in rush hour is a place to behold, four lanes of traffic either taking people home or to work. Either way, the Parkway makes it obvious why we call it rush hour. It seems everyone's either late for work or eager to get home.

Rock Creek Parkway is a pretty place, lots of trees, interesting bridges, people jogging or riding bicycles all of which has to be ignored in rush hour because the lanes are so narrow and so curvy in spots that if you take your eyes off the road for a second you're drifting over into the next lane which, of course, has an unforgiving SUV in it.

Of interest to the first time traveler on the Parkway are the traffic lights which must be obeyed and the traffic lights which must be ignored. Never fear, first time RCP traveler! If you stop, pause, or even just hesitate at the traffic lights which can be ignored our fellow racetrack drivers will provide subtle hints that you are in error. A traffic light which can be ignored (in the morning) is at the intersection of the Parkway Virginia Avenue near the Watergate that leads to Route 66. The light is there, it turns red, it must be ignored. How do you know? Well, one trip down the Parkway in the morning rush and one false step at the light which must be ignored and the chances are good that you'll never make that mistake again.

There's a traffic light outside the Kennedy Center that seems to have drivers fairly evenly divided about its status. It's not at an intersection and therefore appears to be solely for pedestrians. Hah! As if we cared about pedestrians! When this light turns red some drivers look for pedestrians (to avoid them of course, not to hit them) and, seeing none, continue as though it's definitely a light that can be ignored while others come to a stop (pedestrians or not) and risk the wrath of the first group.

It's interesting to see people's reactions when they're being beeped at by an irate driver at the light that can be ignored. Often, the beepee will look helplessly around for what it could be that they're doing wrong, never understanding and, usually, never budging until the light changes. Some will studiously ignore the beeping as if it couldn't possibly be aimed at them, some will raise both hands as if to say, 'I feel your pain but what can I do?' while the rest just whip out that magical finger and wave it all around in the hope the beeper gets a good look at it.

There's an interesting spot about halfway down the RCP where, in the afternoon, the Parkway divides, two lanes to the right, two to the left. At the dividing point I'm sometimes behind drivers for whom this division is a surprise. They'll be happily speeding along (and I mean speeding) and suddenly they're faced with this decision: left? Right? Right? Left? I've seen white-knuckled hands shaking the steering while the decision making process develops.

And then, also in the afternoons, there's the daily drama at that spot where the RCP becomes Beach Drive to the right and heads off to Connecticut Avenue to the left. Invariably, there's a long line of vehicles waiting to get onto Beach Drive. Most people not in that right lane will turn towards Connecticut Avenue. But there's always the few traveling in the moving lanes that want to get as close as possible to the separation point and then . . . cut in. We find out a lot about people at this point. First, we definitely know about those cutting in, right? But then there's the crowd in the line. Some of them will allow cutting in but others, damn it, have been sitting in that line forever and you're coming in front of me over my dead body, etc, etc. I'm afraid that may be the case one day. Just lately I've seen a couple of police cars staked out at that dividing point and pulling people over. I don't know if it's because of cutting in or out-of-date stickers or what but I hope it's because of cutting in.

I avoid all that excitement by taking the Cathedral Avenue exit and all its attendant potholes. The last stretch of Cathedral Avenue before reaching the traffic light at the intersection with Connecticut Avenue becomes two lanes. The light turns green and this is our equivalent of the starting flag at the Indy 500. Engines scream, smoke billows, the light turns green and we turn right -- sometimes on two wheels -- in a crazed attempt to reach the next light at the zoo (a good 100 yards away) before it turns red. On average the first four cars -- two per lane -- make it. I assume those that make it have smooth sailing up much of the avenue because of the synching of the traffic lights. I have to assume this because I usually get to the zoo just in time for the red light but that's OK, at least this way I get to examine the tourists as they cross in front of me. Hve you ever examined the tourists? Interesting group. But that's a topic for another day. This rant is about traffic.

We are now fanned out at the zoo light, four across waiting for that next starting flag to send us on our way to Maryland. Cleveland Park (and the checkered flag for some) is in the distant haze. A couple of hazards on Connecticut Avenue are on the edges but life on the edge I'm told, may be the riskiest but it's also the most exciting. If you're in the far right lane you run the risk of finding an illegally parked vehicle and possibly the police tow truck trying to get rid of it. This, of course, means you're going to attempt to move one lane over to avoid the parked car but run the risk of hitting someone in lane two -- quite possibly me because that's where I usually hide. People have missed my car by microns at 40 miles an hour in their nightly attempt to break the land speed record for the Cathedral Avenue to Chevy Chase race.

Go in the left hand lane and there's always the thrill of finding someone blissfully unaware of the lane setup so they're coming towards you also at 40 miles an hour. This situation produces the usual cacophany of horns but with a certain extra urgency as the cars close in on each other in this late afternoon game of chicken, Connecticut Avenue style. Driving in D.C. rush hour is not for the faint hearted or anyone over 60. It's bad enough out here without drivers having heart attacks. I gotta start taking public transportation.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

We're Outta Here!

Lots of business movement recently: Potomac Video, Amernick Bakery, Yanyu, Bricks, Park Bench, Uno's Pizzeria, etc., and that's just Connecticut Avenue in Cleveland Park! And lets not forget McDonalds which, the way it looks, may never open again.

So what's happening here? Bad management? Wrong business for the area? Rent too high? One or more of these reasons may be responsible for the demise of these businesses. It's not news to say that rents are exorbitant in Cleveland Park. Any potential business owner has to know they've got to either have a bottomless pit of cash or take in huge amounts of business every month. Or both. If the rents aren't made reasonable and affordable we'll continue to have a turnover of businesses at best and a ghost strip at worst.

So what kind of business do we want in Cleveland Park? I've heard everything from a butcher's shop to a hardware store. Just no more Irish bars, OK?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Van Ness loses its Giant

The Giant at Van Ness is due to close soon for at least four months while the place is enlarged. It's not the best or biggest grocery store around -- in fact it won't be the biggest Giant around by a long shot even after the enlargement -- but it is the only show in town for many of the grocery store type items that people need. So what will Van Nessians do in the meantime?