DC Gets the Old Post Office Back

marching past the Old Post Office
protest march at the Trump International Hotel

The Old Post Office is one of the loveliest buildings in Washington, DC. Built in 1899, this brawny Romanesque structure dominates Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol.

If you lived in DC in the 1990s, then you remember it as a food court that would fill with high school tour groups during the summer. With a glass skylight a dozen stories up, the food court was loud and chaotic but convenient to the museums on the National Mall.

You could also take an elevator up the clock tower to get a wonderful view of the Washington Monument, so close that it looked like you could reach out and touch it. Run by the National Park Service, it was free and there usually wasn’t much of a wait.

When the food court era ended, the General Services Administration (GSA) looked for a tenant for this unwieldy and aging property.

That tenant was Donald Trump. The reality show star promised to transform the historic property into a five-star hotel.

Instead, he turned it into a garish palace for corrupt, insider dealings. A marble floor was put over the old food court, the railings and bannisters were gilded with gold leaf and crystal chandeliers hung from the rafters. The Trump International Hotel opened in September 2016.

Security guard in front of the Trump Hotel

For people who lived in DC, it became a joke, a place for wealthy rubes to be fleeced by the Trump crime family.

More seriously, the  Trump International Hotel became how corporations and foreign governments paid off the President, paying inflated room rates in exchange for access. It also became infamous for the many conspiracies hatched in the lobby by people like Rudy Giuliani.

In the early days of his administration (2017), if you were of the right complexion, it was not difficult to get inside and have a look around. The lobby was like the 1980s – marble floors, overstuffed couches, chairs with gold trim. It was still a massive atrium, so it was cold and the acoustics were terrible. You had to shout just to have a conversation.

making deals
they will let any (white) one in

The hotel soon became a center of protest against the Trump Administration. You might not to be able to get near the White House, but you could go right up to the Trump Hotel. Everyone came to protest, from people against Trump’s rump health care plan to women making out for LGBT rights.

The hotel originally had an outdoor cafe, but guests were jeered by demonstrators so that was eliminated. With a prime location on Pennsylvania Avenue, the hotel and its faux gold Trump sign were perfect to get a selfie of yourself gagging. By the end of his administration, the Trump International was ringed by fences and guards to keep it safe.

Today, DC got the Old Post Office back. Trump sold his lease to Hilton, which will turn the hotel into a Waldorf Astoria. A place with real class, not gold-trimmed banisters.

the Trump name is gone
the Trump name is gone

The first thing Hilton did last night was to remove the Trump name. I biked down early in the morning hoping to see it blasted off the Old Post Office. But they did that before dawn, perhaps to avoid the cheering crowds which would have showed up during the day.

I would’ve paid to pry his name off the Old Post Office. It’s a beautiful building that belongs to the public and should never have been the plaything of a tyrant.

His name no longer defiles Pennsylvania Avenue. The symbol of misrule is gone. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Four Favs from the Metropolitan Beer Trail

on the Metropolitan Branch Trail
Metropolitan Beer Trail

Seven of DC’s most popular breweries and bars have come together to form the Metropolitan Beer Trail.

Each location is walkable or bikeable from the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which stretches from Union Station to Brookland along the Red Line.

Starting on May 14, the Metropolitan Beer Trail kicks off with a digital passport and discounts. The first 300 who visit all seven breweries get a t-shirt.

I’ve been biking along the trail for years and watched it grow from being lined with abandoned warehouses to blooming with breweries.

Here are my four favorites along the MBT.

metrobar

Metrobar
outdoor seating and a Metro car at metrobar

A Metro-themed bar with a Metro car in it? How cool is that? Located just off the MBT, this outdoor beer garden is a great spot to grab a drink and a Metro selfie.

Metrobar opened during the pandemic. The Metro car was delivered in two pieces and assembled on site. The car is being fixed up so that you’ll be able to eat and drink inside of it.

They have a great selection of local beer, there’s a food truck out front (the soul food one is great) and I really like their Old Fashioned. Or as they call it, a Metro Fashioned.

Metrobar does a great job at connecting with the DC community. There’s always some sort of event going like a band, movie or photo exhibit. They even had a book signing for authors, where I signed copies of my book LIKES.

City-State Brewing

The Flavor of the District
Tiny beers at City-State

Watching trains while drinking a beer – that’s the dream, isn’t it?

Located less than a hundred yards from metrobar, City-State is up a set of stairs from the trail. On their elevated perch, enjoy a DC-themed beer (like their 8 Wards IPA) and watch MARC and Amtrak trains roll westward. You can smell the hops inside – it’s a real brewery.

City-State is also the most kid-friendly brewery on the trail, too, with games and toys for the little ones.

Dew Drop Inn

bike parking at Dew Drop Inn
bike parking at Dew Drop

DC used to be full of dive bars like Dew Drop, places with squeaky stairs and pleather-covered bar stools. This is about the only one left.

It’s the spot to make bad decisions at the end of the night as you drink bourbon and coke. BBQ is available.

Dew Drop is at the end of the trail part of the MBT. On 8th St, the trail turns to road for reasons known only to the planners at District Department of Transportation.

Red Bear

FurROARi
a low alcohol beer at Red Bear

Red Bear is the place to eat on the Metropolitan Beer Trail. Located across from the NoMa Metro Station, and next to REI, the beer is good but the cheese curds are delicious. They are a perfect way to soak up some of the booze.

Inside is unfathomably loud so sit outside.

The connection to the MBT is a little tricky. To get to the trail from Red Bear, go under the bridge and make a left up the ramp.

Tips

For those attempting the Metropolitan Beer Trail by bike, Metro, car or foot:

  • If biking, bring a lock. While back racks are available, some (like at City-State) are out of view from the brewery.
  • If you’re trying to do all seven bars and breweries at once, consider drinking  low-alcohol or sampler sizes. Non-alcoholic options are available too – metrobar has a good lemonade.
  • The MBT is very convenient for the Metro. The Rhode Island Avenue stop on the Red Line is right next to the trail.
  • Walkers/runners might consider starting at Dew Drop and working their way downhill to Red Bear.
  • If driving, there’s parking at metrobar; otherwise you’re on your own.
  • The MBT is an urban trail. There’s usually plenty of people around, so I’d call it safe, but be aware of your surroundings.

 

The City Paper Gives Up Print

Washington City Paper newspaper box
On April Fool’s Day 2022, the Washington City Paper announced that they would no longer publish a weekly print edition.

To me, the City Paper was urban life. When I came to Washington, this alternative free weekly was one of the things that defined the city, along with the Metro and the museums, none of which were available in my Florida homeland.

The City Paper of the 1990s had it all! In its black and white pages, you could find the latest Marion Barry scandals, record reviews, an events calendar and pages of classified ads for apartments, yard sales and adult services.

Plus, amazing long-form journalism by writers such as Eddie Dean, who profiled overlooked corners of the city, like taxi drivers in Anacostia. He wrote about the gritty, pre-gentrification city and the people who lived there. These were fascinating, novelistic portrayals of DC beyond the monuments and they had a huge influence on my own writing.

Inspired by the City Paper

In 2017, I won the City Paper Fiction Competition with my short story, Victory Party, which is about the election night 2016 in DC. I got to see my work in print, online and had a reading at Kramerbooks – the thrill of a lifetime, all thanks to the City Paper.

A couple years later, I won the competition again, with Apartment 101, which is about three decades of life in one apartment. You can see the City Paper influence in my short story, which has lots of local detail and is about a DC far from the monuments.

Just Another Web Site

Does DC really need another hyperlocal online news outlet? Washington is already awash in digital news, with local sites including Axios DC, Greater Greater Washington, Prince of Petworth and blogs even more obscure.

What made the City Paper unique and different was that it published in print. Paper – the ultimate app for reading. While our digital devices constantly serve up distraction, words on paper demand our attention. You can’t multitask while reading a book.

Also, print has an authority that digital cannot match. On the Internet, everyone is equal. You can make your crackpot blog look as authoritative as the New York Times. But not everyone can afford to maintain a printing press and a distribution network.

I’ve seen my short stories published online before. But seeing them in print in the City Paper was qualitatively different. They were actual physical objects in the world, compared to transient pixels.

I say all of this as a person who has spent their career working in digital media. I’ve managed web sites, published email newsletters and gone viral on social media yet none of it compares to the in-your-hands reality of a newspaper, book or magazine.

After forty years in print, the City Paper has given all that up. No longer will you be able to find them in a stack at Kramerbooks or pull one out of a box on your way to the Metro. No more getting your fingers dirty with ink while engrossed in a story at Zorba’s. No more thrill of seeing your words on a printed page.

Instead, the City Paper is going to be just another web site.

 

Signs of Life in Downtown DC

Untitled

Parts of downtown Washington, DC, are a time capsule, perfectly frozen in time from the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of these places is Sweet Leaf on 15th St. It’s your typical high-end salad place – DC loves its expensive salads.

Like much of the city, it closed in March, 2020, and never reopened. They just locked up and left. The signs announcing new salad combinations, the chairs and tables, the register – everything is still inside.

Large swathes of downtown DC look similar. The white collar workers that once poured out of the Metro are working from home. Still. Most of the coffee shops, sandwich places, cleaners and bars that supported them are gone.

So few people that the Starbucks have closed! DC used to have Starbucks across the street from Starbucks but even they can’t survive.

Untitled

The city has taken to plastering empty storefronts with murals. They’re quite good but do not disguise the fact that you can be the only person walking down L St on a Tuesday morning – a very unusual occurrence for a place that once used to be the busiest in the city.

Yet, it was worse last year. Walking around Farragut North then was an apocalyptic experience, with streets so dark and empty that it was worrisome. It seemed like the world had ended but no one had told me.

I work from home but cannot sit at home all day. I like to get coffee in the morning so grab a Capital Bikeshare bike and roll down the 15th St bike lane (passing the empty Sweet Leaf).

It’s good to see humanity. There’s a guy at 15th and K who yells hello at everyone. You can hear him from blocks away. He recognizes me. Thinks my name is David. “Good morning Daaavviidd!” he shouts as I wave to him from across K Street.

I like the Peet’s Coffee near the White House. It’s sunny, on a corner and has a view of Old Executive Office Building, a flamboyant and anachronistic construct of marble columns, flags and ironwork, all done in French Empire style.

Pre-pandemic, the line at Peet’s would stretch to the door. I haven’t had to wait in line there since 2019. I bring my laptop to work from home from a coffee shop. There are few customers – maybe a uniformed Secret Service agent with his bike parked out front, a TV correspondent getting a latte before going to a press briefing or a tourist wandering in after a White House selfie.

Lately, I’ve seen signs of life downtown. At Midtown Centre, where the Sweet Leaf time capsule is, Dauphine’s, a Cajun joint, opened last year – and is still open. Construction workers are busy building out a Japanese restaurant, too.

Untitled

And biking by Sweet Leaf this morning, I noticed something different. A sign.

NOW HIRING
ALL POSITIONS
PART TIME AND FULL TIME

A simple piece of paper. A sign of life after two years of emptiness. The time capsule reopening.

The days of having a coffee shop to myself are coming to an end. The days of being the only person walking down the block. The days of artwork covering empty windows.

I’ve been wrong before. I thought downtown would spring back to life last year. Maybe it will never come back. Maybe it will come back differently. But it’s definitely coming back.

We Have Not Forgotten January 6th

The Capitol is open again

January 6th has largely been forgotten.

It has disappeared in the mad crush of events of the past year. A new President, the ebbs and flows of coronavirus and the rise of inflation have all taken the place of the insurrection in the nation’s consciousness.

The work of investigators goes on, racking up indictments against hundreds of rioters. Congress is slowly and methodically investigating the organizers. And the media hasn’t forgotten.

But, for most Americans, it’s just another part of the past few years that they’re trying to forget.

Washington, DC, has not forgotten. For the citizens of the nation’s capital – like me – it’s a day seared in our memories.

I saw the rioters. They were all over the city that day, including in hotels in my neighborhood. On January 6th, I saw them bedecked in Trump gear and armed with bats, poles, clubs and pepper spray. Some were even outfitted in camouflage uniforms, complete with patches and IDs. They looked like National Guard to me. I think one part of January 6th which hasn’t been investigated was the attempt by some Trump supporters to impersonate the military.

On January 6th, I watched the mob march up to the Capitol and then march back, where they celebrated in their hotels. They were proud of what they had done. It was the most disgusting thing I have ever witnessed.

Even the next day, there was no remorse. On January 7th they were still running around DC waving Trump flags before eventually departing.

That Trump supporters were part of a riot wasn’t a surprise to anyone who lives here. During their earlier rallies, Trump supporters had brawled with people in the streets and vandalized black churches.

We knew something terrible was coming January 6th. A culmination of months of violence.

As a kid, I watched Schoolhouse Rock. I’m Just a Bill taught me how democracy worked.

Change in America, unlike other countries, occurred through the legislature. It was done by elected representatives who followed the Constitution.

But how could you believe that after January 6th?

We nearly lost democracy to an angry mob. Only the brave men and women of the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department (DC’s police force) prevented Steve Bannon from installing Donald Trump as President for Life.

The country has moved on, more concerned with gas prices and covid. The facts of January 6th are uncomfortable to examine too closely.

But the people of DC have not forgotten.

LIKES Book Signing at Metrobar

Likes for sale

When I was asked to sign copies of my book LIKES at Metrobar, the decision was an easy one: YES!

I sold my book of short stories about social media as part of their Holiday Art Fair and Book Sale on December 5th.

I’m a huge fan of this Metro-themed outside bar near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. It’s also right on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which makes it very convenient for people who bike (like me). Since Metrobar opened, I’ve brought multiple groups of friends there, all of whom shared my enthusiasm for drinking outside next to a disused Metro car.

I’ve never sold books in person before. Prior to this, all my sales were online.

In our super-wired age, there’s the temptation to believe that everyone and everything is on Twitter or Facebook.

They aren’t. The Metrobar Art Fair and Book Sale was an opportunity to sell books in person to people outside my online social network.

There’s also something different about seeing someone with a physical object (a book) that you created. Something that is more tangible and real than pixels.

LIKES is a collection of dark and funny short stories about social media. But it’s also a beautiful physical object that you can put in a bag and take with you to read on the Metro. Or in Metrobar.

Get your copy today.

 

Downtown DC is Deserted

Soho Cafe
Where is everyone?

The Axios article is correct. Downtown DC is deserted. I live at the edge of downtown, and spend a lot of time walking and biking through it.

Recently, I went to lunch at Soho Cafe at 13th and K St NW. Pre-covid, it was one of my favorite lunch spots – I have a thing for steamtray Chinese food.

Normally, it’s a buzz of activity, in which you elbow your way up to the buffet, fill a tray with food, wait in line to pay and then try to find a place to sit. Sometimes, I even had to share a table with someone else.

Yet, when I walked into Soho yesterday, one of the cafe workers was taking a nap in a chair. There were no customers, no line and I had my pick of tables.

Looking around the cafe, I thought to myself: this place won’t make it.

DC is Back?

DC is not back, despite the social media campaigns. It’s not DC’s fault, though. Spooked by Delta, the federal government is still working remotely. The thousands of feds which commuted back and forth to downtown offices have not returned.

The return of DC’s indoor mask mandate killed off meetings and conventions, too. Visitors are often surprised at the strictness of the mask mandate, which applies to everything, including hotels, nightclubs, restaurants and museums. Meeting planners have moved their events across the river to mask-free Virginia.

Some places reopened too soon. Swing’s Coffee, for example. It doesn’t open until 8 AM and even then it doesn’t seem to have enough business to support itself, with the nearby World Bank still working remotely. I meet a group of biking friends there on Fridays and we make up most of their business.

A block away is Peet’s Coffee. I love this spot, since it’s on a corner with lots of windows and a view of the Old Executive Office Building. In the morning, sometimes I see the Vice President’s motorcade go by. Pre-covid, there’d always be a line. Now, no line. It reopened months ago and I’ve never seen it busy.

There used to be multiple Peet’s locations downtown – 15th and M, 17th and L, 11th and E. Only the location near the White House remains.

I never thought I’d see Starbucks close locations but many of them closed as well. And the sandwich places downtown have mostly disappeared.

Hoteling is the Future

I work as a government contractor. Pre-covid, we did hoteling. No one had an office. Instead, when you went into headquarters, you picked out a place to sit like you would an airplane seat. I’d spend the day in a stuffy room at a long table with several dozen other people (hello super spreader event).

Luckily, I only had to go in 1-2 days a week. This arrangement had enabled the government to consolidate office space, saving millions in the process.

My agency was going to have an optional return to the office starting in October. Delta shelved those plans. Covid caused many agencies to rethink who even needed to be in the office. At the minimum, many agencies are going to hoteling models, where people work in the office for a couple days and at home for the rest of the time.

Other businesses have followed the government’s lead. Not everyone needs to be in the office all the time. And if they’re not there, why rent all that space?

But as a friend reminded me, the cars are back. The people who are coming downtown are driving, feeling safer in their own vehicles than Metro.

Van Ness Metro Station
High ceilings, high drama

Which is a shame, because Metro is beautiful. If everyone goes back to the office in force, not everyone is going to be able to drive without complete gridlock.

Ironically, DC has more traffic on the weekends. People may not feel comfortable going to the office but everyone knows you can’t get covid in a bar, right? Between the Ubers delivering people to U Street clubs and the Ubers delivering Chik-fil-A to lazy apartment dwellers, DC approaches traffic meltdown on Friday and Saturday night.

This is the End

So, how does this end?

Federal commuters will eventually return, but in much smaller numbers. Most people will work remotely at least part of the time. With fewer people working downtown, many businesses will not make it. Offices will be consolidated leaving an opportunity for the city to remake this space – into housing perhaps?

Not everyone can drive everywhere so we will need Metro to survive, as well as vibrant car alternatives like protected bike lanes and pedestrian-only streets (like the recent Open Streets Georgia Avenue).

And Uber needs to be destroyed, before this parasitic company swamps DC with cars delivering chicken sandwiches.

I’m optimistic. Cities are unique places with an energy that cannot be duplicated. The pandemic has taught us that virtual is no substitute for the real thing.

No one wants to do another Zoom meeting but have lunch in a cafe, browse a bookstore, grab a latte with a friend – yes. People want that.

And those are things you do in a city.

One Day Out of Life

Downtown DC on Wheels at the Portrait Gallery

Celebrate…

Biking up 8th Street, I heard Madonna’s song, recognizing the 80s classic instantly: Holiday. Echoing off the buildings was her call to take a holiday and celebrate one day out of life.

In front of the Portrait Gallery, the street had been closed and a temporary outdoor rolling rink constructed. It was Downtown DC on Wheels. Skaters were enjoying a mild afternoon of rolling in the shadows of the marble columns of the museum. The scene was joyous as kids learned to skate and older folks relived their youth, while a DJ played extended dance remixes.

And I thought: who would want to destroy this beautiful city?

The day before, the Capitol rioters had returned, staging a rally to free their January 6 co-conspirators. This time, the Capitol Police were prepared and the rioters were heavily outnumbered. The rally was an embarrassing bust.

It was a beautiful weekend, too, featuring the kind of sunny and mild days that DC gets in September before summer comes to an end. Soon, the leaves will be gone from the trees, the sun will set before 5 PM and we’ll be in mid-winter dreariness.

Why waste your time enslaved to a conspiracy theory? Imagine spending a beautiful weekend in DC – not to see the monuments or visit the museums – but to wave signs and shout slogans from a failed political campaign.

I don’t feel sorry for the demonstrators. They made their choice.

I am with the people rolling around the rink to Madonna’s Holiday, who know that it is better to pursue joy than surrender your mind to conspiracy.

One day out of life…

 

Lafayette Square Op-Ed Published in Washington Post

White House behind many fences
Lafayette Square locked up behind a fence

Lafayette Square is open again, but it’s different now – that’s the title of my op-ed in the Washington Post.

I spent years walking through Lafayette Square on my way to work. This historic park was a constant in my life when all else changed. With the statue of Andrew Jackson in the middle of it, the square had a timeless quality.

I assumed Lafayette Square would be there forever. But after Trump had demonstrators violently cleared from the park, he put a fence around it.

Tyranny can take everything from you – even a park.

That’s the lesson of my op-ed.

I wrote about the park to share the local perspective. For the 700,000+ people who live in DC (like me), the parks and monuments are more than just tourist attractions. They are part of our lives.

Lafayette Square wasn’t history to me – it was a shortcut and a green respite from the busy city. I thought the park was sacred and inviolable. 2020 taught me that our institutions can be destroyed if not defended.

This isn’t the first op-ed I’ve had in the Post. See my articles for more.

Last Days of the Pandemic

Get your free COVID-19 vaccine here

In these last days of the pandemic, I have a certain wistfulness about what we will lose with the return of “normal” life.

“It’s the first time we’ve been out in a year,” a couple told me excitedly as we waited to get into happy hour at the Heurich House Garden.

I’ve been going to the garden since they opened in February. It’s a nice outdoor space within walking distance of my home. During the winter months, they served mulled wine (something I never thought I’d like) with enough alcohol content to keep me warm for a while. I’d meet friends there and we’d talk, until our extremities began to freeze.

The pandemic is coming to an end in Washington, DC. Vaccines are freely available and incentives (such as free beer) are now being offered to get them.

Hard to believe that just two months ago, I was talking with my friends in the garden about the difficulty of obtaining a vaccine. Now, we’ve all been vaccinated.

I am deeply thankful for this amazing development that was only possible due to big government and American ingenuity.

In 2020, DC was so empty that I could run in the street. Now, the drivers are back and running in the street would be a death sentence. Literally – traffic deaths have risen dramatically, despite Mayor Bowser mouthing Vision Zero platitudes.

fancy outdoor tables at Le Diplomate

We learned how to eat outside in any weather. 14th St is lined with outdoor tables on the street, protected from traffic and sheltered from the weather. Some are quite elaborate, like the cozy little rooms at Le Diplomate.

Outdoor drinking in DC has become ubiquitous, even infamous. Logan Circle Park is known locally as Club Logan. On the weekends, the grass is packed with picnickers sipping to-go drinks from the bars on 14th St.

While the neighborhoods are rocking, not much is going on downtown. With the federal government teleworking, south of K Street is deserted. Most of the coffee shops and restaurants are closed. The city is trying to lure  people back with things like the outdoor office in Farragut Square.

This outdoor office idea is great

The General Services Administration, where I work, was already teleworking a majority of the time, pre-pandemic. No one had assigned desks; everyone had laptops. Hoteling, they called it. Nothing really changed for us when the pandemic hit.

GSA is not alone. Many organizations have discovered that they can work successfully online. Office space will be shed – what’s the point of leasing square footage downtown for people who aren’t there? Maybe you need a DC address or place for meetings but you don’t require a whole floor on K Street.

For many businesses, the question will be not when everyone goes back to the office but who actually needs to be there.

I thought that the last days of the pandemic would end with a bang. A celebration as people discarded their masks and resumed life.

Instead, everyone is cautiously exploring the world once again, like the couple I met in the garden. They will discover an America that has changed utterly.