Tuesday, May 18, 2004
A friend recently noted that we have not been as vitriolic recently as we could be in these discussions, a comment that I appreciated. But for the moment I'd just like to describe what a perfectly pleasant Saturday afternoon I had, and challenge you to find anything like it in DC.

I just tuned up my bike and stuck an extra-wide Cloud 9 seat on it ("The brand for people with big rear ends"). I have been riding it like a fiend, almost everyday, to strange places like Gowanus and Grand Street in Chinatown, quite possibly the smelliest thoroughfare in the Western Hemisphere (and perhaps the world).

But on this Saturday, it was time to get adventurous. I loaded up the bike, a Gary Fisher Gitche Gumee (no relation to "gitch," a Canadian word for "briefs") and set out for the most unglamorous of all major New York City greenways: Ocean Parkway. This is a road that would be frightening to ride upon if there were not wide bike-friendly sidewalks on either side of it. Cars plow down it at about 70, in spite of the fact that there are stoplights at almost every cross-avenue with kids skipping across them.

I didn't know how far I could take the old Parkway, or whether I could keep up with the Hasidic kids whizzing by and taunting me with their newer, more expensive titanium bikes, but I went for it. All the way to the end, coming off the road just under the Cyclone at Coney Island. I wheeled onto the rickety wooden pier where fishermen were pulling rather angry-looking crabs out of the water and throwing them at women and young children. I sat on a bench and got sunburned, watching the ferris wheel and a few kids trying to put bait down each other's shirts.

If you were to ride 8 miles from your door in DC, about the one-way distance of my trip, you'd end up somewhere really undesirable, like a Target in Arlington, or Bethesda. That's what's great about New York: our suburbia is pushed so far out to the fringes that no one here has to look at it.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
Hmmm, as I recall (and I can't find it online) the map in the backseat of all NYC taxicabs actually shows the UES ending at 86th St.
North of that line up to Spanish Harlem is labelled "Yorkville" - which I believe is properly the name of the eastern part of the area. And the northwestern part (roughly from 86th through 96th-ish, and west of Third Ave.) is called Carnegie Hill(where "The Devil's Advocate" - another crappy New York movie - was set). At least that's what one City map indicates.
Though the same map also misses the difference between Manhattan Valley and Morningside Heights on the Upper West Side. As I think we can agree, it's not that Morningside Heights (home of the prestigious day camp we both attended) is north of Manhattan Valley, it's more northwest.
Oh, how pleased I am to see that we are "back in action," as they say. It's been a long time coming (or, as your fellow Carolinians might claim, we've come a long way, baby).

An unpleasant thunderstorm appeared on the horizon an hour ago just as I was riding my bike through one of Brooklyn's unidentifiable neighborhoods. Was it Gowanus? Sunset Park? The "South Slope"? No one knows. I'm going to go ahead and say it was in Costcoville, because it was near the Costco.

This all goes to say that we hardly have a handle on our neighborhood boundaries here in the N-Y-C. Or, perhaps it's fairer to say that we have ceded the handles to local real-estate agents, who have seen fit to do what they please with names like "East Williamsburg" and "Morningside Heights" (read: Bushwick and West Harlem).

It's not a new phenomenon, either. What is now known as the East Village and to some as Alphabet City was for a long time considered the Lower East Side, but before the Alife Rivington Club and Il Laboratorio del Gelato came into being, such a label was tres gauche. Now, the L.E.S. seems to be spreading into Chinatown, at least in real estate listings, even as the businesses of Chinatown continue to expand north- and eastward. No one actually knows what's going on.

The reason this problem is more prevalent here than in DC is probably that our neighborhoods are so much bigger than yours and are thus more amorphous. There is, however, one certainty in life: the Upper East Side ends at 96th Street.
Alright, this page hasn't been updated in a while, which is entirely my fault.
Let's start with a "hello" and "thank you" to our friend at the Washington Oculus, who recently referred to you as "a NYT reporter wearing a Pabst Blue Ribbon trucker hat who was not Jenny 8. Lee." I can think of no higher compliment.
Though I think I got lumped into his description of the "New York contingency" at his party smoking "French cigarettes." For clarification, I live in Adams Morgan and my cigarettes are from North Carolina.
Actually, mentioning my neighborhood leads me to another question (loosely related to the current topic). Do you think that - whatever the merits of the names - New York does a better job defining the boundaries of its' neighborhoods? I just said I live in Adams Morgan, but that's a debatable proposition. My roomate says we live in Dupont, and there is an argument to be made that we're part of the "new" U Street Corridor.
The problem seems common - "Dupont East" stretches all the way to Logan Circle, at least in the parlance of the real estate classifieds. The eastern boundary of Georgetown is distinct (Rock Creek Park), but the northern and western edges are fuzzy - where exactly do the Palisades start? Is Foxhall part of G'town or not? How can Burleith be a distinct neighborhood north of Georgetown when people as far up Wisconsin Ave as Glover Park still claim to be in "Upper Georgetown"? And when will people give up on creating a new trendy neighborhood called the "West End" - which is set in a teeny-tiny area bounded by Dupont Circle to the north and east, Foggy Bottom to the south, and G'town to the west?
New York the neighborhoods seem to have more distinct boundaries - maybe just because of the maps in cabs.

Monday, April 12, 2004
So you're saying you have no love lost for such etymological wonders as Friendship Heights? Who, exactly, was the original Chevy Chase? I often wonder what lies beyond the overdark Metro station at Crystal City -- the Lollipop League of LCs?

Yes, creativity is lacking in DC neighborhood names, which I often find to have charming unintentional comic value. New York, on the other hand, is host to two altogether more disturbing trends: One, names even more unimaginative than anything DC can muster (Upper West Side? Remove the cachet and it sounds as stale as an hour-old H&H Bagel). Two, and DC seems to have mostly avoided this phenomenon (with a few exceptions), we have the horrible name-combination epidemic. TriBeCa and SoHo were just the beginning; it tests one's patience to dive into the tedium of SoHa, SoBro, NoHo, SoDela, and so on. Why must we endure it? Why not go back to the days of fun, unassuming titles like Long Island City and Ozone Park? Now those are names I can get behind.

I realize we're supposed to be bashing each other's adopted hometowns, but this is one scrimmage that New York may not win.
Glad to hear about your adventures with bourbon in NYC this weekend. Not to be confused with your adventures at Bourbon in Glover Park two weeks ago.
As for neighborhood names, I don't have much to defend. Let's start with the fact that both NYC and DC did a pretty unimaginative job naming things. The only idea worse than naming every street either a number, a letter, or a state, is just naming everything a number (yes, I'm aware of the exceptions to NYC's tyrannical grid).
DC seems to have done a particularly bad job with neighborhood names. Some are too literal - like the U St. corridor, Dupont Circle, and Logan Circle. Could anything be less original than calling the neighborhood around the Capitol "Capitol Hill"?
Others are just old subdivision names (Cleveland Park took it's name from the fact that President Grover Cleveland once bought a house there - even though he never really lived in it).
The only DC neighborhood name I'm really fond of is Adams Morgan, which was called Lanier Heights until the 1950s. It was renamed after two elementary schools that were successfully integrated following Brown v. Board of Education (Adams was the white school, Morgan was the black school).
Thursday, April 08, 2004
Okay, I lied. No neighborhood names today.
I'll be in Boston for the weekend. Update on Monday.
Happy Easter.
I'll get to neighborhood names a little later in the afternoon.
To return to the previous topic for a moment, one of our two or three faithful readers, Chris H, just reminded me that the Bill Murray film festival was here in DC first.
Okay, maybe you're right. I keep forgetting that "Anger Management" was filmed here, even the scenes they did in Columbia's student center that were supposed to represent "Boston Hospital" or somesuch nonsense. And on the topic of TV, that show "The King of Queens" should be left there. The only good thing on these days in the New York vicinity is, of course, the Sopranos, but its only non-Jersey scene in recent memory is the one in the parking lot on Mulberry Street where Johnny Sack kicks the crap out of some guy in suspicion that the guy thinks his wife is fat. But I digress.

I'd like to hear what you think about our chosen cities' neighborhood names. Granted, we have many more neighborhoods here, but am I correct in assuming you'll argue that neighborhood names in DC are of a higher caliber?

Yours in argument,
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
People who make movies disproportionately live in New York (if they live on the East Coast). The advantages of DC - a community with a deep interest and involvement in world events, middle-class housing within the city limits, and a culture that prizes brains over beauty - don't seem to appeal to folks who write, star in, and direct motion pictures. As a result, New York is the setting for more movies, not necessarily intrinsicly better movies.
If we take AFI's list of the 100 best movies of all time, only three of the top 20 take place even partially in New York (Citizen Kane, The Godfather and On the Waterfront). And before you ask, 2001: A Space Odyssey is the first film with a DC scene, at number 22. Dr. Strangelove, set partially below DC, is number 26. Mr. Smith goes to Washington is number 29. (no film with New York in the title makes the top 100)
New York was the setting for Little Nicky as well as The Godfather. Just as DC was the setting for Head of State
as well as part of The Godfather, Part Two.
And all the interns don't just hold hands at Screen on the Green. The Republican couples make out, and the Democrat couples smoke weed.
I can say this: They project movies on the side of the abandoned grain terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the summertime, which is pretty bad-ass. And they also show Brooklyn-themed films on a screen in the park under the Brooklyn Bridge. And though it has nothing to do with outdoor movie watching, I should mention, haughtily, that BAM is hosting a Bill Murray Film Festival starting this month. Screen on the Green is nothing more than a darkened outdoor space for Hill interns to tentatively hold hands. No one actually watches the movies.

Now I'd like to ask you another movie-related question: Why are movies about New York, or that take place in New York, always so much better than movies set in DC? New York simply runs the table in this category, no?


Bringing up the popcorn seasoning was a low blow. If anyone from the Landmark Theaters company is reading this (and I know that you are), could you please explain why the yummy seasoning powder is available at the Bethesda location, but not on E St.? It's inhumane.
The timing of movie releases is something we can't control, but a quick glance at the movie listings in the NY Post and the Washington Post indicates that the only new indie currently playing in NYC that isn't yet available in DC is "Shaolin Soccer." Though reviewers have called this "the greatest kung fu soccer movie of all time," I think we can wait.
Visions does midnight shows of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Donnie Darko" every Friday and Saturday, plus a rotating feature, currently "Bubba Ho-Tep." Can you top a midnight film about Elvis and and a black man who thinks he's John F. Kennedy teaming up to battle a mummy? I think not. Plus, there's a keg right in the theater.
And do you have anything like the Screen on the Green movies on the National Mall in the summertime? A lawn chair and "The Maltese Falcon" on a giant screen in in the shadow of the Washington Monument is pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Great, so DC film barons are finally admitting that people want more options than a midnight showing of Juwanna Mann at Union Station (which has terrible popcorn, BTW). Big deal. I'd be willing to admit that save for, you know, certain portions of Manhattan, DC has more snobs per acre than New York, and decent cinematic options were a long time coming.

But how long do District residents have to wait before a hot independent film that premiered in New York starts showing in a basement in Bethesda? Weeks. And I wouldn't call the theaters here slouches. I'll take a popcorn-friendly big-budgeter amid the red carpet and chandeliers of the Ziegfeld over the smooth suburb-worthy blandness of the Georgetown Loews any day of the week. And sure, some places here have screening rooms like closets, but isn't it more intimate that way?

The new DC theaters say this: Welcome, Washington, to the second tier of American cities. You no longer have to rely on Netflix to catch stuff like Good-Bye Lenin! or anything starring Paul Rudd. But here's what you're still missing: the breadth and depth, or perhaps the originality, required to have a theater showing stuff like Dazed and Confused and Wet Hot American Summer every Saturday at midnight.

And then there's the whole popcorn-powder issue, which maybe we shouldn't even get into.
One traditional area of NYC dominance over DC in cultural terms is in film, but I'd argue that Gotham's superiority is waning as a result of the wave of new movie theaters here in DC. As a cinemaphile, would you agree?
In the past few years, DC has lost two theaters - the Janus, which offered obstructed views of a screen smaller than many TVs, and the Foundry, which showed second-run films in excrutiatingly uncomfortable and somewhat fetid conditions.
In their place, we have gained the new Loews in Georgetown, which hosts part of the DC International Film Festival as well as offering first-run film in comfortable stadium seating. Plus, the opening of the new Landmark Theaters in Bethesda and on E St. gave us two first-class venues for a wide selection of foreign and independent films.
We also still have two old favorites, the quirky Visions, which has even more independent films (and a decent bar), and the Uptown, a 50-year-old monster with a giant screen and balcony seating.
Yours with popcorn-scented breath, steel
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Self-deprecation will get you everywhere! I think we should hold off beating this horse for a while. I leave it to you to ignite a new debate. But I do have one final word on the subway controversy. We've got mariachi bands. What does DC have for aural pleasure? Nothing! True, you do have that arguably growth-stunted woman who says "Doors Closing" as though they are her dying words. But I mean, come on. My roommate once saw a guy bring a full-size bass onto a train. It's tremendous.

First of all, our system is VERY new. Though it recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of it's opening, the original design for the system was not completed until 2001.
The fare is $1.20 (a little more reasonable than your $2, and I hear the cost of your monthly Metrocard is about to go up again) and only rises if you venture out into the suburbs (the equivalent of riding the Metro North or LIRR in NYC).
Also, it turns out that our trains run considerably faster than yours (up to 79 miles per hour), even though we don't have express lines. And we don't need express lines as much, since our stations are a sensible distance apart. What genius thought you really needed a stop at both 104th St. and 110th St. on the 1,9 line? Can you not walk six blocks?
To celebrate the history of your system (the second oldest in America), we did adopt the two-tone door chime used on New York's R44, R46, R62 and R68 cars.
Finally, as to the yellow seats, they are being replaced with dark blue and gray. Though, as an example of the sort of idiocy that only Metro sometimes seems capable of, four seats at each end of the train will remain the original 70s-era "harvest gold" or "burnt orange" in homage to Metro's proud, if brief, history.
Dear Steel,

Ancient locomotives? Does that include the brand new 4 trains I rode every morning on the lovely commute from Borough Hall to Grand Central? Or perhaps the awe-inspiring L trains the hipsters take to fabulous nightspot northsix? I'm not sure, but last time I sat on one of the Metro's orange cushions, it sagged appreciably and I believe it audibly sighed. (And emitted some kind of odor.)

But never mind all that. What IS ancient about our subway is its history. A hundred years, to be exact, and in that time, the subway has left in its wake an indefinable amount of trivia, nostalgia, and other detritus, none of which ever gets old. The Metro just had its 25-year anniversary. What did we get? Farecards with pictures of panda bears.

And what's with charging different amounts for every station you go to? Whack!


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