Come On In, We've Got Pandas
December 01, 2003
Tourists and Washington, DC share that odd, semi-symbiotic relationship that all cities have with their tourists. Tourists are mostly annoying. They travel in big, sidewalk-monopolizing groups. They either walk veeeerrry slooowly or do that dreaded stop-start-stop walk as they exclaim over the History and Culture of everything. They almost always box in an extremely irritated businessperson on a cell phone who just wants to get past this group of matching T-shirts so they can then insult them to the person on the other end of the line. “Effing tourists,” they’ll say. “Goddamned bus tours.”
But they will wait until the tourists are safely out of earshot—we in Our Nation’s Capital are generally polite to their faces. Call us Southern-Fried New Yorkers. We’ll slow down when asked where you can get a decent meal around here, knowing full well that’s code for where’s-the-nearest-Pizza-Hut. Most of the time I’ll oblige, though I did once send a family to Michel Richard’s Citronelle after the father specifically requested “nothing foreign or hoity-toity.”
Like I said, mostly annoying.
Tourists are the reason there was an actual movement (with petitions and everything) to get metro to post WALK LEFT STAND RIGHT signs on the escalators. Commuters use Metro to escape Road Rage, as Escalator Rage has fewer fatalities, but there was a growing tourist problem.
If there’s anything worse than big groups of tourists on the sidewalks, it’s big groups of tourists on the escalator at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan, all zoo-funky and blocking the entire escalator as they compare panda merchandise and complain that they threw their farecard away because how would anyone know they needed to keep it?
Meanwhile, a pack of Washingtonians seethe behind them in murderous rage, thinking about their bus/expired parking meter/Senate Ethics Committee Meeting that awaits them beyond the escalator. Occasionally someone will try to make a point by excusemeexcusemeecxcuseme pushing through. The crowd will part for a second and then step right back in your way, commenting that People Here Sure Are In A Hurry.
But we aren’t in such a hurry that we didn’t notice when the tourists went away. In spite of living life under Code Orange and walking in a zig-zag pattern to avoid sniper fire, we still noticed. Everyone took Metro because they were afraid to get gas or because the anti-war protestors had shut down the Key Bridge again, and we all walked left and stood right and it wasn’t worth it. The newspapers had charts of the fallout zones if a hypothetical dirty bomb or nuke hypothetically hit the non-hypothetical White House.
The Pentagon was page 10 news after the World Trade Center, but even New Yorkers were scared to come visit. You could get a dinner reservation anywhere. SARS didn’t appear in Washington but everyone assumed it was just a matter of time and stayed away. We felt snubbed.
The pandas need to mate and have babies, fast. Should we change our license plate slogan from Taxation Without Representation to Life in the No-Fly Zone? I tried to tell my friends that the city was safer than the ‘burbs—we had fewer trees for the sniper to hide behind. A friend expressed regret that her child’s DC school trip got canceled because how many more chances would the children have to see the monuments before they got bombed?
It was all absurd. I went downtown and visited museums as part of my patriotic duty. I stood left on the Metro escalator and no one even asked me to move.
Come back tourists; we love you.
If anyone wants to visit DC this spring, I will personally take you to see the cherry blossoms. The sniper is toast, the last few anthrax scares have been false alarms, and I can take you to a kick-ass sushi place.