Posts

Rats!

By John Berens

I may not be the cleanest person around – to my roommate’s chagrin, I’m the sort of feller who leaves dirty clothes in my gutter. Sometimes, I leave a dirty fork in the sink. On the rare occasion, I’ll accidentally drop my open slice of peanut butter toast (on cinnamon-raisin bread, I highly recommend) on my lap, and I will neither confirm nor deny that I sometimes futilely try to get the biggest glob of peanut butter back onto my sad slice of toast.

I could go on and on and lower your opinion of me even more so, but TO MY CREDIT, I have not yet accidentally summoned a swarm of rats into my home due to my filthy habits.

No, but the odds are getting better every day.

DC has been the first time I’ve ever really experienced the horrific majesty of the city rats. Back in my hometowns of Brookfield and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have no doubt that we have rats, but they at least have the common courtesy to stay out of sight (undoubtedly because the Wisconsin air can be a death warrant seven months out of the year). Like your stereotypical suburban, sheltered, college bumpkin, I was utterly fascinated by common vermin. Truly, that is a new low for me.

Watching the little things scurry around is honestly kind of interesting – those little, fat rodents can move. I’ve seen a single rat hop onto a steel trash can, scale the smooth black surface, and jump into the little trash-pool for its pizza crust, all in one fluid movement.  Not bad for a lumpy bit of fur. Another fun fact: rats can move fast. I’ve seen a rat rush across the roundabout with the same speed as me, climb a tree, and jump from a low-hanging bough like a little acrobat (or… acro-rat, in this case).

During the day, it’s not that bad. Men play chess at the tables on the edge; pigeons coo and haplessly walk around. Come the evening, that all changes. I only see them during the night, but that’s still too much for me.

At night, DuPont Circle is a bustling hub of activity with bars, businesses, and houses alike. People hop on and off the Metro stop across the street, buskers play their instruments, and people toss their half-eaten bagels and doughnuts into the trash cans that dot the roundabout.

It’s like the vermin take shifts. The pigeons leave as the sun drops behind the buildings, and from various burrows and grates around the circle, the rats come in their place. Like clockwork, they tag in and out… Kind of like the hordes of interns that switch around this city. The rats tend to be less scruffy, though.

Individually, a single rat is nothing to fret.

In swarms, though…

That’s another story.

As the few stars dot the sky, DuPont Circle is no longer man’s street with a vermin problem. It’s the rats’ street with a man problem. They don’t fight with each other, they cooperate. I’ve seen a rat climb atop another just so it could get a better vantage to the trash can. They pay little heed to humans. Sure, they’ll avoid you, but just so you don’t accidentally step on one of them. I dropped a small morsel of my raisin-cinnamon bagel (again, I highly recommend). It wasn’t fifteen seconds before it was stuffed between the jowls of a particularly fat rat.

I’ve heard DC has had many problems, but the current wannabe Black Plague going around was not one of them. Indeed, upon further research, I learned this is a relatively new concern for this fair city. The Washington Post reported that according to the D.C. Department of Health, this has been the first increase in rat calls, following a four year decline. Why? Maybe the president’s problem pertains to playing the Pied Piper.

There have been several proposed solutions for dealing with the rat problem. There are the usual solutions of poisoning or suffocation, but the most interesting, in my opinion, is utilizing Rat Terriers to clear out burrows. Exterminators can take action by clogging the burrows. Rinse and repeat, and the city’s problems could be significantly lessened. Only issue is that rinsing and repeating takes a lot of money. Hopefully, the city can come to a consensus before the threat becomes too Orwellian for us to handle.

We may choose the president, but the vermin of DC determine the Rat King.

Originally posted November 15, 2016

DC Has Restored my Faith in American Ideals

By Amanda Cary

When I shared with friends and family that I would be spending my fall semester in Washington, D.C., most thought I was making a good choice in my development as a young professional. However, I noticed a recurring theme: people seemed to have something cynical to say about politics, media, and the future of the United States.

Usually, these comments were just jokes. “Are you going to set straight the politicians in Washington?” But as I dig a little deeper into it, it seems nearly everyone I know holds the notion that government workers are lazy, politicians are greedy, the media is the problem – and America is doomed.

I’ve got to admit, it’s a little difficult not to think that way right now.

To make matters worse, the presidential election is pretty much a disaster. I mean, come on – there are over 319 million people in the United States, and these were the only two we could choose to run for president? Not only does present-day America seem pretty bleak, but the future ain’t looking too bright either.

In times like these, it is easy to point fingers. And, for many, the most logical place to point is right at Washington, D.C. To some extent, that makes the most sense. Maybe if we had better laws, better politicians, better government workers, better coverage, things would be … better.

But this is not the full story, and I’ve seen it firsthand.

In the two months that I have been in Washington, I have met with individuals who should be “lazy government workers” or “biased journalists”  – except they are hardly ever any of these things.

At my internship at the U.S. Department of Education, I have been amazed by how exceptionally talented and passionate the employees are. From the interns and temporary employees to the Secretary of Education himself, each individual is so dedicated to providing an equal and quality education to every student in the United States.

One employee told me that she consistently works past normal business hours, on weekends, and on holidays. Her reasoning? “Every hour that I spend away from my job, another student gets left behind in their education.” If you ask me, THAT is the epitome of a hard working, passionate government worker.

These experiences are not limited to the walls of the Department of Education. From speaking to journalists who cover politics, to meeting with some of the politicians themselves, I have been taken back by how humble and genuine these people really are. 

It says a lot for a congressman to take time out of his busy schedule to meet with me, a 20-year-old intern who is just trying to figure what to do with her life – but it happened. My state representative, Ken Buck, sat and talked with me like a normal human being, offering advice on how to make the most of my college experience. It didn’t matter if I donated to his campaign or if I agreed with him politically. He met with me because I am his constituent and he cares about what I have to say – that’s leadership.

There’s something special when a well-known CNN journalist, Dana Bash, can Facetime a college class 20 minutes before her live shot to talk about the business of journalism, where it is going, and what her own job is like – that’s kindness.

We should expect the best out of our government and the people that report on it; they do. It is so important to hold them to a high standard and to criticize when needed in order to make improvements. But, we should also value, appreciate, and admire the people who take the brunt of all of our complaints. We should understand that it takes a special type of person to go into public service; these people are willing to sacrifice sleep, pay, travel – simply because they want to make American lives better.

Of course, there are corrupt politicians, there are inefficient government workers, and there are biased journalists. However, if you never leave your living room to discover for yourself what these professions are really like, how will you ever know the truth? You cannot fully judge the media and the government until you meet with the individuals who are behind the screens, behind the laws, behind the regulations.

Beyond that, we take for granted living in a country that allows us to participate in our democracy and enables us to have access to information. As crazy as politics can be, we are fortunate to be Americans – to have rights, to have a voice, and to know there are people in Washington, D.C. advocating for us.

I urge you to get involved with your political system before making any judgments. I hope that you have the chance to meet a journalist and understand what they do and what they care about. You may just discover real, genuine human beings who are truly the lifeblood of American democracy.

Originally posted November 8, 2016

Dancing Yourself Clean in D.C.

By Zach Schlein

What you get out of clubbing is directly proportional to what you put into it. For many, the popular conception of clubbing is that of finely tailored trust fund babies tossing hundreds of dollars in the air as streams of champagne whiz on by. All the while, some anonymous and dimly lit DJ cues up a playlist of the Billboard Hot 100, illuminated only by the collective flash of selfies being taken all around them.

Much like the mediocre alcohol that fuels such excursions, this routine of clubbing is brimming with empty calories and devoid of actual nutritional value. By and large, mainstream clubbing has fallen into a rut, due in large part to the influx of a general populace all too happy to lower their expectations for what qualifies as a transcendent night out. Unfortunately, many hubs of late night activity are all too eager to oblige, no doubt saving large sums of money in the name of meeting a barely-there-as-is standard.

Growing up in Boca Raton, FL and later attending college in Gainesville, I didn’t come of age in particularly musical cities (Okay, Gainesville gave the world Tom Petty, Against Me! And Hundred Waters, but it’s certainly no New York City or Washington.) When I was looking ahead and planning on moving to Washington, I was excited not only for the myriad career opportunities I’d be afforded, but to finally reside in a big city with appropriately big concert venues and music halls. The richness of Washington’s musical history could fill a whole book — or series –, but as it stands today, Washington offers several diverse and compelling options for those who like to work through their troubles of the week by sweating them out on the dance floor.

On U Street one can find, appropriately enough, U Street Music Hall. Owned and operated by longtime DC resident and famed DJ Will Eastman, Music Hall offers a much-needed and appreciated alternative to the deliberately safe, glitzy norm offered by the city’s more visible clubs. The club dispenses with superficial excess in favor of substance, forcing listeners to do just that- listen. Although an “underground” venue both literally and in conception, it primarily books acts that could successfully qualify as crossover acts, such as Drake associate Sampha and Dipset founder and NYC hip-hop mainstay Cam’ron/  With no dress code, affordable drinks and consistently compelling acts, Music Hall lowers the bar of entry for Washington residents looking to get their groove on, in turn raising the bar for the actual experience to be enjoyed once inside.

For those whose tastes may run a little deeper than pop, there is Flash, located on Florida Ave. Like Music Hall, Flash could be considered an “underground” venue, albeit one that rises three stories into the air. The main draw, its second floor lined with LED lights and faux flashbulb lights, consistently books acts who may be unknown in the larger cultural sphere but are titans within their respective genres. This includes, but is far from limited to the likes of The Black Madonna, Chicago house pioneer DJ Sneak and the D.C.-based Benoit & Sergio.

When done right, a night of dance music can be much more than something designed solely to occupy the wee hours: it can be relieving, revelatory and reinvigorating in equal measure. Fortunately, Music Hall and Flash exist to fill a hole in people’s lives that many didn’t realize they had.

Originally posted November 4, 2016

Storming of the Bastille

By Mona Mirmortazavi

This weekend, my roommates planned a great trip to Gettysburg to experience one of the most powerful moments in American history and appreciate the multitude of President Lincoln statues.  It’s a truly humbling experience, rich with history, and makes you think about how, after all we’ve been through, the US still remains divided today.

But I went to a concert instead because it’s much more fun and way less educational.

Over the summer, the London-based band Bastille announced their sophomore album, Wild World, after three years of waiting, and a mini-tour along with it.  Originally, the tour was supposed to go to three cities in the US, one of which was in Colorado.  Being a Colorado native, I was so excited – but that lasted for less than a second, as I realized that it would be in October, and I would be in DC doing the WMI program for the semester.  I seriously considered postponing my relocation to DC because of this.

I didn’t end up doing that because it’s a ridiculous reason to delay moving to a different city.  And then, as if to reward me for not making a colossal mistake, Bastille announced a few more dates, and one was in DC.  Thank you, concert gods.

While DC is usually a ghost town on the weekends everywhere but the National Mall, 1,200 people showed up to the 9:30 Club to witness one of my favorite performers. Thankfully, the venue is so small that it didn’t matter, and you could get a great view regardless of where you were.

The band was incredible, but that’s nothing new.  I have seen Bastille three times now, and they never disappoint.  The entire band wants you to be involved, not just standing and nodding along.  They want you to scream the words, clap and jump along all night.  They ended the concert with a rendition of Pompeii, their usual closing song, and I’ve never experienced so much pure joy before from a crowd.
The next day, Bastille announced their full tour for Wild World, starting in March.  None of them are in Colorado, but who knows, maybe I’ll avoid making a colossal mistake and get to see them again.

Originally posted October 20, 2016

Finance and Hunger in D.C. – A Savage Journey to the Heart of an Undergrad’s Checking Account

By Chris Vest

Having grown up in a small, rural town with maybe five fast food restaurants, a few mom-and-pop diners and a questionable Chinese place for dining options, I have few reservations about making reservations at various eateries when the chance strikes. Any food that might be considered ‘unique’ where I come from (see: any ethnic eatery or even any place with a semi-decent atmosphere) draws me like a moth to a flame. I’ve spent many week-long vacations in big cities, and weekend outings in some of the more culturally oriented parts of my home state of Michigan, but never before have I settled in for a months-long stay in a cultural mecca like the District.

My first week here I don’t think I cooked a single meal in my apartment. The second morning I made a brief stop at a nearby grocery store to pick up a handful of essentials (for posterity’s sake if anything else) and some of them still remain untouched in the cabinet, waiting to find purpose. Whether it was Portuguese chicken, pad thai, sushi, Lebanese, or crepes, I never found myself want for options. Worse yet, all of these options were within 15 minutes walking distance of my apartment. At first, I was in heaven.

I spent the better part of my summer preparing for this semester working a minimum wage job, keeping my spending lean and my wallet fat. Little did I know that my efforts were in vain. After my second week here, I decided it might be a smart idea to check my bank account. What did I know? As far as I was concerned I had been fairly responsible – only spending my budget on the necessary components of integrating myself into a new area. What I saw was perhaps a reflection of my own hubris – possibly how a large portion of Wall Street felt before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. I had blown through my finances in (relatively) small transactions faster than I think I ever have in my entire life. With the occasional necessary Smart Trip card refill or Uber interspersed, I was presented with a wall of restaurant charges so large that I sincerely wished we could make Mexico pay for it.

From that point on, my diet was purely despair-inducing. While I watched my classmates go out to try new restaurants and go to group dinners, I stayed in to eat affordable, $2.00-or-less-per-serving meals. My shameless self-indulgence had put me in a financial situation where I had to keep my wallet in my pocket for about as long as I possibly could. I wasn’t broke, but my budget for activities was nearly spent.

Do not let my story serve as a warning against going out and seeing the sights, or indulging oneself; rather, treat it as a cautionary tale. Ration your precious opportunities to eat out and experience the local cuisine well. Don’t eat out alone on impulse, share in the experience with friends. Make the culinary arch of your trip a rich tapestry of personal experiences instead of a brief flavor binge. Give yourself time to process and digest the culinary marvels you experience rather than mindlessly consuming as fast as you can. For now, I’m going to go defrost several pounds of black beans and rice that I made in the days following my financial revelation. Don’t be like me, keep your impulses in check and your wallet close.

Originally posted October 5, 2016

Thank you, Mr. Metro Man

By Christy Flom

There is no good mode of transportation, but every option is available – from bikes, to cars to buses and even trains. Plus, people seem to be impenetrable to sweating from the sun and humidity. Ah the humidity. This heavy and sticky sensation that drenches me the second I walk outside may be the sole reason I can never permanently live in or around D.C. But perhaps fall and the mild winter will change my mind. Coming from Detroit, a winter without heavy snowfall is unimaginable, but I hear it can be quite nice walking around without a parka, neck warmer, hat, mittens, and two pairs of pants on at all times.

But I didn’t come to D.C. to be a weather analyzer; I came to learn about creating, editing, and delivering media content. I will admit, my second reason for coming is to investigate in all my spare time if events seen in House of Cards actually occur on a daily basis, but my first mission is to find the metro station where Kevin Spacey pushed Kate Mara into an oncoming train. Which thus prompts my second mission of forever avoiding that station and men in suits with big hats at night.

As an intern reporter at Roll Call, I take the red line to Union Station on a daily basis. The Metro is where I found my happy place – and I owe it all to one announcer. He is not the voice I hear every morning listing off the stops and transfer lines along my route, but when he’s in charge I know it is going to be a great day. I was on my way to explore the Pentagon City mall when I first heard his voice. It was the perfect day thanks to the happy metro announcer who so very clearly let us all know which stop was what rather than mumbling into the mic.

Let me describe the way the announcer speaks, as I am sure no on can understand the impact this man has already had on my life. He speaks like an auctioneer on A&E’s Storage Wars: fast, and yet oddly calming. You can tell he makes the most of his job and commits each ride to brightening the days of passengers, whether my hero realizes it or not.

On the second day of my internship I purposefully took out my headphones that I usually wear on the metro to avoid awkward silences and stares to listen to him announce each stop. The effect it had on my day was nothing short of magical. I hopped off at union station to the sound of “Have a fantastic day everybody”, and I already knew the day was going to be wonderful. That morning I got to put together a story on WordPress for another reporter and then publish my first (albeit short) article for the site. But hey, I’m official now, and I owe it all to Mr. Metro Man.

Yes, I know I need to find new things in life that give me happiness; however, navigating DC and Roll Call’s work atmosphere has made me realize that it’s the little things in my life that will make the biggest impact on my days. So for now, thank you Mr. Metro Man for making my travels a little bit easier to comprehend and substantially enhancing my day. And, to quote an elderly couple I overheard on the metro, “you deserve a raise.”

Originally posted September 22, 2016