D.C.—Still a world apart

Columnist Mike Causey paints the town—and a few taxi cabs—and then travels on to explore some of the not always well-liked weirdnesses of the nation's capital and home to most fed agency headquarters.

If you are one of those people who can’t figure out how Washington D.C. thinks, and works—welcome to the club! Many of us longtime or native-born inside-the-Beltway types have been trying to do the same. Probably with no more success than those of you in the real world. Case in point:

Did you know that Yellow Cabs in DC are red and gray!

Not Yellow like in lots of places. No, ours are Red and Gray. Why? By order of the city government and the cab commission is why! Why they did it is another reason. If you think that is odd, consider that cabs like Diamond, Bell, Dupont, whatever their names are, are also Red and Gray. So if you don’t do Uber, which many older folk don’t, when you call a Yellow Cab when it comes, if it comes, you need to look for a Red and Gray car. When it happened about a decade ago, a friend speculated that somebody or -bodies in high office in our local government either owned—or had a brother-in-law or pal in—the vehicle painting business. Or had a surplus supply of red and gray paint that needed a home. Whatever the reason, in D.C., our Yellow Cabs are Not Yellow!

Stuff like that happens a lot here. Different parts of the country are different. In fact, some political scientists think we have grown so differently in our own little silos that we are moving into Civil War territory.  Some of the differences between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Concord, N.H., and Perry, Fla. can be explained away by region, who settled the place, even temperature.  But D.C. can’t be explained as easily that way, especially because so many of us come from these other places. The real world! You would think they would triumph and change what President Trump called a swamp. Instead most of us become swamp critters even if we stay here forever.

Consider: We set the tone for the nation—Free World, if you want to get dramatic. But we are run by 535 men and women, all of whom are sent here from other states and congressional districts. Our delegate to the House can’t vote. Our senators are “shadow,” as in “in name only.”  I’m not saying we should have that kind of representation. Just that we don’t. We have fewer people than Manhattan. But a fair bit more than a couple of states. Of course, our situation is different. Five hundred-plus people fight to get sent here (in the House or Senate) in part … to clean up the swamp! Then they promptly settle down to careers designed to make sure they can keep their jobs here in the swamp. Most have lots of money. Many if not most send their kids not to D.C. public schools where real people’s kids go. Instead they opt for private schools—tuitions of $45,000 to $55,000 per annum—where teachers are scared of the kids, and their parents. And where they associate with other elites, for example from the media and business, who are as out of touch with the real D.C. as are poor folks in Utah or rich people in Massachusetts. But at least those folks are out of touch because of geography. Not like rich carpetbaggers who have no intention of blending in, even as they spend their working lives trying to stay here!

John F. Kennedy Sr. famously said that Washington “is a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency.” He was cool enough, to many people, to get away with it. But it was a put-down. Especially if true. Later, some wise man or woman once called Washington the “city of the worried well.” I think that better describes us. Many of us are true believers. But others also require a crisis, real or imagined, to remain on the payroll. When the rest of the nation goes into recession, metro Washington (or much of it) thrives. And grows in size. During the Great Recession many of my friends in the media took pay cuts ranging from 5 to 25 percent. I took a 5 percent cut for two years. Doable but something that can’t be made up. Let’s face it: smaller 401k contributions, etc. But official Washington, the government and political side, carried on. Payrolls were guaranteed—and even grew—as we in D.C. worked to fix a problem many folks elsewhere think maybe we caused.

I love it here. But… I can see where lots of folks, good people, smart people don’t like us.  Dislike us as intensely as many dislike New York City. Maybe for different reasons but they just don’t like them—or “us”—all the same.

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