Posted on October 6th, 2011 No comments
Everyone has lunch at Caffé Macs on their first day. I was no different. It was exceptionally crowded that day, with a bevy of new hires meandering aimlessly around the cafeteria, overwhelmed by the myriad possibilities for lunch. You could barely hear the person next to you over the din of friendly chatter, clattering plates, and sizzling food. The lines for anything freshly prepared were long, and I opted for a pre-boxed lunch: a caprese sandwich and fruit smoothie.
After paying came the most daunting task so far: find a place to sit. I had lost track of the friend with whom I had come to lunch, so I just stood for a moment, barely past the cash register, and surveyed a scene of chaos and scarcity. Every seat at every table, both inside and out, was filled. People with trays of food circled the floor, a ravenous look in their eyes – for a seat or their lunch, I wasn’t sure. Chairs were snatched from beneath diners while they were still standing up, and more than once a newly-opening table nearly resulted in a brawl. As I tentatively stepped out into that shark pool, my eyes suddenly landed on an open spot.
It was a small, four-person table, with four chairs around it. Amazingly, three seats were empty, with only one person sitting quietly in the eye of the hurricane while the storm raged around him. Surely this person wouldn’t mind sharing a couple seats at his table! Without hesitation, I made a beeline for the table.
As I closed the distance, I had a few moments to actually see who was at the table. He had finished lunch, and he had pushed his chair a bit to the side. His legs were crossed casually as he quietly read. He had salt-and-pepper, scraggly stubble, a balding head, and was wearing jeans and a black sweater.
I stopped so fast the sandwich nearly slid off my tray and the fruit smoothie almost tipped over. It was Steve Jobs.
Should I approach his table and ask to join him? Would he care? What if I pretended to not know who he was? Would he be impressed by the courage of a first-day hire, or would I have the shortest career in the history of the company?
I don’t know exactly how long I stood there staring, but my racing thoughts were interrupted by an incoming text message. My buddy had found a table, and had let me know where it was. I turned, and I walked away from the only chance I would ever have to meet Steve Jobs.
I keep a small list of regrets: moments and decisions in my life from which I vow to learn a lesson and not repeat the same mistake again. The time I didn’t meet Steve Jobs is on that list.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
– Steve Jobs, 1955-2011
Posted on August 15th, 2011 1 comment
This morning’s news roundup on Greater Greater Washington included this link to a story in the Examiner (ugh, I hate linking there) about the long-suffering Franklin School. As the former ANC Commissioner for 2F03, in which Franklin School is located, I dealt with this issue a few times during the most recent round of RFPs. The city received several proposals during that process, including one from the Yu Ying Charter School, as well as at least one from a private developer intent on creating a boutique hotel. There was at least one other hotel proposal being floated at the time, although I don’t know whether it was every finally proposed.
As the Examiner article states, capital funding is a huge issue on this project, given both the extreme historic protections on the building and the decades of neglect and abuse it has now sat through. The city quickly ruled out the ability of the Yu Ying school to realistically fund the project, and appeared intent on settling on a hotel. Finally, after years and years, a derelict block in the midst of downtown would be activated!
And then came the community activists.
Well-meaning folks like Joe Browne from the Goethe Institute, the former city-dweller Cary Silverman, and even Greater Greater Washington, began writing, blogging, and petitioning the mayor’s office and the council to halt the processes so that more study could be done about potential public uses for the building. Everything from a school of architecture to a return-to-service as the city’s downtown homeless shelter were suddenly thrown back onto the heap – just as they had during the prior rounds of RFPs. The process stalled yet again, and here we are more than a year later: back at square one. Sadly, as great as all of these community-generated ideas are, they each lack any realistic mechanism to actually accomplish their goal. No funding, no plans, no consensus, no popular support. Nothing. Just great ideas and no way to implement them.
To be clear, I am not saying these folks are directly responsible for the failure of the last round of proposals. I don’t know precisely why the project has stalled again, and I would place blame on the wicked recession and tenuous economic outlook before them. What I am saying is that these folks are needlessly hindering an already difficult process with pipe dreams.
It’s time for them to get off the pot. Would I love to see the building converted to a school or some other public use? Of course – who wouldn’t? Is that realistically going to happen any time in the next decade? Not if history is any guide. A boutique hotel isn’t anyone’s first choice, but it is far better than the sad, empty facade that sits there now.
Posted on July 14th, 2011 No comments
While attempting to avoid exposure to the 103º heat index the other day, I was flipping through some channels and stumbled across the campy sequel Batman Returns, starring Danny Devito as The Penguin. The movie is downright awful, and I would have flipped past it, except the scene caught me.
Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken – how did this terrible movie attact so much talent?!) was convincing the Penguin to run for Mayor of Gotham City. The Penguin is not really sure this is a good idea, but then inspiration strikes: He needs a platform!
PENGUIN: A platform?
PENGUIN (framing the space in front of him with his flippers): Stop global warming. Start global cooling. Make the world an ice box.
SHRECK: I like it!
Think about this for a moment: This was a joke line in a major summer action movie nearly twenty years ago. The idea of Global Warming was mainstream enough that the writers could a) assume their audience was familiar with it, and b) understand the situation well enough to know that the Penguin’s proposed solution was clearly ridiculous.
So here we are, nearly twenty years later: We have progressed from Batman Returns through Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. How far have we progressed dealing with Global Warming?
It’s time to vote for somebody who will make a real difference on Global Warming: Oswald Cobblepot for Mayor!
Posted on June 7th, 2011 No comments
Councilmembers in the District of Columbia hold an inordinate amount of power, so the current battle over the boundary between Ward 6 and Ward 8 is no surprise. If I lived in the contested area, I too would be fighting tooth and nail to stay out of Ward 8. Think about it: Who would you rather have as your councilmember? Let’s review your options:
- Tommy Wells – Who, in just five short years on the council, has been a primary advocate of livable, walkable communities; overseen the re-blossoming of Barrack’s Row and H Street; guided the rebuilding of Eastern Market after the devastating fire; and successfully pushed for the expansion of the Circular, Capital Bikeshare, and Streetcars. No corruption and no scandals — just a record of continual improvement for both his constituents and the entire District.
- Marion Barry – Involved in DC politics for over 30 years, he has been arrested for crack, pushed the city back under the Control Board, can’t seem to pay his fair share of taxes on time, can’t seem to stay away from drugs, and can’t seem to avoid stalking and abusing women – that is, when he isn’t using them to kickback money to himself.
There is no problem with the geography of Ward 8 — it is a beautiful, historic part of the District of Columbia. There is no problem with the people of Ward 8 — they are kind, hardworking residents of the District of Columbia. There is a problem with the councilmember of Ward 8 — his name is Marion Barry, and he is a disgrace to the citizens of Ward 8 and the entire District of Columbia. I would get pretty pissed off, too, if a person like him were suddenly my councilmember just because some lines on a map were re-drawn.
Posted on January 23rd, 2011 No comments
Instead of football tonight, I watched Exit Through The Gift Shop. I’m a bit of a Banksy fan, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from this foray into film. I was not disappointed. Banksy’s talent really isn’t with spray paint and stencils, though he drips with natural ability there, but rather with his eye for taking something ordinary and expected and twisting it into something wholly and unexpectedly beautiful. What starts out as a documentary of a non-documentary on street art turns instead into a question of what art means to its creators, how it’s valued by its consumers, and whether or not an artist can sell out and still be an artist.
Speculation as to whether the film was a “hoax” or not seems to miss the point to me. Rather, I see this project as an attempt for Banksy to tease out his own personal understanding as to the definition of art, and to maybe teach us something about it at the same time – a reasonable goal for someone whose most acclaimed work typically involves the willful destruction of other peoples’ property! And maybe that very introspection – arriving at understanding of creation through creation – that’s what it means to be an artist?
Posted on December 23rd, 2010 No comments
Hedda and I went to see Second City’s touring company at the Woolly Mammoth Theater last night, for their show entitled A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics. As always, the show is a blast. The stage was decked out like a Metro platform, complete with red warning lights in the granite that blinked when a train arrived. Highlights included Nancy Pelosi’s Stand-up Schtick (she’s not bitter), the Agony of Todd Palin, and Elena the Opera. Definitely see it if you can – it runs through January 9.
One moment of disbelief for both Hedda and I, though, was during the Guide to Financial Planning, a hilarious skit where financial advice was proffered to the audience in a sort of Suze Orman meets Mad Money style. The audience was asked if any of them owned a car, and of course most of them did. Then they were asked how much they paid for their cars. Hedda and I nearly fell out of our seats when almost everyone in the room simultaneously blurted, “Thirty thousand dollars!”
That is a lot of fucking money. And I am sure they were only considering the sticker price. With financing, the real cost of the car could be nearly double. My mind boggles at what they’re paying after factoring in fuel, insurance, maintenance, parking. So, since we are a car-free household, here is a list of things I would rather spend $30,000 on:
- Twelve 55″ HDTVs,
- Eleven bottles of 1958 Glen Garioch whisky,
- Ten solar panels,
- Nine top-secret smart phones,
- Eight 450-year-old bibles,
- Seven nights in a beach house,
- Six home micro-breweries,
- Five golden rings!
- Four years of college,
- Three trips to Europe,
- Two life-sized gingerbread houses,
- Or a savings bond worth $34,848.50 in five years.
Posted on December 20th, 2010 2 comments
By some measures, Heather and I are long-time residents of the District of Columbia. We moved into a small condo on the 1200 block of 13th Street NW in March of 2005 and spent the next five years there. We loved our community, and we worked hard to make a positive impact so that our family would have a place to thrive as we aged. Heather and I both served on the board of our condominium association and the Logan Circle Community Association, and I served as a neighborhood commissioner on ANC 2F. We made many friends and became familiar faces in the shops, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores.
We loved the tight-nit community feel. Everyone knew one another, and you would wave to each other as you walked down the street. And while we lived there, we watched the neighborhood grow around us. Some old rundown businesses closed and were replaced by shiny new businesses, although many stayed and successfully adapted to the thriving area. Crime went down and the one-time menace of street prostitution was finally brought under control. New bus routes were added, and plans for a streetcar were in the works. Exciting new restaurants and bars opened, drawing in outsiders to taste their delicious foods and wonderful drinks. It was a great time!
Eventually, like many young families, we needed a bit more space. And so we started the hunt for a new home. We had been smart with our finances, and had a reasonable amount of money saved up; we knew what we wanted and what could afford. And, of course, we were definitely going to stay in Logan Circle – after all, that was our home! We pulled up Redfin and started to search.
Alas! These outsiders had been coming into our neighborhood and been buying condos and houses and renting fancy apartments. The property values had been going up and up. Suddenly we realized we could not afford to live in Logan Circle anymore! The very things we loved about our neighborhood had drawn all these damn rich people into the area, and Logan Circle had gentrified right under our noses. The very work we had done to help improve the neighborhood had probably even helped the gentrification along. How unfair! How stupid were we!
Though we searched and scoured and schemed, we just couldn’t find a way to get the home we wanted and stay in the neighborhood in which we invested so much of ourselves. With sadness, we started looking for homes in other neighborhoods. Lucky for us that the property values in Logan Circle had gone up, though, since we were able to find a really nice house in a neighborhood in a different part of town.
We’ve been here a few months now. We really like most of our neighbors, except for the ones who leave their trash out all the time. It feeds the rats, and we are working hard to get that all under control. We will get it sorted out soon enough, though, and it will help make the neighborhood a little better. But you had better believe that this time I’ll be on the lookout for those goddamn gentrifiers coming into the neighborhood to mess it up.
Posted on December 17th, 2010 No comments
In a move one might describe as “adding insult to injury”, or perhaps as “petty and dickish”, the House has graciously decided that the tax-paying-but-unrepresented citizens of the United States who live in the District of Columbia may place one statue in the Capitol’s visitor center, instead of the two that their own constituents receive. So now – assuming it even passes the Senate – we get to choose whether we want Pierre L’Enfant or Frederick Douglass to be placed in the hallowed halls.
You know what? Fuck ‘em. We should keep our statues. Put them up in some nice city-owned parks somewhere, preferably in neighborhoods that are in want of some good statuary. I would love to see Frederick Douglass in Civic Plaza in Columbia Heights, and it would be cool to walk by Pierre L’Enfant coming out of the Waterfront Metro station. The one place I don’t want either of them is in the halls of Congress. The mere thought of those slimy, un-American politicians who continue to deny their fellow citizens representation smirking as they walk by the one statue which they have condescended to allow us to give them turns my stomach.
Accepting this compromise is a symbolic acceptance of our indentured status. It is a moral defeat, it is unacceptable, and we should reject it.
Posted on December 15th, 2010 No comments
I haven’t blogged much lately. My employment has taken away my ability to talk publicly on most technical topics of interest to me, and my interest in engaging in public political debates has waned as I’ve grown more disaffected with the futility and destructiveness of the national political discourse. Local politics still holds interest, although since refocusing my efforts onto my software career and our new home I have had less energy for direct involvement or thought on all but the issues that most directly affect my daily life (e.g. rats in the alley).
When I first started blogging, it was with the intention of keeping a dairy of interesting thoughts, but in a public way. Such a digital talking-out-loud helps me to crystalize incomplete ideas into cogent concepts. I want to get back to that.
But I need to deal with something first: comments. I’ve had comments on here since the beginning. Comments are traditionally seen as necessary for a good blog – a way to foster discussion between the writer and readers. At first, that seemed true, as I would often engage in heated debates with the commenters on the topic at hand. Later, my comments morphed into defense or further explanation of an opinion I held. These days, I barely took notice of the comments, except for the rare occasion where a long-lost friend would choose a random post comment as a way to re-connect.
One might say I have become set in my thinking as I have aged, but going back and reading even the best threads here has convinced me otherwise: Rather than being useful discussions, they were merely naive passion-fueled debates between uninformed parties – full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. They added little, but took time and energy that is in short supply. Perhaps most damning, though, is that they didn’t serve my purpose here.
So I am taking back my blog. I have disabled comments, and from here on I will write for myself, like no one is reading.
And who cares, really? This is just some backwater blog on the ass-end of the Internet, and the comment threads were never really that good. It might be just a symbolic move, but symbols matter. And if you have an opinion you would like to share or feedback to give, then you know how to reach me. We can talk about it in a more personal manner.
Posted on December 6th, 2010 2 comments
Dear Councilmember Bowser,
My wife and I are relatively new constituents of yours in Ward 4, having recently moved from Logan Circle to the 1300 block of Quincy Street. We have watched with consternation as the city has struggled to balance the budget through these difficult times. As the former ANC Commissioner for 2F03, I understand the importance of maintaining a low tax rate in order for the District to effectively compete with surrounding jurisdictions for businesses and residences. At the same time, however, I am deeply concerned that the cuts potentially on the table in the areas of public safety, economic development, and transportation will have a severe negative impact on the long-term competitiveness of the District. Though we are all tightening our belts, I believe that reduced funding and delays on such important initiatives as street cars, MPD, and education will leave us in a poorer position to rebound as the economy regains strength.
Like many Washingtonians, Heather and I have been fortunate through this downturn. Many of our fellow citizens have been less so. It is unfair to burden with additional expenses those who can least afford it, but Heather and I certainly can. And so we ask you and your fellow Councilmembers: Please raise our taxes.
Please raise our taxes and use the money to maintain funding for important work like additional police, street cars, multi-mode transportation initiatives, and economic development. In particular we are in full support of a small, graduated increase such as that proposed today by your colleague Councilmember Wells on the Greater Greater Washington blog. Such an increase will not unduly burden our family, nor will it completely eliminate the gap, but it will go a long way to making ends meet for our city. And that is a sacrifice any Washingtonian in our position must be willing to make.
With kind regards,
Brian & Heather Vargas