Blue light special, DC style

I was looking at the throngs of people who mashed into DC’s 69 square miles for the inauguration yesterday, getting wistful for a time, and then it hit me that they were in, in fact, the District of Columbia. Those long lines of portable restrooms were there because there aren’t a lot of places to use the bathroom; you wind up buying some diet peach Snapple product that expired in 2003 just so you can be called a “customer” and get a grimy key to a suspicious-looking toilet. I thought about the clusters of RVs that sell fake FBI shirts and crappy plaster Capitol buildings on far more average tourist days than this. They must have done some big time product procurement in advance of the millions of folks visiting. 


In reality, there is no such thing as clean coal banner

In reality, there is no such thing as clean coal banner

DC in general, though, tends toward the dodgy business practices. Consider the following:

1. A woman walking home from work one day is approached by two rough-looking men who have a deal for her: a brand-new Culligan water machine, complete with 6 or 7 10-gallon water jugs. One had been leaning up against a white, unmarked truck, while the other, just to add a little something special to the business exchange, looked nervously around the intersection, presumably to identify any other potential customers. The entire kit and kaboodle was rather undervalued at something like $40. The woman’s inquiry about how to continue water service was met with an “uh, you can just call the company, or something.” Or something indeed.

2. A friend of ours was offered free cable from some random cable guy if only she’d perform her own service on him. “Cable guy” in DC, just to clarify, amounts to a guy in a beat-up Toyota pickup truck with a “No Fear” sticker on the crooked back bumper. This particular cable guy did his very best to live up to the standard, even though the standard is about 2 inches off the ground.

3. Leaving a parking garage one evening, the cashier told us she didn’t have any change. This could have meant that A) she didn’t have any change, B) she didn’t care to give us the change she did have, C) she was saving up for a new iPod. Of course it wasn’t even in the realm of possibility that she round down our ticket cost until she could give us the next bill she did have. We just had to overpay. Okay, that’s not really an example of “discounted” services, but it does show that sometimes in the nation’s capitol, the lines get a little blurred.

4. A popular coffee shop, Murky Coffee, just off the Eastern Market Metro stop, was shut down by the city for not paying its sales tax. By the time officials shuttered the doors, the owner owed more than $400,000. For coffee sales. Didn’t exactly take overnight to rack up that much back tax debt. As one friend put it, “all those times I paid an extra $2 because I had to go to the ATM since they would only take cash? That really pisses me off.” So much for cheap coffee.

5. In response to the revelation, previously covered up by the city, that DC water was laden with lead, city officials started giving out free Brita filters to households. That they didn’t plan much in the way of redoing the plumbing infrastructure — well, let’s not pay attention to that. People got something for nothing. Lead poisoning! Fast forward about 8 years or so and the city stopped short of replacing all of the bad pipe — if you guessed that African-American dense area of Anacostia, you win a prize. The prize is a cheap Culligan water system.

I sure hope the tourists enjoyed DC!

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