The beltway is no cause for alarm

My life working for the Federal Government as an IT person wasn’t far removed from your average Dilbert comic strip.

Web Developer: Hey Ev, please take a look at this one screenshot and tell us what we should change with this very complex information system.

Me: Uhhhhh, just from one screenshot?

WD: It’s all we could do on the color printer.

Me: Why?

WD: Our office manager is making budget cutbacks.

Me: Ah. (Stares at printout close to face) Well, it looks like you’re calling the system three different things.

WD: Just pretend they’re all the same.

Me: Okaaaaay. Which is the actual name?

WD: EKS.

Me: Can we spell out the name for new users?

WD: Just new users?

Me: No, spell out the name at the top here, so that even new users will know what system they’re working in.

WD: Oh, I don’t think we can do that.

Me: Why not?

WD: Because it’s an image.

Me: You could just put text there.

WD: Oh, but then it might look a little different on people’s screens.

Me: Well, not very different.

WD: The communications director wants it to look the same on everyone’s computers.

Me: That’s not actually possible, you know.

WD: Don’t tell her that.

Me: Okay, okay. How about we just change the color of this black font?

WD: Okay, why?

Me: Because against this dark blue background, it’s a little hard to read, is all.

WD: Well, but it matches a paper brochure.

Me: I’ve never seen a paper brochure for this.

WD: It came out in 1987.

Me: Uh. So we need to match it why?

(Pause)

WD and Me in unison: Communications Director.

Me: I don’t think I have any recommendations, then.

WD: Okay, great! Thanks!

Coming back to visit DC has been unexpectedly revealing; I almost instantly reverted back to my aggressive-is-defensive driving skill set, weaving and bobbling a tiny Hyundai Accent on the BW Parkway on the drive in from the airport. I feel like I’m getting out of a clown car every time I park, and like I’m entering a parallel Universe of Small Things each time I climb inside, folding into myself like an origami swan. Or maybe it’s like a beam of light being crushed into nothingness, since the interior is small enough to be black hole-sized.

I cavorted through the streets of the city, not stopping to take in the things I’ve seen many times, like the Washington Monument, Union Station, the semi-empty used car lot on Bladensburg Road. But I could feel the energy from them, remembering who I’ve been before, and enjoying their proximity once again. I certainly have a fondness for the Colville Street Patisserie in Walla Walla, as I’ve remarked before, but I don’t feel any sense of being when I’m walking down Main Street like I do on the grimy marble curbs of the District, and I’m not sure yet why that is.

I lunched with some of my old Social Security coworkers in a tavern yesterday that was all Baltimore: framed posters of Ravens glory, hard-looking women with over-styled hair, “limited” drink refills, and a certain filmy substance on all of the wood surfaces that gave you the impression they cared as much about you here as if you were a guest in their homes. I was back. We chatted about things, and although I wanted to hear how they were doing, they kept asking me about Walla Walla, so I coughed up all the funny stories I could recall. It helped that I was in a company of people who presumed, first and foremost, that I have competence; sitting around on my ass at home has almost erased my sense that I am good at some things other than sitting on my ass and memorizing lines from NCIS, just in case I have the opportunity to throw them into conversation. I was hoping for but didn’t get pictures of new spouses or children, but we caught up nonetheless. With them having to get back to work, a concept with which I was suddenly reminded, I hopped back on the freeway and battled the self-important traffic of the Baltimore-Washington corridor, feeling a little sleepy from my chicken salad and kaiser roll. My “limited” drink refill apparently equated to no refill at all, and I needed a nap. I could have taken in the cityscape, the Potomac, the Pentagon, as I sped back to my host’s house in Arlington, spitting distance from where I used to live, but instead I got a song from Ladytron stuck in my head that used to play during my long commutes home. Apparently my brain saw it fit to replay for me.

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Categories: driving, visiting

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