Category Archives: Virginia

Pat’s Market in Belle Haven is Closed

Pat’s Market, a small mom and pop roadside market in Belle Haven neighborhood of Fairfax County, has closed. It was used as a filming location in the movie The Sentinelstarring Michael Douglas.

Driving to dinner last night, Mary and I noticed it had closed. We had tried stopping there for ice cream once after a picnic on the nearby George Washington Parkway, but it only accepted cash, so we went to Baskin Robbins instead. We never returned. (They later started accepting credit cards according to a Yelp user.)

A Yelper left this obituary:

So sad to discover that Pat’s Market has closed due to an upcoming construction development.

Like Nancy Kerrigan, I must cry out, “Why! Why!…Why” No, more more coldest beer in town…and no more Live Bait! There are simply no words to express this great culinary loss. Yup, I know how you feel, Nancy, for it is just like being kneecapped with a expandable police baton. Damn them!…

I know, Nancy, the pain isn’t half as bad as the knowledge that humanity can be so cruel and callous. But, you survived to go on and win a Silver in the Olympics, and I guess I will make it through without Pat’s Ceviche…But, as you know, Nancy, the loss is still painful. You will be missed Pat’s Market. You will be missed.


Fairfax Connector Strikes Individual at Huntington Station [Photos]

Fairfax, Virginia | 11:30pm
A sad story outside of my residence tonight in Fairfax county. It appears an individual was struck in the crosswalk across Huntington Avenue by a Fairfax county Connector Bus.

Police arrived at the scene within minutes, and EMS and fire shortly thereafter. Fairfax One — the county’s helicopter — was also on scene but did not evacuate the injured individual, who was transported to the hospital by ambulance.

The individual’s condition is unknown but presumed serious.












Photographs property of Bomble LLC and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission.


The Ultimate Washington Intern Guide

In my six years in the greater Washington area, I’ve come across many interns. Some of them are very talented and will go on to do great things and be successful. Others are worth the minimum wage for interning, $0 an hour and actually cause more harm than benefit.

While I never interned anywhere, I’ve picked up some (not so) helpful “tips” along the way and figured I’d share them with you.

1.) All the best happy hours are in Anacostia.

Seriously, nobody goes out in Adam’s Morgan, Capitol Hill, or DuPont except tourists. You don’t want to mingle with them. Go to Anacostia and revel in the good atmosphere, historic neighborhoods, and amazing drink specials. Order anything with Mumbo sauce.

2.) Use the bus.

Nobody takes the train except tourists and uber commuters. Washington’s bus system is extensive and will get you where you need to go in no time flat. Best of all, they’re cheap.

3.) If you have to take a train, use your ID Badge for Free Rides.

If you work for a federal agency, simply wave your ID badge to the station manager and walk through the gate on the side. You won’t need to pay. Do the same thing as you exit. (If you’re at an NGO, business, or non-profit, wave your student ID.) If you see the doors closing, run like the wind because metro doors operate like elevator doors. Stick your arm, leg, or bag in there and they’ll pop open and you’re all set. Here, we also do not hold elevator doors since people constantly do this. If somebody says “hold the elevator” — don’t.

4.) Stand left, walk right.

This town has a lot of escalators. In Washington, we stand on the left and walk on the right. If you see anyone breaking this rule, kindly inform them “Stand left, walk right.”

5.) Flag Day is an official federal holiday in the District.

None of your bosses will tell you this, as it’s a time-honored Washington prank. Nobody goes to work and all the poor interns show up to locked buildings. Don’t fall for this. Stay home.

6.) Don’t see the fireworks.

People wait for hours for a four minute fireworks show. Federal law limits the show’s length to four minutes because of airspace regulations and also because it would harm the District’s Bald Eagle population. Stay home with friends, and tune into WETA or any local PBS station to watch the fireworks.

7.) The monuments are crowded at night.

Nobody sees the monuments during the day, because they all go at night. You should plan on going any weekend day in June, July, or August between the hours of 12 and 3pm. Nobody will be there and you can recreate the scene from Wedding Crashers at the Lincoln Monument and enjoy some champagne looking out at the empty reflecting pool. On really hot days, people bring pool toys and floaties to hang out in in the reflecting pool (free!).

8.) Always bring a jacket.

Weather varies wildly during the day and metro’s air conditioning is sporadic. Bring a fleece and wear it to work on the train. You won’t be sorry.

9.) Jumping up and down is the best way to hail a cab.

New cab regulations have established an official call sign for hailing cabs in the district. Since Washington is a friendly town where people often wave to each other, persons wishing to hail a cab should jump and down as if they’re doing jumping jacks and the nearest vacant cab must stop and pick them up. If they don’t pick you up, get their cab association name and number and report them to the nearest law enforcement. Also, ask about student intern discounts.

10.) The Smithsonian Museums Are Free on Fridays Between 5-7 — The Newseum is free After Five.

One great perk about being here for a few months is that there are enough Fridays to see every museum for free. Sadly, good museums cost, but lucky for you they’re open for free on Fridays between 5pm and 7pm. The Newseum costs every day, but is free after five. Consider taking the silver line train to Dulles to see the Udvar Hazy center. It has a space shuttle!

11.) Introduce yourself to every famous person you see.

You will see a lot of famous people walking around, say hello! Washington is friendly. Interrupt them and insist on a picture. They’ll be happy to oblige. Even if they’re on the phone.

12.) Street Sense has the best “going out guide” in town.

Nobody reads the Post or the Times for going out and weekend specials. The real deal can be found on the street’s corners where vendors sell Street Sense. If you really want to know what to do this weekend, buy a Street Sense. It’s worth the $2 and goes to a good cause.

13.) Thank police & law enforcement for their service.

D.C. is a town that respects the men and women in blue who keep us safe. Thank them every time you see them, and make it heart felt. Even if they’re in an unmarked car with D.C. tags that don’t say “Taxation Without Representation.” Look for the tinted windows, hidden flashers, and lots of antennas.

14.) Drinking is legal in public, and D.C. has no federal drinking age.

Since D.C. is a district and not a state, there are no drinking laws here since states — not the feds — set drinking laws. It’s just like London.

15.) Embassies are open to the public.

Most have cafeterias that highlight their native foods. But be careful, some embassies only accept their own currency or credit cards. Iran has an amazing lunch special.

16.) Heard of traffic cameras? Washington has pedestrian cameras.

If you walk when the sign says “Don’t Walk” you’ll get busted by the FBI facial recognition software in no time and a $275 ticket will be mailed to your home. Obey the law.

17.) Camping is legal outside of the White House.

Back in the day some hippies bent on stopping the progress of nuclear weapons started camping outside of the White House. Camping is perfectly kosher as long as they’re there. If you see the tent, feel free to plop down next to them and make it a weekend.

18.) The New Republic and Daily Caller have free happy hours every day after 5pm.

Seriously. They have bars in their offices and you should go meet Tucker Carlson or Chris Hughes. Make sure you pitch them a story when you’re there, as this is the only way they’ll accept freelance submissions.

Disclaimer: Follow these (not so) helpful “tips” at your own peril and do your own research before attempting to complete any of these tasks.


Some Brief Thoughts on the Redskins Loss

  • This wasn’t a failure of defense so much it was a failure on offense. The Redskins more or less give up about 20 points a game, they gave up 24 last night, all of them unanswered for three consecutive quarters. That is an offensive problem, not a defensive problem.
  • The Redskins need somebody who can snap. RG III’s leg injury was because of a bad snap. Which turned into a fumble. Which meant points. Kirk Cousins didn’t perform terribly given the circumstances, but he, too, was given a terrible snap that cost precious yards.
  • This Dr. Andrews character sounds like he really covered his ass before tonight’s game. And no, I don’t believe the people who claim Dr. Andrews got under RG III’s skin and caused him to perform poorly. His 1Q performance was just fine, it was just the rest of the game where he sucked.
  • Maybe losing to the Browns in the second to last week might have kept RG III’s leg healthy for next year?
  • The “should RG III have played” debate will be annoying and last pretty much all off-season.

Until next year.

The Wonders of Privatization (Snow Edition)

contractorsBainbridge Township, Ohio

“Did they shovel our porch?” my sister asked my mother. “Yep.” replied mom. “Wow.”

Ohio, at least northern Ohio, is experiencing one of its worst storms in recent years. Last night, the meteorologists spoke only of dire outcomes. And we’re only supposed to get a foot of snow.

This is not the same Ohio I grew up in, where snow was quite prevalent and a few feet fazed only the carpetbaggers. Snowmageddon in D.C.? Nothing compared to the great snowstorm of 1996 where we got over four feet of snow.

In recent years, snowstorms have been more mild here.

A year ago, my parents were still residing in my childhood home on Eaton road in Shaker Heights. To its credit, Shaker Heights has a very good public works system relative to neighboring communities. Of course, that comes at a high cost.

Shaker recently raised its taxes to keep its very good public works system — snow and trash removal — despite state budget cuts in the form of aid to cities. They proposed, and the voters approved, tax increases.

My parents moved. One county over, in fact, to Bainbridge Township in Geauga County, where taxes are lower (both in income and property taxes.)

Despite telling us for years they would impound our childhood in storage and buy a loft downtown, they opted to move east to an even bigger home. It’s a nice home. But, it’s in the snow belt.

Shaker Heights, like all inner-ring suburbs, gets its share of snow. Chagrin Falls and the surrounding parts of Cuyahoga and Geauga Counties tend to get a lot more snow.

The meteorologists were a little off on the timing, but they seemed to be correct on the amount of snow. It’s coming down hard.

Interrupting our alcohol-fueled games of bananagram and Jenga was the sound of snow plows. Since most of Bainbridge is unincorporated, the communities (run by Home Owners Associations) hire contractors to do the work of government that cities, like Shaker, ordinarily perform.

Dad came out of his new office and notified us that Ali and I would have to move our cars if the contractors were to plow our driveway. It was more of a command.

This, of course, was foreign to us, since we grew up using the winter mouse murderer known as the snowblower.  (If you’ve never seen mouse blood and parts sprayed over snow, then you haven’t truly lived, my friend.)

In Shaker, the city plowed the streets. When I was younger, they had this strange device designed to plow sidewalks. But given the age of those sidewalks, it often resulted in destroyed slabs and damaged machines. I don’t know this for sure, but I am pretty sure they killed that program.

The plows were big, and all of their drivers were city employees. Presumably belonging to a union. While the plows afforded bigger economies of scale, the labor contracts probably negated those benefits, since public employees’ unions have CBAs with pensions and overtime.

Of course, you had to plow your own driveway, and we used our snowblower to clear the block’s sidewalks because that’s how we roll, but the streets were plowed well — better than in the city of Cleveland.

Out here, however, the contractors plow your roads, your driveway, your walkway, and your porch.

Ali’s car — the Lesboat I call it, since it’s a Subaru — has 4WD. It pulled out of the driveway with ease. The “Silver Fox”, my dad’s old Honda Accord  that I now drive– complete with FIGHT TERRORISM license plates –does not. It was quickly evident when trying to move it why he no longer wanted it.

It got stuck.

I tried, in vain, to back it out of the driveway, a slight decline. Our driveway in Shaker was about a one-story incline that required skill to navigate. This, one would think, would be easy. Not so much. Without 4WD, skill was required.

After a few tries, my dad put on his boots and came to my aid to help push my out. It didn’t work.

All of the drivers of the snowplows stopped and got out of their trucks to help push me out.

That’s service.

(My mom rewarded them with a sixer of Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold.)

It got me thinking about city-provided services and private contractors.

While city-provided big trucks may be superior at providing the economies of scale necessary to plow big thoroughfares, the same could be done by a smaller amount of F-250’s, or bigger trucks. (Ohio isn’t big into privatization, while my current home of Virginia has embraced it, with VDOT using private contractors to plow main roads.) If allowed to compete, they’d presumably buy bigger trucks.

When the weather is tame, cities eat the cost of stagnant trucks and employees. Contractors have more flexibility. If it is particularly snowy, they can hire guys with trucks to join their team for the season, or lease trucks fitted with plows. That saves time and money, especially when competing for contracts.

And when it comes to providing service, they do a better job and more thorough job, at least when it comes to plowing snow.

In Bainbridge, however, my parents still have to take the trash out to the end of the 30 foot driveway. In Shaker, they employ little golf-like carts that pick it up from the back.

In the end, it’s all about trade offs, I guess. And my parents seem to value lower taxes and better snow service.bsig





Who are these lunatics?

Check out my piece over at the Richmond Times-Dispatch today.


Letter to the Editor: Eminent Domain

Below is a letter to the editor of the Washington Post. This is a response to their recent editorial urging Virginians to vote no on Question 1.

To the Editor:

I was somewhat surprised to see the Post weigh in so negatively on Question 1.

Of course, if enacted, Question 1 could be abused — just like eminent domain was before and after Kelo. Few deny this.

Suppose lawmakers decided there was some greater public utility to a large swath of land in Springfield, Virginia, where the Washington Post produces its newspapers.

I would guess that this location was carefully chosen both for cost and ease of distribution. Losing it would be costly.

Would the Washington Post be alright with “fair market value” for this land? Would 150% do? 200%?

I know profits are kind of an awkward topic year to year at the Post, but three years of profits (or something comparable) should make legislators think twice before taking land through government decree.

Opponents say this Question, if passed, would “severely limit the use and increase the expense of eminent domain.”


Jim Swift
Alexandria, Virginia


This Election? I’m Undecided

“When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” – Benjamin Franklin

I know this is embarrassing to admit, as some people see me as the sort of guy who thinks he has all of the answers: I’m undecided in the fall election.

Seriously. I’ve thought about this for months. I’ve changed my mind a few times now, and now with the election but days away, I don’t know how I am going to vote.

Strange, right?

On one hand, I can vote to take other peoples’ money to pay for programs that will benefit me. Or I can vote to give a cold shoulder to my middle class neighbors, essentially saying I don’t think our tax dollars should protect them.

Should I vote for or against the $30 million Storm Drainage Improvements Bonds? Oh. You thought I was talking about the Presidential election?

Don’t be silly, there’s no way I’m voting for Obama. And while I like a lot of what Gary Johnson stands for, I’m not going to throw away my vote. I’m voting for Romney.

I know how I’m voting on Fairfax County’s other three bond referenda for Libraries ($25m), Parks ($75m), and Public Safety ($55m) — No, No, and No. But I don’t know which way to go in this $30 million Bond Referendum.

A bit of background:

I live in Huntington, Virginia, which is an unincorporated part of Fairfax County about 500 feet from the Beltway and about 1000 feet from Alexandria City. Between the Beltway and my neighborhood there is a body of water called Cameron Run that runs parallel to the Beltway into the Potomac River.

Every three years or so, a big rain storm comes and the 100+ houses a few blocks to my east get a lot of flooding in their neighborhood. It causes a fair amount of damage to the houses of the neighborhood and takes days to subside. The rescue team comes and sets up a command center and nobody usually gets hurt. The last episode occurred year, but in 2006 there was a big flood that caused a lot of damage.

Here’s a quick video from what sounds like Miss Cleo’s brother. (He knows his stuff, I might add.)

My building, which is about five years young and sixteen stories tall, sits on higher ground with an embankment to protect us against most floods (like in 2011).

The houses in this Huntington neighborhood aren’t anything special — like architectural treasures — and they’ve been hit with at least three big floods in the past ten years. In short, not worth too terribly much.

The 2006 flood resulted in so much damage that, in 2008, over 100 residents sued the County and the Virginia Department of Transportation for damages, contending that “the flooding was caused by the relocation of a local stream, Cameron Run, as part of the construction of the Washington, D.C. Beltway, and by the subsequent failure of VDOT to maintain the Run by dredging the sediment that filled it over the years.”

It was rejected by a Circuit Court, and sent back by the Virginia Supreme Court, allowing the petitioners to sue VDOT but not Fairfax County. The petitioners want $9 million.

Since the Beltway was constructed, feet of sediment has built up, or so the petitioners claim. I believe them. Also the Route 1/495 and Telegraph Road/495 Interchange construction, I am sure, have contributed to the sediment. Obviously, more sediment equals more flooding, since Cameron Run is less able to send water to the Potomac.

How this could benefit me:

  • It makes flooding less likely in my area in general.

How this could hurt me:

  • Since the Levee they want to build starts at Fenwick Drive, it actually might make flooding statistically more likely to hit my property, if the flooding is significant. Previous floods have hit western areas of my neighborhood in the past.

Another thing to consider is property values. As the D.C. area grows, it would make sense that this area would eventually grow. Which, of course, is one of the reasons I chose to live here. The commercial property next door is planning on selling out to developers, and the aging condo/town homes across the street is too.

Yes, passing this Bond Referendum will improve the property values of those houses. Which, may, in turn, help my property value.

Or, my property value might not rise as much as it could…

But, if what some of our County Supervisors says is true — that developers signalled interest in buying out the homes  to build there– then the Bond Referendum might not even be necessary, since a developer might build their own levee depending on their needs. That wasn’t considered when the supervisors voted to put this referendum on the ballot, which is why three of them voted no.

Should Fairfax voters borrow $30 million to save 160 or so homes the time and trouble of floods (they’re in a mandatory flood insurance zone). Should the Board of Supervisors taken a little more time before throwing a not inexpensive bond issue on the ballot to consider alternatives? Should I vote to help myself (maybe) and my neighbors knowing others are footing the bill? Should the state and federal government pay for this since their Beltway and subsequent road projects are what probably caused it?

I don’t know. I don’t have all of the answers.

Eleven days left, and I’m still undecided.


Where will Locavores get their power?

Here’s a letter I wrote to the Alexandria Times.

To the editor:

With the closing of the Alexandria coal-fired power plant this week, one wonders, how will the buy local crowd power their homes? How will they, in good conscience, flick on that light switch knowing that the juice isn’t coming from somebody down the street?

Why don’t billionaire Mayor Bloomberg, Mayor Euille and the chattering classes care about good, blue collar middle class jobs for Alexandria? Is Alexandria becoming some outsourcing, 1-percenter, Mitt Romney fantasyland where all the good blue collar jobs are shipped to other places?

What’s next? Will Misha’s stop selling locally grown coffee? Will we have to buy things from people located in lands far and not-so-far away? Wait, hold on. Never mind, I’m told coffee isn’t grown locally anyway.

One worries, are chain stores coming next? The horror! Maybe, just maybe, with the closing of this plant, the locavores might discover there are benefits to eschewing the silly theory of “buying local.”

Jim Swift

UPDATE: The Alexandria Times published my letter.

New at the 7/11 Near Me

It’s the new Amazon Locker!