Tag Archives: Virginia

A Great Weekend

I had a great weekend in Madison County, Virginia with my good friends and groomsmen to celebrate one of my last weekends of bachelordom.

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The view from the cabin on top of the mountain.

This photo, taken by Bobby Metzinger, shows the delicious meats we got from Echo Valley Meat Company.

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Three great products make for an excellent breakfast.

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Surrounding hills. Yes. That’s tie-dye you see. No, not mine.

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The exterior of the cabin (click to expand).

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The interior.

Commuting in Washington

By no means am I a super commuter. I don’t live out in the exurbs or in West Virginia. My commute is ordinary. I live across from a metro station and bus hub relatively close to Washington, D.C. — but I’m done taking the train every day.

For starters, I’m lucky that my phone has an unlimited text plan. If not, the amount of texts would really put a crunch on my plan.

WMATA texts me more than a psychotic ex-girlfriend. While I’ve never had one of those, my friends who have inform me they received about a hundred texts or so over the course of a month or two. WMATA easily meets that.  Except that instead of “I miss you” you get soul crushing texts like “Red Line: Single tracking btwn Van Ness & Friendship Heights due to a sick customer aboard a train at“. In other words, “Say goodbye to twenty minutes of your day.

Of course, these alerts are only helpful if your phone works underground. Which, thanks to the stellar work of WMATA, hasn’t happened.

It’s the same story with email.

In the past month, WMATA has emailed me no less than 138 times. In that time, Jos. A. Bank emailed me about 25 times. When your email rate is five times that of Jos. A. Bank, you’re in trouble.

Are these alerts helpful? Sure. So is WTOP, but WTOP isn’t subsidized by my tax dollars and tells me where the traffic is for the cost of a few advertisements. These alerts are more of a mea culpa of failure.

Since I’ve had enough, I decided I am driving to work now every day. I’ve done this before, and I loved it. (A parking spot in the shadow of the Capitol helps.)

Driving may end up being slightly more expensive, but I have ways of mitigating the increase in cost. Driving enables me to stop at the grocery and bring in food for lunch conveniently, and that will save money over getting lunch at a sandwich joint every day.

It will also save me time and, as we all know, time is money. Even with Washington’s horrible traffic, on average, I beat WMATA during my normal commute time by close to 10 minutes each way. On late nights, it’s close to 30 minutes of savings.  Tonight, with a major accident on the 14th street bridge, a Nationals game, and bumper to bumper traffic on 395 N to 295 S, I tied my normal metro commute. I’m on track to save close to 20 hours of time this year. Admittedly, it helps knowing the back streets.

In addition to the time it will save me, especially given my irregular hours, it will certainly save me the frustration of having to actually ride WMATA. It’s a miserable experience if you have to ride it regularly, if you’ve never had the pleasure. It’s like the popular bar in a tourist-driven resort town. Its patrons are either regular drunks (commuters) or hawaiian shirt-wearing visitors (tourists) who just crowd the place. The bar is run by incompetents and managed by those who know the tourist and government gravy train isn’t getting shut off, so little changes.

But hey, at least it’s clean!

To avoid having to take WMATA on short trips, I registered for what I call BikeSocialism — or Capital BikeShare as it’s known around D.C. The RFID key they sent me looks like a Soviet flag.

Some of the money used to subsidize the BikeShare program was meant to “address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” That hasn’t worked out, according to a recent story by Reason magazine which reported that “95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D….”

I figure if my tax dollars are going to be used to subsidize a bike commune at below-market rates, I might as well do what I can to capture the subsidy — even if I am a college graduate.

Mind you, I have nothing wrong with bike sharing.  I just don’t think our tax dollars need to subsidize it and the lanes we dedicate take away from motor vehicles when the cyclists don’t pay the same taxes that auto drivers do to maintain the roads. Call me crazy.

I am just plain sick of riding WMATA. The fares are going up, the PIDs are never correct (if they’re working), and the experience is getting worse and worse. Going forward, my goal is to give as few dollars possible to WMATA as possible. I realize that this won’t make much of a dent in their balance sheets — not that they particularly care too much about those. I know that my tax dollars will continue to their coffers, but my discretionary/pre-tax transportation dollars? Not so much.bsig

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.”

Good.

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.

 

Why I broke up with CostCo

Some people ask periodically when I tell them I’m a member at BJ’s why I haven’t joined CostCo. I have, but I broke up with them.

I consider myself a Sam’s Club guy, but there aren’t any around here that are particularly close to where I live in Alexandria.

I get why lots of people like the Crystal City Costco — famous people shop there. Big whoop.

The BJ’s on Duke street fits my needs more because I don’t have to:

  • Wait in line to get a parking ticket to park.
  • Wait in line/dodge pedestrians with big shopping carts to find a spot.
  • Wait in line to show my membership card.
  • Wait in a huge line to check out.
  • Wait in a huge line to get my receipt checked.
  • Wait in a line to get my parking validated.
  • Wait in line to give my validated ticket to the parking attendant.

At BJ’s, I just park, go in, buy what I want, wait in a small line to check out, and leave. Much simpler.

The Sentinel

Was filmed in Huntington, VA apparently. Right by my house! I was watching it with my room mate this evening, and had to phone Bobby Metzinger to inform him of my discovery.

I saw it and paused it, thinking “wait, that’s on Belle Haven Road!” I took a screenshot and went on google maps and it checks out. I went there once but they didn’t take credit cards so I didn’t buy anything. Apparently they have/had good pizza? Anyone know about this?

The Sentinel isn’t one of the best movies ever made, but it’s one of the most DC accurate, in my opinion.

In the movie, Pat’s is supposed to depict rural Maryland. However, it’s in Fairfax County Virginia right near Mount Vernon.

Could GOP Crossovers Have Ousted Moran?

Earlier today, I blogged about my cross over vote for Bruce Shuttleworth. As I noted, I didn’t vote for him because I like his views — he’s crazy. Rather, I voted for him because I absolutely do not like Jim Moran, my current Congressman. Also, I (accurately) predicted that George Allen would handily win the Virginia Republican Senate primary, which is why I felt safe to cast this vote.

So, was my hypothesis — that voting in this Democratic primary might be a statistically more likely way to oust Jim Moran from power — true? With 99% of the results in, and Shuttleworth losing by larger margins than Republican Patrick Murray did in the 2010 general, I’ve concluded my hypothesis was false.

Let’s adjust this a bit, just for fun. What if every Republican voter who cast a vote today in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District decided to vote in the Democratic primary instead of the Republican? Let’s also assume that, because they don’t like Jim Moran, they’d vote for Shuttleworth.

What would happen?

Well, if every Republican in VA 8 abandoned the Senate primary and voted for Shuttleworth, he still would have lost 51 to 49.

The results for the Senate primary in my hypothesis would not have changed significantly from the actual total.

Now, I know that it’s unrealistic to assume that such a scenario would happen. Could it? Sure. But it would be unlikely and mitigated by other factors. (i.e. Republican interference, which wouldn’t be by stealth, would increase turnout for Moran.)

Do I regret my vote? Not really. I knew Allen would win, and he would have been the recipient of my vote otherwise. However, I do plan to take a count of how many Democratic mailers I get, and the money wasted, just for voting in this primary. 

 

What I don’t like about the Gold Cup

A friend of mine solicited my help in offloading her Gold Cup tickets. She can no longer go. I’ve only been to the Gold Cup once, and I went because it was free for Mary and I to go because somebody paid for our parking, tickets, booze, and food. Oh, and we got cigars.

So, the Gold Cup isn’t a bad event to go to — if it’s free. Would I pay for such an experience? Probably not. Here’s why:

1.) It’s in the middle of nowhere 

2.) It’s hot and muggy

The second you arrive you have to drive your car (unless you took a bus) over mossy grass, wondering if your car will be able to leave without getting stuck. You get out of your car, smell the fresh air and about 30 minutes later you are ready to go home.

It doesn’t help that you have to dress up for this.

3.) Normal people don’t dress this way

To steal a term from Late Night Shots, only turbos from UVA have a repertoire of this kind of clothing at the ready. Everybody else has to buy stuff for it. Who dresses this way? Not normal people, that’s for sure. This is not a once in a lifetime event like a wedding, it’s a bunch of fucking horses running around an obstacle course with drunk people showing off nice cars watching them for fun. Hardly an event that warrants anything other than normal clothing.

4.) Everybody pretends they love horses

They really don’t. You could make them a delicious pulled meat sandwich and tell them it’s horse meat and they’d be like “this is delicious.” But, for a drunken afternoon, people will pretend they love horses more than they loved their childhood pet, and agree with the random actual horse person that horse slaughter is the world’s greatest evil. If President Obama got to eat dogs growing up, I should be able to eat horses. And horse people are just annoying.

5.) It’s an excuse to act like a snob

Going to the Gold Cup is like taking Doc Brown’s DeLorean to South Africa during apartheid and watching a horse race.

6.) It’s boring

The only reason people say they like going to the Gold Cup is because they get really drunk. That’s it. Nobody really cares about the race and it’s not important. How do I know? It’d be on television if it were important. The Kentucky Derby is important. The Gold Cup is not.