Saturday, January 17, 2009

Beantown vs. The Capital – Smackdown 2009

Boston and Washington DC are both pretty first-world kinds of places. Boston has Harvard. DC has the President. So moving from one to the other shouldn’t be too shocking. Still, there are some differences. Here are my thoughts on the transition from Beantown to the nation’s capital. But first, a few caveats. I’ve lived in Boston for nine years, specifically, in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. And I’ve lived in the DC area – the Clarendon neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, for twelve days. So, while my understanding of the Boston vibe runs pretty deep, my understanding of DC is just based on having met about nine of the DC area’s five million people (which includes my building’s night doorman, who, so far, has been unconscious every time I’ve seen him) and commuting between the Courthouse stop on the Metro and K Street.

These observations are just meant to be descriptive, not judgments about which city is better. Well, sort of. Actually, no, not at all. Might as well just make it a competition. The cities will compete in five categories. The winner will receive the official endorsement of the DanJanifesto, which can be noted in future Chamber of Commerce publications. We’ll start off with a blank slate. BOS: 0 points; DC: 0 points.

Category 1 – Light Rail Transportation

The T in Boston is filthy and loud. You can’t ever understand a single word that is spoken over the PA system. Some of the platforms have cracks with weeds growing out of them. The DC Metro is quiet and smooth. The stations have big, warmly lit arches evocative of a 1970’s space travel dream. Digital signs on the platform tell you how many minutes it will be until the next train arrives. Announcements are made my a sexy, soothing female voice – don’t know who she is, but she makes you feel like, if you had a fever, she’d show up next to your bed and feed you chicken soup. And, get this, the trains are carpeted. The overall effect is womb-like tranquility. So, one point DC, right? Wrong. All of the loveliness of the Metro is outweighed by the fact that food and drinks are prohibited on the train. You can get a ticket for getting on board with a morning snack, a bottle of water, a coffee. So, every morning, two million people are somehow supposed to get themselves to work without caffeine. This triumph of form over function is so outrageous, I don’t know what to say. Other than, one point BOS. BOS: 1; DC: 0.

Category 2 – Alcohol and Tobacco Acquisition

Until recently, you could only buy alcohol in Boston the third Friday of every month between 2:00 and 3:00 PM. Boston’s infamous blue laws have been scaled back, but they’re still around. Care for a libation at 11:00 AM on a Sunday? Better hop in the car and drive to New Hampshire. In DC (Virginia, actually - remember, I’m just talking about my own new neighborhood), you can buy alcohol 24/7. And, guess where you can buy beer and wine. Are you ready for this? CVS! That’s right. You pop into the drugstore to pick up a newspaper and maybe a greeting card and, on your way to the checkout line, you can also grab a 30-pack of Bud Light. Can you imagine? Wake up at 3 AM thinking a beer would be nice only to realize you’re out? Not an issue. Go across the street to CVS and in under five minutes, you’re back on the couch popping open a nice cold one. And you can still smoke in bars in Virginia. I don’t smoke, but I think that bans on smoking in bars reek of Fascism. People in The District, I think, dismiss this as just another ass-backward rural Virginia kind of thing (I’ve already come to understand that, living in Virginia, I am part of the DC equivalent of what Manhattanites refer to condescendingly as the “bridge and tunnel crowd”) , but I think it’s the way it should be. And sooo… one point DC. BOS: 1; DC: 1.

Category 3 – Pedestrian Street-Crossing Etiquette

Boston is famous for its horrible drivers (“Massholes”). But the dirty little secret is that Boston pedestrians are even worse. The basic rule is that a pedestrian has the inalienable right to just walk right out into any street – eight-lane highways with 85 mile an hour traffic included – and vehicles must screech to a halt and let them cross. Children in Boston are never even taught to look both ways. Pedestrian walk / do-not-walk lights are an outright waste of taxpayer dollars. Since the year 1400, when the first absent-minded professor landed on Beacon Street, pedestrians in Boston have ruled. Pedestrians in DC, do not, DO NOT, in any circumstance, cross the street unless the light so authorizes them, even if no vehicle is visible for as far as the eye can see. Crossing lights show the seconds remaining until the light will change, so pedestrians know exactly how much longer they will have to stand on the curb. I just do not get it. I have to assume that DC pedestrians know something I don’t. Maybe J-walking is viewed by the secret service as an attempt on the president’s life, and you can get shot dead by a sniper if you step out into the street against the light. I’m not sure how to allocate points in this category. Boston pedestrians are insane; DC pedestrians are pussies. Let’s give a point to each city. BOS: 2; DC: 2.

Category 4 – My Neighbors

My neighbors in Boston are great in every respect. They’re hip, fun, funny, sexy, smart, just all-around terrific. When a Boston neighbor and I pass one another on the street, we give each other a subtle nod that says “hey man, isn’t it groovy that we both live here on the same planet, on this very same street? we should get together sometime to hang out and just shoot the shit, or maybe start a band.” When I nod to my new neighbors in DC they look at me like I’m carrying a bloody chainsaw and have fresh chunks of baby meat hanging out of my mouth. They avert their eyes and pick up their pace, as if to say “there is no way in hell you are going to beat me out of this internship I so fundamentally deserve. I was editor of law review, you know.” The people in my Boston neighborhood on their way to the T look like they’re going out to hang posters about their new self-published music review rags. My neighbors in DC on their way to the Metro look like they’re going to a big group job interview, and are worried that it’s obvious how padded their resumes are. One point Boston. BOS: 3; DC: 2.

Category 5 - Coffee

And, finally, coffee. In Boston, there is a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner. When giving directions, people say things like “so you wanna go down Centre St. past three Dunkin’ Donuts, and take a right; then go left at the fifth Dunkin’ Donuts; our place is just after the second Dunkin’ Donuts on the left.” In DC, Starbucks are everywhere. There are some Starbucks with another Starbucks in the back. The state bird is Starbucks. In the current economic environment more than ever, a $4.00 cup of coffee is just not where it’s at. And so the final point goes to Boston.


Final score: BOS 4; DC 2. My impressions could certainly evolve over time, and I will update the score accordingly. But, for the moment, the cold hard numbers indicate that Boston is better than DC by a margin of 4 to 2, or 100%.


Michael said...

Funny as always, Dan. Hope you guys are adjusting well, no matter what the score is.

Unknown said...

Wanna start a band?

Rich said...

The Metro is D.C.'s Big Dig. Can there be a category for which city sucks up federal tax dollars "better?"

Dan Milstein said...

This may be my fave Janifesto so far. Love it (and not just because I imagine myself to be one of the hip and *also* sexy neighbors... ;-)

Leila said...

other suggestions for point categories to add to this already fabulous danifesto:
-motorcades: DC-the VP, on his way home, Boston: mob funeral
-response to snow: DC-"oh no-please don't hit me!", Boston-"hit me."
-signage: DC-"let's see, I'm on K and 9th so I'm 2 blocks north and 3 blocks east of my destination", Boston-"if they don't know where they're going its not our job to tell them"
-women's footwear: DC-4 inch stilletos, can be used as weapons when faced with aformentioned scary, internship-stealing, neighbor, Boston-4 inches of rubber, provides adaquate distance between sole of foot and disgusting floor of T

Patrick Yerby said...

Great smackdown. If you added professional sports to the mix, that would no doubt extend Boston's lead.