The Inside Scoop: Wolf Trap

17 Aug
Courtesy of Wolf Trap

Courtesy of Wolf Trap

I’m sure you all remember Sports Editor Rachel who, in addition to reporting on the area’s sports news, regaled you with the tale of her speed dating experience. Yet another impressive area of Rachel’s expertise is the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, which is best known for the summertime events held at its outdoor theater called the Filene Center. Rachel was an illustrious parking attendant there for several summer breaks during college.

Though Rachel abandoned me to move to San Diego with her boyfriend (who she did not meet at speed dating), she agreed to share some Wolf Trap tips and tricks with us.

1. When is it worth shelling out the money for proper seats instead of lawn tickets?
The lawn is a great spot, but keep in mind that the sun will be bright for a large portion of the performance during the summer, when sunset is late in the evening. This can make it very challenging to get a good view of the stage inside the darkened pavilion from out on the lawn. So get a proper seat when you want to have a good view of the performers. This might be the case for a:

  • dance performance
  • play or musical
  • concert by a performer you really like, if you’re a front-row-seats type of guy/gal

For a concert by the NSO, a rock show or one of the annual sing-a-longs, stick to the lawn.

2. Say it’s raining and I’ve got lawn seats. Is it still worth going or should I stay home with my TiVo instead?
It depends on how much rain you’re getting, and how excited you were about the show. If it’s sprinkling on-and-off, I suggest going to the show and setting up your blanket. There are a few covered spots where you might be able to take shelter for a few minutes. Keep in mind that many people are likely to choose not to go to the show, so you’ll probably be able to get a great seat if you stick it out. On the other hand, if it’s a thunderstorm, and I were you, I’d probably skip it.

However, if there are empty seats inside the house, you’ll be able to “buy up” by paying the difference in price between your lawn seat and that inside seat.

3. If I have lawn seats and it’s nice weather, how early do you recommend I arrive to get a decent spot on the lawn?
The lawn opens 1.5 hours prior to the start of the show. If you must have a seat in the front row of the lawn, I recommend arriving around 2 hours before the show. This will give you time to park, unpack your car and line up. The ushers will often even scan tickets a few minutes ahead of opening the gate, so everyone can make a run for it.

4. Where’s the best place to park to avoid the long lines getting out?
The parking arrangements vary slightly depending on the expected crowds for that day’s performance. The most reliable option for a quick exit is parking in the west parking lot, right by its entrance. The west parking lot is the one across Trap Road from the Filene Center–see below.

Traffic from various exits is often all directed in one direction or the other, no choosing allowed. If you’re not familiar with this area of Virginia, I recommend having the GPS fired up in case you end up detoured.

(One additional note from me: Rachel never had to take the Dulles Toll Road to get to Wolf Trap because she lived close by, but my friend recently waited in a line of cars at the toll-booth for 45 minutes. Either take an alternate route down Leesburg Pike or factor in the waiting time.)

5. Is there a way to get discounted tickets?
Nothing came immediately, but a Google search for “wolf trap discount” did seem to have some good options. Everyone, please give that a try before you purchase!

6. Any other tips? Fun facts?
Some performances have a Pre-Performance Discussion, where an expert shares information about the upcoming show. Check out the 2014 schedule.

If you park in the lot I recommended, you can hitch a ride on a golf cart up the hill to the theater. My tip is actually to skip the golf cart: there’s typically a queue, and you’ll save time by walking. Plus, you know you’re going to have some wine with your picnic on the lawn—earn it with your exercise here.

On the other hand, if anyone in your group requires accessible parking or other assistance, this can be arranged by calling the park ahead of time.

In a typical theater, lights are dimmed in the lobby to indicate the show is about to start or resume. At Wolf Trap, a large farm dinner bell is rung.

The park was called Wolf Trap Farm Park until 2002. It was renamed because it had been a concert venue for quite some time and needed a more accurate name to avoid confusion.

If you have a National Parks Passport, don’t forget that Wolf Trap is a national park! Stop by the Ranger Station for your stamp.

Thanks Rach! Miss ya!

Wolf Trap map

Click on the map to make it larger.

Foreign Service 101

6 Aug
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin

The U.S. Embassy in Berlin

You can’t swing a dead cat in D.C. without hitting someone who’s either in the foreign service or wants to be. Therefore, it would behoove you to know a thing or two about it so, ya know, you can sound smart. Here’s your crash course:

1. What’s a foreign service officer anyway?
A foreign service officer is a diplomat. If you’ve ever been to an embassy or a consulate, you were interacting with foreign service officers (unless they were national staff, which the State Department also employs). The U.S.  is unusual in that it takes people from all walks of life into the foreign service, not requiring any particular education background or work history.

2. What does a foreign service officer do?
For a generalist (I’m not going to get into specialists) there are 5 tracks: consular, economic, management, political and public diplomacy. The life of an FSO is an unusual one. Officers are required to move about every 2 years, and if they are in a hardship post, their family can’t come with them. Understandably, many marriages are strained by this lifestyle, particularly because employment for spouses can be difficult to get, unfulfilling or poorly paid.

3. So what’s the appeal of being in the foreign service?
Serving your country, seeing the world and having a hand in important diplomatic issues.

4. How do you get in?

  • Step #1: Complete an online exam.
    The first part is multiple choice and it tests your knowledge on everything from history to math to management. The second is an essay question, the topic of which is a surprise.
  • Step #2: Complete four narrative questions.
    You have to write brief examples showing that you possess the skills it takes to be an FSO. Reviewers look at your answers along with your application materials.
  • Step #3: A super intense, all-day oral exam.
    This is where they really separate the boys/girls from the men/women. First you have to figure out a hypothetical problem with the other people in your group while the evaluators watch you interact. Then you have a written exercise. Finally, there’s an interview with the assessors. Then you wait awkwardly with your group as your called in and told whether you pass go and collect $200 … or begin the entire process again.

5. Is it, like, competitive?
At lunch one time I overheard (okay, fine, I was eavesdropping) two young women discussing their dating lives. One had recently started dating a guy who was applying to be in the foreign service. She said, “I’m not too worried, he probably won’t get in.” While her new beau probably wouldn’t have appreciated her pessimism, she was, statistically speaking, correct.

Only 2-3% of the 20,000 people who take the foreign service written exam actually become a diplomat. In addition to the three steps previously discussed, applicants also need to pass health and security screenings (plus you can take a foreign language test to bag some bonus points). AND, as if that’s not enough hurdles, those who completed all those steps but don’t get offered a job within 18 months have to begin the ENTIRE process all over again. You can go through the process as many time as you like until you turn 59, and then you’re too old.

6. I want more!
If you think this sounds like the job for you, here are some helpful resources to get you started:

Image by Scott on flickr.

Mormon Temple

27 Jul

Washington TempleUpon moving to DC it won’t take long to either see the Mormon Temple as you drive on the Beltway (aka 495) or hear it referenced on a traffic report (i.e. “backed up past the Mormon Temple).

No matter your religious affiliation (or lack thereof), there’s no denying it’s a strikingly beautiful building. It’s the tallest temple in the country and cost 15 million to build. Dedicated in 1974, 750,000 people attended the open house and I’ve heard (aka my mom told me) that afterward they ripped out all the carpet and replaced it.

Surrender DorothyYou can’t actually go inside the temple (which is technically in Kensington, MD) unless you’re literally a card-carrying Mormon. This even applies to wedding ceremonies. There is a free visitors’ center open to the public but, if the Yelp reviews are to be believed, you’ll likely be asked about your religious beliefs and be encouraged to consider converting. Each Christmas there’s a popular annual lights display along with various holiday concerts and events.

The Temple looks like a white version of the Emerald Palace in Wizard of Oz, and for a long time many people’s favorite part of the temple was the “Surrender Dorothy” graffiti that was painted on the Outer Look overpass nearby from the 1970s to 2007.

Read three stories about the Mormon Temple, including the time when a guman took the people inside hostage.

I’m back!

30 Jun

Kangaroo on beach

So it’s been a couple years now since I’ve updated this blog. I got busy and then moved to Perth, Australia, for a year to coach synchronized swimming (as you do). But I’ve been surprised by the amount of feedback I continue to get from people who find the blog useful. I’ve just recently returned to the area and have decided to start things up again. First off, I’ve noticed some changes since I’ve been gone:

  • 495 Express Lanes. These had just opened up as I was leaving but I never used them and, I confess, they kind of scare me. My first day back driving on 495 I accidentally got in one of the express lanes and, I swear to you, I could not figure out how to escape. I kept waiting for an exit I knew … turns out they have different names (whoops).
  • The Mall. It’s so green! When I left they were in the process of sectioning off areas, giving the grass time to recover, and it’s clearly worked. Hooray!
  • Silver Line. Well, okay, it’s not quite ready, but almost! I’m really curious to see if/how it changes Tyson’s Corner area, which is already unbearably crowded.
  • National Gallery of Art, East Wing. I was pretty devastated to learn that the East Wing exhibits are closed for three years, but I’m assuming 99.9% of you don’t find this to be as catastrophic as I do, so I’ll resist transcribing the long diatribe that’s in my head.
  • Nando’s. So it turns out that this chain was actually in D.C. before I left, but I didn’t know about it, so I’m going to consider this a change. In Perth, the only chain restaurant I liked/could afford was Nando’s (which started in South Africa), and it turns out that the D.C. area is the only place in the U.S. where you can find it. I was driving with my friend when we passed the one on Wisconsin and I scared the crap out of her with my scream of joy.

And then there are some things that are exactly the same:

  • Tourists. Still annoying. Though I begrudgingly admit that they’ve been good about standing on the right of Metro escalators. Was there a public awareness campaign or something?
  • The City. Still beautiful, especially at night. I’ve never lost that feeling of awe when seeing  the monuments lit up … It’s good to be back.

30 DC-Related Facebook Pages you should ‘like’

27 Dec

Obviously, this list isn’t all inclusive, but it’s a good start! Any you think I missed?

  1. 365 Things to Do in DC
  2. Bitches Who Brunch
  3. Capital Bikeshare
  4. Capital Weather Gang
  5. Compassion Over Killing
  6. Cultural Tourism DC
  7. DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
  8. Downtown Silver Spring
  9. Eastern Market
  10. Express
  11. Free in DC
  12. goDCgo
  13. Going Out Gurus
  14. Greater Greater Washington
  15. The Hill is Home
  16. KidFriendly DC
  17. Metro Connection
  18. Metro Forward
  19. National Harbor
  20. The Natural Capital
  21. Prince of Petworth
  22. Secret DC
  23. Smithsonian Institution
  24. WAMU 88.5
  25. Washington.org
  26. Washington Capitals
  27. Washington City Paper
  28. Washington Nationals
  29. Washington Post
  30. Unsuck DC Metro

Shout Out: Street Sense

5 Dec

When I first encountered Street Sense vendors upon moving to DC, I was skeptical. I generally don’t like strangers talking to me, much less trying to sell me something. But then I learned more about the program and became an A #1 fan. In fact, I was quoted in their annual report (holla!).

DC has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country—Street Sense gives homeless an opportunity to earn income by selling a biweekly newspaper. Vendors pay 35 cents for each paper (to cover the cost of production) and then sell each for $1. The paper focuses on issues surrounding homelessness, and many vendors also contribute to the paper by writing articles, works of fiction, or producing artwork. On average, a vendor earns $45 a day.

I didn’t realize how incredibly ignorant I was about homelessness until I started reading Street Sense. I find the vendor profiles particularly enlightening—each person’s story and situation is different. I also really enjoy my interactions with the vendors, most of whom are very friendly and really appreciate.

Now I make sure I always have a dollar in my wallet, so that when I see a vendor I can buy a copy. It’s frustrating for me to see so many people walk right on by, not bothering to give a dollar and a few moments of their time.

Become a fan of Street Sense on Facebook, follow Street Sense on Twitter, but most important, buy Street Sense!

Eleven DC Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

9 Oct

© Fernando Revilla on Creative Commons

11. Don’t take I-66 during rush hour. I blogged about this awhile ago, but it’s worth repeating. Before coming to DC, I had no idea that roads existed that were HOV-only during certain parts of the day. Until I got a ticket on 66 the very first time I’d ever driven on it. (I’m still bitter.)

10. Do invest in a winter coat. I moved to DC from California and couldn’t justify spending a couple hundred dollars on a coat, so the first winter that I lived here I just wore the heaviest jacket I owned. A random woman on the Metro actually admonished me for not having a warmer coat. And, turns out, DC winters are a lot easier to handle when you’re not freezing your ass off.

9. Don’t get too attached. Okay, this is terribly pessimistic of me, I realize, but it’s true. I had a really difficult time when a few friends I had become super close with left the area. DC is a transient city, and friends you meet will usually move eventually. It takes time to find people who aren’t just passing through.

8. Don’t live at an AvalonBay “community.” Avalon owns a bunch of apartment buildings in the DC area, and I was mid-lease when they bought the building I lived in. They have horrible management and don’t care about their residents. I quickly moved out.

7. Don’t shop at Tysons Corner during the holidays. Okay, you can shop at Tysons during the holidays, but be prepared for some anxiety-inducing mayhem. I basically had a nervous breakdown from the crowds a couple years ago, so now I steer clear come November.

6. Do look at the Metro website on the weekend. I was used to taking the Metro on the weekdays, but it took a few mistakes before I realized that weekends are a different story. One time I had to wait over a half an hour for a train because of track maintenance. Now I check the website for delays and either leave earlier or drive.

5. Don’t tempt thieves. I was hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I came back to my car and my window was broken—I had left my purse on the seat. My old roommate had the same thing happen when she parked at West Falls Church Metro and left a coin purse on the console. It’s a fine line between cautious and paranoid, but now I have no problem being the latter.

4. Don’t let angry residents rub off on you. It’s easy to get snippy, cut people off, give tourists dirty looks—a lot of people in DC do it, and I am certainly not casting the first stone (I won’t mention the fist fight I almost got into with a guy at the Library of Congress—not one of my finer moments). But the other day I was crossing a street with a man who went ab-so-lute-ly ballistic when a bus was blocking the crosswalk, and it made me realize there’s no reason to get so upset over minor annoyances. There’s something very satisfying about letting things go.

3. Don’t ask who the House Majority Leader is. When I moved here I knew very little about politics, and when I mentioned in front of coworkers that I didn’t know who Nancy Pelosi was, it was as if I had suddenly grown a third eye. “No Toto, we’re in California anymore.” Now I know a lot more about government and when I don’t, I fake it.

2. Don’t be too impressed. DC probably has the highest percentage of overachievers of any city in the country. People here are impressive. They speak Chinese and they have multiple degrees and they save children from burning buildings for fun on the weekends. But don’t spend too much time comparing yourself to others. (I’m still trying to take my own advice on this one.)

1. Don’t take DC for granted. When you call the DC area home, it’s easy to procrastinate about going to museums and monuments and the Kennedy Center and Rock Creek Park and Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, etc. But you probably won’t live here forever, so now’s the time to take advantage of all that DC has to offer.

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