My DC backpacking trip a month ago had me engage in crazy cool meetings with friends, both old and new, in a way that a tour could hardly supply. Featured in this post are snippets of conversations (the dramatized version) between me and local DC citizens.
#1: Humbling the Romans
Host: So, you do realize that the US likes to pretend we are the Romans, right? Going to war, conquering the land, dominating the world-
Me: I think Julius Caesar would squirm in his grave, hearing that.
Host: Why? He would be proud. We are right here in the Roman spirit. Look at those buildings, those pillars! All Greek-Roman architecture.
(The next day, I started taking photos of every Greek-inspired building that came across.)
#2: Drawing Circles
Local Guy: Do you notice that we are different from cities like New York? We have a lot of those intersection circles, instead of just grids like Manhattan.
Me: Yeah, they look really nice.
Local Guy: That’s French-inspired. The city was designed by a French architect brought over by – a ha – Lafayette, your school’s namesake.
Me: I see. It’s the same in Hanoi, which was colonized by the French. We had a lot of circles too. They really softened the city.
Local Guy: Actually, they did that because they thought circles would be good defense against the enemies to intrude if D.C was to be under attack.
Me: And how would circles defend against the enemies?
Local Guy: Well, it’s harder to see when there’s a giant circle in your way, isn’t it?
#3: Photographic Memories
Me: So a local guy told me that D.C. was designed by a French architect brought back by Lafayette.
Host: (Almost choked on his coffee) Oh, him.
Me: What’s funny?
Host: Right, so the story goes that we hired a French architect named L’Enfant to design the new capital. This guy came, finished the designs and presented it in front of our founding fathers. They were all very pleased with it, but then, they told the guy, “We love it, but we don’t have any money to pay you.”
Host: The architect was angry. He folded up his plan and returned to France.
Me: Oh dear.
Host: As it turned out, however, one of the people in the meeting had photographic memory. He redrew the plan and that was how we built the city without paying our architect a single cent.
Host: Oh, and you do know how to navigate in the streets right? The numbers and the letters for horizontal and vertical streets-
Me: Yeah, I’ve lived in Manhattan for a while. It’s similar.
Host: Right. They pretended to be Manhattan, but they screwed up.
Host: The streets are not even straight! Sometimes you think you’re at P, or Q, but turns out you’re at K. And don’t let me even start on the avenues.
Me: I take it that you’ve never been to a Southeast Asian city then.
#5: Speeding and Google
Host: The thing is, DC itself has a population of only 600,000, but that population triples in the day.
Me: Right, because people from Maryland and Virginia came over to work?
Host: Yeah, so they face a problem – they need money to service these out-of-state workers, but they can’t collect tax from them because they are not residents. They ask from both Maryland and Virginia to supply part of their revenue – but of course, who would just hand over money willingly like that, right?
Me: Of course not.
Host: So they came up with a clever solution – speeding tickets. They reduce speed limit on major highways leading to DC to about 30 mph. Which was ridiculous, because, have you seen those roads? Perfect for 70 mph, at least.
Me: Interesting. So did it work?
Host: Boy did it work. My friend moved here from Florida, and she didn’t pay attention to the speed limit on the first couple of weeks. First month – guess how much she had to pay? Four-freaking-hundred dollars.
Me: That’s terrible.
Host: But now there’s a problem. Have you heard of those Google cars? A lot of people have been having problems with them. And not for safety reasons, but the opposite.
Me: They are too safe?
Host: Right, they won’t ever speed. Do you even realize how much revenue speeding brought this economy? It’ll just collapse if no one commits traffic crimes, ever.
Me: Then again, Google is taking over the world anyway. Government would succumb to it, eventually.