Friday, June 08, 2007

Tourist Guide to D.C.

This is the height of tourist season in Washington, and I just happened to find this column I wrote for UPI 20 years ago. Nothing, except the nature of the congressional investigation, really changes.

United Press International

May 22, 1987, Friday, BC cycle

Washington Window;
A gazeteer for travel inside the Beltway


SECTION: Commentary

LENGTH: 648 words


Last week's testimony from soldier of fortune Robert Owen detailing his cloak-and-dagger exploits for Lt. Col. Oliver North exposed to the general pub-lic some Washington code words that may be foreign to those who live outside the nation's capital.

Owen confirmed that when North referred to some maps of Nicaragua he was to take to Contra leaders, the former National Security Council aide told him they were produced ''across the river'' and ''up the river.''

These are geographical locations not found on any map. And when the millions of tourists who visit Washington ask for directions from a passer-by, they eas-ily could become confused by geographical jargon.

Everyone knows the famous Washington addresses such as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave-nue and the Watergate hotel and office complex.

But if you come to Washington, you'll need more than a map to find the places the natives talk about so familiarily. So here is a short gazetteer for what Washingtonians really mean when they give directions:

ACROSS THE RIVER -- The Pentagon, the five-story, five-sided, five-ringed headquarters of the Defense Department, situated on the Virginia side of the Po-tomac River, and whose courtyard, as viewed from the air, provides an inviting bullseye for hostile bombsights.

UP THE RIVER -- The headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, farther north on the Virginia side of the Potomac. For years, it did not appear on maps, and knowing motorists would wink as they drove by a sign pointing to the bureau of highways. [UPDATE: It is now heralded on the approach by a highway sign noting the presence of the knee-slapping "George Bush Center of Intelligence.] The CIA is also referred to as Langley, for its location near a woodsy Virginia suburb by that name. But it was recently revealed that the agency is really in McLean, a ritzy suburb that is home to a passel of rich lobbyists, lawyers and politicians, perhaps the most famous of whom is [was] Sen. Edward Kennedy.

ON THE HILL -- The Capitol, the six House and Senate office buildings, the three Library of Congress buildings, the Supreme Court, Gary Hart's townhouse, working home of about 50,000 nameless, faceless aides and almost as many tour buses.

DOWNTOWN -- The boundaries of Washington's ''downtown'' are forever changing, based on the appearance of the latest construction crane. But in government, ''downtown'' has nothing to do with a central business district but with the White House, a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue from ''the Hill.''

OEOB -- What many people consider the ugliest building in Washington, the Old Executive Office Building. Adjacent to the Executive Mansion, it is part of what is known as ''the White House complex.'' Once the home of the State, War and Navy departments under one roof, it is most recently known as the site of Oliver North's office, which, contrary to some accounts, was not in the White House basement. [This building is now named for President Eisenhower. Cynics refer to it, based on its architecture, as "the wedding cake building." It was often featured in "The West Wing" but on the wrong side of the White House.]

FOGGY BOTTOM -- An area that once included the city' gas works which, like much of Washington, was reclaimed from swampland and now is the home of the State Department, also known as ''the fudge factory.''

INSIDE THE BELTWAY -- A demagogical term favored by President Reagan to describe the location of ''the puzzle palaces'' of the bureaucracy. Used in the sense of, ''Gee, it's great to get 'outside the Beltway' among 'the real peo-ple.''' Or, ''Oh, that's of concern only ''inside the Beltway.''' The Beltway is a highway that circles Washington and its close-in suburbs.

THE MIXING BOWL -- A sometimes mobile parking lot at the intersection of several highways ''across the river'' near the Pentagon.

THE ROCK CREEK ROLLER COASTER -- A curving 2-mile stretch of the Beltway in suburban Maryland responsible for half the fatalites on the 66-mile road.

OUT THERE -- An imaginary place where good things might happen. For example, ''There's a lot of support 'out there' for bringing the bill to the floor.'' Or, the complaint of Washington's single women: ''There's only so many men 'out there' for us.''


ADVANCED-DATE: May 20, 1987, Wednesday, BC cycle

Copyright 1987 U.P.I.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:19 AM

    Fuck! You were even boring 20 years ago! Were you *ever* interesting to read?