Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 44:  July 13, 2013


I spent the last 37 of my working years in the Washington, DC, area, and for the last 20 years, I worked for contractors to the Federal government.  The standard conversation-starter when you met someone in the DC area was inevitably either “Where do you work?”  or “What do you do?”  The statistical probability was pretty high that the other person either worked for the Federal government or worked for a Government contractor.  Consequently, it was very easy to immediately find some common ground—maybe the other person would mention the name of another contractor (and you may have once worked for that company, or knew someone else who worked there) or a Federal agency (and you may have once done work for that agency)—and you could go to the next step, “Oh, I used to work there!  Do you know So-and-So?” and start rattling off names.  In the “What do you do?” category, there was a fairly small range of occupations, when you came right down to it, and, again it was fairly easy to find some common ground (especially if you’re married and your spouse’s employer and occupation offer another boatload of opportunities to find that common ground).

The other method that sometimes works for me is just telling folks my name, because most folks haven’t heard of my first name – Jaton’—and I can always start out by telling them where it came from.  But this tried and true method of starting a conversation wasn’t going to work when I went to my high school class’s 50th reunion.  Given that I went to high school in a small town in Southeast Texas (a population then of about 12,000), there were only 180 folks in the class and they already knew my name.  So I went with “What do you do?” since I hadn’t seen most of these folks in 50 years.  It turns out that this method failed me as well.  One of my classmates, it turns out, hangs draperies.  At that point, I just blathered something – can’t even remember what – because my piteous repertoire of conversation-making tools failed me.  None of the follow-up questions applied, and my brain just froze.  So, that’s how flippin’ provincial I can be!  My classmate who hangs draperies for a living gets to have a hand in doing something that is both useful and beautiful.  (Well, I’m sure he’s had to hang some draperies that he thought were pretty hideous, but, in any case, they were still useful, and probably they were beautiful to the person buying them.)  On the other hand, I spent the better part of 20 years writing what would turn out to be “shelf-ware” – documents that folks were required to have on hand and that gave guidance that folks were supposed to follow (but, in practice, almost never did).  And, on more than one occasion, work that I had spent years developing was simply tossed out when management changed.  (It would have been lots easier – and saved the US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars – if, instead of reinventing the wheel, the new guy in charge would have simply gone around pissing on stuff to establish his dominance of his new territory, but apparently that is frowned upon in polite society.)  So, in essence, my work turned out not to be very useful at all.  And definitely NOBODY would consider the 3-ring binders that I went to great pains to fill with words as “beautiful” (nor would anyone have even noticed the absence of all this paper if it had never been generated).  On the other hand, if there were suddenly no drapes in the world, THAT would most certainly be noticed!

This reminded me of an experience I had when we had just moved to Washington, DC.  We had recently seen all three of Preston Jones’s Texas Trilogy plays.  We were at a party and were chatting with a psychiatrist from New York City and the plays came up.  He said he had seen one of them, but that he found the characters unrealistic.  We, on the other hand, having grown up in Texas and sharing DNA with folks who were just like the characters in the play, felt that they were absolutely realistic.  But this guy, who hadn’t ventured very far from NYC, wasn’t any less provincial than folks back in Texas who had never gotten more than 100 miles from where they grew up.  That was an eye-opener for me – no matter how supposedly sophisticated the place you live may be, you can be just as provincial as anybody else.  And, no surprise, the plays got mixed reviews in NYC!


 …when the local news includes stories like two guys getting into a fight, and one of them stabbed the other with a power tool.  One time when I was there, a guy had gone down to Judice’s Market and stolen some boudain (a kind of Cajun sausage), and even that made the news.  Must have been a slow news day….  But I’m pretty sure that if I had shared this with that NYC psychiatrist, he would have thought I was making it up.


One of my Facebook friends mentioned how horrid traffic can be in the Washington, DC, area.  Just to see how DC ranks with the rest of the US, I checked out the statistics and, unbelievably, of the top 10 cities, DC is not at the top of the list!  In fact, it just barely made the list—it’s #9!  Another thing that astounded me was that Houston didn’t even make the top 10 at all!!  This alone makes me doubt the validity of this particular list.  I was just in Houston, and the traffic was wretched!  But, on second thought, the thing that scared me the most was that folks were going well over 70 mph, with less than a car length between them.  I guess if you’re going 70 mph, that’s not really a traffic jam after all.  In fact, if all the drivers in Houston actually followed what all of us were taught in driver’s ed—which is to leave one car length between you and the car ahead of you for each 10 mph of speed—drivers in Houston wouldn’t even be able to get out of their driveways, because there’s just not enough road to allow that!

1. Los Angeles
2. Honolulu
3. San Francisco
4. Austin
5. New York
6. Bridgeport, Conn.
7. San Jose
8. Seattle
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Boston

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I’ve been through this airport lots of times since 2002, and have always been overwhelmed with its size, so I thought I’d check out the statistics to see whether it’s just that I’m a country bumpkin and haven’t seen that many airports, or whether the sucker really is huge.  Well, I may be a country bumpkin, but, in fact, this thing is gargantuan!  The airport covers 136 acres.  It’s the 3rd busiest in Europe (after Heathrow and De Gaulle) and the 11th busiest worldwide.  In 2012, more than 57.5 MILLION passengers went through this airport, with 488,242 airplane movements (i.e., take-offs and landings – presumably at a 1:1 ratio).  It serves more international destinations than any other airport on the planet – 224 destinations within 113 countries.  You can truly come in at one gate and walk a mile before reaching your next gate.  So, when you arrive at Gate C-24 and see that your connecting flight leaves from Gate Z‑58, you’re really, really glad that you have 2 hours to get there, and are relieved to get there 30 minutes before boarding time (and this with the help of those moving sidewalks and walking just as fast as your 68-year-old legs can carry you).


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’