If you grow up in the Maryland suburbs, there is an unwritten rule: You do not go to Virginia. There are any number of legitimate reasons for this, whether you prefer to cite Civil War history, or merely the stark incompatibility of state mottos: Virginia is for lovers; Maryland, as we know, is for crabs. We like it that way.
But, primarily, we do not go to Virginia because we don’t know how to get there. Or, perhaps more important, how to get back. By adulthood, we learn one thing about Virginia: How to get to the airport. In fact, your first drive to the airport is a rite of passage. (And possibly a different column. One that I will write as soon as I learn how to get there.)
People from out of town do not understand the Virginia Moratorium. When “Newbies” move to D.C. (a “Newbie” being anyone who wasn’t born here), they first live in the city, usually on Capitol Hill, where they work, make friends and socialize. And then, when they tire of the stresses of city living, they move to Virginia. After which they are never heard from again. It is therefore a rarity for me to say I know someone who lives in Virginia, who does in fact make it across the bridge with some regularity for both work and play. (It’s possible that she doesn’t really live in Virginia. I can’t be certain, because I’ve never been there to check up on her.)
Here today via ham radio is my special guest, Leslie Pietrzyk, novelist, teacher, blogger and former Iowan (i.e., Newbie).
Me: How long have you lived in the D.C. area, Leslie?
Leslie: More than 22 years.
Marylanders live in fear of crossing the 14th St. Bridge by mistake, and you went there on purpose. Why didn’t you settle in Maryland or D.C. instead?
Leslie: Common sense. I wanted my garbage picked up now and then and my electricity to stay on during sunny days.
Me: Hahaha! You mean there are places where the power works consistently? I don’t believe you. You may as well know that people from Maryland avoid going to Virginia because we know that if we drive over one of those bridges, that’s where the Earth becomes flat, and we will actually fall off the other side.
Leslie: Now I know why my friends who live in Maryland and D.C. never come to see me. And now you know why the one who did venture out here never returned.
Me: Either that or the police should start digging in your backyard. (Movie trailer: “She will keep you in Virginia … No matter what.”)
How often do you come to Bethesda, and what are your impressions? Because even though my impressions of Virginia were formed by not going there, I expect you to give me a reasoned perspective on Maryland based on actual experience.
Leslie: Well, when I go to Maryland, it’s usually Bethesda, so I guess it’s my favorite place that isn’t Baltimore or the Eastern Shore, or that isn’t the Bob Evans outside Frederick that I once stopped at the morning after a horrific snowstorm that forced me to stay overnight in Breezewood, Penn.
Me: So, basically, Bethesda is your favorite Maryland destination, besides Bob Evans on the highway and all the other Maryland destinations you’ve visited. High praise!
Leslie: There are a lot of great restaurants in Bethesda, some of which I prefer to Bob Evans. And the downtown area offers parking that isn’t parallel parking (yes, I had to parallel park at some point to get a driver’s license, but just that once. I don’t parallel park. Ever.).
Me: About the parallel parking: We’ll talk. Any other issues you think we should be aware of?
Leslie: When it comes to the street layout, I don’t understand the organizational system—if you can call it that. I’m pretty sure one of those great restaurants is on a Brigadoon-like street that I won’t see again for 100 years. What’s so terrible about a grid?
Once when I was out with a friend who was visiting from out of town, we had lunch at Jaleo, and I had to drop him off at the house where he was staying. He managed to direct me to the house—I remember a creek? Trees? Downed power lines?—but I had to find my own way out. Thank God for River Road, lifeline to the Beltway. That experience made me appreciate the Beltway, which certainly doesn’t happen every day.
Me: True, there may be streets in Bethesda you won’t see again for 100 years. And probably when you do find them, a new restaurant will have opened there anyway. And there won’t be any parking. But at least you’ll know what year it is. In Virginia, there are places where people think it’s still 1860. (Civil War re-enactors, hold your fire! I’m talking about the people who think it’s really still 1860.)
Anything else you think we should know about?
Leslie: I teach at the Bethesda Writer’s Center. As I was on my way there, zipping along GW Parkway the other night, going 65 and being passed often, I might add—I realized that I can’t think of a single road in Montgomery County where one can really drive—fast—in a beautiful, curvy, car-commercial setting. Where do you guys go to drive when you have a new car? I bet you come over to Virginia…
Me: Funny you should mention that, because every time I see reckless drivers on River Road, they have Virginia plates… Seriously, though. You’re asking where I go to drive at high rates of speed I’m sure you don’t mean “above the posted limit,” because I would never, ever be caught—I mean, I’d never do that.
So, once you slow down (read: get caught by the speed camera on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase for the third time), do you have trouble parking? Have you ever been trapped in a parking garage? Would you appreciate on-site entertainment in that situation?
Anything you think might help improve the parking experience?
Leslie: I like the 10-hour meters by the Writer’s Center. But that garage by all the restaurants is like a NASCAR outpost … which, yes, haha, should make a Virginian feel more at home, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with suburbanites whipping around corners in giant SUVs, even if they are hybrids.
Me: So you’ve figured out where it is that we can speed…
Since you mentioned NASCAR (which, let’s face it, is much more Virginia than Maryland), let’s talk about guns. I understand they put them in Cracker Jack boxes there.
Leslie: Come on … isn’t that better than those dopey temporary tattoos that have infiltrated Cracker Jack? And imagine the excitement in Breakfast at Tiffany’s if Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard had walked into Tiffany’s with a gun instead of that little ring!
Me: That’s a compelling argument.
You’ve been practicing a stealth campaign, trying to get friends to move to Virginia. Do you ever mention proximity to the airport? Isn’t that the primary reason to live in Virginia? Which means the best reason to live there is … so that one can leave easily?)
Leslie: I’m going to the airport tonight, as a matter of fact. And I could go to the other airport in Virginia, if I wanted to. Whereas you, dear friend, would tumble off the other side of the flat earth if you were to drive over here. Bummer. At least the parking garage at BWI is pretty nice.
Me: Okay then: What’s your most effective argument for moving to Virginia?
Leslie: So far the offer of meeting me daily for coffee hasn’t worked. I may start proposing booze, which would be more of a morning jumpstart. And boxes of Cracker Jack. Once someone drove over and said she really liked my neighborhood cheese shop (Cheestique in Del Ray/Alexandria). I’ll call that a victory.
Me: I see: We should move to Virginia for the cheese. And wine. And guns and speeding.
Taken together, a great combination.
Thanks for talking with me today, Leslie. I’m putting a “Maryland is for Crabs” T-shirt in the mail to you for being such a good sport. Remember, also, that while Maryland is for crabs, Bethesda is for short-term parking.