I blogged before about gaydar, so today I am blogging about “touristdar.”

What is “touristdar” you ask? Well, you can not find a definition in Wikipedia, or in a dictionary. But you know what it means: simply identifying people you see on the streets and public transit of Washington, DC, as tourists.

It is easy to identify the people who compose one of the strongest economic engines of our nation’s capital. Begin first by those who stand staring dumbfounded at the map of our Metro transit system. I, too, have stared at maps of transit systems when I have traveled somewhere. However, there seems to be an unwritten rule that one has to stare at a DC Metro map with one’s mouth agape. Honestly, I haven’t seen anyone stare at the map with their mouth closed! LOL!

Then, of course, due to the heat and humidity in August, the requisite clothing is comfort for the climate: shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops or sneakers. The vast majority of tourists are so attired. I understand why. It’s hot out there! (However, they might find hiking boots more comfortable, because, after all, they are hiking throughout the city!)

Another way to tell that you’re looking at tourists is that they travel in herds, mobs, gaggles, or clumps. Seldom do you ever see a tourist by him or herself. They are usually in groups of four: two adults, and two absolutely wrung-out, bedraggled, tired, and cranky children. The parents have that tired, wrung-out, bedraggled look about them, too. It is not easy trying to fit in visits to a million things in a few days. Pity the tourist who brings children requiring strollers on these visits. Kids that young won’t get anything out of a museum.

There truly is so much to see, much of it free, in Washington. But it’s sad that people try to fit so much in during such a short time. I hear them on the Metro complaining that they spent three hours at one of the 19 Smithsonian attractions in the city, and only saw a fraction of the one they visited. They had to waste a lot of time in lines and dodging other visitors that they had very little time to see the exhibits on display.

Finally, our tourists seem to wander without much of a plan. Then they encounter a long line somewhere, and just get in it and wait — not realizing that another equally attractive sight is open with no queue.

I will summarize with some hints from a local:

  • Plan your visit to highly visited museums and attractions late in the day. Usually groups with children are gone by then. The few attractions that charge an admission fee often give late-in-the-day discounts.
  • Use on-line tourist assistance, such as visitor’s information for the Smithsonian Institution, the Capitol Visitor’s Center, the National Park Service (most of the national Mall and its memorials are actually national park sites), the experience DC site
  • Plan visits to open-space attractions early in the morning before it gets really hot. This includes the WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial.
  • Get an on-line ticket for a tour of the U.S. Capitol via the Capitol Visitor’s Center for mid-day. Go on the tour and have lunch there in air-conditioned comfort. Lunch is cheaper there than at the Smithsonians. That is, unless you like hot dogs from street vendors.
  • Don’t bother trying to visit the White House. Tickets are scarce, and only available through a Member of Congress by writing to her or him months in advance of your visit. Then you don’t get to see much on the tour. It’s a waste of time and you can see a lot more of what the city has to offer in less time and with less trouble elsewhere. (Sorry, but you can’t just walk up to the front door of the White House, knock, and ask, “May I see Barack and Michelle?” LOL!)
  • There are 43 law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction in the city. Best boot watching is over by the Capitol Building or around the mall, especially of the Park Police Equestrian Unit. Secret Service and Park Police motorcops wear nice tall boots; most other cops — even on motorcycles — wear short tactical boots.
  • The best time to visit Washington, DC, is in October. The weather is pleasant and usually dry, and the crowds are much diminished. If you can wait, you will have a much more enjoyable visit then rather than during the oppressive summer heat of August.
  • Please, when looking at a Metro map, close you mouth.

We warmly welcome tourists which are the second-most driver of our local economy (the first being our federal government.) And have no worries, we know who you are, and look forward to showing you our nation’s treasures.

2 thoughts on “Touristdar

  1. As a recent visitor to Washing-nun and user of the DC Metro, let me tell you why it is inevitable you've got to look at the map and gape.

    Have you ever looked at the length of the names of the stations in DC? Man, if it were not for the shock by their unnecessary and irrational lenghs, which tourist would rather scrape their jaws off the floor.

    "Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarters", "New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet U", "West Falls Church-UT/UVA"? C'mon, gimme a break.

    Worse, many underground stations have awful lighting. Perhaps one way of stretching the upper and lower eye lids further apart is to drop the jaw to reduce possible lines on the face.

    For tourists, I would think that a comprehensive DC tour requires at least a month and best done if led by a knowledgeable local.

    Otherwise, you won't know the day some florist is going to adorn the entire Arlington Cemetery with wreaths and miss a great photo opportunity until you watch the evening news and realise it. And then you spend the rest of the evening hating yourself for figuring out that the Pentagon is indeed a pentagonal building and shopping at Crystal City is a wash out.

    Christmas is a nice time to go to DC too (though I may be wrong). The White House "lawn" is very well-decorated during the Christmas period. It's darn cold and the draft from the river can be spine chilling but you get to see the 49 Christmas trees laden with adornments representing each US state. (And then after that, go utterly crazy trying to find a loo cos there simply isn't one nearby.)

    My DC memories… Ha!

  2. 1. Length of names of Metro stations is politically dictated to a degree, but also geographic. Locals rely on place names to know which stop they want. But I agree, it is very confusing.

    2. There are 50 states in the United States, yet 56 trees surrounding the national Christmas tree on the elipse. The additional six trees represent the District of Columbia (Worshinun, DC); Guam; American Samoa; Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands; U.S. Virgin Islands; and my favorite: Puerto Rico.

    I agree, Christmastime is a nice time to visit, but is also a short-term high-impact tourist time, too.

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