I dislike DC tourists. I don't dislike them as individuals, because I really don't know them. I dislike them specifically when they assume the role of "tourist" because it's a no win situation for me/us - lost, not in a hurry and clueless does not a good guest make.
Unfortunately, I'm a part of the problem. People come visit my wife and I all the time. Instead of telling them to stay home and let us work in peace, we often sweeten the deal by allowing them to stay with us for free.
The good news is that I do glean some useful information from them - I get to hear all about things they don't like or scare them. Here are five of them.
1. Low Flying Planes
What happened on 9/11 will really never not haunt people who were old enough to really remember what that day was like. A trip to New York or Washington, D.C. for someone who doesn't live in either place always means remembering what happened on that day. A heightened sense of awareness seems to be the effect generated by the acknowledgement of where you are and what happened there. This doesn't bode well for tourists who catch low flying airplanes out of the corner of their eye as they approach DCA to land.
My fat ass runs on the mall most of the time because I can't fit on the sidewalks of downtown. This means I'm amongst the tourists a lot (hence my disdain for them). If you watch carefully you'll see at least a few of them freak out the first time they see an airplane at about 2,000 feet and descending as it winds its way south down the Potomac to land at DCA.
More than a few times I've seen a tourist lose his or her shit and start grabbing their family members and pointing at a low-flying American Airlines plane as it passes behind the Washington Monument. Because they really don't have a concept of where they are geographically from the airport, the sight of the plane mixed with their heightened state of awareness panics them.
Things only get worse for those visiting the 9/11 memorial at the Pentagon as planes look like they're literally 100 feet above the eastern side of the building as they pass. It's creepy if you're not familiar with where the airport is.
My advice to you - take your friends to the mall and freak them f*ck out the first time a plane comes in low for a landing by screaming your head off. Do say "just kidding" before anyone cracks off a call to 911. This will also serve as a lesson to them about how close the airport actually is and that they can take a cab there instead of bothering you for a ride.
2. Homeless People
Every town in America has a local hobo. He's dirty, unshaven, known by everyone and keeps to himself at his studio apartment under the nearest bridge. This hobo is what the frequent modern movie caricature of homelessness is based on. Sadly, it's far from the kind of homeless talent we have in DC and most people not from around here are unprepared to deal with them.
Crazy, half naked and screaming obscenities that even Brits won't use at children is pretty much par for the course if you are making temporary residence at Lafayette Square in front of the White House. "Scared Straight" programs in your little home town don't hold a candle to the wild ass shit your kid can see only steps from the house of the most important person on Earth.
Ever had someone ask you for a dollar while they were pooping in a bucket on the sidewalk ten feet from the front door of a Pot Belly? Happens regularly at 14th and New York.
The best course of action here is tell your tourist friends not to look at, talk to, point at or otherwise acknowledge their existence. You don't know what might set them off. And for God's sake tell them not to let their children touch anything! Pocket-sized hand sanitizer can't fix what bleach is scared to take on.
3. The Price of Food
We're not New York or Hawaii, but the kind of people who vacation in DC aren't the kind of people who go to those places. They only have us as a frame of reference when it comes to the price of food, and they think it's extraordinarily expensive.
A $15 chicken sandwich does not exist in 99 percent of the United States. Travel to some place like Auburn, Alabama like I did last week and you'll see how different a world it is out there. A buddy and I ate at a BBQ joint and had probably four beers and three Maker's on the rocks (no charge for rocks) with our massive plates of food and the final bill was less than $50 with tip. We were quite thrilled at our luck, but also considered what someone from Auburn might think if they had the same meal and drinks in DC... There's no way on earth that's less than $100 without tip.
The lack of chain restaurant mainstays like Chili's, Friday's and Applebee's downtown really puts tourists at a disadvantage. If they want to sit and eat, it's going to be a crap shoot and expensive.
A place like PJ Clarke's sounds innocent enough to someone from Wisconsin. Hell, the name even follows the first rule of cheap chain restaurants - must have non-foreign sounding proper possessive noun (see three mentioned above). The cheapest thing on the menu is $16 and a family of four is out $64 before anyone even orders something to drink. That may seem cheap to you because you live here, but if you're an average Joe from Millinocket, Maine - it's a fortune and it can make a trip really suck.
I always warn people visiting to DC not to buy an "FBI" shirt on the South Lawn until after they've had lunch - you never know if you might need the cash to clear the Old Ebbitt tab. Truthfully, tourists should stick to what they know - Subway and McDonald's. I know it's not sexy, but there are no unpleasant surprises.
4. Lack of Restrooms
The excessive amount of homeless people in the area have pretty much made having large public restroom facilities outside of the Smithsonian an impossibility. I know that sounds mean, but there's years of evidence to back up the hypothesis that bums will f*ck up a bathroom in no time flat given the opportunity. Unfortunately, the biggest losers here are the tourists.
If you're outside - you're screwed when it comes to bathroom breaks. I've been to a shit-ton of national parks (shit-ton = 4) in the middle of the wilderness and they have many more bathroom options than the National Mall and the surrounding "attractions" in DC. The Smithsonian is more of a vital institution to our nation's history because it has bathrooms than it is for having the Hope Diamond.
Tourists don't really know about the bathroom situation until it's too late. The metro doesn't offer any options. Stores and restaurants want you to buy something to use theirs and most of the time the facilities are hidden on purpose. Going behind a tree is not only frowned upon, I'm pretty sure it's a federal crime. They are simply shit-out-of-luck (pun absolutely intended).
I tell people all the time - either don't drink or eat anything or carry your own bucket and pickle jar like the pros do.
5. The Weather
I've said it before - DC is one of the only places in Northern America where the claim "if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes" truly applies. It's always much hotter or much colder than anticipated by visitors.
The "five day weather forecast" is a funny little inside joke they include in each night's news broadcast in DC. I guess it's better than having the weatherman say "Tomorrow, it's going to be partly cloudy and 82. As for Wednesday... f*ck if I know, your guess is as good as mine. Back to you Roger and Pauline."
Wind, rain, snow, hot, cold - who knows? We sure as hell don't. Poor tourists wake up and see the frost on the grass outside and dress accordingly. By about 9:00 a.m. it's 85 degrees and they are sweating like pigs. The opposite can be true on any day of the year as well. It's simply not fun.
Layers are the obvious solution, but not a great one. It's DC - you're going to walk for miles and nobody likes carrying around a jacket, sweater and whatever else you had to take off the entire day because Mother Nature (like all women) can't figure out what temperature she wants it to be around here.
My advice - prepare for the worst. There's a good chance you'll be right for an hour or two every other day.