Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘dc’ Category

Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear

In dc, event, historical, inspiration, performance, photo op, politics, recommended on October 31, 2010 at 10:01 pm

The Rally To Restore Sanity, held by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, and the March to Keep Fear Alive, hosted by Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report, collided on the National Mall Saturday. Attendance estimates range from 215,000 to 250,000 people, all of whom conducted themselves with moderate enthusiasm. (Buh dump chh.) Though the pacing of the three-hour-long event was inconsistent, the great positive energy of the crowd and the raison d’etre of the rally made it an overall success.

The guest list was extensive, eclectic and generally crowd-pleasing. As an opening act, the Mythbusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman conducted experiments on The Wave and seismic tremors with their largest sample size ever. Sam Waterston delivered an amusing poem penned by Colbert, bookended by Law & Order’s famous “dunk dunk.” Musical acts included John Legend and the Roots, who provided backup throughout the rally; Tony Bennett; Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, performing a brand new and under-rehearsed tear-jerker; and a disappointing set by Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy. The best set was a dueling trio: Yusuf Islam sang a moving rendition of Peace Train; Ozzy Osbourne screamed and leered his way through Crazy Train; and the O’Jays, clad in matching white suits, brought both ends of the musical spectrum together with Love Train.

The weather was sunny yet pleasantly cool, the crowd’s age demographic surprisingly broad and race demographic homogeneously Caucasian. Most impressively, the throng comported itself with, well, moderation. Extremists from both ends of the spectrum stayed home, allaying my fears of screaming slogans and vicious signs. Arguing, complaining, and even fidgeting were kept to a minimum. The only animus shown throughout the rally came from the people in the cheap seats, who repeatedly sent up chants of “Louder! Louder!” until the microphone system was turned up.

Stewart was an capable ringmaster, handling himself expertly both as a professional and as a comic. Many segments of the rally mimicked Sesame Street parables, with Stewart teaching Colbert that, say, not all Muslims are terrorists and not all robots are evil, aided by the onstage appearances of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and R2D2. Stewart even sang an educational duo with Colbert. Entitled “There’s No One More American Than Me,” the song celebrated the right of all citizens to be patriotic, and gave shout-outs to everyone “from gay men who like football to straight men who like Glee.” The repartee between the two men often grew tiresome, though, and by the end of the rally, with Colbert’s fear finally defeated, I was not sad to see him leave the stage.

Stewart’s closing keynote was the most serious moment of the afternoon, but also the most meaningful. He spoke calmly and passionately about the need for moderation and thoughtful reasoning, not abject, irrational fear, in today’s society, quipping that “we live in hard times, but we do not live in the end of times.” The audience hung on his every word. Although Stewart did not prescribe methods of achieving this moderation as we move forward, the sheer fact that so many people from so many places turned out for his cause deserves great commendation.

For more photos of the rally, check out the Flickrstream of my buddy Andy Richardson, whose seat was much more VIP than mine.


You Got A Right: A Gospel Tribute to the Supreme Court

In blog, dc, funny, geek, politics on May 31, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I have had the honor of guest writing for the blog of my dear friend Scott Austin. Blog! The Musical takes that age-old truism to heart: everything is better as a musical. I drew inspiration for my new musical comedy from the battle over Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, heating up now in Washington. Here’s a first look at my submission!

You Got A Right: A Gospel Tribute to the Supreme Court

Act I

It is 2009, and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has hired only one clerk for the Court’s term. The clerk is studious and ambitious, and dreams of becoming a Supreme Court Justice herself one day. On the clerk’s first day of work, she approaches Stevens at his desk and asks him why he has chosen so little help this year. He confides that he will leave the Court this term. He laments his departure after many years of service, but reaffirms that he’s made the correct decision (“Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen”). The clerk protests that the liberal wing of the Court will have no leader without Stevens, but he will not be moved.

That night, the clerk tosses and turns in bed. Unable to understand Stevens’ decision, she questions her own ambitions to join the Court. The spirit of Justice Sonia Sotomayor visits her, to warn her of the challenges to come for liberals on the Court, but also to remind her not to give up on her dream of becoming a Justice just yet. Sotomayor offers to show the clerk the real Supreme Court, to remind her to follow her passion. Together, they sing “Rock-A My Court,” as they fly into the air and travel to the Supreme Court’s inner chamber. The spirits of Chief Justice John Roberts and the other seven justices greet them at the bench and introduce themselves (“This Little Court of Mine”). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg steps forward and, together with Sotomayor, appeal to the clerk to become the third woman on the bench (“Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”). While the idea of female camaraderie is certainly appealing, the whole Court agrees that the powerful, fence-sitting Justice Anthony Kennedy controls tough split decisions on the Court (“He’s Got The Whole Court In His Hands”). The clerk is lured away from Sotomayor by the soulful descant solos of Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, and by Kennedy’s promises of influence and fame. Sotomayor protests, but is powerless to stop her. The curtain closes as the clerk walks into the open arms of Kennedy, who hurries her away.

Act II

The second act opens with Justice Clarence Thomas’s silent interpretive dance in the empty court room (“I Shall Not Be Moved”). The clerk enters with Kennedy and Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative leader on the Court. She listens as Scalia counsels her that there “Ain’t No Statute High Enough” to stop the Court’s conservative wing. To drive his point home, Scalia conjures sad scenes of justices past, first of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at her husband’s deathbed, and then of Justice David Souter sitting alone in a cottage in the backwoods of New Hampshire, singing to his woodland friends (“Run, O’Connor, Run / Go Tell It On The Mountain”). Horrified at the way former justices have fallen, the clerk is about to give up her dream when Sotomayor reappears. She is furious at the seductive reasoning of the court’s right wing and tears the clerk away, reminding her that “There Is A Balm In Washington,” and that she must not give up hope. With the conservatives gone, the liberal justices join together in a candlelight vigil to appeal, quietly but forcefully, to the power of the White House in the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings for Stevens’s replacement (“Obama, Row The Court Ashore”).

Suddenly, the conservative justices reenter, sporting gang colors. They are incensed, and challenge the liberal justices to a dance-off. An all-out battle begins (“Roe v. Wade In The Water”), with the justices showing off their break dancing and beat boxing skills in a hip-hop remix of the classic gospel number. The liberals’ skills are strong, but without the street-savvy stylings of Stevens, they aren’t strong enough, and the conservatives gain the upper hand. The clerk is knocked to the ground by Scalia’s airchair pose, and wakes in her own bed. It was all a dream! Imbued with the drive to aid the fight for justice and the will to serve her country, she marches out to face a new day (“How Great Thou Art (Ode to the Supreme Court)”).

For more parodies like this one, check out The Capitol Steps.

Tabard Inn

In brunch, dc, recommended, restaurant on August 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

The Tabard Inn, located in the heart of DC’s posh Dupont Circle, is a cozy hearkening back to the colonial era. The exterior is unassumingly pretty and wreathed in flowers. Inside, the dark, wood-paneled lounge exudes a quiet, rustic elegance, with mismatched paintings of early US presidents and carvings of eagles. Shaded lamps and wall lights cocked at odd angles exude soft lighting; squashy sofas and armchairs abound.

The restaurant of the Tabard Inn is scattered throughout several cheery rooms, with an open courtyard tucked in the back. A sheer multicolored awning drapes over the patio, where you can lounge away a Sunday morning with drinks and dining partners. Brunch, the restaurant’s most popular meal of the week, is heralded by a bread basket, proportioned to the size of your party, and piled high with savory muffins, olive bread, and a light and airy focaccia that’s packed with veggies.

The Tabard Inn features clean, fresh ingredients that hold their own shape and flavor, giving each dish surprising taste and texture combinations. The savory tart, a stand-out, is a birthday-cake sized slice of pastry, striated into delicate layers of crab, corn, asparagus and onions. The tart falls apart beautifully as you cut into it. The traditional Eggs Benedict are, mercifully, not too liberal with the Hollandaise, allowing the creamy flavor to just play on your taste buds. For heartier fare, the omelet with Hens of the Forest mushrooms and Brie has a precocious bitter bite, and is served with chunks of hash browns and a flaky biscuit.

For those with a sweet tooth, the vanilla brioche French toast is a scrumptious choose-your-own-adventure. Topped with peach-berry compote, and served with pots of clotted cream and intensely flavorful maple syrup on the side, the dish beckons with many possible taste combinations.

With the liberal brunch portions, you won’t need dessert, but the menu is quite tempting. Our server recommended the coconut carrot cake as one of the best desserts on the menu. Artfully presented, the cake matches the coconut and carrot flavors together well. The icing is good but not great, and the accompanying white chocolate macadamia nut ice cream, served in an inventive pastry crust, is overkill. The cake would be better paired with a simple French vanilla, or for a zingy surprise, a raspberry or lemon sorbet.The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu choices rotate regularly, but the menu always maintains a few staples. Dress is casual but classy. Reservations, at least a week in advance, are strongly recommended, though if you get your name on the waiting list right when the restaurant opens, your wait shouldn’t be obscene.



In dc, dessert, ice cream, street food on August 2, 2009 at 8:59 pm
If you live in any large city, you’ll know that frozen yogurt is now chic. A slough of competing franchises have popped up in recent years, all offering antiseptic, funky plastic interiors, a sparse menu of yogurt choices, and a wide array of mix-and-match toppings.

Tangysweet, located in DC’s Dupont Circle, opened just over a year ago, and is now a well-known destination spot on a hot summer day. Two days ago, Tangysweet introduced cupcakes by Red Velvet Cupcakery to its menu. I thought I’d go check it out.

As with any upscale fro-yo establishment, the best Tangysweet yogurt flavor is the original, or “classic”; other flavors are too syrupy sweet. Tangysweet’s classic is, well, tangy and sweet, with a crisp flavor to savor. The frozen dessert is so stiff that it peaks in a towering tip of classic soft-serve swirl. The yogurt melts slowly and stubbornly in your mouth, letting you savor the taste. More than a dozen possible toppings include smashed Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Gummi Bears, and mini chocolate chips. Chopped fruit and berries pair well with the tart of the yogurt, while sweet granola adds crunch. No matter what your choice of toppings, this is one good treat.

Photo courtesy of soon 2B sonju.

The new cupcakes are luscious. They fit nicely in the palm of your hand, the perfect size to satisfy your mouth while not overloading your stomach or your insulin levels. The cake is sinfully moist, and pairs exquisitely with the icing, smoothed elegantly in a rounded dome and dotted with a few well-placed sprinkles. The red velvet cupcake with whipped cream cheese frosting is as good as any I’ve had, with the light crunch of a crusty exterior shell giving way to rich, creamy icing. The Red Velvet Cupcakery has outdone itself.

Photo courtesy of Delleicious DC.

The one caveat to this new partnership of two delicious treats, is that the two products do not play well together. The light freshness of the yogurt is overpowered by the dense, full-flavored cupcake. The yogurt is positively disappointing if you eat it after the cupcake, the icing too heavy and mouth-filling if you eat it after the yogurt. Stick to one choice per visit. You’ll just have to come back another time.

Subways of the Eastern Seaboard

In boston, dc, nyc on July 30, 2009 at 10:48 pm

New York City, NY

This melting pot of a city has a melting pot of a transportation system. No two stations of the New York subway system are alike. Each stop reflects its neighborhood, through mosaics, statues, graffiti and type of passenger. Some stations are clean and prissy, others gnarled and rusted. Tunnels twist like rabbit warrens. Construction is unending. Trash, advertisements, and performance artists are ubiquitous. The large station hubs (Union Square, Times Square) collect many trains, jumble them up, and send you hurtling off in all directions to look for your connecting line.

The passengers, like the station stops, are anything and everything. Tourists with frosted hair and fake designer bags congregate at Canal Street and Times Square. Men in designer suits overload the train early each morning down by Wall Street. In Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side, hipsters in cigarette pants, retro Chuck Berry glasses and fanciful hairdos are so cool, they don’t have to look to know where they get off. In the outer boroughs, passenger demographics shift according to neighborhood; you can become a minority within just a few subway stops. Homeless men stretch across rows of seats, swaddled in plastic bags and dirty blankets, fending off passengers with their smell. Buskers, everything from barbershop quartets to mariachi bands to high school boys selling fund-raising candy, ply their wares from car to car.

All the New York subway trains are tall, thin and made of rattling silver metal. The interiors sport bright plastic seats, but leave enough room to pack in passengers like sardines. If you get a car alone, usually late at night or at the very front or back of a train, there’s enough space to use the silver poles as monkey bars, or to practice your exotic dancing. New, more high-tech cars, with shinier metal and brighter paint, now blink station names and subway lines at you from electronic displays. Even the subway cars take part in the quintessential New York quest for self-improvement and distinction, no matter what the cost.

Washington, D.C.

All work and no play characterize the metro system of our nation’s capitol. Unlike New York City’s subway, which has been a patchwork work-in-progress since the turn of the twentieth century, Washington, D.C.’s metro system was constructed in the 1970s, all at once. As a result, all the stations and all the trains look exactly the same, barring the names on the station signs and a token piece of art or two. The grey concrete vaulted ceilings are high, majestic, and methodical. The cars are white and clean, with runner carpets and lots of cushioned seating.

The system brims with amenities and helpful hints. Electric signs on the platform flash the color and arrival time of the next four or five trains. Rows of red lights blink on the sides of the tracks when a train approaches. A friendly female voice instructs you periodically on the proper procedures for dealing with suspicious packages. Still, for all these niceties, the metro is unforgiving. If the train doors close on your clothing, bag or body part, they won’t open again like elevator doors. You’re clamped in until the next station stop. (The friendly female voice tells you that, too.)

DC’s passengers fall into broad categories, all of which share a propensity for unfortunate fashion choices. Government employees tromping to work pair gym sneakers or flip flops with tailored business suits. Battalions of tourists deck themselves out in matching neon shirts and tend to shout instructions down the car. Although the homeless population seems larger, or at least more visible, in DC than in New York, you won’t find any buskers or beggars below ground. Busking, along with eating and drinking, is prohibited in the metros, and the rules are strictly enforced.

Remember to keep your metro card after you swipe into a station (you’ll need it to swipe out as well), and to keep it away from your cell phone (the card will demagnetize.) But the most important rule of all? Stand right, walk left. God help you if you stand on the wrong side of the escalator in this town.

Boston, MA

Boston’s subway system feels like an old wharf. The T is weather-worn, battle-scarred, beaten by the sea and salt air for decades. The walls are a rough stucco, the paint peeling. The metro tunnels are dark and dank, intermittently lit by bare orange bulbs, revealing scattered pipes, gears and coils of ropes. A mothball smell permeates the air, in keeping with the centuries of history which Boston boasts.

In a unique move, Boston’s subway cars vary by location. Traditional long caravans of cars wind and shudder underground, while a funny-looking caboose of two short cars connected by an accordion seal ferries passengers jerkily to their stops above ground. Plastic seats, like those in New York, are not numerous; carpeting, like that in DC, makes the car feel homey. Large windows and full glass doors let you watch the world glide by. No matter how antique the system may feel, it’s certainly not going anywhere; the rechargeable CharlieCards are good until 2019.

The T’s passengers have neither the fierce individual styles of New York City, nor the staid work ethic of DC. The riders are of one mold here: easy-going, unpretentious and New England sensible. They are a people comfortable in their own skins, strong in their convictions, whether political (left-wing) or religious (Boston Red Sox.) Intellectuals with messenger bags and glasses abound. More focused on school than style, shaggy-haired boys and girls sport buttons and logo shirts for political causes and anarchic bands. Conversations vacillate between peaceful calm and a lively murmur, punctuated by the rattling of the tracks below you. As you descend the train, consider yourself lucky that the T no longer charges a five cent surcharge for going above ground; and say a prayer for old Charlie, namesake of the CharlieCard, who wasn’t as lucky.

Founding Farmers

In american, dc, restaurant on July 17, 2009 at 10:28 am

Find yourself longing to be down home on the family farm again, but don’t want to leave the luxuries to which you’ve become accustomed in the big city? Head over to Founding Farmers, a chic take on Americana.

Located at 1924 Pennsylvania Avenue, Founding Farmers takes classic American fare and dresses it up. The portions are hearty and huge, and the extensive menu features something for everyone. The restaurant’s draw is its commitment to sustainability and green living: all the fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and dairy products served in the restaurant come from local, independent family farmers.

The restaurant is clean and modern with huge windows. The interior features dark wood and feels like a farmhouse. Bare glass bulbs are suspended in a line above long wooden tables, perhaps once made of rough-hewn pine boards, now shiny with varnish. Luminescent cotton clouds swath overhead lighting, in a modern tribute to the prairie sky. Large glass jars of pickles, peppers and tomatos, soaking in brine, line the shelves and walls surrounding you.

The food tastes like it was made in a bright country kitchen by a strong, substantive woman using a large knife. Appetizers include warm corn bread, full of surprisingly sweet kernels, which arrives in a small cast iron skillet with whipped butter. A sextet of devilled eggs are filled with mashed lobster, crab, and salmon; the three seafood fillings are chunky and light, a nice departure from mayonnaise-laden picnic fare.

Salads incorporate creative ingredients like caramelized onions and dried figs. The seventeen vegetable salad comes in a hefty glass mixing bowl, fit for two people or several rabbits. The late harvest salad showcases good, strong flavors, but risks being overpowered by an unyielding bleu cheese. Stick to a half-portion of greens, and leave room for the stick-to-your-ribs entrees. A surprising array of traditional country standards, including short ribs, meat loaf, pot roast, pork chop, and several cuts of steak, all make appearances on the menu. Salmon, marinated in either apricot-infused maple syrup or an herb-lemon glaze, is served on a birchwood trencher. The outstanding grilled cheese sandwich features gooey Gruyere and Vermont white cheddar, which stretch into strings as high as an elephant’s eye. The thick toast of the sandwich is buttered, chock full of grains, and delightfully bitter.

If Founding Farmers occasionally misses the mark, it is when the cuisine strays too far from comfort food and heads into the realm of DC cocktail party fare. The bacon-wrapped dates, too large to fit into your mouth and too complicated to bite in half, are mushy and bloated with an overly-acidic feta cheese. The candied bacon lollis sound innovative, but come out as your basic chunk of meat on a stick. That said, the bacon itself, like all the meats at Founding Farmers, is great: thick, hearty, and never crispy or flabby.

Polish off your meal with the famous doughnuts, or a giant slice of cake with ice cream. The multi-layered carrot cake is pocked with plump sultanas and robed in velvety cream cheese frosting. The red velvet cake (also with cream cheese frosting) and the yellow cake (with chocolate) are similarly oversized, reminiscent of down-home drug store treats. To bring you home, order black coffee and sip while you soften into your chair and think of home.

The Star-Spangled Banner

In dc, historical, museum on July 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm

The National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, recently reopened after extensive renovations. One of its most famous pieces, the giant “star-spangled banner” made famous by Francis Scott Key, has been treated to a complete makeover. Too fragile to ever hang again, the flag now lies on display in the solid, smart exhibit, “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem.”

The exhibit begins, as many popular Smithsonian exhibits do, with a long line. Don’t let the wait put you off: the line moves quickly. A darkened ramp acts as both crowd control and excitement-builder as it leads upwards into the blackness. One side of the ramp’s hall is lined with a mass of information, covering the buildup to the Battle of Baltimore on September 14, 1814, and Key’s subsequent penning of the Star-Spangled Banner.

As you turn the corner, the flag comes into view and takes your breath away. This flag is HUGE, measuring at thirty by thirty-four feet, cut down over the years from its original thirty by forty-two feet. The enormous banner is luminescent in the black room, accentuating its size. The darkness imparts a sense of spectacle, and the awe which Key must have felt, spotting the flag in the breaking dawn.

The most unique feature of the exhibit is an interactive viewing station: a giant screen displaying a slowly shifting image of the flag, located at the end of the exhibition hall. By touching the screen, you can control how the flag moves. As well, you can open various tabs of historical information by touching blinking circles on the screen. The display is a little difficult to decipher, but a good effort on the Smithsonian’s part to incorporate new media and a younger generation into its exhibitions.

The outgoing ramp features the history of the flag’s maker, Mary Pickersgill, and her lineage. Fascinating photos of how the flag was preserved and displayed over the centuries hang above various artifacts, including a fabulous silver punch bowl shaped like a British mortar, with matching cups and ladle. In a final burst of patriotic fervor, the importance of the American flag and “The Star-Spangled Banner” through the ages are highlighted with a montage of famous individuals and groups singing the anthem.

“The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem” is simple, direct, and focused, qualities which often elude the Smithsonian Institute in its quest to successfully impart its gigantic store of artifacts and knowledge to the public. This is one Smithsonian exhibit worth checking out.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden: A Poem

In dc, event, jazz, music on July 13, 2009 at 10:04 pm

Bodies recline on a mess of blankets, towels, a tablecloth.
We crowd for space,
Bump shoulders gently,
Pass homemade cobbler and plastic cups.
Grass presses its indentations into elbows and knees.
Crisply-pressed button-down shirts crease softly into spider legs.
Feet twitch slightly at imagined tickles and bites from bobbing fruit flies.
Long hair glints in the setting sun.
Red wine spills on a cotton dress.

The wine is cheap, the talk easy,
flowing like the last of the Cabernet into your open mouth.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden is held every Monday in the summer from 5 to 8:30 pm. Head toward the National Gallery Sculpture Garden on the National Mall, & follow the crowd & the music.

From NPR News… Goes Viral!

In dc, radio, tour on July 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

My article “From NPR News…” was picked up by The Huffington Post!

Only… I can’t find it any more. 😦

Google Search has two results, from June 11 and June 16, showing a link to my article on Huffington Post’s NPR page. However, since HuffPost renews its site so often, I can’t find the original mention of my site. I’ve scoured HuffPost’s Archives page with no luck.

If anyone has any bright ideas on how to retrieve the original link, I’d be immensely grateful! (I’d love the bragging rights.)

The Legendary Half-Smoke

In dc, recommended, restaurant, street food on July 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

My dear friend and fellow blogger Rochelle recently posed the question of where to find the best hot dog on her website, Sexy Girls Eat. I tackle the issue, one which has baffled mankind through the ages, here.

Made famous by a recent visit from our current President, Ben’s Chili Bowl is located on U Street in Washington, DC. The area is historically run-down and dangerous at night, but U Street is slowly being gentrified. Ben’s Chili Bowl is a landmark there, having remained open since its debut in 1958. The tiny shack is always packed with customers who wait in a mob rather than a line; the staff is personable and takes orders rapid-fire. This past weekend, the cooks sang and danced with great gusto to Michael Jackson songs blaring on the PA.

Ben’s Chili Bowl offers many options, but their most famous dish is the half-smoke, a plump, smoky sausage that’s half beef and half pork. Order it “with everything” (chili, onions and mustard.) The half smoke packs a punch, with the mustard adding a flavorful zing. Served in red plastic baskets with tongfuls of Ruffles potato chips, this hot dog is not to be missed. (Obama thinks so, too.)

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Hawkins Online.