DC to US: Leave us alone

Tuesday - 12/10/2013, 2:00am EST

Uncle Sam turned out to be a pretty nice (not to mention smart) boss when the government announced that agencies in the D.C. area would be closed today. That decision came on the heels of Monday's two-hour delayed arrival announcement.

In both of these cases, Uncle Sam is actually the director of the Office of Personnel Management, Katherine Archuleta, who, after consulting dozens of experts and transit authorities, makes the delayed-entry or government- closed call.

Because of the potential for bad PR or even ridicule, it is one of the toughest decisions the boss has to make. Period.

Our winter wimpery may rattle your snowshoes in Minneapolis, Fargo or Chicagoland, and that's fine. But it's a fact of life here when we have snow, followed by an ice storm. Folks in Atlanta and St. Louis know something about that.

To hear feds in other parts of the country, they soldier on, a la Valley Forge, no matter what. Snow drifts are for plowing. People know how to drive there. Maybe so. But the D.C. area is different.

More than 100,000 Maryland residents pour into D.C. everyday to work. The same for folks crossing the Potomac (on too few bridges) from Virginia. By the same token, thousands of Marylanders work at the Pentagon and CIA in Virginia, and thousands of Virginians do the daily commute to jobs at the NSA, National Institutes of Health, Social Security and other Maryland-based operations.

About 18,000 commute, many by train, from West Virginia to the D.C. area. Lots of others come from Maryland's Eastern Shore. No wonder we have the worst traffic and some of the angriest drivers in the nation.

We have thousands of short-time (and some long-time) transplants who may have been heck on wheels in Milwaukee or Boston, but who fall apart here on our up-and-down terrain with its traffic circles designed to prevent another French Revolution.

We also have tens of thousands of residents from places where it never snows. And there is the diplomatic corps whose members sometimes take shortcuts.

From the air, D.C. in summertime looks like the Amazon rain forest. We have lots of trees. In winter, the leaves go away but during an ice storm many of the trees go boom! As in across the road.

A friend and I once pushed Sen. Ted Kennedy's car (with him in it) out of a snowpile on 29th Street in Georgetown.

D.C. is fair game, anytime, beyond the Beltway. But especially when it snows. A few years back President Obama had fun, at the city's expense, following a light dusting of snow. He said something like "they" closed the schools here, something that wouldn't have happened in Chicago. The problem is that city public schools were not closed that day. But many private schools, including the one where his children go, did shut down. Better safe than sorry.

D.C. has a high population density of well-paid, well-educated people. Like less well-paid, well-educated parents, they love their kids and want only the best for them. Unlike their poorer, less-educated citizens outside the gated community, however, this group is ready, willing, able and prepared to sue at the drop of a hat if they think their kid has been short-changed. No surprise that one of the first jurisdictions to make the schools-closed call for Monday was Fairfax County, Va., one of the nation's most affluent.

Lots of people here — feds too — must work no matter what the weather conditions. That's just the way it is. I suspect many of them feel the way I do. Wish I could be off, but since I can't, the reduced traffic is a blessing.

Maybe one of these days the OPM director can convince the White House and the nation's media outlets to change the foul weather formula. That way when we have a blizzard, media types, lawyers and lobbyists could stay home.

Imagine what life, your life, would be like if you had to go a day or two without updates on the economy, unemployment, nonevents in Iran, Republicans blasting Democrats or the marital status of the Kardashians.

I think it's worth a shot. Meantime, I've got a sidewalk to clear and trees to fell.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Daniel Sickles, a U.S. congressman, became the first person in the U.S. to use the temporary insanity defense in 1859, after he shot Philip Barton Key — the son of the composer of the "Star Spangled Banner" — over the latter's affair with Sickles' wife. The defense was successful and Sickles was acquitted.