“Large Americano, please.”


What? No. I hate iced coffee. I don’t know why they’d assume that’s what I wanted but neglected to leave it off the order. It’s like saying “A hamburger, please,” and they say “raw?” So I said no, just a large Americano. To which the barista replied:

“Iced, right?”

For a moment I thought I was still in the building where I’d been just moments before, frantically throwing items into a suitcase because I was in a hotel room that actually belonged to Anita Ekberg. (Who was taller than I expected.) You couldn’t blame me - my keycard had worked in room 702 on my floor, and when I mistakenly tried it on room 702 on the first floor (I know, I know, dream logic) I somehow transfered half my stuff there. And now Hoss-kepping was here, helping to neaten up while I apologized and Anita, lounging in bed, complained that they had started the Christmas music too early, but don’t they always?

I woke and rolled over and thought: if it was an hour, that’ll be okay. If it was three, that’ll be great. Because I had gone to bed at 12-30 and got up at 5:05. The next 15 minutes were brutally efficient; everything had been stowed and laid out the night before, so I could get ready while half-awake. Hit the road at 5:26, one minute behind schedule, and was at the airport in 15 minutes. I mean, in the airport. Wheels up and off and out:

If you are so inclined to watch this sort of thing, here’s one minute of landing in Washington DC, all the monuments arrayed before. It’s at 2X speed.

Landing at National from James Lileks on Vimeo.

I slept but 20 minutes on the plane, so I was still beat, but jazzed as well. Different hotel this time, another silly Kimpton, but I like it better. Not as purple and 70s as the website suggested. Since I was unready to sleep, and it was but 11 AM, why not go to the National Gallery? It’s only a mile and a half.

The Mall has been allowed to revert to pasture, and is heaped with dung:

If you know a museum reasonably well, it’s a meeting of old friends. Hello, Lorenzo. Ah, Sandy, how you’ve been. Piet! You’re looking calm. None of it ages; the pictures are magic mirrors and the sculptures unnervingly permanent replications of evaporated flesh.

This guy must have been insufferable.

After a while I was knackered, though, and the fatigue bit deep. Staggered back to the hotel, remembering the DC experience: hot, hot, sweating, shirt soaked, sheet of freon on my back as soon after entering the building. Laid down. Tried to still the bees in my head. Dreams, Ekberg, and so on. Woke. Looked at the clock: if it was an hour, that’ll be okay.

It was almost three.

So now I’m at Starbucks, drinking iced coffee - really, it’s delicious! - and getting ready to finish a piece that’s due at the paper today. It’s P street, which stands for Parade of Precious HiPsters, and even though that word is played out they abound here. Nothing is more laughable than a DC Hipster. Also lots of smart young people who came here from small towns to fasten like a remora on the great whale’s skin. More later, but I can’t imagine what. This is the same as last time: book party, panel, dinner afterwards, off the next day at 10 PM. After which it’ll already be Wednesday! I’m liking this week, a lot.

More so than I did three hours ago.

LATER Sitting at the hotel bar next to a couple who speaks perfect vernacular English but switches to Russian in private conversations. So, spies. Or diplomats. But I repeat myself! It’s DC, and that’s what you get here. Exciting, vibrant, romantically multi-cultural, as we used to say. Although after several walks in my old “stomping grounds,” which had no actual ground to speak of, only hard surfaces that did not reward “stomping” but in fact repaid it with malice in the form of sore feet, I am convinced again that this is one of the dullest cities in America, architecturally. Almost every building is a squandered opportunity. Zoning rules prevent tall buildings, so everything is squat and broad. Now and then a building take advantage of the severe classical vocabulary, but it’s just silly:

That column isn’t holding anything up. It’s trapped and ornamental, a gesture to history that demonstrates how much it doesn’t understand.

Here are some more pictures because you just can’t get enough futzed-up shots of impassive statuary, can you?



For supper I wanted a fast hamburger, and I’d passed a Fast Casual joint I’d never seen before. Bolt Burgers. The menu looked good, and since I’m interested in chains and new franchises, I thought this would be a sociological lesson as well as supper. (And I really did not want to go to a nice sit-down place today, because it’s crawling with Mother’s Day traffic.) When I walked in, I hesitated. Steps down to a below-grade eating area, spacious enough but cavernous, with THE RADIO PLAYING LOUD. About four patrons. No reason for the radio to be loud. The decor was burger-obligatory: red and white. Somehow that’s supposed to give us a classic / diner / classy vibe, and really, you can’t argue. Ketchup. Who’d want to eat at a burger joint that was blue and grey? Well, I would, if it was called Bleu, maybe, and you were supposed to think of the cheese instead of the hue of the flies who settle on bad meat.

A cheerful waitress explained how it worked! I could go over to the Self-Serve kiosk and enter my order with my table number, which was stamped on a circle in the middle of the table, or she could take it. I gave her my order, and said I just wanted water to drink. She brought over a glass and I went to the 200+ options Coke Machine, only to find that the “water” was Dasani. Now. You may think I’m odd here, but if the water is branded I assume that I have paid extra for it, and this “water” cup cost the same as a soft drink. Which would be fine, but I just wanted it to be clear.

I did not take water, expecting to solve the matter later. A small boy came up and asked if I wanted a drink. I said I would have taken the water, but I didn’t know if it cost extra. “Because it has a brand,” I said.

“Because it has a brand,” he repeated. “Hmm.” He walked away and a minute later a fellow I had figured for the Manager appeared, with the boy. His son. I said I was unsure if the water was complimentary, because it was branded; he assured me that it wasn’t extra, but I noted that he seemed to spark on the idea of branded water.

As I poured I said the reason I was here was because I’d passed by earlier, and grabbed a menu from the stand on the sidewalk, just in case you’re wondering whether that works. It does. I said I was also interested in the fast-casual industry and hadn’t experienced a Bolt yet. He asked if I was in the industry, and I said I was not. Turns out the guy was one of the investors. Or so I surmised. We got to talking, and I learned.

About the software-driven grills. The cost of food in relation to labor. The problems with labor. (Retention and timeliness, big problems.) The preference in DC for burgers to be on the high side of medium, not juicy, more charred. (These things can be set into the software.) The slice of the demo they’re trying to get - here I wasn’t quite clear, because it’s sort-of bro-friendly, with the enormous TV that plays sports, but no liquor? I said that I found the music loud and distracting, buy my daughter would love it. He sent over every condiment and sauce they made; I tried all the spices. All in all, it was pretty good.

We looked at the POS systems, the banks of pagers they’re abandoning - rueful look at the bottlenecks between the kitchen and the outdoor patio; obviously it was hard to get stuff out there without throwing elbows through the crowd queued up at the counter

(Phrase just gleaned from nearby bar conversation: “Irish car bomb in Kazakhstan” then back into Russian)

(Writing interrupted by hour-long conversation with a guy at the bar) (About bourbon)

ANYWAY, now it’s late and the entire point of the Bolt Burger conversation seems less important, except that I wanted to tell the guy - who was obviously the hands-on member of the investor team - that the graphics on the seasoning shakers was awful. No successful franchise has seasoning shakers that give off a clip-art vibe. It wasn’t bad, it was just . . . inexpertly kerned. He might have looked at me as if I was mad; all this money, all these workers, all this technology, all this demographic research, and you’re telling me that font choice and placement in a thunderbolt graphic says B league?


TOMORROW: the reason I'm here, which is this.




Remember, I'm here just to show you the fun parts. Which take place in . . .


I’ve been watching and literally taking notes, and I forgot their names. Cody, that’s all you remember. There’s Main Criminal, the Bitter Gay Choreographer / Moon Advance Agent, lesser criminals, Sidekick, and Gal. Plus Moon President. That’s all you really need to know.

Anyway, their car was going over the cliff. the genre should really be named cliff plunger.. Everyone knows how it goes:

Well, the crooks get the payroll from the robbery, which gives them enough money to repair the ray gun so President of the Moon Retik can launch his invasion. Remember, the success of this interplanetary conquest depends on raising enough money to fix their sole prepositioned weapon. The Moon’s Agent, is pleased, and gets about 4 seconds to bask in his victory:

Oh, man, a guy does what the boss says and it’s like it never happened because there’s more crap he has to do. There’s always more crap with this guy. Well, President Moon wants the minion to drop an atomic bomb into a volcano crater, because that will cause rain. Torrential rain. It will disrupt transportation, this rain. And then they’ll invade!

Here’s the bomb:

So the Moon guys have atomic bombs just sitting around the lab, but they need to blow up a few more things to soften up the Earth defenses. My forebears used to call this “fiddle-farting around.” The criminals - who happen to be licensed pilots, as usual - fly right over and drop the bomb, which causes some nice special effects. The next day, the news is bad! Increase in Commuter Fares Denied!

I know you’re wondering why that’s bad, but it was micromanaging of the Minneapolis streetcar system’s fare structure that eventually killed it. They couldn’t make enough money to provide a viable alternative.

Storms ensue, flooding, lightning - and footage probably taken from some other movies.


Cody tumbles fast to the Criminals’ involvement, since two guys chartered a plane the day of the explosion and left some matchbooks for Al’s Cafe. Guess who walks in? HATS MUST STAY ON:

Here’s a real pro move:

Ted is captured, and they escape through the movie studio backlot:

Then it’s more chasing and fighting and hugger-mugger in the foothills, until Cody finally traps a Criminal on the top of a steep drop. And so:

Look, the dude has a jetpack. Falling is not something I’m particularly worried about.

Next week:

Is it still fun? Keep in mind that they used an atomic explosion and it wasn’t the cliffhanger. That’s pretty confident serial work.



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