31 July 2012

Northern charm and Southern efficiency?

Here's a quick story about how, even though city services in DC are so much better than in the bad old days, there still is much to be desired...

I found a license plate from a car in our front yard one morning. I sent a tweet to the DMV, asking what I should do with it. They told me to mail it to the Southwest Service Center. Unfortunately, I didn't have an envelope big enough to do so at the time, so I left the plate next to the mail pile in our entryway, planning to take it to the DMV personally when I got a chance.

That chance came yesterday. After biking to Dupont Circle for a haircut and Foggy Bottom for a appointment with my doctor, I headed down to Southwest to give the plate to the DMV in hopes they could reunite it with its rightful owner.

Since I don't have a car anymore, I've stopped paying attention to when DMV offices are actually open. I didn't realize all locations are closed on Mondays. When I arrived at 95 M Street SW, a few women were talking with the security guard who had come outside to give them directions about when and where else they could conduct their business.

Thinking I might have a chance at simply leaving the license plate with the guard, I told her my story and asked if she could give it to someone when they came in the next day. She quickly responded, "I don't want to be responsible for that. You take it to the police next door."

Disappointed that this was going to be more than a simple transaction on my part, I trudged over to the police station I had walked past moments earlier. After opening the door, I realized I had to walk through a metal detector. I thought about the small saw blade that I often carry with me (handy for taking down illegal signs on lampposts and doing a little illicit tree pruning where kids have torn branches from our young street trees), and then I realized that I had a metal license plate in my hand, so there was no way I could avoid setting off some alarm.

Boldly striding through the arch, I was greeted with a loud beep that caught the attention of a woman behind a desk about 40 feet away. She mumbled something in my direction, but I couldn't hear her over the rumble of an air-conditioner. After letting her know twice that couldn't hear her, she finally got out of her seat and came over to the front desk. I briefly explained the situation, and told her that the DMV guard recommended I bring the plate to the police.

After looking at me quizzically, she turned around to grab a piece of paper and asked for my name, phone number, address, and date and time I found the plate. I couldn't remember the date exactly, but let her know it was some time ago. She asked why I didn't return the plate immediately, and I let her know that I was busy and it hadn't been a priority. "This was my first chance to go to the DMV, and that's why I'm here now," I replied.

The woman (who did not appear to be an officer, as she was not in uniform), took the plate and walked past her desk to a cubicle located behind hers. A uniformed officer emerged, and after a brief discussion, they both came back up to the front counter.

The officer told me to take the plate back over to the DMV. I reminded him that they're closed on Mondays, and he replied that I should go back tomorrow. When I told him that I did not have time to do so later, he shrugged, handed the license plate back to me, and walked away.

At that point, I strongly considered just pitching it in the garbage can and walking out of the building. Thinking better (I really didn't want to provoke the kind of reaction that would get me jailed for some stupid reason), I put the plate back in my bag, laughed, and walked out of the building.

Anyone want a DC license plate? Maybe you could try to find its owner. I gave it a shot, I failed, and I'm ready for someone else to take a turn.

30 July 2012

Casey Trees staff cycling over 500 miles for tree research

Photo by Christopher Horn of Casey Trees
Casey Trees is a local non-profit centered around planting trees and spreading awareness about how to take care of them here in the District. I've been volunteering with them since just after I moved into the city (it was either fall of 2004 or summer of 2005, I can't remember - when I started volunteering, not when I moved here!), and they've consistently been one of the most important voices for making this a better city, in my opinion.

Casey Trees staff members will be helping raise money again this year for the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) through a 585 mile bike tour this coming August. The 2012 “Tour des Trees” will begin near Beaverton, Oregon, and cyclists will have to deal with elevation changes of over 4,300 ft as well as several days of 100+ mile riding.

In 2011, Casey Trees actually hosted the event, which began in Virginia Beach, VA and stopped at their headquarters before ending at American University’s campus.

In its 21 year history, the Tour has raised over $5 million to advance arboriculture education and research, which is directly used for, amongst other things, studying urban forestry. The TREE Fund’s work has a direct impact on such hot-button tree topics in D.C. as public safety and electric service reliability, disease and pest control, and economic concerns including real estate values, air pollution reduction, and the urban heat island effect.

Casey Trees is sending two staff members, Sara Turner, the Urban Forestry Manager, and Neil Irvin, an Urban Forestry Crew Member, who will attempt to raise $7,000 to contribute to the TREE Fund research while biking, planting trees, and generating conversation about the importance of D.C.’s and the nation’s tree canopy. Consider them stewards of the District’s green future. To help them reach their individual fundraising goals, donate here:

Sara Turner, Casey Trees Urban Forestry Manager

Neil Irvin, Casey Trees Urban Forestry Crew Member

They’ll be documenting each and every turn on the Tour via the Casey Trees blog, Tree Speak, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Be sure to follow their progress!