When friends or family members I actually like visit me, I have a long and exhaustively tested list of places where I can take them, the kinds of out-of-the-way insider gems you won’t find on any “best in DC” lists. The problem is, I don’t actually like everyone who visits me. You know how it is: people you haven’t talked to since high school message you on Facebook to tell you they’re coming into town with their four kids in tow, or your irritating aunt and uncle from Indiana are blowing through town for a biker rally against “reverse racism” (lol), and you’re on the hook for a night or two of hosting. You don’t want to take them to your good places, not only because it would ruin your reputation there, but also because of the whole “pearls before swine” thing.
No, the real genius move is to take them places that you know will totally and utterly suck. It’s like when you were a kid and your mom told you to wash the dishes. If you were smart, you did it so badly that she never asked you to do it again. Visit a couple of these duds and I guarantee this will be the last time you’ll be stuck escorting unwanted guests around town.THE NATIONAL MALL
With luck, your aunt from Des Moines will think you’re taking her to an actual shopping mall, and will put on her comfortable shoes and elastic waist comfort pants for a long afternoon of window shopping and banter over the top of the wall of your adjoining fitting rooms. Imagine her surprise when she realizes you’ve brought her instead to … nothing. I mean, that’s what the Mall is, right? It’s just a big ol’ nothing. It’s like those Peruvian sculptures where from a plane, you can see it’s a huge lizard or butterfly or something, but down on the ground it’s just a pile of mud. That’s the mall. The scale is all wrong. From above, yeah, you can see the vaguely sinister logic of the layout, but on the ground it’s just an endless walk between uninteresting old buildings. The one virtue of the Mall is that if it weren’t set aside as “the Mall,” that land would certainly be top-dollar commercial real estate where they’d probably build something dumb like a high-end shopping mall, which ironically is exactly what your aunt wishes was there. Be sure to mention that several times during your never-ending Beckettian trudges through nothingness.
AN NFL GAME
Let me tell you – keeping an open mind is the worst thing you can do in life. I’ve always thought going to a football game would be a horrible hours-long ordeal of screaming, wild-eyed suburbanites, $18 pretzels, and a “Clockwork Orange”-style barrage of nonstop propaganda, all set against a backdrop of fat men running into each other and then falling down. But when a friend offered me a free ticket to a R******s game, I was like, “hey, I should keep an open mind and give it a try.” Nope, it was just as bad, if not worse, than I imagined it would be. The whole time you’re being jostled in huge crowds, people are screaming inches from your ears, music is blasting at earsplitting volume. It’s like being a Guantanamo detainee. Oh and did I mention that it’s ridiculously expensive? The average NFL experience, including parking, tickets, concessions, etc, probably costs you like $40 per second. You might as well get a bale of singles and just spend five hours feeding them into a document shredder. It certainly wouldn’t be any less boring than a football game. After one afternoon at FedEx Field, I have strong suspicions that the NFL might be an elaborate performance art project about capitalism as snake-eating-its-own-tail and the nihilism of mass entertainment.
You could maybe kinda make the same argument for a Wizards game, but the arena is right downtown, and trudging to the far exurbs (and paying exorbitant rates for parking) is an important part of this experience.
A MEAL AT ONE OF DC’S “HOT” RESTAURANTS
I’m not going to name any names, because honestly I’m a hypocrite and I want to keep going to these places without the chef spitting in my food, but you could rattle off five or ten “hot” restaurants off the top of your head, and they’d all probably fit the bill. It’s not the restaurant or the food that’s so off-putting, per se, but the experience of sitting in a “hot” restaurant and looking around and seeing other young-ish stylish-ish people with disposable income, manufacturing the same expressions of ecstasy as they consume dishes that they know in their hearts are merely adequate, and realizing, “holy crap, that’s what I look like too, I’m a horrible and insincere person whose convictions are so limp that they can be swayed by Yelp reviews!” It’s a real look into the abyss.
A WHITE HOUSE TOUR
The worst thing you can be, as a host, is boring, and a White House tour is more yawn-inducing than a documentary about pencils. You think of the White House as this exciting place where big things happen, but it’s really just an office building. Touring it is like that tour you get of the office on your first day at a new job, with the added bonus that if you get bored and wander off, a Secret Service agent in mirrored sunglasses will slam you down face-first onto a marble floor. Bonus points if you make it to the Capitol too, where you’ll see that the congresspeople who make huge, important decisions about our future are mostly just dudes from backwater states who got elected because they have really telegenic game show host-style hair.