A Local Cabin in the Woods

When the dog days of summer hit and D.C. gets downright swampy, a lot of people start thinking about getting out of town. But the grass isn’t always greener, and in the end, you may be better off hunkering down in your air-conditioned apartment.

The weekend trip is a rite of passage for every new relationship. You get to see how things work in a new context, and you’re guaranteed to get some insights about the other person. Traveling reveals character; driving, especially. I’m a big believer that bad drivers are bad at everything in life.

I was once sitting at a red light with a woman, four cars back from the front, and she did that thing where she tapped her horn the instant the light turned green. I knew then and there that things wouldn’t work out.

Southern Hospitality

We were headed to a rented cabin in West Virginia for a few days in the country. It was summer in D.C., and we thought it would be cooler out there. We stopped in a little town a half-hour from our cabin to get groceries, and on the way back to the car, a pair of local guys called me over. They were clearly drunk and had a breathalyzer attached to their steering wheel.

“Blow on that for us, would you?” One of them asked me. “We have to get home. It’s an emergency.”

“Well, if it’s an emergency,” I said. They seemed pretty down and out, so I thought I’d do them a favor. I blew into the tube, but the breathalyzer made an angry sound.

“You didn’t do it right,” said the guy who’d asked me. He looked at me with bloodshot eyes. “If you do it wrong twice in a row, it locks the steering wheel for eight hours. So do it right this time.”

This was said in a tone that was clearly threatening. “I’m going to go wait in the car,” said the woman I was with — let’s call her Mandy — and left.

I bent and blew into the tube as hard as I could. A green light blinked, and the two men smiled, patted me on the shoulder and got in. They peeled out of the parking lot and went shooting down the road. The driver was weaving a little, but he straightened out as they passed a school bus going the other way.

“Got to make nice with the locals when you come up here,” I said as I got into the car. Mandy looked at me but said nothing.

Long & Winding Road

The cabin was off a dirt road, down a winding driveway, nestled in the woods. As I was unloading everything from the car, Mandy said, “I think there’s someone in the house.”

The house looked deserted to me, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and I could imagine someone breaking in and squatting there, this nice tourist cabin that was probably empty three-quarters of the year. Maybe the two drunks whose car I’d started were squatting here, and we’d all have a laugh before I blew their car to life again and sent them on their way.

“Want me to check it out?” I asked. We hadn’t been dating long, and I knew this was a great opportunity to fool her into thinking I was a tough, alpha male type.

Goldilocks? Snow White?

“Yes. It looked like a woman. Maybe a girl. She was in the upper window.”

I unlocked the front door and went inside. It was a small but appealing cabin, recently renovated. Everything was clean and in its place; it didn’t look like anyone had been living there. Upstairs, the bed was made and everything looked untouched. I looked out the window and saw Mandy sitting in the car. She didn’t look like she was enjoying her weekend trip very much.

“It seems fine in there,” I said to her back at the car. “Maybe it was just the sun reflecting on the glass or something?”

“I don’t know,” she said, unconvinced. “But I’m not sleeping here until we really search the place, top to bottom.”

Inside, we went through every closet, looked under the bed, threw back the shower curtain, opened all the cupboards. There was no sign of anyone. We’d just started to relax, make a few jokes about being nervous city dwellers, when I noticed the outline on the kitchen floor.

Don’t Go in There

“Is that a trapdoor?” I said.

“I believe so,” Mandy said. She stood there looking down at the trapdoor, hands on hips, trying to look nonchalant.

“Should I open it?”

“Absolutely not.”

But I couldn’t resist, and besides, what if there was someone down there, waiting for us to fall asleep so they could creep out?

I grabbed the pull rope and swung the door up. A narrow set of stairs went down into a pitch black stone-walled cellar that looked like it extended quite a ways back.

We stood there looking down into the dark. It didn’t need to be said that neither of us was going down there. I could tell that Mandy was thinking that this entire trip had been a mistake, and I didn’t disagree.

“Do you want to sleep here tonight?” I asked.


“Me neither. Let’s just head back.”

We put the bags back in the car, did a nine-point turn, and headed back up the driveway. As we turned onto the dirt road, I looked back at the house, thinking I’d see someone stealthily moving a curtain aside to watch us go, but the house was dark and still.

The Final Nail

Going back through town, we hit a red light and sat behind a line of pickups. I could see Mandy’s hand hovering above her horn, just waiting for the light to turn.

“They’ll shoot you for that out here,” I said. “That guy in front of us literally has a gun rack on his truck.”

Mandy looked at me. “Don’t tell me how to drive,” she said.

It was a long drive back on that winding-two lane, knowing there were drunks weaving around out there, their cars blown to life by over-credulous tourists. That was the last time I took a weekend trip out of D.C., with Mandy or anyone else.






Say Aloha at Tiki Yards Party

The Yards will be transforming the Navy Yard boardwalk into an unforgettable Tiki-themed block party from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 27.

For $10, party-goers will be welcomed with a mini rum punch and a lei. Arrive early, because the first 250 guests get a tiki pineapple cup. “Lei” back and relax with tropical cocktails and a make-your-own-lei station.

Come ready for an unforgettable adventure! Get into the groove with a live steel drum band and hula performances. Snap some selfies at the Insta-worthy “underwater” photo booth. Hang 10 with an incredible inflatable surfing simulator. Worried about the heat? Never fear — get under the misting cool-down station.

If your competitive nature craves something outside the chill-zone, participate in one of the many contests taking place all afternoon long. See how low you can go in a limbo contest or see show off your hula dancing skills. There’s also a prize for the best-dressed group! Get your tickets here.

Otakon Coming to D.C.

Fans of anime will flock downtown this weekend for Otakon, an annual convention celebrating Asian pop culture, specifically, anime, manga, music, movies and video games.

Serious fans will dress up as their favorite anime characters in bright and beautiful costumes and wigs or full-on Pikachu or Sonic the Hedgehog suits.

Otakon is an anime-lovers mecca, drawing thousands of devoted fans from far and wide for a weekend of immersion in fantasy and fun.

Activities include cosplay, gaming, karaoke, dancing, a manga library and meet-and-greets with artists, musicians, designers and others. Marvel at the beautiful creations in the art show, attend musical performances and try your hand making crafts.

Check out the gaming hall, featuring new and classic video games, and enter a tournament if you’re feeling brave! Don’t miss the separate section of indie video games — you can say you played it first!

Featured presenters at Otakon this year include Weeb Palace (anime, video games and cosplay), Dollfille (makeup artist and Living Doll) and Super Art Fight (live art wrestling), among others.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, pick up pre-registration badges 3 – 10 p.m. Thursday; preregistration $95/adult $50/9-12 years old (8 and under free) full weekend, $50/adult Friday only, $60/adult Saturday only, $70/adult Sunday only, all prices higher at the door; Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW


Take One Small Step Toward the Apollo 50 Festival

Flat Earthers and moon landing conspiracy theorists beware: the Apollo 50 Festival kicks off today on the Mall, three days of fun celebrating the day U.S. astronauts landed on the moon and planted the stars and stripes in its craggy surface.

Headlining this Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum event are performances by characters from Ready Jet Go, the hit PBS Kids TV show that tries to get kids interested in STEM subjects early so the U.S. can catch up with the rest of the world one day.

Lots of reps from NASA will also be on hand to give talks about lunar science, space stations, exploring planets and more.

At least 20 tents will be set up so visitors can take part in fun hands-on activities. Bring water. It’s going to be near 100 degrees for the next few days.

Apollo 50 Festival, Thursday and Friday, July 18 and 19, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, July 20, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; between 4th and 7th streets on the National Mall

It’s Hot. Drink Beer.

Should you attend America’s Best Brewfest on July 20 and sample beers from all 50 states? It would be unpatriotic not to.

Capital BrewFest has been hosting festivals for five years strong now, and they’ll be bringing yet another show-stopper to The Bullpen. A $50 ticket grants you unlimited tastings, so you can road trip across the nation without having to pay for the gas. Get your tickets here.

Check the list of beers often, as more are being added each day.

In addition to beer, there will be wine, cider, games, live music, food vendors and more!

Pick from two three-hour sessions: 1-4 or 5-8 p.m.

Feeling like a boss? Go VIP for only $20 extra. This will let you cut the line and grant you access 30 minutes early. That’s three and a half hours of unlimited sampling! Going VIP will also allow you to sample five high-end beers (including Saison Ale from Allagash and Rare Vos from Ommegang) and three high-end wines from France.

Your souvenir tasting glass will be supersized, about 4 oz. larger, so you’ll be able to enjoy those exclusive beverages in all their American glory. Finally, it will get you a koozie to hang your beer around your neck, rendering your beer-sampling experience hands-free. For only $20, what could be better?

Avoiding gluten? No problem! There are plenty of gluten-free options, including 25 wines, 10 ciders on tap, and a gluten-free beer from Lakefront Brewing.

Don’t have the dough for a brewfest? You can still join in the fun with volunteer options. Volunteer during the first shift to get free admission into the second shift, or volunteer during the second shift to get three free tickets to the next Capital BrewFest event on Sept. 7.

The event is rain or shine. Dogs and babies are not allowed — it’s better to have both of your hands-free to sample more beers, anyway.

Sample Some Culture This Weekend

If you’re not worn out from all the celebrating on the 4th of July, take a look at all the fun that’s happening in and around D.C. this weekend.


Dance the night away at the Reggae vs. Soca Carnival After Party from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. at Karma D.C., 2221 Adams Place NE. Featured artists include JP, Bimshire and Rage. Tickets are $20 each.

Gaze upon the showy blooms at the annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14 at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, 1900 Anacostia Ave SE, Washington, DC 20020. Enjoy crafts, demonstrations, music for free. Food and beverages are for sale, but you can bring your own too.

Ooh la la, head over to Tenleytown on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. for the Bastille Day celebration at Fessenden Park, on Wisconsin Avenue. Sample crepes and profiteroles from Le Chat Noir and Matisse and taste some French wine, Orangina or Perrier. Bring the kids and let them try a craft project, then plant sunflowers to take home with you. Tickets are $20 each, kids 10 and under free with paid adult. Includes food, beverages, activities and entertainment.


Achtung, baby, it’s not just the French celebrating this weekend, it’s the Germans too! Take a drive up to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Timonium for the Maryland German Festival and steep yourself in German culture, music and food. From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14. Tickets are $7-$10.


Alexandria looks better than ever as it celebrates its 270th birthday from 7 to 10 p.m. tomorrow at Oronoco Bay Park, 100 Madison St., Alexandria. Enjoy entertainment, a cannon salute and fireworks finale. Free.

 Pay homage to the suffragists who fought for women’s right to vote at Tea with the Ladies from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at Ellanor Lawrence Park, 5040 Walney Road, Chantilly. Listen to inspiring talks, learn about the marches on Washington, then blend your own tea. Tickets are $20 each.

Lotus Flower Festival This Weekend

The lotus flower is a symbol of hope and rebirth. It starts its life as a primitive bud submerged in murky waters. Slowly, it grows toward the light, breaking through the surface and blooming in all its glory.

Although the flower escapes its cloudy surroundings to bask in the sun’s rays, its roots keep it grounded, tethered to its humble beginnings, feeding the beauty it has become.  

This allegory may be part of the lotus flower’s appeal. Or it may be that anyone who catches sight of these plate-sized head-turners is simply wowed.

If you haven’t seen a lotus flower, this weekend is your chance. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is holding its annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, July 13 and 14.

Get there early, before the sun opens the flowers, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing water birds, turtles, salamanders and snakes.

Festival organizers have a full schedule of activities planned, including samba, classical Indian dances, Brazilian drumming, jazz performances and yoga. Meet reptiles, birds of prey and other animals and learn water gardening for beginners. Kids of all ages can play games and do arts and crafts, including making paper lotus flowers.

Bring a blanket and a picnic basket (no alcohol) and spend the afternoon, or buy food onsite and head home when it’s naptime. Leashed dogs welcome.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, 1900 Anacostia Ave SE, Washington, DC 20020; (202) 692-6080


Family-Friendly Fourth Festivities

Most of us have seen A Capitol Fourth from the comfort of our living rooms after having eaten one too many hot dogs. But this close to the nation’s capital, it’s surely not the only celebration of freedom in town. If you’re looking to beat the crowd — that is, become part of a smaller, but no less festive, crowd — check out some of these sensible, family-friendly options below.

The District


If all the hoopla over the 4th caused you to forget what you were celebrating, head over to the National Archives for a reminder: It’s the 243rd anniversary of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The annual ceremony will take place from 10 to 11 a.m., and kids can choose among fun, age-appropriate activities (including writing names with a quill pen and dressing in period clothing) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors can also check out the current exhibit, Rightfully Hers, dedicated to women attaining the right to vote. Can’t attend the ceremony? They will be live streaming it on YouTube for the folks at home.

Nats Park

What’s more American than baseball? Watch the Nats take on the Marlins starting at 11:05 a.m.

Ticket prices start at $18.


If you’d like to see the national fireworks from a comfortable distance, head to The Wharf. Three stages with bands will play live music from noon to 8 p.m. Snag a dockside seat at one of their fabulous restaurants and enjoy the fireworks.


 College Park

Come out to the University of Maryland’s Lot 1 for College Park’s annual festival, starting with good old American concessions (hot dogs, hamburgers and funnel cake) at 5 p.m. Stick around for a free concert at 7, and then fireworks at 9. Coolers are permitted, but the city asks that you don’t bring alcohol to this family-friendly event. Rain date July 5 (fireworks only).

Montgomery Village

Montgomery Village will be holding their July 4th Celebration/5K Race and Fun Run from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The 5K ($35) begins at 8:15 and the Fun Run for kids ($25) starts at 7:45. Online registration is closed, but day-of registration is still available during packet pickup, starting at 6:45 a.m. After the race, kids can join the annual parade with decorated bikes and trikes starting at 10 a.m. Finally, there’s something for everyone with carnival rides and games!

Northern Virginia


Herndon’s Fourth of July Celebration will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the softball field at Bready Park. This free event kicks off with games and arts and crafts for kids. At 7:15, cover band Guys in Thin Ties will be playing everyone’s favorites from the 80s. Fireworks will begin at 9:30 p.m. Food vendors will be on site, so come hungry!


Fairfax knows a thing or two about observing the fourth: A Hometown Celebration marks the 53rd year of festivities. This all-day event begins with a parade around Old Town Fairfax from 10 a.m. to noon (rain or shine). From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., tour the 1812 and 1927 sections of the historical Ratcliffe-Allison-Pozer House. In the evening, make your way to Fairfax High School at 6:30 for kids’ activities, food vendors and live music from The Darby Brothers on the football field. Fireworks begin at 9:30. Shuttles are provided to both locations. Rain date: July 5 (fireworks only).

Fireworks: Love ‘Em or Hate ‘Em?

The last time I was interested in fireworks, I was 14 and I lived in Iowa, which basically means I was dumb as a box of rocks and bored stiff.

Since fireworks were illegal in Iowa at the time, we had to drive to Missouri to buy them. Entrepreneurs set up roadside stands 100 feet over the border, so you’d be screaming along at 70, 75 mph, and then when you saw that first stand, you’d slam on the brakes and go fishtailing along the gravel shoulder before coming to a stop at some point.

It wasn’t uncommon for a car or truck to plow right into or through the stand and go arcing over the ditch and into a soybean field.

No one cared about the stupid fireworks themselves; the allure was the risk, the chance we’d get to see something sobering, horrific, something we could talk about for a while, that would make us thankful for our lot in life instead of resentful.

We bought the big M-80s. If you put one in a mailbox and lit it, it would turn it into twisted scrap metal. Same with a toilet. (Ever wonder why park bathrooms have steel toilets now? That’s why.)

Just imagine what it would do to your hand!

We’d dare each other to hold a lit one until the very last instant before flinging it away, always wondering if the other person would misjudge, sending bone shards and singed meat flying across the yard. But somehow it never happened.

Our instincts for self-preservation were too deeply ingrained. Only once a did firecracker blow up in a friend’s hand. It was a faulty fuse, and halfway down, before we’d even started to get nervous, the thing exploded. We all stood there, shocked, and then, one by one, noticed that our friend’s hand was unmarked. His palm was slightly red, but that was it.

Does it hurt? Someone asked.

It’s just kind of numb, he said.

We were stunned but also sort of angry, in a disappointed way. Even the friend who’d been holding the firecracker when it went off was mad.

We discussed driving back down to Missouri and demanding our money back, but it was already the night of the 4th, and we knew that the guys had packed up their stands and gone back to being carnies or moonshiners or whatever they did outside the three weeks immediately preceding the 4th.

I haven’t been interested in fireworks since, and that includes the ones in the sky.

One of the strangest things about DC is how people set up blankets and folding chairs to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July, like they’re about to watch the finale of a prestige miniseries, and not just a bunch of loud noises and flashes of light. There’s not even a hint of danger there; it’s like watching a screensaver.

So what’s the allure? Are all those people pretending we’re at war, and the fireworks are the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, etc.? Or could it be as simple as they’re just enjoying looking at colors in the sky?

At a time when entire industries are dying because people are migrating toward insidiously addicting, endlessly novel media, I guess it counts as encouraging that people will still turn out in droves for something that’s so godawful boring.