Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Keep Arlington (a little) weird.

So goes the plea on the bumper sticker for sale at Westover Market. It’s a charming local adaptation of Texas’s famous slogan “Keep Austin Weird.” But it made me wonder precisely how our notably utilitarian county could even begin to associate itself with serious weirdness.

Herewith weird, Arlington-style:

Arlington is the smallest self-governing county in the country, but its population of 216,000 is nearly half that of Wyoming.

Arlington’s otherwise logical street grid, dating from 1934, allows North 26th Street to suddenly become 31st St. at Taylor Street; North Sycamore Street at 17th Street North to morph into Roosevelt Street; and North Quincy Street at Glebe Road to transmogrify into to Henderson Road.

Arlington has no central square. Instead it spokes out from a central corridor with Metro stop nodes, surrounded by residential neighborhoods with names —now on lovely signs—that few other than the locals use in conversation.

The intersection of I-66 and Lee Highway occurs three times, several miles apart. Speaking of Lee Highway, it changes—by state law—temporarily into Old Dominion Drive at Lorcom Lane (off to one side, the official Lee Highway continues on a parallel track that used to be Old Lee Highway).

Arlington boasts a neighborhood called East Falls Church that has not been in Falls Church since 1936, when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of some secessionist petitioners.

Arlington certainly looks weird to the rest of the state. In 1954, it jumped out ahead of other counties to desegregate following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Hence in 1956, the gang in Richmond took away our elected school board, which wasn’t restored until1996.

Today, Arlington appears to be the only community in Northern Virginia resisting the widening of I-66.

From the late 1950s to the early 1980s, Arlington tolerated the presence of the American Nazi Party, which set up shop here a mere 15 years after we fought the real Nazis in World War II.

Last month Arlington became the only site in the United States to serve as a polling site for ex-patriots voting in Libya’s first election in four decades.

Democratic-dominated Arlington is home to a statue of President Reagan, installed last year to bid you goodbye at what for decades was called National Airport.

Arlington is the only jurisdiction in the solar system to host both the Pentagon and the Metaphysical Chapel.

When an Arlington swim club (Overlee) set out to build a new pool and clubhouse last winter, it ended up resurrecting a century-old ghost story.

Arlington’s housing stock is rich and diverse, but I’d single out two for mild weirdness: The nice but unusually colored home at Washington Boulevard and Fredrick Street is known to my daughters as the Pepto Bismol house. And the home I suspect is Arlington’s tiniest—less than 10 feet wide—is a cutie at 1802 N. Monroe Street.

When the Westover Beer Garden applied for a permit to offer live evening music, the Arlington County Board required it to submit to randomly scheduled electronic decibel checks. (So far, no neighbor complaints.)

And Arlington’s Iota Club recently staged a troupe of opera singers belting out arias with lyrics drawn from Craigslist ads.

Feel free, fellow weirdos, to send me your own. 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com