- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

The District has awoken to the first signs of spring with a winter-induced hangover.
The city is in need of a thorough cleaning, if not two aspirin and a bowl of chicken broth.
Leave the ice pack out of it, please, given the circumstances.
There is an empty beer bottle in one gutter, a crushed paper cup in another, and another official explanation from the Department of Public Works, which is: It is impossible to be a neat freak in the winter.
Tell it to the suburban municipalities, where the tax dollar often results in efficient public service.
This is the nation's capital, if a reminder is necessary. Its aesthetic welfare is essential to the hard-hit tourist industry. Nobody from out of town goes to the suburbs, except to catch a plane or to sleep in a hotel.
It seems the city shuts down its fleet of 33 street sweepers in the winter, as if this explains everything.
Seriously, these cumbersome contraptions work in incredibly mysterious ways, considering their principal purpose sometimes seems to be to move one batch of litter and dirt from one side of the street to the other.
Have you ever been in the vicinity of one of these things while it is performing its beautification work?
You have? Same here. It feels like a bonding moment.
T-shirt vendors should come out with the following: "I Survived a Brush with a Street Sweeper."
You should not get near one unless you are wearing an armored suit.
Otherwise, you are liable to come out of the experience with welts and bruises on your body, and never mind all the crud that activates the tear ducts in your eyes.
Some people see a sweet sweeper bearing down on them and instinctively freeze in fear.
Oh, no. Here it comes, the killer street sweeper. Close your eyes and duck.
A street sweeper comes with these giant brooms and an unapologetic driver who has a schedule to keep. The schedule is posted on each of the asphalt arteries. Right. You better memorize the schedule. If not, if your vehicle is parked on the appointed hour of the street sweeper, the fine is $30, up from $10.
The city calls this a friendly form of persuasion. Others call it a racket.
As it is, the city leads the region in the crumpled newspaper page that dances in the breezy air. The crumpled newspaper page is either the bedding of a vagrant or the casualty of an overflowing trash receptacle.
Either way, trash pickup sometimes works like the weather in the city. There are good days and bad. Coincidentally, bad weather is the first line of defense of city leaders.
The second line of defense was dispensed by the chairman of Metro this week, which went like this: The performance of the subway system following the Presidents Day snowstorm was not as bad as it was portrayed by the local tattletales in the media.
The service functioned at 60 percent to 70 percent below capacity in the days following Mother Nature's blast. The way the tattletales told it, however, many subway riders were under the impression that Metro was operating at 80 percent to 90 percent below capacity. See the distinction? The darn media. Guilty as charged again. Its members always like to exaggerate a problem.
Anyway, the city is hoping to repair its tattered welcome mat in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival later this month.
Ah, yes, the cherry blossoms.
It is always about the cherry blossoms at this time of the year in Washington.
There are three rites of spring in Washington: The pink-and-white cherry flowers push out of their buds, the Wizards and Caps pull out their golf clubs, and the Redskins go on another spending spree.
Fortunately, the cherry blossoms, unlike the local teams, are fairly dependable, depending on the weather, of course.
Finally, there is the hint of spring in the air, thank God, and a call to eliminate the residual effects of a hard winter.
The street sweepers are warming up, the pedestrian activity is starting to increase at night, and the Japanese cherry trees along the Tidal Basin are being monitored.
How sweet is this?
You have stopped seeing these Carl Lewis-like souls on the streets, sprinting from one oasis of warmth to the next.
So let's get cracking, Public Works. Let's get moving. Time is wasting.
We can't put these past few months behind us fast enough.

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