Saturday, December 27, 2014

Still Life With Robin: The Cleveland Park Listserv Year in Review

Photo by Bill Adler
by Peggy Robin

On the last Saturday of the year, in what is practically an obligatory ritual for any publication regardless of size, including your neighborhood listserv, I feel compelled to provide a year in review. But especially so after this year, 2014, which included two milestones, our 15-year-anniversary on November 30, followed just three days later by the posting of our 100,000th message, which you can find here: Message number 100000 - Norwood School - Parent Panel & Social - Fri, Dec 5.

And now for a lightning run-through of the main threads of the year, month by month:

In January there were 812 messages posted, including:
- “Mice are outfoxing me,” soliciting helpful advice from list members about ways to attempt to defeat those crafty little critters.
- A query from someone who lives on Macomb Street, “Who was Alexander Macomb?” It did not take long for readers to supply the answer. Message 91735 on January 5 had this informative link:
- The announcement that Lavandou was closing, which kicked off a discussion that would continue right on through the end of the year. The question debated and agonized over the course of the next 12 months was: Does this neighborhood have what it takes for good restaurants to succeed?

In February, with only 655 messages (the second lowest monthly total):
- RCN subscribers swapped stories of attempts, both successful and unsuccessful, to get the company to lower the monthly bill. Will threatening to leave do the trick? (Sometimes yes, sometimes no, apparently.) The most commonly shared subject line on this thread was “RCN called my bluff.”
- An unusual query came from someone looking to sell Ugandan shillings. Don’t think we’ve ever had that one before, and I doubt that we’ll see it again.
- For an example of more standard fare, there were complaints about mail delivery. This is one of those perennial threads. Once it gets going, it snowballs. Council Member Cheh’s office got involved in trying to fix things, and Channel 7 did a spot on the problem. It may have been fixed in a few areas after that….but keep watching this space, folks: IT WILL BE BACK.

In March, blowing in 741 messages, there was talk of:
- Weather, weather, weather. There was a snow emergency and people used the listserv to find shovelers, and before stepping out on treacherously slick sidewalks, they wanted to know whether paths had been cleared. Among the most heartening posts in this thread were offers from some kind list members to shovel for those who could not.  
- Someone asked about the sledding on the Calvert hill going into Rock Creek Park.
- There was a “boil water” advisory in the first week of March, and the listserv kept readers up-to-date.
- And while people were cooped up indoors with their boiled water, they also kept up a lively thread on where to find the best bagels in DC.

April, which would end with a message count of 772:
- Kicked off with a discussion of the April 1 Mayoral primary election under the thread title, “Not happy about whoever wins today’s primary.”
- Around mid-month the previously dormant discussion about restaurant closings was revived with a “this’ll scare-‘em” subject line, “The Storefront of Doom.” The reference was to 3407 Connecticut Avenue, site of the recently departed Pulpo, and before that a Hawaiian food pop-up, and before that an Italian food pop-up, and before that Tackle Box, and before that a Mexican food pop-up, and many years before that, McDonald’s. It’s now Fat Pete’s BBQ, which may or may not mark its end as the aforementioned bringer of Doom. So we hope.
-Brought high drama (with a happy ending) in the form of the post, “Is this your cat in our tree?” – followed by the cheery news, “Cat Balthazar went home with owners” – with kudos to the animal rescuers at the Washington Humane Society, plus attached photos of the happy cat, the owner, and the smiling rescuers. See

[We now interrupt this column to put in a word about photo attachments on the listserv. For the preceding 14 years, the Cleveland Park Listserv did not post attachments. Sometime toward the middle/end of 2013 the software engineers at Yahoogroups began a complete overhaul of all Yahoogroups, imposing changes on the way the groups process text and photos – all done without any list owner input.  For weeks – no, months -- all Yahoogroups were thrown into chaos. Moderators lost the ability to fix typos, and garbled text and strange symbols crept into many messages; all kinds of glitches and processing errors continued to plague us far into 2014. One of the thorniest problems – continuing to this day – involves the processing of photo attachments. The Cleveland Park Listserv was turned into a photo-attachment-possible listserv. But not all photo attachments! And it is not always clear to us why some photo attachments will post without problem while others return the dreaded purple error bar, “Sorry, there was an error loading content.” But here’s our best guess as to what will work: You will probably be able to attach photos to your message if they are in .JPG format, and the total size of all photos is under 1 MB (1000 KB). Now comes the caution: This being Yahoogroups, things don’t work consistently. Sometimes someone will send in a message with a photo attachment that ought to work…but it doesn’t. Not only does the message call up the purple error message bar, showing that it won’t go through, but on occasion it will prevent the loading on the NEXT message in the queue. We have no idea why this happens. Our suggestion is that list members avoid the problem by NOT posting photos in the form of attachments. If you want readers to see a photo, your best bet is to upload it to Dropbox or some other publicly accessible photo-sharing site, and post the link in your message. Links, if properly formatted, will show up on the listserv as active and clickable. With photo attachments, even if you can get it to work, you may find cautious readers unwilling to open your attachment. We don’t blame them. Even with the best virus-screening software, there can still be a risk in opening an attachment from a stranger. That’s the end of this technical note, and now we return to our regularly scheduled listserv month-by-month review.]

In May, with 770 messages:
- The discussion of restaurant closings continued under yet another grim thread title, “Palena leaving and Cleveland Park dying.”
- The DC government delivered thousands of new Supercans and blue recycling bins….and then struggled to pick up the unwanted old bins. And occasionally took back bins that residents did not want hauled away. Every one of these snafus, it seemed, was noted on the listserv. But then, what’s a listserv for, if not these kinds of complaints?
- Just as we were beginning to get our cans straightened out, there was the controversy of the bells. Bells, Bells, Bells, the tintinnabulation of the bells, as Poe wrote, perhaps anticipating a future in which a centrally located Cathedral would host a bell-ringing festival of 15 hours duration over three days. This was perhaps the most discussed single issue of the year. Twenty-two posts on the subject (and keep in mind that’s what made it onto the list, under our policy of requiring each post to have a fresh point, not allowing on-list any brief “I agree” posts or messages that repeat a point already aired. Now, seven months on, here’s the outcome in numbers: Of those 22 posts, 19 were from people who love the bells and love living in earshot (or at least don’t mind); just 3 three voiced some sort of objection to the length or scheduling of the bell-ringing concert. Ding Dong!

In June, with a symmetrical 777 messages:
- The month began with another noise complaint – the all-night jackhammering due to water service work at Connecticut and Macomb Street NW. Complaints on the listserv, if backed by calls to city officials and political representatives, do get results – or at least appear to, as a follow-up post contained a promise from DC Water not to let it happen again.
- The other big controversy at the halfway point of the year came in the form of a 12-pound weight delivered by UPS to every household in the neighborhood, courtesy of the marketing department of the Restoration Hardware Company. For a photo of the doorstop-sized RH catalog, click here: And the upshot? Restoration Hardware has promised never to do that again. While it took a nationwide consumer revolt to bring about that outcome, we were proud that the listserv played its own small part.

In July there were 759 messages:
- The listserv gave some serious advice to the person who asked how to help someone facing deportation.
- The “restaurant doom” thread continued –at somewhat of a remove from the Cleveland Park commercial strip-- with the closing of Firelake Grill in Tenleytown.
- Now for something completely different: in mid-month foxes were spotted in the neighborhood, and possibly coyotes. And maybe even the elusive coy/wolf hybrid. Message number 96893 “Re: WOLF/FOX and Coyotes in our neighborhood” contained a link to a Washington Post article with a photo of the predator that may or may not be on the prowl in nearby woods:

In August, among the 717 messages:
- Coy/wolf sightings/comments continued, along with discussion of the prevalence of foxes, both inside and outside of the boundaries of Rock Creek Park.
- The "Cleveland Park Post Office windows are never cleaned." And the subject of mail delivery in Cleveland Park was back, with both complaints and the occasional note of praise.
- A discussion got started late in the month about reclining seats on airplanes, which would continue into....

September, when the message total hit a high of 869, making it the busiest month of the year:
- The discussion of who can/should recline seats became so heated, we were just glad posters were typing, not shouting at each other across actual airplane aisles.
- Another hot-button issue flared beneath the misleadingly anodyne heading “Washington Post subscription price.” Is there a future in keeping a print subscription? Is Jeff Bezos out to kill the paper version of the newspaper? And whatever happened to the vacation credit?
- On a cheerier topic, lots of people had answers to the question of what DC-identified gift would be best to bring to a family reunion.
- But the all-time winner for an oddball question –not just for the month, perhaps for the year or maybe for all time—was the question, would anyone like to have the dead body of a bird that crashed into a list member’s window? The poster was keeping it in the freezer – perfect for someone who’s into taxidermy. Too bad we did not get to find out if there were any takers! Wait, it’s still not too late for a follow-up, if the list member concerned would like to let us know….

In October the message count was 701, including:
- Lots of posts on the question “Who should we vote for in the Mayor’s race?"
- Back to the subject of restaurant survival/change -- Coppi’s moved into the space formerly occupied by Lavandou, and people are hoping for the best, but appeared to find things rocky at the start.
- Speaking of the quality of life in the commercial strip, there was a thread about how to complain about the overly amplified music played by a street musician on Connecticut Avenue.

In November among the 694 messages:
- ‘Tis the season….for political robocalls, and complaints about them on the listserv. Not that it does any good to post about this scourge. This thread crops up in advance of every election, and then it seems there are always more robocalls in the next election cycle.
- On the “good news” front, the long-awaited Giant finally opened, to generally favorable reviews. The sprinkling of negative comments centered on an awkwardly designed exit to the parking garage on the Newark Street side.
- List members opined at length about where to find the best pizza in DC.

In December, so far there have been just 583 messages, making this month the least busy of the year:
- The seasonally expected complaint has been about mis-delivered packages and package thefts.
- A report of an accident at 34th and Porter kicked off two separate traffic discussions, one about racing fire engines using sirens when it might not be necessary, and the other about the red light camera at Porter St and Connecticut Avenue, which may go off when the driver is just inching forward of the stop line, not making an illegal turn on red.
- I am pleased to top off this summation with what strikes me as the most notable query of the month, the plea for list members to identify what sort of flock of bird would have left behind a pile (not a splatter) of darkly colored poop on a swimming pool cover in a list member’s backyard. And I am even more pleased that our collectively wise and learned listserv membership (now closing in on the 15,000 mark) could agree on the answer: It’s not a specific type of bird that leaves behind solid, dark-colored dung. Any flock of berry-eating birds could be the cuprit. Now we know!

Thank you, readers and posters all, for all your contributions in 2014, and wishing you the best in 2015!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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