Paranoia and weirdness in Washington DC

banner washington dc

As I walked around Washington DC for the first time as an adult, one thing that stood out more than anything was how paranoid the entire district was.

Security guards and police are everywhere around the National Mall and other high-traffic areas of the city. I’m not saying the paranoia is entirely unjustified – we live in an age of terrorism, and obviously the nation’s capital could be a target at any time.

But for me as a visitor, the experience walking around the district was strange because of all the security and constant reminders that my safety could be in danger.

Here’s one extreme example: My hostel had a notice on the wall that said something to the effect of, “All unattended packages will be destroyed.” Wow, destroyed? Yeesh. I had to keep reminding myself not to leave my laptop bag on the dining room table for even a second while I went to wash my hands, lest they decide to snatch my bag and blow it up.

Most of the museums had metal detectors. Again, it’s understandable, but not something I’m used to anywhere else.

security-checkpoint

Many of the other touches of paranoia were subtle, but they were there. Like an “evacuation route” sign on Pennsylvania Avenue, the street where the White House resides. I’m sure every city has evacuation routes, I just don’t ever notice the signs placed so prominently.

pennsylvania-avenue-evacuat

Walking down the street I would frequently see guys in dark vans talking on their Bluetooth devices. I felt like I was under surveillance and constantly had to prove that I wasn’t a suspect, which is not a particularly comfortable feeling.

The Capitol had its own police. That’s not too surprising, I guess.

united-state-capitol-police

More surprising was that the U.S. Mint had its own police.

united-states-mint-police

The Secret Service did a good job of staying secret. This car was the only evidence I saw of them. (Aside from the Bluetooth people in dark vans, of course.)

secret-service-police

Look at all the freaks on these weird moving machines. Call the swat team! We can’t allow this! Hassle the Segway people!

segway-riders-police

Unless you’re a VIP, we can’t trust you, so stay out!

treasury-access

Of course the president’s house had heavy security and hidden cameras during the White House Garden Tour. Peekaboo!

hidden-camera

You need police on horses. But this guy’s sunglasses didn’t seem to be working. I’m not sure how effectively he can perform his duties if he cannot see.

horse-police

The Metro bus even had an advertisement for Smart911.com. I have no idea what that is, or why we might need a “VIP” version of 9-1-1, but if it’s going to help me keep the members of my family safe, I suppose I should look into it.

smart911-bus-ad

Move along. No loitering outside the Holocaust Museum!

security-guard-outside

The paranoia wore off on me. I saw this plane coming in behind the Jefferson Memorial and thought, “Whoa! That plane should not be that close! What is going on? Emergency!”

jefferson-memorial-plane

It’s a fine line between making people feel safe and making them feel watched or monitored. I do appreciate the security, but if I lived here, this environment would take quite a bit of getting used to.

Weirdness of Washington DC

I feel compelled to share some other images of things that aren’t necessarily paranoid, just weird.

A lot of cities have those signals that count down how many seconds you have left to cross the street. Usually, they don’t go much higher than 20 or 25. In DC, I saw some that start as high as 76 seconds. Hurry up and cross now! You only have 76 seconds to make it to the other side!

I felt like getting a chair and sitting in the middle of the crosswalk with a cup of coffee, just to prove how ridiculous it was to give pedestrians 76 seconds to cross the street.

crossing-walk-signal

Here’s something that’s unusual in a good way: The squirrels are the friendliest I’ve ever seen. They come right up to people. Hey there, buddy!

squirrel-in-dc

They attack girls on sidewalks.

squirrels-chase-people

And hang out at famous memorials and monuments.

squirrel-vietnam-wall

The squirrels were so prevalent that I had to wonder if maybe they were just a little too friendly. Why were they always running around so close to me? What if they were secret robot squirrels, created by the government or CIA in order to spy on everybody?

Yes, a few days in Washington DC turned me into a paranoid lunatic.

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About Scott Shetler

Scott is a Chicago-based journalist and blogger who seeks out quirky sights and awesome destinations throughout North America and beyond.

10 comments on “Paranoia and weirdness in Washington DC

    • I had that experience with the garden tour because they wouldn’t let me bring anything. I had to run back to my hotel, drop everything off, then catch a cab and race back to make it in time. Luckily I made it!

  1. Visit any collage campus and you’ll see how “friendly” the squirrels are. UGH!!! I hate them so much. They are getting too domesticated in my opinion. There was this one squirrel at my community collage who would like ATTACK you, if you didn’t have food for it. Scared the crap out of me. And they are so over weight because they just eat out of the trash and out of peoples hands, ugh, it just grosses me out sooooo much.

    Okay, sorry about that rant that pretty much had nothing to do with this post.
    Rebecca recently posted..Alaska – The Last Day-ish

    • I’ve seen some friendly college squirrels but these guys seemed to take it to another level. They were not eating food out of people’s hands, though! That sounds like the plot of a scary movie. Attack of the killer squirrels.

  2. It does sound like a bit much, but I guess it would have affected me less, given that I live in Israel and there are security people at the entrances to central bus stations, malls, universities, some supermarkets, you name it. Once you’ve lived like this all your life, it really doesn’t affect you much.

    That countdown of seconds, on the other hand, was new to me when I visited the States. But still – 76 seconds to cross the street? Was the street really large? Or maybe it’s for the elderly or people who have challenges walking?
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..Meet a Local: Sabina, a Middle East Solo Female Traveler from Connecticut, USA

  3. That’s really interesting.. I was in D.C last November for a few days and being a foreigner kind of expected a lot of security in your nations capital but I didn’t really see that much. I actually saw more cops on a daily basis in Waikiki than I did in NYC, Philly or D.C.

    • Hmm, that is odd. Police are everywhere in NY and DC so maybe you visited different parts of the city than me! I wouldn’t have expected that many police in Waikiki.

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