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This Week On Metro Connection: Chemistry

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and here's a question for you, what comes to mind when you heard the word chemistry? Do you head back to the high school science lab and experiments gone awry?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Do you think about ionic versus covalent bonds?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

The periodic table and its myriad charms?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Or instead, does your mind take you here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

My darling, you are my Valentine, I adore you, I worship the ground you walk upon.

SHEIR

Well, no matter where your mind goes, we've got you covered this week with a show all about the complex, often mysterious realm of chemistry.

SHEIR

We'll meet a scientist using chemistry to improve on life-saving drugs.

DR. JOSEPH FORTUNAK

Big pharma doesn't actually have the mission of making certain that medicines are available for everybody in the world.

SHEIR

And we'll learn more about the science of blind dating.

MR. BRIAN FITZGERALD

Chemistry, you know, from an academic standpoint, you could have one explanation, but in terms of a romantic explanation it almost is the same thing. It's watching two agents interact.

SHEIR

First though, we're going to meet a Washingtonian who's concocted a whole menu of ways to harness the power of Cupid's arrow…

MS. GENA CHERSEVANI

Give it a little mix and I'm going to pull up the mixture from the bottom because it's a tall drink.

SHEIR

…in a glass.

CHERSEVANI

And I'll give you a taste.

SHEIR

And this particular glass…

SHEIR

All right.

CHERSEVANI

All right.

SHEIR

Let's give this a go.

SHEIR

…contains a mixture of liquor, flavorings and herbs that, according to our gal here, is destined to get you in the mood this Valentine's Day.

SHEIR

Hey, can I have one more sip before we move on?

CHERSEVANI

Yeah.

SHEIR

Gina Chersevani is a long time bartender here in Washington, or as she calls herself, mixtress.

CHERSEVANI

I like calling myself the mixtress because it's just a little bit naughty and a little bit nice.

SHEIR

We're at the Eddy Bar, inside Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill. This Valentine's Day weekend Hank's and Eddy are offering a tasting menu inspired by Aphrodite. Each dish, many of which involve those famous oysters, is paired with a duo of his-and-hers drinks.

CHERSEVANI

And, of course, I go with his-and-his and hers-and-hers, so don't worry. We have something planned for everybody.

SHEIR

Each cocktail couplet is named after well-known romantic pairs who've been known to squabble from time to time. So, you've got the Al Bundy and the Peg Bundy. The Richard Burton and the Elizabeth Taylor.

CHERSEVANI

And we have the Fred and Ethel. It is a ginger-rye drink for the man. And then it's going to be the cucumber and the lavender for the woman.

SHEIR

But why ginger and rye for the guy and cucumber and lavender for the gal? Well, Gina says it all boils down to chemistry, a subject the University of Maryland science and art major has been teaching in her new class, Cocktail Chemistry.

SHEIR

What exactly does that entail? What are you doing with the students?

CHERSEVANI

We go through, like, different herbs, flavors, their profiles, like fresh snap ginger. You know, what does it do to a woman? Well, it makes her think of cleanliness. Things smell like ginger, perfumes. For men, when they eat it, it, you know, it keeps the hoo-ha going. And that's what we kind of do in the class.

SHEIR

Is there something that you find that you bring up with the students that, like, surprises them more than anything? They're like, no way.

CHERSEVANI

Soap. Cleanliness and that being the best thing for women. Laundry. You know, all the things that are in laundry detergent. What's the number one thing they add in laundry detergent? Lavender. Fresh laundry is said to be the best aphrodisiac for a woman. Period.

SHEIR

I’m not going to lie. I love the smell of fresh laundry.

CHERSEVANI

But that’s, I mean, if there was a way I could just make a fresh linen cocktail and not have it be the grossest thing that you've ever had, maybe I would really hit it.

SHEIR

Well, okay, I love this like wall of jars. I can't really recognize most things. Oh, cinnamon sticks.

CHERSEVANI

Yeah, cinnamon sticks. Like right there, like that's a really good one for men, it's cassia, right. So cassia is found in different liquors and it's just like a root, but it's very appealing to, like, men's libido. It's the reason why in general, men stick to, you know, something with bitters in their cocktail or Manhattans or something. Just that flavor is what they like. And cucumber is another one. Cucumber is very appealing to the sensuality of women.

CHERSEVANI

They really, like, respond to it. That's why when you go into Body Works or, I don't know, down the aisle in CVS, what's the number one flavor? Cucumber melon. They're all things that remind you of that euphoria of, like, again, of like love, friendship, warmth. Another cool one is sassafras. Sassafras to women smells a lot like, you know, root beer or, you know, some sort of raisiny--it's got a raisiny undertone for us.

CHERSEVANI

But for men, it is a sweeter sensation. And it is definitely found in most colognes. We have this drink here at Hank's which we do with a little bit of sassafras and orange, like an orange soda. And I love to mix it with a little bit of rye. So rye's just a strong, delicious liquor, right? But it really, really lends itself to the orange and to the sassafras. And orange and orange sense and peel is just really enlightening, opening.

CHERSEVANI

And if you are missing aphrodisiacs, if you need a really quick fix of how do I get myself there? Gin is one of the best things that you could do. You could just go buy gin and it contains all the things that get people in the mood, the juniper, the cassia, the lemon peel, orange, it's pretty interesting. And if you're going to have cocktails that give you some sort of feeling, you can start there.

SHEIR

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and to educate me.

CHERSEVANI

Yes, of course. Have a cocktail. Hang out.

SHEIR

Twist my arm.

CHERSEVANI

Done.

SHEIR

Gena Chersevani is the mixtress at the Eddy Bar inside Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill. Hank's is serving it's Valentine's Day tasting menu all weekend long. To learn more about Gena's cocktail chemistry class and to see photos of Gena mixing one of her love potions, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

So now that Gina Chersevani has taught us how to get ourselves in the mood, let's talk about another crucial step of romance, dating. Each week for the past six years the Washington Post has been sending strangers out on dinner dates and then writing it up in a popular magazine feature called Date Lab. The results range from delightful to disastrous. So what exactly is it that sparks chemistry between two people? Jacob Fenston brings us this look at the science of matchmaking.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

Turns out it's actually not a science. In fact, a few years ago, the matchmakers at Date Lab decided to let a monkey pick that week's couple.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

That's from a video on the Washington Post website. The date turned out really well, actually. Better than a lot of dates arranged by humans.

MS. CHRISTINA ANTONIADES

I think I'm better than a monkey. The monkey did a good job though.

FENSTON

Christina Antoniades is Date Lab's head matchmaker. She pairs up couples based on their responses to a quirky online questionnaire.

ANTONIADES

We ask them for a lot of their likes and dislikes. We ask them who they think their type is.

MS. SHELLY SMITH

The one thing I knew was going to catch was when I had submitted my application it asked for your type.

FENSTON

Date Lab sent Shelly Smith on a blind date a few months ago.

SMITH

I had put the Brawny paper towel man as my dream man. So sure enough, this tall red-headed guy walks in, I'm like, oh, I don't even have to guess, he's totally for me.

FENSTON

The tall red-headed guy was Brian Fitzgerald.

FITZGERALD

We had a great time, probably talked for 90 percent, ate for 10 percent.

FENSTON

The morning after the date, Christina Antoniades or another Date Lab reporter interviews the daters over the phone to see how it went. And they always ask about chemistry.

ANTONIADES

We do always ask that.

FITZGERALD

Was there chemistry? Yes.

SMITH

I absolutely think that there was chemistry there.

FITZGERALD

Chemistry, you know, from an academic standpoint, you could have one explanation, but in terms of a romantic explanation, it almost is the same thing. It's watching two agents interact.

SMITH

Each person's got to have certain components and either those components click, and poof, there's your love potion number nine or those components don't click.

FENSTON

For Smith and Fitzgerald, things clicked on that first date. Eventually though, the chemistry fizzled. But occasionally, when Date Lab puts two people together, there is an intense chemical reaction, intensely bad. Years ago, on one date the daters hated each other so much they both rated the night a zero, on a scale of one to five. But in the annals of bad dates, that one may have been topped by the date Jack Gray went on last October.

MR. JACK GRAY

You know, I didn't have high expectations, but I figured it would be fun and, you know, the Washington Post was generous enough to pay for our meal.

FENSTON

On paper, Gray and his date had some things in common. They both mentioned they liked horses.

FITZGERALD

Yeah, I think she connects better with a horse. Her communication skills were zero.

FENSTON

The woman in question declined an interview, but told the Washington Post, "He was just completely and totally and 100 percent not anything I would be interested in." So after a few minutes of tense conversation…

GRAY

Maybe 25 minutes, 30 minutes maybe.

FENSTON

…she got up to go to the bathroom and he waited at the table. And waited.

GRAY

I figured when she didn't come back in ten minutes I was pulling the plug. You know, I sent a waitress in there to look for her and she said, no, didn't find anyone.

FENSTON

The woman had slipped out of the restaurant, without saying anything. The people behind Date Lab say there's about a 40 percent success rate, if success is wanting to go on another date with a person. But there are some really successful dates that maybe make the whole experiment worthwhile.

MS. ANNA ZIELASKI

We both kind of sometimes forget, though, we met on Date Lab.

FENSTON

In 2010, Date Lab set up Anna Russell on a blind date with Daniel Zielaski.

MR. DANIEL ZIELASKI

We just had a blast. I didn't want that night to end. It was like we were in Vegas. You know, time was just flying by.

FENSTON

They stayed out so late on that first date, they both had to call in sick to work the next day. A few days later, they went on date number two.

ZIELASKI

We were together like 13 hours, like I didn't go home until like midnight again. I think, like, after the third date we were like together.

ZIELASKI

I don't know if there was one moment when I said to myself, like, this is the person, you know, that early, that I want to be with forever, but I certainly said to myself, this is the person I want to be with. I mean, if every day could be like this, why wouldn't you want to be in that situation every day?

FENSTON

Anna Russell is now Anna Zielaski. The two got married in June in Missoula, where they're both now studying at the University of Montana. So far, Date Lab has engineered more than 300 dates. That's led to a total of three weddings, minus one divorce. Christina Antoniades, who's been working for Date Lab since the beginning, says one thing she's learned is that people don't always know what they want in a partner.

ANTONIADES

We do, we have a lot of people who say I want tall, dark and handsome, (laugh) a lot of women. And, you know, I always am thinking, that maybe that shouldn't be a criteria.

FENSTON

Because if Date Lab sticks you with a short bald guy, you might just hit it off and end up getting married. It's happened before. I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

Do you have a dating horror story or the opposite, did you find lasting chemistry from a chance encounter? We want to hear all about it. Send an email to metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

Time for a break, but when we get back, using chemistry to keep soldiers safe.

MALE

Does that look like it has an explosive in it?

MALE

No, it's empty.

SHEIR

Plus, investigating the agency overseeing the Silver Line project in Virginia.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

But then she was hired to a special job created just for her at MWAA for $180,000 a year. And this situation has never been fully explained.

SHEIR

That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

ANNOUNCER

WAMU news coverage of labor and employment issues is made possible by your contributions and by Matthew Watson, in memory of Marjorie Watson. And support for WAMU 88.5's coverage of the environment comes from the Wallace Genetic Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of farmland preservation, the reduction of environmental toxins and the conservation of natural resources.

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're talking chemistry. And thus far we've been focusing on chemistry of the intrapersonal sort. But now, we're going to look at how chemistry is being used to save lives. In just a few minutes we'll hear from scientists building gadgets that rely on chemistry to keep soldiers safe by detecting explosives. First though, we'll look at some new chemistry being used in the production of life-saving medicines. The world's big pharmaceutical companies are mostly known for two things, discovering major new drugs and making lots of money.

SHEIR

But as Jonathan Wilson tells us, a Howard University professor and his students are proving that while discovering new drugs is essential, refining older drugs could be just as important.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

Professor Joseph Fortunak empties a bag of round tablets onto a desk in a basement chemistry lab at Howard University. The tablets are chalky white, with little beige speckles. The bulbous little white discs are a lot larger than, say, the generic aspirin you can get at a local drug store, but they still look small enough to swallow without much effort.

FORTUNAK

These are tablets of Amodiaquine.

WILSON

Before we get to what, exactly, Amodiaquine is, consider the professor himself, the longish, disheveled white hair and moustache, the V-neck sweater, the deliberate, exact sentences that spill effortlessly out of him. This is a man who was born to teach chemistry. Tiffany Ellison, one of his Ph.D students, says Fortunak is famous for scribbling impromptu chemistry lessons on napkins and paper towels.

MS. TIFFANY ELLISON

You have to be ready to do chemistry everywhere. You have to be ready for a presentation at all times, in the middle of the hallway or anything.

WILSON

And yet, as the professor tells it, he struggled mightily in his first college chemistry course.

FORTUNAK

I was absolutely certain as a freshman at Purdue University that I was going to flunk chemistry and I'd have to go back to work in the steel mill.

WILSON

But Fortunak says he tested well enough to get into an honors course.

FORTUNAK

And they let us do whatever we want in honors chemistry lab. I convinced my lab mate that we should do brain surgery on cockroaches and I guess that's what turned me into a chemist.

WILSON

He went on to earn his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. That led to a 21-year career working for three huge pharmaceutical companies, where he helped shepherd 15 new drugs to market. But it was only after more than two decades as a high-level chemist working for big pharma that Fortunak made the transition to what he says is his dream job, teaching and researching at a university.

FORTUNAK

I came to Howard University because it was clear to me that big pharma doesn't actually have the job or the mission of making certain that medicines are available for everybody in the world.

WILSON

So back to those round white tablets, Amodiaquine. Amodiaquine is a drug used to combat malaria. Malaria isn't common in the U.S. or Europe and so there isn't much incentive for Western companies to spend money and time researching new drugs. Amodiaquine, for instance, has been around for decades. Most of the world's supply of anti-malarial medicine is manufactured in India and China, but the greatest need is in poorer African countries such as Nigeria, where some estimates figure that a child dies every minute from malaria.

FORTUNAK

So the paradigm that we're living in now is that in approximately the year 2,000, the United Nations and the World Health Organization decided that they would undertake a huge program to create a system in which medicines would be donated to people who otherwise don't have access. And let's call those low and middle income countries. Well, that system wasn't meant to last forever.

WILSON

Fortunak says that while the donation program has put all sorts of life-saving drugs into the hands of people who need them, it simply isn't a sustainable model.

FORTUNAK

When I think about it, there is a pharmaceutical industry in Africa. But if you're donating medicines into Africa, your donations are actually militating towards crushing the growth and development of that regional, pharmaceutical industry.

WILSON

And that's where Fortunak comes in. He's spent the past eight years at Howard figuring out how to make common anti-malarial and anti-HIV drugs in cheaper, greener and more efficient ways. He says African countries generally don't have the robust petrochemical industry from which big pharma obtains solvents needed in the production of medicines.

FORTUNAK

Can we challenge ourselves to make chemistry so that we can manufacture medicines using the materials that are available in the markets where we would like regional production to occur.

WILSON

Fortunak and his students and colleagues are challenging themselves and the rest of the world, because they're getting results. He says he's proudest of the work they've done on a couple of HIV drugs. The antiretroviral Tenofovir disoproxil fumarate now costs about a fourth of what it cost when it was first launched by drug companies in India in 2007, that's thanks to refinements in the manufacturing process discovered by Fortunak's students.

WILSON

Efavirenz, a drug that Fortunak himself helped bring to market in 1998, now costs about 11 percent of what it cost when it was first introduced in India in 2005.

FORTUNAK

And the great thing about that is the volume of that drug in low- and middle-income countries in 2012 is 750 metric tons. That represents well over three million people taking that drug, when in 2005, that was essentially zero.

WILSON

So how did Fortunak, who had opportunities to end up at a deep-pocketed, Ivy League research institution, choose the historically respected but relatively underfunded Howard University? Fortunak says bigger universities were excited about his ideas, but were mostly focused on how much money they could make with new patents. At Howard, the emphasis was different.

FORTUNAK

Bob Catchings said to me, Dr. Fortunak, we're not a rich university at Howard, but tell me something, how many lives could we save?

WILSON

Fortunak says there is much more work to do, especially when it comes to improving access to drugs for diabetes and heart disease and cancer, diseases that kill more people than HIV and malaria, but don't, as Fortunak says, have the public relations behind them. I’m Jonathan Wilson.

SHEIR

Dr. Fortunak will be speaking about his work and other green chemistry ideas Tuesday night at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. You can find more information about that talk on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We're going to head to another science lab now, one that's geared toward protecting members of the military while they're deployed overseas. Matt M. Casey has the story.

MR. MATT M. CASEY

Not far from Washington, D.C., a team of civilian scientists at Virginia's Fort Belvoir use chemistry to keep U.S. soldiers safe from explosives.

MR. MATT M. CASEY

That sound you hear is the air pump in a machine called FIDO. The pistol-shaped device sniffs the air, searching for particles called nitro-aromatic compounds emitted by military grade explosives. Aaron LaPointe, an explosive detection researcher at the Army's Night Vision and Electronic Sensor Directorate, says FIDO is built around a polymer coating on the inside of a narrow tube. When exposed to light, the polymer generates its own glow.

MR. AARON LAPOINTE

When those molecules come close to this they'll be pulled in and then they will adhere. This would land right on that polymer material. And when they do that, there's an electronic transfer process that happens. And it shuts the light off. I always use the analogy of Christmas lights.

CASEY

When those Christmas lights blink off, the machine lets you know. In an explosive-free environment FIDO’s output sounds like a Geiger counter.

CASEY

But when explosives are in the area, it sounds like this.

CASEY

Okay. No mistaking that.

LAPOINTE

No. No mistaking that, right.

CASEY

To demonstrate FIDO'S sensitivity, LaPointe holds an empty vial in front of the sniffer.

LAPOINTE

At one point, I put a small spec of TNT in here, and then I pulled it out. All right, I think years ago. As you can see, the sensitivity, I mean, you can't tell me where that explosive is, right? Does that look like that has an explosive in it?

CASEY

No, it's empty.

LAPOINTE

Right.

CASEY

LaPointe says these devices help soldiers find targets of interest in areas of interest. Between the machine's calibration and the soldier's training, they can tell the difference between harmless spent gunpowder and the very real threat of an improvised bomb. But while FIDO is impressive, this device is already out of date.

LAPOINTE

The hardware that you're seeing here was developed back in the '06 time frame. There have been improvements made sense then. I can't get into that, but there is work going on to improve its usability.

CASEY

But even the improve FIDO would probably be out of place in LaPointe's lab. The model LaPointe demonstrates has the tight compact appearance of a mass produced product. The projects he usually works on lack that kind of polish.

LAPOINTE

We work on things that are more, you know, put together with duct tape and network analyzers on a cart like this. We're trying to explore at the scientific level, what are the fundamentals that we can apply to the problem?

CASEY

Citing security reasons, LaPointe and his colleagues say they can't talk about the specifics of their current work. Developing a new sensor can take years or decades, LaPointe says. And he doesn't want enemy combatants to know how to defeat a new tool before it reaches the battlefield. But he can speak in broad terms.

LAPOINTE

We have on our team about 15 engineers and scientists looking at different discipline areas. Some are acoustic experts, some are metal detection experts. We have some laser experts. So we try to cross the board, have people that are grounded in the fundamentals, request all of, you know, physics and chemistry, so that we can try to apply that to the problem.

CASEY

Each approach presents its own technical hurdles, which LaPointe's team battles on a regular basis, but his group also has to take the soldiers into account. Directorate spokesperson Kimberly Bell puts it like this…

MS. KIMBERLY BELL

How easy is it for an 18 year old in the field to use?

CASEY

Beyond simplicity, LaPointe has to make sure the finished products don't break, don't weigh the soldier down and don't interfere with his other jobs. And that's something he says his team tries to take into account from the earliest stages of development. LaPointe says the challenge of trying to find and detect hidden explosives is humbling and there's good reason why Congress has been funding such an initiatives in recent years.

CASEY

In 2010 Wired magazine reported that the Pentagon had spent 19 billion on bomb detection equipment in the previous six years.

LAPOINTE

So these type of things do not come around quickly. It takes, you know, steady perseverance and understanding the fundamentals and then trying to apply that to the problem.

CASEY

Despite the obstacles, Bell says the pay off of this work can be huge. One of the center's past coordinators shared a story upon her retirement about how Directorate technology saved her husband.

BELL

He was actually in a vehicle, using the technology that she'd worked on and it saved his life when his vehicle actually ran into some buried mines that were in the road. You know, when she told us this story she got teary eyed and said, I can't believe something that I worked on what seemed like a million years ago saved my husband's life.

CASEY

That time it was a former coordinator's husband. Next time it could be your neighbor.

CASEY

I'm Matt M. Casey.

SHEIR

We're going to hop away from this week's theme for just a bit and do a little investigating with someone we haven't heard from in a while, transportation reporter Martin Di Caro. Martin's been doing some pretty big investigative work about the Metropolitan Washington Airport's Authority or MWAA. MWAA is the entity in charge of the $5.5 billion Silver Line rail project to Dulles International Airport. Last year an audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed what it called a culture of nepotism at MWAA.

SHEIR

Martin did some digging into that allegation and has new details on the political maneuvering that resulted in two pro-labor members of MWAA's board resigning. And Martin joins me now, here in the studio. Hi, Martin.

CARO

Hello, Rebecca.

SHEIR

All right. So, Martin, one of the two people who resigned was a woman named Mame Reiley. Tell us about her situation.

CARO

Mame is a Democratic party activist. She resigned from the Airport's Authority Board of Directors for health reasons last year, but then she was hired to a special job created just for her at MWAA for $180,00 a year. And this situation's never been fully explained. Former board member Bob Brown is a Democrat whose term expired last year. He says MWAA Board Vice Chairman Tom Davis, a Republican appointed by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, orchestrated the hiring of Reiley.

CARO

He says he knows this because both Reiley and Davis told him so.

MR. BOB BROWN

Tome was the one that conceived of the idea of how to persuade Mame Reiley to resign her seat and open up that prior Democratic appointment for McDonnell to fill.

SHEIR

So why was it so important, from their perspective, to get her off the board?

CARO

Well, Governor McDonnell replaced her with Todd Stottlemeyer and in doing so the Republican administration in Richmond secured another Republican vote against a pro-labor, pro-vision set in the bidding process for phase two of the Silver Line. That provision is known as a PLA or Project Labor Agreement. It was fought by the Virginia governor and Republicans in the general assembly who threatened to withhold $150 million in funding.

CARO

MWAA had defended the pro-labor provision against these attacks for months, but bowed to this pressure and voted to kill the PLA on June 6. Bob Brown says politics should never interfere with the workings of an agency like MWAA.

BROWN

Nobody did anything illegal on this, but it goes against the grain of the notion of these kinds of non-political regional agencies that are supposed to be regional collaborations, have appointments that are staggered in time so no one governor or no one mayor makes all the appointments to the board.

CARO

Again, Brown says Tom Davis orchestrated this deal.

SHEIR

Well, what does Davis have to say about that?

CARO

He denies it.

MR. TOM DAVIS

There were other people that I'm not going to get into that had basically initiated this conversation. I didn't have a dog in that fight, but I thought getting her off the board, frankly, at that point would be a win-win for everybody. So I acquiesced, I didn't raise an objection to it.

SHEIR

I understand Davis testified before Congress last year about MWAA's problems and was asked about Reiley's hiring. What did he say?

CARO

At that time he said he was only aware of it.

DAVIS

Well, I was aware. I mean, there were board members it was run by, so it was not…

MALE

So was it approved by the board or not approved by the board?

DAVIS

No. It was not approved by the board. This is his story.

MALE

Is that standard practice?

DAVIS

I think the board generally did the CEO acts and he sounds this out. This was a complicated situation.

SHEIR

So this pro-labor provision, the Project Labor Agreement, it was overturned. Can you remind us why that's so important?

CARO

Well, it'll be up to the contractor to decide whether to enter a PLA with a union workforce when construction of phase two of the Silver Line begins later this year. And that's how many officials in the right-to-work Virginia want it. But it's important to note that phase one of the Silver Line was built under a PLA. And the Airport's Authority CEO Jack Potter credits that with keep the project on time and on budget with an outstanding safety record.

SHEIR

I see, okay. But now, Mame Reiley, she wasn't the only pro-labor member of the board who resigned, right? There was also a guy named Dennis Martire. And I understand you have emails with more information on that.

CARO

Yes. A week after MWAA overturned the PLA, Governor McDonnell attempted to remove Dennis Martire from the board for cause. Martire's a labor union official. He supported the Project Labor Agreement. Email sent by Tom Davis, Stottlemeyer and board member Rusty Conner, enclosed in a Fairfax Circuit Court filing suggests the three men were aware of the governor's intention to dump Martire four months earlier and communicated with Republican officials in Richmond to secure Martire's removal.

CARO

Davis says he did want Martire out, but not for political reasons.

DAVIS

My job was to try to get a rail system built. This board was dysfunctional. It wasn't just the PLA. It was the lack of transparency. There were 20 things that were going wrong at that point.

SHEIR

So, Martin, what should we make of all of this political maneuvering?

CARO

Well, I talked with Melanie Sloan. She's the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She says agencies like MWAA should not be riddled with political infighting.

MS. MELANIE SLOAN

This is a board that's dealing with so many critical transportation issues, it really shouldn't be marred by political infighting. Given all that has gone on in the past couple of years with the board, it really seems like the best course of action would be a clean sweep and an entirely new set of board members.

CARO

And all this scrutiny comes as MWAA prepares to begin the next phase of the Silver Line. Contractors' bids for the project are due April 19.

SHEIR

Well, Martin Di Caro, thank you so much for taking us behind the scenes on this one.

CARO

You're welcome.

SHEIR

And you can read more about Martin's investigation and see those emails he dug up on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Up next, we'll visit two of Maryland's kinship communities. Towns settled by former slaves after the Civil War.

MR. BERNARD SCOTT

To come here and see the history alive, it's part of why I fell in love with Scotland.

SHEIR

That and more is coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir, and this week, in honor of Valentine's Day, we're talking about chemistry. Earlier in the show, we went behind the bar with D.C.'s very own mixtress, and learned about cocktail chemistry. And we got up close and personal with the folks behind Date Lab, the Washington Post's experiment in blind dating. But to kick off this part of the show, we're gonna tip our hats not so much to the holiday we're celebrating this week, but to the event we're celebrating all of February, African American History Month.

SHEIR

Across Montgomery County, Md., you'll find about 40 communities that played a very particular role in the region's, and the nation's, African American history. They were all settled by freed slaves in the 19th century, and include places like Lyttonsville, Lincoln Park, Sugarland, Jerusalem, Tobytown, Stewartown, Ken-Gar, Sandy Spring, and Scotland. They're often referred to as "kinship communities."

MR. JOHN MULLER

I don't know the formal history of the origins of the name kinship...

SHEIR

Author and journalist John Muller hails from the Sandy Spring area.

MULLER

...but I'll just say from my experiences growing up, for example, there was the Briscoe family. The Briscoe family grew up right around Zion and Brookeville Road. They had a very large extended family. And like, the fellow I went to school with, he would call people his brothers or cousins that didn't necessarily have like the same last name. I don't think they were of blood relation, but they grew up in the same area. Their parents might have grown up with each other, their grandparents grew up with each other. And so you have these bonds, these relationships, that are passed down from generation to generation.

SHEIR

And indeed, these generations go back quite a ways. As Muller drives me around his old stomping grounds, we stop at a cemetery right next to Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, which many people say was the first church in the county to be purchased by blacks.

SHEIR

Can we see dates on any of these headstones?

MULLER

See, look, now this person, 103 year old, 1841 to 1945.

SHEIR

Wow. Some long lives here.

SHEIR

Sandy Spring is a relatively rural community. While it was settled by Quakers in the 1700s, in the 1800s it became this enclave for emancipated slaves.

MULLER

They had kind of the ability they'll say to police themselves. It was very self-contained.

SHEIR

But since then, successors to these freed slaves have to these freed slaves have seen that self-contained security decline. A few years ago, Montgomery County told residents of Farm Road that, in short, their private road does not exist. The county says the road isn't on any official records, so the residents don't have any addresses, so, basically, they don't have a right to use that land. The residents' federal complaint against the county was dismissed in 2011, but a group called Save Sandy Spring continues to fight.

SHEIR

And several kinship communities away, in Scotland, Md...

MULLER

This is Rebecca Sheir.

SCOTT

Hi, Rebecca, I'm Bernard.

SHEIR

Nice to meet you, Bernard.

MULLER

Bernard Scott.

SHEIR

...people definitely know a thing or two about fighting. We're in the historic Scotland AME Zion Church on Seven Locks Road, where Pastor Adrian Nelson is introducing me to 63 year old Bernard Scott.

SCOTT

I am a resident of Scotland for 45 years. I no longer live in Scotland, but I have adopted Scotland as my home, and the Scotland residents as my family. And I hope they feel the same way, too.

SHEIR

Scott has become an amateur historian on the town of Scotland, which first came into the hands of an ex-slave in 1880. But by the 1960s, the place was pretty much a mess.

SCOTT

When I came in this area in 1968, this Seven Locks Road was a dirt road. I know this is radio, but this is basically what the housing in the area looked like. As you can see, these are basically shacks, with no plumbing, no inside bathrooms. And right up the road there, most of the well-to-do Potomac residents were already there. So this area here was being neglected.

SHEIR

That word, neglected, that may be an understatement. In 1964, Scotland was so run-down that the county nearly condemned it. Which is why, in 1965, black residents and some of their white neighbors formed a new kind of union...

MS. BETTY THOMPSON

"Save Our Scotland," S.O.S...

SHEIR

...to save this town they held so dear.

THOMPSON

Another minister was here at the time, and I can't remember saying it, but he told me I said, "I'll die for Scotland."

SHEIR

Well, all these years later, 77 year old Betty Thompson is alive and well in Scotland, and full of memories of how she and her fellow SOSers tackled the community's housing problems. First...

THOMPSON

We raised money...

SHEIR

...by combining the residents' land and selling all but 12 acres to the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission. Then, after fighting to obtain zoning rights, they went through the Department of Housing and Urban Development...

THOMPSON

HUD.

SHEIR

...to create 100 brand new houses. 75 to rent...

THOMPSON

...and then 25 of us bought our own.

SHEIR

And by 1971, residents of Scotland were able to move into their own townhomes, all equipped with heating, electricity and water. They also finally got a Laundromat, a daycare center, a community center and public transportation. And Bernard Scott says it was all thanks to that age-old tradition of kinship.

SCOTT

In a very difficult time, it was a great group of people who were able to stick together, and keep their heads up, when everybody else was trying to separate them and knock their heads off.

SHEIR

Scott says although Scotland is no longer as thriving as it once was, he has high hopes for its future. Residents past and present continue to gather each August for Scotland Community Day. And the more than 100-year-old Scotland AME Zion Church is still a major hub for what Scott calls the Scotland family.

SCOTT

Family is an institution where love lives. And if there are 17 people living in one house, they're going to fuss, they're going to argue, they're going to step on each other's toes. But they're never going to stop loving each other. And that's the way Scotland is.

SHEIR

Back in Sandy Spring, John Muller says that's the way all kinship communities in Montgomery County have traditionally been, because of their residents' many shared experiences.

MULLER

You know, a shared experience would be surviving, thriving as a community against like all odds, or against the prevailing attitudes of the day. Everyone essentially works to support the whole community.

SHEIR

And in turn, in true kinship, the whole community works to support them.

SHEIR

We'll bring you more from Sandy Spring on our March 8th edition of the show, when we'll dig deeper into that land dispute that residents say has prevented them from using their property. So stay tuned.

SHEIR

We'll head back to the District now for this month's edition of D.C. Gigs. This time around, Jocelyn Frank takes us to one of the city's most iconic hotels, the Willard Intercontinental, to meet Steven Blum, a man who's been interacting with all sorts of people, including numerous U.S. presidents, for more than a quarter of a century.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

Welcome to the Willard Intercontinental.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

1401 Pennsylvania Avenue. Best view you could imagine from your office window of the United States Capitol building. Turn to the right. Within a two minute walk, you'd be at the doors of the White House, east gate. What an address to work at.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

My name is Steven Blum. I am the uniform services director at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. I began as the hotel doorman in 1986 and I remained a doorman for approximately 7 years, and then I moved inside as manager. I manage the doormen and the bellmen and I'm the Ambassador of the Lobby.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

I knew about the Willard's history even before I came to work here, going back to 1816 and the 1840s. Abraham Lincoln stayed here. The term lobbyist was coined in the lobby of this hotel. You never know what to expect. The first morning that I was scheduled, and on my own that day. I'd only been a bellman at another hotel for a few months, and I heard someone coming through the door, and I turned around, and I was like, and it was Jimmy Stewart.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

I greeted him, and he asked me how long of a walk to the White House, should I get a car? I said, no, a car wouldn't help, but you could walk three minutes and sort of knock on the door. And I – that was my first celebrity. One of the things I always enjoy is we have a high number of diplomatic arrivals here at the hotel, and you have the motorcade coming, and the Secret Serviced, and the police, and everything's blocked off. You can hear the sirens of the motorcade coming down the street. And the only person allowed behind the police lines, with the exception of security, it's just me.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

And there's still, even to this day, of 27 years of doing this, there's an excitement when you hear the motorcade coming and the sirens, you know, and you get pumped up, you know, and it's – yeah. Every president since James Buchanan has come here. I've greeted from Gerald Ford on. And I got, actually, got to know Gerald and Betty Ford by their, they would know me by my first name.

MR. STEVEN BLUM

It takes a lot of smiling, a lot of charisma, and, you know, you adapt to the guests for that day. I can't be the third baseman for the Washington Nationals, but then the third basemen for the Washington Nationals might not be able to do my job either.

SHEIR

That was Steven Blum, the Uniform Services Director of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, speaking with reporter Jocelyn Frank.

SHEIR

If you have a distinctively D.C. gig you think we should feature on the show, let us know. Send an email to metro@wamu.org, or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

Time now for D.C. Dives.

MALE

What is a dive bar?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE

It's a glorious dump.

MALE

It's gotta have an interesting staff, and an interesting crowd.

FEMALE

It's got to be dark, it's got to be old, typically, it's got to be cheap.

SHEIR

In the latest edition of our monthly series on local dive bars, Jerad Walker takes us to a favorite neighborhood watering hole in Arlington. One whose days may be numbered.

MR. JERAD WALKER

It's Friday night, and I'm hanging out at Jay's Saloon and Grille on North 10th Street in Clarendon. With its screened-in porch, this dive bar looks like any of the homes just down the street. Owners Kathi and James Moore say there's a simple reason why.

MS. KATHI MOORE

We've been around since 1993. And it was a heating and air conditioning place before that, and before that, it obviously was a house.

MR. JAMES MOORE

I have one customer whose mother I think lived in this house in the 1920s.

WALKER

Although this building is now the neighborhood bar, customers are still encouraged to make themselves right at home.

MOORE

It's nothing fancy. You know, you don't get white table cloths. We don't have a wine list. Our wine list is like red or white. It's just very laid back, and you can come in and be yourself.

WALKER

James says this lack of formality stands out on the rapidly changing block.

MOORE

Compared to a lot of places in this area, in the Clarendon area, well, the whole northern Virginia area, it's, we're just, well, look around, we're very unpretentious.

WALKER

To hammer home that point, bar regular Tom, who doesn't want us to use his last name, gives me a tour.

TOM

We got bricks down here. We've got plaster over here with holes in it. Usually only has two bathrooms, one for the girls and one for the boys. But it doesn't matter, you go in either one. Missing paint off the walls. Leaks from the roof. If you notice, that's a leak onto the pool table, and onto the world's smallest pool table. This is the world's smallest pool table. This should be a bumper pool table, but here it is in Jay's. And we still have a 13-inch color Sony television set from, probably I would say 1982, and it works. That's a dive bar.

WALKER

And just when you think the place couldn't get any quirkier...

TOM

This is even a reading room, a romance reading room.

WALKER

In disbelief, I follow Tom to a corner where he shows me the bar's book exchange, which is well stocked with cheap paperback suspense and romance novels of the Fabio variety.

TOM

Who knew, you know.

WALKER

Why here?

TOM

I have -- that's a good question. The best part is, I don't know who's doing them. But somebody's coming in, and they're reading them and taking them out and trading them, so, hey, more power to her. Or him.

WALKER

Despite the patronage of a horde of loyal regulars like Tom and the unknown librarian, owner James Moore says that Jay's Saloon may soon shutter its doors.

MOORE

Honestly, it's out of my hands. I don't own the property. I've been told that they're going to tear everything down and put up more condos. So we'll just have to wait and see.

WALKER

But even if the worst happens, James is at peace with his life's work.

MOORE

It's been my baby, you know. I never had kids, so this was my kid. And I think 20 years is a pretty good run, you know? We should make it through September, unless they come in and say, hey, we want to tear everything down now, so we want to buy you out of your lease. But we should make it through September, which will be 20 years. So longest I ever held a job in my life. And, who knows, knock on wood, maybe we will be around 20 more years.

WALKER

Bartender Dan Gallagher says the bar will be missed greatly, whenever it finally closes its doors.

MR. DAN GALLAGHER

It's gonna be sad. And I've heard Jay's referred to as the last bastion of hope in Arlington. It's also been described as the only non-pretentious place left in Arlington. So I think when that time comes, there's gonna be a lot of people looking for the next Jay's.

WALKER

But there's only one Jay's Saloon. I’m Jerad Walker.

SHEIR

You can see photos of Jay's Saloon on our website, metroconnection.org. And if you have a favorite dive bar you think we should check out, we'd love to hear from you. Our email address is metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Jonathan Wilson, Martin Di Caro, and Jerad Walker, along with reporters Matt M. Casey and Jocelyn Frank. Speaking of reporters, we say a very fond farewell today to one of the most talented we've ever met.

REPORTE

Fish fly everywhere. Glints of silver flash over the surface as fish of all types start spasming toward...

REPORTE

Wrapped inside wet balls of moss are six endangered frogs. A field team spent weeks searching for them...

REPORTE

...curator at the National Zoo. She says they have to watch these two pandas because basically, they're really bad at getting intimate. Like really, they're terrible.

SHEIR

That of course was the one and only Sabri Ben-Achour, but don't despair, you'll still be able to hear him on our airwaves as a reporter for Marketplace. Sabri, we wish you the very, very, very, very best in all your future reporting adventures.

SHEIR

WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. Metro Connection's managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our interns are Rachael Schuster and Robbie Feinberg. Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

Our theme song, "Every Little Bit Hurts" is from the album Title Tracks by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. All the music we use is listed on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song. Also on metroconnection.org you can read free transcripts of stories. And if you missed part of today's show, you can hear the whole thing online anytime. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll defy those stereotypes about the district being a town of temporary visitors, with a show we are calling "Homegrown D.C." We'll delve into the utopian origins of Langston Terrace, D.C.'s first public housing project. We'll meet a cabbie who doubles as a filmmaker, and we'll meet the members of a D.C. band who weren't just born and bred in the Washington region, they sing about it.

MALE

Whether or not we play or don't play "Jumbo Slice" (sp?) during a set is sort of always a central question in the creation of a set list. It's like, are we doing it tonight or are we not doing it tonight?

SHEIR

I'm Rebecca Sheir, and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 News.
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