Transcripts

This Week On Metro Connection: Wild Cards

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

Welcome to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're taking an anything goes attitude and bringing you one of our no holds barred, Wild Cards editions of the show. If you've heard one of our Wild Cards shows before you probably know things can go pretty much anywhere. And that's precisely what we're going to do this week. We'll take you to a sandbox for grownups in an Army lab at Fort Belvoir.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

That's an actual mine.

MR. MATT M. CASEY

So when you say that's an actual mine, you mean…

MAN

No. There's no explosive in it. I'm sorry.

CASEY

Okay.

MAN

No, no, no. That's an inert mine.

SHEIR

And we'll trek out to a theater in the tiny town of Onancock, Va.

MS. TERRY BLISS

And I thought, oh, I’m going to be interested to see who's still around in 10 years. And here we are. And we are the ones who are still around.

SHEIR

We'll even visit a massive warehouse in Landover, Md. A warehouse that's sheltering some pretty important American history.

MR. BOB SONDERMAN

Yeah, this is textiles. It looks to be a velvet jacket.

SHEIR

But before we head to any of those spots we're going to turn the microphone over to you. Earlier this week, we hit the streets to ask Washingtonians a very important question. What's the wildest thing you've ever done?

MAN

Oh, I can't answer that. Not on the radio.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

Oh, there's so many. I don't know that I want them on the air.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

Hitchhiking in the Alps, together with a girlfriend when I was young.

MAN

Oh, my God.

WOMAN

Naked mud fight in Regensburg, Germany with two friends and 25 strangers.

MAN

I have no idea. I can't even say the stuff I'd say, for real. I can't say.

MAN

The wildest thing I've ever done was riding a bicycle from San Francisco to D.C. when I was 19.

WOMAN

Left the county and didn't tell my parents.

WOMAN

I moved to England, like, overnight.

MAN

Oh, man, the wildest thing I've ever done? I don't know. I remember when I was a little boy, right, I jumped on the side of a ice cream truck while it was rolling.

SHEIR

Those were Washingtonians speaking earlier this week with "Metro Connection's" Lauren Landau.

SHEIR

All right. So our first official stop on this wild tour of Washington is that warehouse we just mentioned. But before we head out there, a bit of background. So you no doubt remember a certain weather pattern we dealt with last fall, a certain super storm named Sandy. Well, while our region felt some of Sandy's wrath, the New York area got hit hard. Homeowners there are still dealing with flooding, as are two of New York City's iconic islands, Liberty Island, where you can find the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the gateway to the U.S. for millions immigrants and the home of multitudes of historic artifacts.

SHEIR

Turns out a Washingtonian led the effort to save those artifacts from the flood waters. Emily Berman brings us the story on how those artifacts, all one million of them, wound up in our region.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

For most of the year Bob Sonderman manages a museum storage facility in Prince George's county. But when duty calls he can be on the road in a matter of hours.

SONDERMAN

And I pack my van full of everything I can possibly think of. So I have big blower fans, I have a generator. I have petrol.

BERMAN

Sonderman is head of the National Park Service's Museum Emergency Response Team. And basically what an EMT does in a medical emergency, Sonderman does in a museum emergency.

SONDERMAN

So our job is to go out to assess damage and to do whatever triage and whatever immediate response we can do with the available supplies that we have.

BERMAN

Wherever there's a park in need, the rescue squad is there.

SONDERMAN

So I've done Isabel, Ivan, Katrina--spent a long time on Katrina--the Gulf Oil Spill and then this.

BERMAN

Diana Pardue was the Chief of the Museum Division at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. She's been taking the ferry to her office every day since the late '80s.

MS. DIANA PARDUE

During Hurricane or Super Storm Sandy there was apparently a large wave that came through New York Harbor. And it swept over the backside of Ellis Island and went through the building we call the power house.

BERMAN

The storm surge knocked out lower level windows, doors and flooded the basements of the Ellis' main buildings.

SONDERMAN

The HVAC, the boilers, electrical lines, everything is essentially in the basement. So that got over-washed with salt water. And salt water and wiring don't work.

BERMAN

Most of the museum's collection was on upper floors, away from the water. But everything below was covered in silt.

SONDERMAN

The initial response is Holy Cow, I didn't realize it was going to be this bad. All these museum objects were covered in gook and salty, ookey water, and they're still in the exhibit cases.

BERMAN

A display case of medical equipment used to examine incoming immigrants was knocked to its side, and filled with silt. The artifacts were metal, and would soon begin to rust if they weren't taken out soon. So Sonderman got the crowbars out of his van, and cracked open the display cases to get these objects out.

SONDERMAN

We're the best break-in crew that you've ever seen. So we break in the cabinets and we salvage the collection.

BERMAN

Every item was treated differently. The team sent the medical instruments to metals conservators in West Virginia. They froze all the wet documents, to stop mold growth. And everything else needed to be put by a fan to dry off. But, the island, and actually, a lot of New York City, didn't have power. In order to preserve the artifacts, they'd need a dry, stable environment.

SONDERMAN

It's not like we're going to move your nation's patrimony into some nondescript warehouse in New Jersey somewhere.

BERMAN

A random warehouse? No. But what they did need was a pristine, climate-controlled, pest-free facility that would be big enough for a million new objects. In other words, Sonderman's facility in Landover, Md.

SONDERMAN

Let's take a look at this. So you have an archivally stable box, within an archivally stable box, with tissue paper, Ziploc polyethylene bags. It looks like this might have been a cigarette case. That's pretty interesting.

BERMAN

In another box we see heavy, dark blue fabric.

SHEIR

That's something.

SONDERMAN

Yeah, this is textiles. It looks to be a velvet jacket.

BERMAN

Some of the most fragile things, like tape of oral histories and X-rays of passengers as they came off the ships, those are in a different room.

BERMAN

Whoa, it's really cold.

SONDERMAN

Yeah, in here is just about 35 degrees. It's just almost perfect for the storage of film-based products.

BERMAN

Whether freezing cold or kept at a comfortable 68 degrees, all the items are organized by the way they were exhibited or stored in the museum on Ellis Island.

SONDERMAN

We organize it in a way to make it easy to return it because it will go back someday.

BERMAN

Someday, but not anytime soon. President Obama signed the Sandy Recovery Act, designating $234 million to the national parks impacted by the storm. There's still no running water, and no electricity on the island, and Diana Pardue says the museum will be closed for renovations through the rest of the year. In the meantime, Sonderman says, the island's collection will stay here in Maryland, until the job is done. I’m Emily Berman.

SHEIR

You can see photos of Bob Sonderman and the museum emergency response team in action on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

We're going to turn now from one of the country's most famous national parks, to a national park that doesn't yet exist. This weekend marks a century since the death of Harriet Tubman. For the first 30 years of her life, the underground railroad conductor lived as a slave on Maryland's Eastern Shore. It's been more than a decade since efforts began to establish a national historic park in her honor and while that legislation has stalled in Congress, a new state park is breaking ground. Jacob Fenston paid a visit to Tubman's hometown in Dorchester County to check out the site of the soon-to-be park.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

A lot has changed since the 1820s when Harriet Tubman was growing up in Dorchester County. But many families here have ties that go back and back and back.

MR. DONALD PINDER

My father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were farmers in the Dorchester County area.

FENSTON

Donald Pinder is president of the Harriet Tubman Organization, which runs a small museum in Cambridge. He's traced his local roots all the way back to the early-and-mid-1800s and found free ancestors, as well as enslaved, living just a couple of miles from Harriet Tubman. They may even have crossed paths.

PINDER

A lot of people would have done the same thing that Harriet Tubman done. But Harriet, she repeated this. Most people would have escaped, resettled their lives and moved on.

MS. CLARA SMALL

We still don't know exactly how many times she came back to this area. But we do know that she kept coming and got family members and friends, anyone who was willing.

FENSTON

Clara Small teaches African American history at Salisbury University. She says Tubman returned to Maryland between 13 and 19 times, helping hundreds escape to freedom.

SMALL

Harriet is one of my favorite individuals. I call her my personal she-ro. She's so much a part of what I study and she's so much a part of this area, that to me she's still alive.

FENSTON

Small says even though Harriet Tubman is a household name, her contributions have yet to be properly recognized. But since at least the mid-90s, locals on the Eastern Shore have been lobbying for broader official recognition. In the year 2000, the National Park Service started studying the potential for a park in Tubman's honor. Mike Litterst, with the National Park Service, says the agency recommended creating new parks in both Maryland and in Auburn, New York, where Tubman lived later in life.

MR. MIKE LITTERST

So there has been legislation before Congress in the 111th and the 112th Congresses. National Park Service testified in support of those bills both times. Congress failed to act both of those times.

FENSTON

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, along with the state's other senator, Ben Cardin, reintroduced the legislation earlier this year.

MS. BARBARA MIKULSKI

If we have a park to birds and bees, we ought to have a park to Harriet Tubman.

FENSTON

Supporters of the national park plan were hoping it would be in the works by this weekend, in time for centennial celebrations. But it's not, so state officials have decided to go it alone for the time being. Glenn Carowan is with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

MR. GLENN CAROWAN

Yeah, the state park decided to move ahead. We're still unsure if the National Historic Parks are going to become reality or not.

FENSTON

I met Carowan at the future site of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor's Center.

CAROWAN

The great thing about this, is that the area really hasn't changed that much. When you drive around Dorchester County, the landscapes are almost identical, with the exception of the paved highways and the electric lines and that sort of thing, that Harriet Tubman would have seen during her time here.

FENSTON

State officials will break ground on the visitor's center this weekend. Carowan says it's expected to open in January 2015 and could see as many as 100,000 visitors a year. The county already experiences some amount of Tubman tourism. There's a driving tour, part of which I went on with county tourism director, Amanda Fenstermaker.

MS. AMANDA FENSTERMAKER

There are 22 sites that are going to be officially marked.

FENSTON

And there's a new audio tour.

FENSTON

And there are local tour guides, like Susan Meredith, who makes a living offering historical Harriet Tubman tours by bike or kayak.

MS. SUSAN MEREDITH

The farm that she was born on is right down the road, within less than a half a mile. It has a marker there.

FENSTON

Meredith and her husband own a tiny general store here that they've turned into a museum.

MEREDITH

America is a very young country. We're very, I think, pretty close to the people that were history makers here.

FENSTON

But, as a nation, we haven't memorialized our history equally. Supporters of a Tubman National park point out that relatively few monuments are currently dedicated to anyone other than white men. Mike Litterst, with the National Park Service, says that's something the Obama Administration is trying to change.

LITTERST

There are approximately 80,000 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, which is administered by the National Park Service. And a very, very small percent, less than 10 percent, of those are dedicated to minorities or to women.

FENSTON

While Congress may never get around to dedicating a park in Tubman's honor, there is another possible route, President Obama could create one by presidential proclamation. That's how the most recent National Park was born, when Obama established the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California last October. I’m Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

To see pictures of the new park site and to find out how you can take your own tour of the Underground Railroad visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

Time for a break, but when we get back Obamacare 101.

MS. MILA HOFMAN

Something of this magnitude has never been done before.

SHEIR

We'll get the lowdown on how The Affordable Care Act is likely to affect D.C., Maryland and Virginia. 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 our theme is Wild Cards. And just to prove how wild and impulsive we truly are, we're now going to discuss zoning rules. Yeah, that's right, zoning rules. But stay with us, seriously, because these zoning rules are about to be a pretty hot topic here in the District and joining us now to explain it all is WAMU transportation reporter, Martin Di Caro. Hi, Martin.

MR. MARTIN DI CARO

Hello, Rebecca.

SHEIR

All right, Martin. Let's talk zoning. The way I understand, though, what we're really talking about here is zoning as it relates to parking. So tell us what is going on with parking in the District?

CARO

This is a very controversial issue and a very important one. The short answer is that the city zoning commission is looking at a proposal to eliminate mandatory parking space minimums in new development. Exactly what we're talking about here is new development near transit stations and in downtown D.C.

SHEIR

So what does that mean exactly? Can you give an example?

CARO

Sure. Let's say Rebecca Sheir Property Developers (laugh) builds a condo high-rise in downtown D.C. or near a metro station. If this zoning change gets approved, you would not have to build underground parking spaces for your tenants.

SHEIR

Okay. First off, I would probably want to choose a more creative name for my company. But second, wouldn't some people say that the city is growing and a lot of newcomers might have cars and they don't want to circle around the blocks looking for parking spaces?

CARO

Well, that's one argument that's being made against this zoning change. Here's Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

MR. LON ANDERSON

If we make parking such a challenge, so restrictive that you can't find curbside parking, you know, we have great restaurants and Tyson's Corner and Bethesda, there's lots of other places that people could go. They can choose not to come here. Businesses can choose not to locate in Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

All right. So what is the other side saying?

CARO

Now, the other side includes the city's planning director, Harriet Tregoning. She's the one who proposed this change. She says her goal is not to make driving more difficult. It's to make D.C. less car dependent by giving people options to get around, biking, walking and taking the bus or train.

MS. HARRIET TREGONING

The national average household spends 19 percent of household income on transportation. In the District, in areas well served by transit, our number is more like 9 percent of household income. So part of what makes it affordable to be in the District is the ability to dial down your transportation costs. So we happen to think lots of choices is a good thing.

CARO

So Tregoning says her plan will allow the market to decide. That’s the most important piece of this, the marketplace will decide. If a developer wants to build an underground parking garage, the developer will still have that choice. If you're building a retail outlet or a retail building, you'll have an opportunity to build parking for customers. Tregoning points to places where too much parking was built, as a result of these current mandatory minimums, like the D.C. U.S.A. Shopping Center in Columbia Heights.

TREGONING

Many of them are finding that they have parking that they can't get rid of, that they don't know what to do with. And that's really a stranded asset.

SHEIR

All right. So, Martin, we should point out that we are having this conversation right now in the WAMU studios on Brandywine Street Northwest. And right across the street from us we have a parking-free building coming to our neighborhood. Can you tell us about that project?

CARO

Right. On the other side of Wisconsin Avenue, a developer got an exemption from the parking rules for the site of the Old Babe's Billiards Cafe. Douglas Development is planning to build a mixed-use residential and retail space with 40 apartment units, no parking. Now, the plan is to market those units to people without cars, naturally because the new building will be two blocks from the Tinleytown Metro Station. Here's Cheryl Cort, the policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supports the zoning change.

MS. CHERYL CORT

When the Zoning Commission looked at this site and DDOT did some analysis, they found that there was a lot of availability of both on-street parking and off-street parking. There's actually hundreds of parking spaces right around this Metro station that go dark at night.

CARO

She says instead of automatically building more spaces, the District can make better use of the ones already built. She says by requiring developers to build mandatory minimum number of spaces a lot of those parking spaces go unused. It's wasteful and it drives up the cost of housing. And everyone in a apartment building has to subsidize that cost.

SHEIR

All right. But just to clarify, are we saying that ultimately D.C. officials want fewer cars in the District?

CARO

They want fewer car owners. Now, 39 percent of District households are car-free, as it is. So the city's growing. More people are living here. New development is springing up everywhere. Everywhere you go you see the cranes in the air. So by eliminating parking minimums people like Harriet Tregoning hope when residents do need to drive they'll take advantage of car sharing services like Zipcar or Car2Go.

SHEIR

But, I'm guessing, the folks at AAA have an issue with that argument, right?

CARO

Yes. AAA's Lon Anderson says even if a developer builds in a transit rich area, whether it's residential or retail, some people will still want to drive there and park there.

ANDERSON

Are you going to have any visitors who might drive there to visit you? How about your mom and dad, are they going to be coming in? And do they live locally or are they going to be driving in? And if so, where are they going to park? Are they going to park in WAMU's parking in front of WAMU?

CARO

It's important to emphasize again that if this change is approved, we will not see the end of parking in D.C. It'll be up to each developer. Here's Cheryl Cort of The Coalition for Smarter Growth, again.

CORT

Rather than having the government tell the private sector how many parking spaces to build, we think it's better for the developer to figure out how it best wants to market those units. In the case of off-street parking just going underutilized, I mean, that's just a tremendous waste of expense. A $40,000 parking space is a huge expense that could have gone to making the project more feasible, more affordable.

SHEIR

Wait, did she just say a $40,000 parking space?

CARO

Yes. The cost of building underground parking is enormous. At least $40,000 per space, often more than that. And that's one reason why developers like this idea and, as mentioned, why supporters of the zoning change say forcing developers to build mandatory minimums regardless of the demand for parking in a certain neighborhood is wasteful.

SHEIR

So, Martin, when will D.C. actually make a decision on this proposed change?

CARO

The proposal will go before the zoning commission within the next few weeks and a final decision could come as soon as this spring.

SHEIR

Well, Martin Di Caro, thank you so much for joining us and brining us up to speed on this issue.

CARO

You're welcome.

SHEIR

And we're curious. How do you think D.C. should handle parking at new developments in the city? You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or send us a tweet. Our handle is @wamumetro.

SHEIR

So last month, you might remember, on our chemistry show we brought you to Virginia's Fort Belvoir, where civilian scientists are using chemistry to protect soldiers from explosives. Well, we wanted to learn more about some of the technology these scientists are developing. As Matt M. Casey tells us, developing tools to find hidden explosives isn't exactly child's play, but it does involve a version of an old playground favorite, the sandbox.

CASEY

Every day, American soldiers use machines to find and neutralize mines in war-torn areas. Most of those devices make the transition from good idea to usable tool just outside of Washington, D.C.

MR. AARON LAPOINTE

Come on in to our massive sandbox here.

CASEY

That's Aaron LaPointe, a researcher with the Army's Night Vision and Electronic Sensor Directorate inviting us in to the Directorate's mine lane facility. From the outside, the building looks like a large, long utility shed with a small, attached greenhouse. On the inside, 60-foot-long sandboxes hold six different colors of dirt. Near the door, a table holds an intimidating array of simulated mines.

LAPOINTE

We have different target sets, different types of targets, whether it is this artillery shell here, we have different types of rocks, different types of actual targets, clutter. That's an actual mine. All right. That's a anti-tank mine.

CASEY

So when you say that's an actual mine, you mean…

LAPOINTE

No. There's no explosives in there. I'm sorry.

CASEY

Okay.

LAPOINTE

No, no, no. That's an inert mine.

CASEY

So that would make that, please do not walk on mine lane sign over there just a little bit more intimidating.

LAPOINTE

Yeah, no, no, no.

CASEY

To demonstrate why the facility exists, LaPointe and fellow researcher Cory Spiel (sp?) bury a mine in the kind of sand you would find at the beach. Then they sweep a metal detector over the surface.

LAPOINTE

As Cory goes along he's going to sweep it over an area he knows there's no targets in. And as you approach an area you'll hear a tone or audible difference.

CASEY

That tone indicates that the detector found a small amount of metal. Most modern mines, LaPointe says, aren't very metallic. So it can be difficult for a metal detector to differentiate a mine from, say, a buried screw. But that's why this metal detector comes with a built-in ground-penetrating radar. Spiel switches the machine to radar mode and scans the area again.

LAPOINTE

So there are two different audible tones. So that way you can verify that, okay, this is a target that needs to be investigated. Whereas, something like a paperclip, you wouldn't hear this GPR tone.

CASEY

With this device, LaPointe says, a properly trained soldier can reliably tell the difference between metal clutter and the real threat of a buried mine. While this piece of equipment looks like a typical, though rugged, metal detector, the gear LaPointe's team usually works on looks more like a mess of wires and duct tape.

LAPOINTE

What you're standing in here is our playground. We try to close the gap between the fundamental science, that works in a laboratory and then the actual sensor that the guy uses in the field.

CASEY

To help close that gap the Directorate's sandboxes are equipped to replicate hundreds of different soil conditions. Each of the six different types of soil can be soaked and exposed to the sun, kept dark and dry or arranged to any configuration in between.

LAPOINTE

We do have pipes lining up and down each lane. And that allows us to adjust moisture content so we can basically spray water, have a lane that's completely soaked or if it's, you know, just a little bit of water, things like that.

CASEY

Once the team has prepared the sand with any light, water, debris or rocks and of course, simulated mines, an overhead trolley carts experimental equipment over the surface at a walking pace.

LAPOINTE

So we can lower those to the ground. We can move them forward and backward. So we can test things that we bury or put inside the ground at different levels.

CASEY

Whether that rig hauls radar, lasers or advanced metal detectors, this facility provides a first testing ground for concepts that will go on to further development and eventually reach the field and in significant numbers. Taking that into account, LaPointe says it's hard to see this oversized shed as just a giant sandbox.

LAPOINTE

It's not really just dirt, you know. It may look like that, but we realize the complexity of the problem, so we realize what it can provide us in improving the tools that we develop.

CASEY

Thousands of those tools, such as the metal detector demonstrated for this story, have already been shipped to Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones, helping to protect American soldiers deployed there. I'm Matt M. Casey.

SHEIR

So we're calling today's show, of course, Wild Cards. And we'll actually move now to a big wild card that's affecting the entire healthcare industry. It's a piece of legislation called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although you might know it by another name, Obamacare. It's almost three years to the day since Congress passed the health reform bill, but many of the law's provisions aren't yet in effect. When the law is finally implemented, the way a lot of us buy health insurance is totally going to change and it will change in different ways depending on whether you live in D.C., Maryland or Virginia.

SHEIR

Here to help us sort all of this out is reporter David Schultz. David, welcome back to the show.

MR. DAVID SCHULTZ

Thanks for having me. It's great to be back.

SHEIR

All right. So break it down for us. What are the big changes coming down the pike?

SCHULTZ

Well, one of the biggest is the creation of these new things called health exchanges.

SHEIR

Health exchanges. Okay. What are those?

SCHULTZ

All right. So I want you to think about those airline ticket websites, you know, like Priceline.

SHEIR

Priceline, like with the William Shatner commercials.

SCHULTZ

Right, right. Who can forget that? So we all know how these websites work. You type in some information and they give you a list of different flights from a bunch of different airlines. And you can choose which flight works best for you based on price or schedule or whatever.

SHEIR

So are you saying then that a health exchange is just like that only for insurance?

SCHULTZ

Yes. It's a website where you enter in some information and you'll be able to see the prices for a bunch of different health insurance policies from different insurance companies. You'll also be able to see if you're eligible for any health insurance tax credits. You can just put in your income level into the website and it'll tell you if you qualify for a credit. So with these exchange websites you'll be able to compare and contrast almost instantly from the comfort of a laptop computer.

SCHULTZ

And if this law works the way lawmakers intended it to, that easy ability to compare will bring down the price of health insurance, at least in theory.

HOFMAN

It is certainly true that something of this magnitude has never been done before.

SCHULTZ

That's Mila Hofman, director of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority. She's basically in charge of the creation of the District's health exchange website.

SHEIR

Oh, so the District is going to have its own health exchange. Is every state going to have one?

SCHULTZ

Well, sort of. And this is where it gets complicated. So stick with me here. All right. So the health reform law said that every state could create its own exchange website if officials wanted to, but if a state doesn't want its own website, for whatever reason, then the people in that state would buy their health insurance through an exchange run by the federal government. Right now there are 26 states where the governors and the legislatures have said, you know what, nope, we don't want to do this. So the people in those states will all use the federal website.

SHEIR

And is Maryland or Virginia one of those states?

SCHULTZ

Virginia is. Virginia actually helped lead the charge against the health reform law. And the lawmakers there don't want to participate in it if they don't have to.

SHEIR

All right. So then what's the deal with Maryland?

SCHULTZ

Same situation as D.C. Here's Hofman.

HOFMAN

Both Maryland and D.C. made an early decision that we were going to implement the Affordable Care Act fully.

SCHULTZ

Almost from the moment the law passed, both D.C. and Maryland, which of course, are both controlled by Democrats, began making plans to create their own health exchange websites.

SHEIR

Okay. But let me ask you, I mean, David, ultimately why does all this matter, federal website, local website, why does it matter which site I use to buy health insurance?

SCHULTZ

Here's why it might matter. The website run by the feds is going to be one size fits all. The companies that sell policies through the federal website will have to meet some minimum requirements, but that's it. If a state creates its own website, it can add extra requirements.

SHEIR

Can you give an example?

SCHULTZ

So D.C. has a much higher rate of people living with HIV and AIDS than most other states. So D.C. could say to the insurance companies, hey, if you want to sell insurance through our website, you have to cover HIV/AIDS medication at a higher level than what you would have to do in the federal exchange. Now, that's just an example. D.C. hasn't decided if it's going to do that yet, but that's something it could do or that's something that Maryland could do. Virginia can't do that because it doesn't really have much control over its exchange.

SHEIR

Okay. That makes sense, but what about all these websites' potential users? Is this how everyone's going to be buying health insurance from now on?

SCHULTZ

No. And that's a good point. These websites are not for everyone. The only people who will need to use them are people who buy health insurance as individuals. So if you're self-employed or unemployed or people who own small businesses and are buying health insurance for their employees.

SHEIR

So if you get your health insurance through your job you won't need to use these websites.

SCHULTZ

Right, you won't need to. Although, actually, Rebecca, there's a tiny quirk in the law here that affects our region, big time. So the federal government, obviously very huge, federal workers would not need to use this website, but for some reason the law says members of Congress and their staff do have to buy insurance through the website. So if you work for say the Department of Agriculture you won't need to use the exchange website, but if you work for Frank D. Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the House Agriculture committee, you will have to use the website.

SCHULTZ

But ultimately, even if you do use the website or you don't or if you live in a state that does or doesn't create its own website, this is going to affect you because it's going to have a huge impact on the health insurance industry as a whole. Take this guy, for example.

MR. SAM SAHOURI GHANEM

My name is Sam Sahouri Ghanem. I’m a broker.

SCHULTZ

Ghanem here is a broker who works with businesses in D.C., Maryland and Virginia to help them find the right insurer. He's been doing this here in the D.C. region for 30 years.

SHEIR

All right. So if we go back to our earlier travel site comparison, could we say that Ghanem is kind of like a travel agent, only for health insurance?

SCHULTZ

Yeah, exactly. He's basically a middle man, like a travel agent, and we all know what happened to travel agents after websites like Priceline and Expedia and so on started popping up. They didn't do so well.

SHEIR

No. No, they did not.

SCHULTZ

Yeah, those sites nearly made the whole travel agent profession go extinct. And Ghanem is really afraid that's what's going to happen to him.

GHANEM

I feel like I'm a whipmaker or a carriage maker, it's 1901 and I just saw the first car. So I'm a little concerned. You know, normally for people like me, by this time, by our age, we either look to sell our business or pass it on and I'm afraid there's not going to be much to pass on--or we don't know. That's the biggest issue. We don't know what the business is going to look like.

SHEIR

Wow, well, I can see how this is really changing the whole industry, but when will we actually start seeing those changes? When might this go into effect?

SCHULTZ

Well, the websites have to be up and running starting in October. And then the health insurance policies purchased from the sites go into effect on January 1st of 2014, so people will have a few months to shop around on the site and try to get the best deal.

SHEIR

Well, David, we'll definitely keep our eye on this one, but for now, thanks so much for coming and telling us all about it.

SCHULTZ

My pleasure.

SHEIR

If you have feedback on how the Affordable Care Act will affect you, your family or your business we'd love to hear from you. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org or find us on Facebook.

SHEIR

Up next, big time theater in a very small town.

BLISS

It's been here for 25 or 30 years. Tiny, tiny and now bigger and bigger and now it's here and it's just remarkable.

SHEIR

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

SHEIR

Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and this week we're throwing our usual thematic approach to the wind and brining you one of our Wild Cards shows. Coming up we're going to hit the stage in a very rural corner of Virginia and we're going to read from your letters. First though, we're going to meet a woman who bore witness to a major event in world history. And at the age of 77, has written a book all about it.

MS. MARIONE INGRAM

"Mother thoroughly dampened her blanket and draped it over us. The terrible explosions seemed to have abated, although hundreds of incendiary bombs had fallen close by, some landing in rubble no more than a dozen yards away."

SHEIR

That's D.C. resident Marione Ingram, reading from her brand new memoir, "The Hands of War: A Tale of Endurance and Hope, From a Survivor of the Holocaust."

INGRAM

"As the phosphorus burned and dripped its way through floor after floor it looked like the lights were being turned on by someone descending methodically through the building."

SHEIR

Ingram grew up Jewish in Hamburg, Germany, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. And the passage she's reading here recounts the infamous bombing of Hamburg in 1943. I recently visited Ingram at her home in Foggy Bottom to learn more about the book and the bombing, which she says actually, miraculously, saved her and her family from being sent to the concentration camps.

INGRAM

We had gotten a notice to report to the place where all the Jews were rounded up. A place called the (word?) by the University of Hamburg and in front of a train station. Oh, my mother tried to commit suicide and I found her and managed to pull her away from the gas oven and she revived. And the firebombing, oh, we were not allowed to go into bomb shelters because we were Jews. We wore the Star of David on our clothing. So we went into hiding for a year and a half, for the rest of the war. And miraculously survived both the genocide as well as the 10-day and 10-night bombing of civilians.

SHEIR

Right off the bat in the book you refer to yourself as a child of war. In fact, the very first line in the book, it's so poetic, I want to read it right now. "As a tree may be forced by fire or lightening to bloom in winter, a child can be compelled to become an adult long before it is time. I was such a child." What are some ways you were forced into adulthood long before it is time, as you say?

INGRAM

You know, starting as a five year old, I was aware that there were forces who wanted to kill me. And because we were so isolated, because all of my mother's family had already been exterminated, there was no group, there were no children to play with. So you start asking yourself as a child, why is this? Why are people trying to kill me? What have I done? Why is being Jewish a reason to kill me? All of these things add to the sense that you had to be more grown up than your years would indicate.

INGRAM

I was a 10 year old when the war ended and I was not a 10 year old. I don't even know what being a 10-year-old girl is like. I cannot even imagine it. I get it from books. I see it in friends who have daughters and Daniel and I have two amazing grandsons. But I really also would have liked to have a granddaughter, because I wanted to see what it was like to be a girl child.

SHEIR

One part of the book that I find so every fascinating is the chapter devoted to Uri's story, Uri being -- I don't know how to describe him -- a rather distinctive fellow Jewish student to whom you took quite a shining. What was your motivation from taking a break from your own story for an entire chapter and dedicating that chapter to telling his tale?

INGRAM

Because his story was different from mine. His family was killed. It remained only Uri and his sister. And he is the more typical Holocaust survivor in as much as he had been in concentration camp and he had suffered an entirely different war than I had, his in many ways, far more cruel than mine because I would up at the end of the war, I didn't have any other relatives, but I still had a mother and a father and my two sisters. Uri had no one.

SHEIR

Speaking of Uri, there's a very significant passage in the book about a wristwatch. And I notice you are not wearing a wristwatch right now. Can you talk about the meaning of the wristwatch?

INGRAM

Yes. I very much wanted a watch. This was post-war and we were in Blankenese in the school set up for children of Bergen-Belsen and some children who had been wandering around Europe and I actually got a watch. And that was also the time when I was trying to talk to Uri and he wouldn't talk to me. So one afternoon I decided to give Uri my watch to, you know, bribe him into friendship. And Uri took the watch, looked at it and threw it on the ground and stomped on it.

INGRAM

And for some reason it just impressed me to no end. You know, my eyes were popped wide open and I'm thinking that at that moment I really loved Uri.

SHEIR

Uri later told you the full story...

INGRAM

Yes.

SHEIR

...as to why he reacted so strongly. Can you share that?

INGRAM

Well, that's when Uri began to talk to me about his experiences and his story. And one of the reasons he said that he didn't want a watch is because everything was done by the watch. And the only people who had watches were the guards and the people in charge. And anybody who ever had a watch, it was confiscated. So nobody had watches, except the people who imprisoned us.

SHEIR

And you haven't worn one since?

INGRAM

No. I've not worn a watch since. And I do not intend to wear one. And I don't want anybody to give me one either.

SHEIR

Marione Ingram is the author of "The Hands of War," just out from Sky Horse Publishing. You can hear Marione reading some more passages from her memoir on our website, metroconnection.org. And if you'd like to see Marione reading in person, she'll be at Politics and Prose, Saturday afternoon at 3:00. We have more information about that event on metroconnection.org, too.

SHEIR

Our next story today takes us to the eastern shore of Virginia. It's a quite, agricultural corner of our region, but one of its small towns is getting a reputation for something other than farming. Namely, high quality theater. Coastal reporter Bryan Russo takes us to Onancock, Va. to check out the latest production at its theater, the North Street Playhouse.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

The drive from Ocean City to Onancock mostly takes you past farmland. In the summer and fall, you'll see lots of roadside stands with locals selling the bounty of that farmland. But then, once you get to Onancock, you'll find this.

MR. BRYAN RUSSO

That's a scene from the regional premiere of Bruce Norris's Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Clybourne Park," which was recently on stage at the North Street Playhouse in Onancock. It tackles some very heavy subjects, like race, real estate, and people's often volatile values. New York Times called this play darkly humorous, and it is wickedly funny. Here's a scene where the characters try to be politically correct, all while stumbling around their main point, which is, they're uncomfortable with the idea of having a housing project near their neighborhood.

WOMAN

If you're placed in some faceless institutional….

WOMAN

The projects...

WOMAN

I mean, you know, like it or not, that kind of environment is not conducive to – formation of community.

WOMAN

It's horrible.

WOMAN

Well, the effect on children?

MAN

Or anyone.

RUSSO

The North Street Playhouse is the only regularly producing theater on Virginia's eastern shore, and over the past quarter century, it's staged 139 different plays for local audiences. Betsy Pinder has been coming to the North Street Playhouse for years, and she says artistic director Terry Bliss is the reason for the theater's success.

MS. BETSY PINDER

Terry Bliss, you know, was from – her family was part of the Barter Theater. And so she really is the reason this is doing what it's doing. And it's been here for almost 25 of 30 years, in tiny, tiny, and now bigger and bigger, and now it's here, and it's just remarkable.

RUSSO

Yeah. Could you imagine Onancock without this theater being a part of it?

PINDER

Not really, because it really brings in an artistic – the people that come in and shows that they bring in, and it just really, really adds to Onancock.

RUSSO

Terry Bliss basically founded this theater at her kitchen table. She says what the Playhouse has become has surpassed even her wildest hopes and dreams.

BLISS

I came here initially with a job as an attorney at Legal Aid. And landed in Onancock, and I can remember one of the first times driving down the main street, and passed the Hopkins House, which is farther down, near the water, and thinking, that will be the summer residence for the stock company, when we do that. So it's always been something that's been in my heart and in my mind.

BLISS

When I had the opportunity to get some people together, and it was around the kitchen table. It built over the years. We started out going in a lot of different -- performing in a lot of different venues, and our first quote, unquote, "permanent" home was 4 North Street, around the corner, which was the total building was about 1,300 square feet. And this building, we bought this building in 1999, and it is just under 9,000 square feet. So the size of the stage here, or the audience, is the entire size of the stage and the audience at 4 North Street.

BLISS

One of my goals always was for us to get to a point where people would come and see shows that we produced, even if they hadn't heard of them, because they knew that they were going to get a good show. And I think that certainly we have reached that goal. One of the joys for me is always seeing a cast come together as a group and bond and come to depend on one another, so have we reached the goals? Have we, probably we have exceeded what I initially thought.

BLISS

I do remember thinking some years ago, it'll be -- there were a few things going on arts- wise and theater-wise, and I thought -- it was '95 -- and I thought, I'm gonna be interested to see who's still around in ten years. And here we are. And we are the ones who are still around. So yeah, it is all a work of joy, and a work from the heart.

SHEIR

That was Terry Bliss of the North Street Playhouse, talking with WAMU's Bryan Russo.

SHEIR

Before we wrap up today's wildcards show, we're gonna turn to you and read from your messages and letters. Emily Berman's recent story about the 75th anniversary of Langston Terrace, D.C.'s first public housing project, elicited this response from listener Emily Glakenhouse (sp?). "This was a delightful story," she writes, "inspirational and heartening to know of the positive outcomes of successful and thoughtfully executed urban planning. Though the piece was clearly to highlight the physical structure and existence of Langston Terrace, you did the right thing to also feature successful people who were cared for and nurtured by the community that the buildings fostered."

SHEIR

We also did a report on Scotland, Md., and other kinship communities. Those are neighborhoods settled by freed slaves in the late 1800s. And that story inspired this note from our listener, Eric. He writes, "I live off MacArthur Blvd. in Bethesda, and often use Seven Locks Road as an alternative to Rockville Pike when driving toward the city of Rockville. Many was the time I'd wondered about the origins of the AME Church in Scotland Townhome complex on the stretch between Democracy Blvd. and Tuckerman Lane, African American enclaves in a decidedly white area of the county."

SHEIR

"Your piece did what "Metro Connection" always does so well, answered questions, provided context, and entertained, by virtue of great writing, editing, and quote selection." And finally, we received a couple more responses to our six word memoir challenge about life in D.C. Here's the first, "searching Smartphone when I'm right here." And the second, "nothing is better, D.C. on payday." If you have a message you'd like to send us, zap us a note, our email address is metro@wamu.org

SHEIR

And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman, Martin Di Caro, and Bryan Russo, along with reporters David Schultz and Matt M. Casey. WAMU's managing editor of news is Memo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is 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, that's 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 any old time. You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher.

SHEIR

We hope you can join us next week when we'll put aside our winter woes and bring you a show we are calling "Spring Fling." We'll visit the Appalachian Trail, and learn how to gear up for hiking all 2200 miles. We'll hear how the National Arboretum is preserving D.C.'s most famous trees, the flowering cherries. We'll head to Jamaica, in our imaginations, anyway, and check out a new musical based on the tunes of Bob Marley. And we'll hit the high seas, to catch up with a Maryland family as it sails around the world.

WOMAN

I think it's really cool, when you put your hand, and my hands are still sort of sparkling with the bioluminescy-thingy-mabobs.

SHEIR

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