January 2, 2008

Where to strut in DC or elsewhere?

Having been back in the DC area for winter break, I've reacquainted myself with some of the places I haven't been to for awhile. To keep from getting bored, I decided to get checked out, and this requires knowing where to go for a nice stroll. For, unlike casual sex, giving girls a case of butterflies in the stomach results in a much greater rush. With casual sex, you get a huge boost from few people (since no one can take home tens of women within a week), whereas with turning on pedestrians, you get smaller boosts but from a far larger range of people, easily tens per day. And we all know that much of the male libido is geared toward diversity -- to have lots of partners.

The downside for the general adoption of this preference is that it relies almost entirely on physical attractiveness, clothing, and body language / demeanor. Studying seduction manuals can vastly improve the third quality, and the second can be helped by reading style guides (the ones that don't make you look silly), but the first signal cannot be faked. Going to the gym can make you less unattractive if you're out of shape, but male physical attractiveness mostly boils down to the head and neck region. And even extensive plastic surgery can't alter your bone structure or give you dreamy eyes. Still, I'm no Greek god: you just have to beat the local average to get noticed.

Moreover, because the best places to strut must be the best people-watching places, this is a guide for that as well. The examples are from the DC area, but you can adapt the defining characteristics to your own neck of the woods.

First, the general properties, and then the concrete examples. The architecture must be on a human scale, since anything larger makes your target feel lost and not in a comfortable people-watching mood. Ideally the walking spaces will be wide enough to fit about four people shoulder-to-shoulder. If the walking space is too wide, you're not in as many people's direct as opposed to peripheral vision, and when you get noticed, you want to be close to them so that the eye contact is more powerful. Narrower spaces also allow the other person to walk your way and brush against you without being too conspicuous about it. As a rule, you never want them to feel awkward or nervous. Walking slowly helps to achieve this, since by walking hurriedly you infect them with your nervousness. It also gives them an easier target to hit.

Ideally there will be a closedness to the walking paths, so that once you enter, you tend to stay in it for awhile. Further, walking the entirety of these paths at a slow pace and seeing what there is to see shouldn't take longer than about 30-45 minutes. Otherwise, the loop is so long that it won't concentrate lots of people into a cozy density, or it is so brief that walking it becomes repetitious.

There must be some kind of al fresco eating place, whether tables and chairs on the sidewalk, a patio that has a low wall separating it from the sidewalk, or a well positioned food court in a mall. First, having food available makes more people go and keeps them there longer. And a large open-air eating place lets them feel more at ease and willing to people-watch. However, it shouldn't be so large that you can't easily see most of the area from any given seat. How else is everyone going to see you, and you them? Lastly, it must be well integrated into the larger strolling space: if you have to walk even one block off of the main drag to find an open-air eating area, it won't do.

It cannot have easy public transportation access (may not hold for New York, where nearly every place is near a subway stop). In the DC area, definitely no metro access, although having buses is fine since they run only once every 30 minutes, and being within taxi distance or 10-15 minutes walking distance of a metro stop is also fine. The reason is simple: you don't want your audience to consist of a bunch of wimps, and making it a tiny inconvenience to reach will make sure that only those who truly want to enjoy themselves will go. (That's also why bars and clubs that charge are more fun than ones without a guy at the door). Another reason is that too easy access invites the dregs of society, and it doesn't take many of them to thoroughly pollute the atmosphere for everyone else.

Its buildings should consist mostly of shopping areas: the buzzkill of large office buildings is self-evident, but even places like art galleries, museums, and so on, make you think too much to encourage leisurely strolling. And why go to a museum except to seriously think about what you're seeing? More, your audience will be too focused on what's on display to pay you much attention. Putting aside all pretense, mindless consumerism is relaxing and enjoyable. And it's not as if you're obligated to buy anything.

In particular, the stores should cater to three age groups, and ideally no others: 0-5, 14-24, and 40+. Disclaimer: I'm a straight male, so my advice may not work for females or gay males. (Although I know of at least one female blogger who would enjoy being surrounded by cocky teenage boys too immature to have become seasoned players.) Let's face it: it's just more of an ego-boost to have an 18 year-old look you over and lock eyes with you, compared to a 28 year-old. And even if you prefer females your own age, if they are far north of 24, their hormones have settled down, so that they do not easily get butterflies in the stomach or act opportunistically (such as the snap decision to brush against a handsome stranger). The first few years after college are still pretty fun-filled, even if you're working at an elite law firm, but then it gets serious.

So, there must be stores that are geared toward the 18-24 year-olds, who are the most attractive, the most impulsive, and the most at liberty to do as they please (as in, not depending on parents to drive, nor having to work 80 hours a week). Because younger adolescents look up to this age group for influence (pretty scary), the stores that cater exclusively to high-schoolers will follow behind the young adult stores, like a young girl tagging along with her older sister at a rock concert.

The other age groups reflect the other time when a person can breath somewhat freely, namely after securing themselves financially. (And the stores the cater to very young kids follow, since some middle-aged women will have little children.) In any large metro area, the females in this group will be pretty attractive, either due to status and looks correlating or because they are a rich man's trophy wife. Their hormones have definitely settled down, but do not underestimate how easy it can be to get a rise out of them -- you just have to look mature enough that they don't perceive lusting after you as "robbing the cradle." Just wear a sharp suit and keep body language extra subtle -- the slightest hint of eagerness will mark you as an impetuous youth. And again, any guilt, nervousness, etc., on their part will kill the encounter.

You get a unique rush when getting looks from married women: since the good-looking ones are married to high-status men, a look from them means you are good enough to make them risk their high status for a rendez-vous. Not just any schmo can provoke that response. Oftentimes, the husband will spot you once you're about 15-20 feet away and suddenly steer his wife in another direction to keep her from seeing you close-up and making eye contact. Recall that this is a high-status man, so that him perceiving you as a threat is unusual, since he knows his wife isn't stupid enough to risk a falling out over a guy who's just a bit attractive or somewhat dashing.

The high school and college guys rarely protect their girlfriends in this way, preferring instead to face off with you -- but they always step aside for a guy who walks slower and looks more put-together, especially if you wear an expression of haughty amusement. And they have led their girlfriend right to you! Call them foolish or just inexperienced, but these guys have a lot to learn about keeping their girls.

At any rate, there may be other subtler aspects of the place to focus on, but since it will be rare to find even one place in your area that excels in those above, there's no point in worrying about it. So without further ado, let's look at DC area examples in descending order of greatness, bearing in mind that I rarely go into Virginia.

1. Montgomery Mall, Bethesda, MD.

I had this place in mind when coming up with the above qualities, so it sets the standard. The walking paths are just a bit on the wide side (I think they fit six people shoulder-to-shoulder), and the expanse in front of Nordstrom doesn't have enough kiosks in the middle to make two narrow paths on either side, instead creating an uncomfortably large procession area before the store. These two flaws aside, it's as close to perfect as you'll find in the area. It's one of the few malls I've been in that doesn't feel very much like a mall -- part of that may be due to the layout, which features lots of intersecting lines, kind of like a city street grid, rather than one long stretch or a big square (where it feels like you're going around a speedway).

The area where it really dominates the competition is its food court -- there is a not-too-big open area that's perfect for people-watching, and leading into it on either side are narrow strips lined with more food vendors, again creating an up-close-and-personal feel. It's also placed between two areas that would take a long time to reach by walking around the food court, encouraging even those who aren't buying food to pass through. As an added bonus for those who have tastes like mine, this mall boasts the largest concentration of Persian girls (and their moms) in the metro area. Just today a gang of them came up from behind as I was walking and boxed me in like a pack of robbers trying to isolate an armored car. It was heavenly.

2. M Street, Georgetown, DC.

The way I remember things, 10 years ago this would have ranked #1 and Montgomery Mall #2, but many of its colorful stores have since vanished, with only the punk record and clothing store SMASH! remaining. The old fixtures are still there, but too many "mall stores" have moved in -- and if it's a mall you want, then go to one! And in fact, you don't have to travel far, since there is an entrance right on M Street to the Georgetown Mall (officially titled "The Shops at Georgetown Park," but I can't say that with a straight face). I consider this mall part of M Street for this reason.

It definitely does not have a "mall feeling," and it scores highly on most of the qualities above, but it is not quite as young-adult-oriented (along with M Street in general) as Montgomery Mall, and it tends not to have very many people in it. The food court is tucked away on the bottom floor, not exactly hidden, but not very incorporated either. In fairness, the mall was not designed as a mecca for boulevardiers, since the local blue-bloods likely find that idea a bit too exhibitionistic and voyeuristic -- these are really things that the upper-middle class does better. The Barnes and Noble on M Street is also pretty good for the same reasons that the mall is (and at three stories high, it might as well be one).

And that's it -- what, you expected more than two places here to qualify as fit for a good stroll? I haven't been to Tyson's Corner in McLean, VA, for at least a year or so, and only once or twice before that. I remember it being OK, and the roster of stores is similar to Montgomery Mall, so this one too may qualify, but I'd have to re-visit just to be sure. Nevertheless, here are some honorable mentions, in no particular order.

Woodmont Ave around Barnes and Noble, Bethesda, MD.

The three-story B&N is usually a good place to get checked out, and it does have a largish cafe, some of the tables spilling out to almost meet the bookshelves. The moms here let themselves go a bit more than the ones at Montgomery Mall, so don't expect much of that here. It's also a short walk from a metro stop. Though the area has a nice feel, with lots of outdoor eating and plenty of benches in front of B&N, it only runs one block long -- and it's only the side of the street with B&N that has lots of people. That said, it can be a nice warm-up place before you go somewhere bigger.

Wisconsin Ave around Friendship Heights metro, Chevy Chase, MD.

Well, the first disqualification is that the metro stop leads directly to the area, and one exit leads right into the nearby "mall," Mazza Gallerie, where there are some hot moms but few to none of the 18-24 year-olds who will give you the most attention. There are some stores further down the street that cater to them (Banana Republic, for example), but don't expect much even there.

However, as this street is replete with expensive stores, there are legions of 18-24 year-old salesgirls with flattering clothing and their hair and make-up taken care of. Even better, because they mostly sell women's products like perfume, they'll never try to sell you anything. And since most of their day consists of standing around and occasionally serving women who have questionable tastes (and therefore bad tempers), a brief visit from a dapper dude with nice eyes will brighten their day and make them remember you. This is especially true for the salesgirls at Saks (not the men's store in Mazza Gallerie), who hardly see men all day. The downside there is that the building is out of the way, so you can't make it look like you're just strolling by.

White Flint Mall, Bethesda, MD.

This mall is really hit-or-miss: in the days leading up to Christmas, it was on par with Montgomery Mall in terms of being packed with lots of energetic, beautiful young adults, as well as their gorgeous moms, but every other time I've been there, it's nearly deserted. Part of the reason is that Montgomery Mall is only about 15-20 minutes away, so most probably go there instead. Although it is definitely on the small side, making a stroll very repetitious, and while its food court is completely isolated and far away from the rest of the mall, still the narrowness of its walking paths are ideal. If you manage to go there during a heavy-traffic day, expect quite a few girls and moms to brush against you (and not because they have to -- it's never that packed). For the same reason, expect more intense eye contact. Plenty of good-looking people when they actually show up.

Pentagon City Mall, Arlington, VA.

It's technically called "The Fashion Centre at Pentagon City," yes, with the British spelling of Center. The narrowness of the walking paths is close to ideal, the food court is centrally located and open-air, and it is mostly geared toward young adults and hot moms, but there are lots of problems with this one. First, it is gigantic, so that those lovely narrow paths are wasted since it would require about 10,000 people to fill them up to a cozy density. Second, it has a speedway layout, so you just circle around and around. Third, the food court is too big -- it takes up almost all of the first floor. In the middle of the speedway is a huge four-story void, which destroys the human scale. And it has a metro stop that leads directly into it. Also, of all the tolerable malls, this one has the fewest number of good-looking people. I don't know why that is; perhaps Virginians are less attractive on average.

And that's it for the also-rans. If almost all of these places are suburban malls, that only reflects the DC area: there are few places that qualify as urban (in the positive sense), and many of them are not built for leisure. As beautiful as other parts may be, if there aren't a lot of people there, you cannot go people-watching. Sure, I wish I were back in Barcelona, which is very urban and is a flaneur's paradise, but you have to work with what you've got.

Just for the sake of completeness, I left out the trendy areas in DC like Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and so on. They all have metro access (Adams Morgan not so much), they are geared toward hip single professionals aged 25-39, and... well, that right there is enough to foul up the area. Young adults and adolescents may be insecure about many things, but it does not come off too much in their appearance -- they do not look very studied (they really did throw together their outfit). And people who are all set likewise don't have much to worry about. In between, though, high-status people feel like they have a lot to prove, which means that their free time is not spent on leisure but on desperately trying to signal to their peers how hip and superior they think themselves to be. (Obviously with exceptions.)

And in today's culture where adults don't want to grow up, single professionals in this age range tend to show the worst aspects of those younger and older than them: the attempts at edginess or provocation found among the young, but with none of their exuberance or what-the-hell attitude; as well as the obsession with displays of status found among the older, but with none of their subtlety or panache.

New York blogger Irina had similar observations of a 30-something singles bar, something I'm not masochistic enough to try out myself. You might try searching her blog for some keywords that have appeared here, since she has a pretty good eye for detail. For example, here's a post on the power of pretty boys, and another on the appeal of teenage girls. I was surprised to find someone else who remembers a lot of their adolescence and still analyzes it, since most people erase it from memory altogether.


  1. I've heard that the best places for encountering upscale MILF-types are gourmet food stores like Whole Foods.

  2. "Encountering" meaning "being physically near," yes. But meaning "able to lock eyes with," etc., I don't think so. They're there only to shop, unlike a mall where you drift without a goal, so they tend to block other people out.

    And grocery shopping is always more stressful than window shopping or browsing through a bookstore. You never want them to be in that mood.

  3. agnostic,

    don't you know who is a good alphaish character to study? sebastian in the first two episodes of the 1981 bbc miniseries of brideshead revisited. his look of charmed amusment and frivolity at everything, when mimiced correctly, is a serious turn-on for the ladies. [only the first two episodes as he becomes a [still marginally charming] drunkard after that. But the first episode et in arcadia ego goes on for almost two hours, so there is much to study. anthony blanche's cosmopolitan confidence is also something to study.

    a href= here's a youtube scene

  4. hahaaa. great post. i'm late to the party here, but what about a shout out for the Mall -- the public's Mall? those wide gravel blvds and tons of teenage tourists. it's a thrill to catch a girl's eye from across the WWII memorial.

    i have a post planned covering the best stretches of street in DC to see and be seen, and i keep coming around to the jaunt between adams morgan and dupont. for sheer amount of pulchritude, it can't be beat.


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