When Art Buchwald Was Our Star Writer—He Liked DC’s Cab Drivers But Not Its Restaurants

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 5.01.05 PMIn the Washingtonian’s first issue, in October 1965, Art Buchwald wrote about “My Home Towns”—Paris and Washington. From 1950 to 1962 he had written about Paris for the New York Herald Tribunehe then came back to Washington to write his syndicated column.

The lede of that first piece:

The main difference between living in Paris and Washington, as far as I am concerned, is that when I lived in Paris I ways knew I was protected by my passport and the American government. No matter what happened to me, I could always count on the backing of the United States 6th Fleet or the United State Air Force Fighter Command….It said so in my passport.

But living in Washington is entirely different. The Americans don’t care what happens to you here…

He wrote that he missed the restaurants in Paris, and especially all the sidewalk cafes where men could sit and girl-watch. “I’m not saying, mind you, that Government girls won’t stack up very well in comparison with Parisiennes. I’m just saying that you can’t stare at them long enough to make a solid judgment. Girl-watching does require time. None of the Government girls look good rushing through a cafeteria, but they might look like five million new francs in Maxim’s.”

As for the tourists in Paris and Washington: “A French woman from the provinces who comes to Paris to see the sights puts on her best clothes and looks smart and sophisticated, and you can’t tell her from a Parisienne, which is just what she wants. But an American woman who brings the kids for a tour of the White House feels that she has to wear shorts and hair-curlers and very little else and she’d get arrested if she wore that at home in Akron, and laughed out of town in Paris.”

What did he like about Washington? “I go out to Laurel Race Track occasionally on weekdays, and it compares very favorably with the Paris tracks. It’s a little hard to reach, but the restaurant is good and it’s comfortable out there and fancy enough to suit any two-dollar horse player.”

And the cab drivers: “I find the Washington cab driver a pretty good cab driver as opposed to those in Paris, or anywhere else for that matter. I find him a fairly nice, accommodating guy. He will talk civilly to you, he’ll wait for you, he’ll deliver packages. If you expected a Paris cab driver to do any of those things, he would probably go out of his way to push you out of his cab at the zoo.”

Buchwald went on to write several more pieces for the magazine and when I joined the magazine in 1969, I called to see if he’d write again for us. We had lunch at Sans Souci, then DC’s top media-political restaurant. Lots of people came by the table to say hello to him. I threw out maybe a dozen ideas, and finally one seemed to click. I suggested he write a piece that was his obituary as he would light-heartedly write it. We talked about a deadline and money—I probably doubled our usual 10 cents a word rate.

When the piece was due, I waited a few days and then called him.

“Oh, that story,” he said, “I sold it to Playboy.”

We stayed in touch and I played tennis with him a few times. As for writing, he was doing too well with his books and syndicated column to write for a city magazine.

I did run into him at lunches, mostly at Duke Zeibert’s, another DC restaurant that attracted journalists and pols. At one of the lunches, he came up to my table. We had just published a picture of his DC home in a “Map of the Stars” feature. He said,“You son of a bitch, they burglarized my house.” I don’t think we talked again.

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