Monday, September 6, 2010

Starting something in the great white city.

I’m sorry for the long hiatus. Shifting cities and the end of summer can take a lot out of a girl.


Since the first day I arrived in Washington, I felt an itch underneath the skin, a persistent feeling of something not right.

At first I thought it was entering a world in which people lived and breathed politics, a world where people talked about the tangled web of lobbying and elections at dinner parties. Or that everyone was transitory, so no one cared to make lasting ties. Or, as my dad put it, that DC was a small town made into a city just because the most important man in the world lives here.

But that persistent itch isn’t any of those things. This morning I woke up and knew exactly what it is.

I can’t find DC’s heart.


I’ve always felt that to get a pulse of a city you have to explore it when everyone is supposed to be asleep. You have to meet its insomniacs. You have to go to an underground Cuban dance bar in New York at 5 in the morning. You have to eat a greasy cheeseburger under fluorescent lights in a Chicago all-night diner as the sun comes up. Last night, DC at 5 am was drunk frat boys puking into a trash can.

Something else--I think a city without a native cuisine is troubling. Where’s the DC street food? Where’s the equivalent of the Chicago style pizza or the Manhattan clam chowder? The closest thing I can find is a “half-smoke”, a spicy cousin of the hot dog. But none of my Washington friends eat it.

Last night I went to U Street, the birthplace of Duke Ellington, a street which, according to the NYT housed a “multicultural slew of aging liberals and young antiestablishment types". I had high hopes, although my friend had warned me DC isn’t trendy, and so it’s awkward when it tries to be. He was right. The U Street I found is a series of bars much like any other, with small attempts at a hookah or jazz bar appearance, populated mostly by tame white Georgetown grads.

And the subways are empty, hollowed out. Even at rush hour they're dead quiet. The futuristic design makes it all seem very sterile. Somehow that's what bothers me the most.


Maybe it’s because of the transitory nature of DC that it’s so hard to find the meat of it...because everyone is from everywhere, there is no one collective heartbeat,

I know I’m not looking hard enough, or in the right places. And that I haven't been here long enough to know.

If you’re reading this in DC, can you show me its heart?

Duke Ellington, "It don't mean a thing"

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