Lots of people like to make lists of places to go/things to do in DC*, but the problem is that a lot of them aren’t feasible in the short time that most people have to visit because more than a couple things need a lot of time like museums, are places where you need to wait for tickets, or you need to contact your Senator or Representative to get a special tour. There’s plenty to do in DC, but lists are easy. I’m going to give you a plan. A crazysexycool tour of the city as if you only had 24 hours to do it.
I go up to the counter to pay for my hot chocolate. The cashier asks if I want to buy a bag of coffee grinds. She catches me at a bad moment. Instead of smiling and simply replying, "No, thank you," I dead pan "I hate coffee" deliberately overlooking the irony of our location. She smiles undaunted and replies instantly "Surely you must have some friends that enjoy coffee." Not a question. A statement.
I briefly consider spitting out "I don't have any friends," but I'm not playing a lone gun for hire. Instead I make my stand on privelidge and scorn. "I don't socialize with any of those kinds of people." I draw out the word "those" as if it's 1961 and no one has marched on Selma, Alabama yet.
We lock eyes. She knows no upselling will happen this day, at this transaction, but there's a pause as if she's considering another try just to piss me off. I already have a line at the ready. Something inappropriate involving dead puppies. I'm hoping, daring her to go there because I'm already here.
Then she smiles. The damning truth is evident. She's already won. "That'll be $3.69 please" she smirks. I curse under my breath as I realize that this game was over long before the coffee grinds gambit.
I squeeze my credit card in despair. I consider taking out the twenty in my wallet just to make her break it. But the truth is clear. I'm the one that's broken.
"Would you like a receipt?" she chirps. Her finger on the register ready to produce a physical token of my defeat.
"No." A beat. "Thank you." I gather up what's left of my dignity. I shuffle off to get my drink, wondering where the cute cashier is today.
DC is known as one of the bloggiest cities in the US. Walk into any coffee shop and it’s not much of a surprise. I spend most of my time in big name bookstore coffee places because most independent cafés are packed with unemployed hipsters hogging all the outlets. Downtown bookstores tend to attract more casual visitors and tourists, so even when it is crowded, it doesn’t take long for a spot to open up. There are regulars though. Definitely not the kind that spent last night at Fatback or the back room of The Black Cat. I’m sitting across the room from a guy reading a book called “How to Talk To Anyone,” and honestly,he looks like he needs it. Still, there are four guys wearing all black as I take a quick peek over the screen of my lap top.
Just had to move my stuff to a table close to an electrical outlet. My mood brightens with the screen and my eyes thank me.
The self help guy is chatting up an employee picking up discarded books from empty tables. The gentleman blathers about being on Twitter and Facebook and all the projects he’s thinking of. Bookstore Guy nods politely before unceremoniously pulling himself out that vortex of small talk, leaving the guy to crack open a book that, from here, looks like it says “The Ethical Slut.”
That guy who shot up the Discovery Channel Building earlier this year? I sat next to him a few times. Hard not to notice a guy who takes out several bricks of bank wrapped dollar bills. That was a dude screaming for attention, which he inevitably got when someone would ask him about all the cash. His schtick was offering money to people to read books by Daniel Quinn. I once dated a woman who tried to get me into Quinn.
I dislike Daniel Quinn with a burning passion.
I’m now in front of a woman who is quietly sobbing as she reads something off of her iPhone. We make eye contact for the briefest of moments before we both look away.
Working in these conditions can be a strenuous exercise in concentration. At another a store I often see one guy bring in person with some sort of mental handicap. Because of the effect of that person’s condition on his physical appearance, it’s hard to tell what their relationship is. Father/son? Brothers? He looks older, but he could also be significantly younger. They're usually holding hands when they come in, mostly so one doesn't lose track of the other. When they sit, the caretaker usually reads some newspapers while his companion stirs and mutters, often not very quietly. He’s not disruptive. But he constantly fidgets and will occasionally let out random grunts and moans making people sitting nearby more than a little uncomfortable.
I try to vary where I work just keep things interesting for myself. It's a good excuse to get some exercise walking to different places around town. Sometimes to more than one place within the same day.
After awhile I started noticing the same people in different places. At first I thought it was déjà vu until a few familiar faces sat near me one day the week before Thanksgiving last year. Collectively, they were an older crowd. People who looked like they had just retired from the work force and had plenty of time to spend in these places.
They chatted and gossiped as people do, which was not unusual until I realized that they were chatting and gossiping about baristas and bookstore employees throughout the entire city. They didn’t just talk about who they liked and who gave better service. They got into amazing detail about different workers’ vacation plans, outside interests, and even who had just gotten engaged.
I started coming to a different place recently which has it’s own regular gathering when I’m there on Sunday afternoons; a group of guys discussing historical events. I notice that it starts with a nerdy middle aged man usually in some sort of khaki pants, a short sleeve button down shirt, glasses, and bed head that would take a professional stylist to create on any other person. I joke to myself that this is the kind of guy that would be working at The Library; the place where I work. Sure, enough during the course of one of their conversations, he admits as much.
He’s then usually joined by a much older gentleman leaning heavily on a walker. One or two other guys may stop by depending on the week. They chat for an hour or two talking about civil war campaigns and political elections from a hundred years ago.
I’m guessing the other guys eventually leave because the gentleman in the walker will often wander onto tangential conversational topics. My unknowing colleague is very accommodating though and stays until his older friend is finished. He’s a patient man, continuously offering encouraging nods and grunts to the elder who often enters territory that should probably be reserved for therapy. It’s history of a different kind.
Every time the older man finishes and gets ready to go, his only audience member helps him get ready and makes it explicitly clear that he will be there at the same time next week. Just to chat. About anything. Oddly enough, I don’t usually hear him say very much. The old guy usually just mumbles and grumbles as he meanders off.
I didn't get very much work done today.
Reggie lived in the alcove of a rarely used building next to mine for quite a few years. He was always hustling for cash; whether it was by washing cars, pointing out available parking spaces to the visiting suburbanites, or just hanging out on the corner. He was usually very friendly. I think I saw him more than I did most other neighbors. We always said hello to each other. He was there for years, I think even before I moved there. Although I give money to homeless people on occasion, I never gave him anything partially out of my own financial situation and partially not to encourage him as we saw each other almost every day.
Anyone that lives in DC for any amount of time has a squirrel story. I have several including one where I was pickpocketed by one and another that involves the word threesome. I’ll save those for another day.
This weekend, I was walking through the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial when I ran into some very friendly squirrels. Or hungry. It's usually the latter, but like a lot of people in DC, they've learned to mask their true motivations behind a thin veneer of furry charm. My camera phone documents what happened next.
North Side of the US Capitol in Russell Senate Park this afternoon by the reflecting pool at the end of North Capitol Street. She's in a strapless wedding dress with a long flowing train that she's holding bunched up in her hands so it doesn't touch the ground. She's flanked by three of her girlfriends casually dressed in shirts and jeans. One of them falls behind as she checks her camera.
He's in a tuxedo. White tie and white vest. He jogs up ahead of the group a few steps, jumps up onto and richochets off of a park bench into a heel click. He tries to keep walking like nothing happened, but looks and smiles back at the soon to be bride.
The friend with the camera runs to catch up with the rest of the group as she figures something out and yells something in Korean.
Metro Center. February 13, 2010 at about 6:00 pm. I saw a woman on the metro platform stretching out her hip in the same way a friend of mine does. My friend actually just had surgery on it, so I briefly wondered if the older woman in front of me had the same kind of problem.
She was with her family; her husband or significant other and their teenage daughter. A homeless man came by offering people some pitiful looking short branches that looked like he just plucked them off of a snow covered bush from outside. The gentleman in the family took one and the mother took another. I didn’t see if they offered anything in return, but I did catch them later trying to adorn their daughter with them. She had pigtails, but from her stance and her age, you could tell she was wearing them to be ironic in a budding hipster kind of way. She was not interested in the shrubbery.
I wandered through the National Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial on my way to Chinatown last night. I do that often enough that it didn’t take me very long to notice how unusually bright it was. I noticed them replacing many of the light fixtures around the memorial not long ago. Apparently it’s been a long time coming, because not only was everything brighter, but light was coming from little niches that I didn’t even know were supposed have them. As I popped out of the other side, I noticed that F St. by the Verizon Center was blocked off. Judging from the police and tents, I thought that it was some sort of emergency preparedness drill until I spotted skate boarders casually rolling past the tents.
Flashback to about a year ago, doing the same walk and finding the same scene. Not nearly as pleasant as it was last night. Raining lightly, but heavy enough to warrant an umbrella. The sounds of Fats Waller’s band playing the moody “Dark Eyes” on my ipod.
As I approached the tents, I smelled them before I noticed them moving. Horses. Lots of them. A sign for the Washington International Horse Show hung on the fence separating the passerby's from the makeshift corrals.
I stopped for a moment under a street lamp and got a better view of those handsome creatures. I made eye contact with one of them and I forgot where I was going for a moment, wondering what I was looking at. Fatigue? Sadness?
Back to last night. I'm greeted by the same scene. Horses at rest. Humans at work. Stalking the stalls, shuffling hay, checking out the competition.
No ipod for me , but I still hear music as I approach the metro. Less Russian inspired Harlem jazz, but instead more like early 80’s r & b.
“Toniiiiiight I celebrate my lovvvve for you . . .”
There’s something off. It's not a recording. Someone is singing. And not very well.
I round the corner into the metro entrance to find a guy playing a keyboard on the sidewalk. A Middle-aged Asian man. He’s singing a duet with a much older black gentleman whose reading words from over the piano players shoulder. A similarly older Asian woman tries to get me to stop. She doesn’t need to waste energy since the sheer surrealness of it all keeps me from ignoring them. Its only when she tries to convince me to sing the next song that I snap out of it to peel myself away and hit the escalator down.
“What I want most to doooooo Is to get close to yoooooou
Toniiiiiiiight . . .”