Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Random Americana: D.C.

Part Three in an on-going series.

As I ascended the impossibly long escalator in the Dupont Circle Metro station on Monday night, I thought my ears were deceiving me. I could have expected to hear some guy playing guitar badly, maybe a squeaky saxophone, certainly those pan pipe guys that show up everywhere in which more than one person is gathered. But no, I heard a full dixie-land brass band, playing their butts off. They were really good, having attracted a fairly large crowd on the corner of Mass and 19th. At 10PM. This speaks to the energy of any number of large cities around the world, to be sure, but I'm partial to my own.

There's something about D.C. The centerpiece of the city -- the National Mall and its monuments -- is simultaneously majestic and lively. On any given weekend, one can walk among the monstrous stone obelisks and temples while watching kites and kickball games. It's but one of the contradictions that define the District. It's a city famous for its crime, but it has beautiful parks and neighborhoods. When one thinks of D.C., the vision of old white men immediately jumps to mind, yet it was the hometown of Duke Ellington. It is the ultimate center of establishment, yet it is also a cool college town that is descended upon by young interns every summer.

There are any number of free things to do in the city with one of the great museum systems in the world, but one of my favorite free things is to just walk around and watch. To watch the protestors at the White House, no matter how crazy they may be. To watch the throngs of people in Georgetown or the patrons of the ethnic restaurants in Adams Morgan. To watch the juxtaposition of homelessness and power, of Southeast and K Street. It's a great people-watching city.

I'm not saying all of these things to encourage tourism. In fact, please stay the heck away! We have enough interesting people without some mega-bus rolling in from Omaha carrying people who ask dumb questions and don't understand the unwritten rules (and sometimes the written ones) of Walk/Don't Walk signs. I'm trying to get across that it's pretty special to live some place that you love, a place that will always hold surprises and new places to explore. I'm not one for blind patriotism, but watching the Fourth of July fireworks over the Washington Monument (when I've gone, before they outlawed alcohol) has always consumed me with one irrational thought: "I sure am proud to be an American." It's a thought I wish I had more often, but it's one that you can't help but feel in Washington.

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