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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Favorite Too-Small City (a Romance of Sorts)

It happens with all too much frequency. Engaged in casual conversation, I will utter the words "I rather like DC," and a DC-hater will inevitably glare at me over their beer, through the haze of their cigarette smoke, or out from under the weight of their own self importance and retort with a smirk and an incredulous "Why?!"

Of course it wasn't always this way. Some eight years ago, fresh from the west coast, new to the area, recovering from a prolonged adolescent angst marked by botch Manic Panic jobs and a dislike of basically everything, DC seemed like just another entity on my ever growing list of complaints. I had told myself I'd just be here for a year while I figured this "life" thing out. I'd move to New York just like all the other cool kids, get a place in Williamsburg, work for pennies at a publishing house as was my God given right as possessor of a shiny new B.A in English.

But a funny thing happened somewhere along the way. Somewhere amid navigating a series of soulless temp assignments, securing my very first "real job", getting fired from my very first real job and landing my second first "real job", I fell in love. First with a man, and then by extension with the city itself. I can't speak for everyone, but falling in love for the first time is perhaps the very best way to indoctrinate oneself into new town. Both new to the area, we learned DC together, navigating the terrain of our new city as we did of our relationship. Even when things relationship ended, I had a slew of fun hangouts at my fingertips, with fond memories attached to each. I was no longer attached to him, yet irrevocably so to DC.

Skip ahead several years. I've experienced the city in many of its forms--its less advantaged neighborhoods through my non-profit/anti-gentrification job and as the center of national politics through a subsequent one. I've found the best patios to sip drinks on during Indian Summer afternoons and the best dark corners to retreat to when nursing a broken heart. I have my favorite places to see live music, to people-watch, to pass an afternoon reading a book or looking at art, for dinner with girlfriends and shopping on a budget. Through each of my adventures in finding these places, I have encountered a bevy of characters--some forgettable, others less so.

It used to annoy me when I'd run into these people from my past--that my adopted hometown was too small to escape my ill-advised one night stands, loathsome ex-bosses, former roommates I never quite felt comfortable around. But the longer I'm here and the more times I run into them, the more I appreciate them and their presence. No matter how unpleasant or regrettable any of my experiences with these people were at the time, they contribute to the sum total of my history with the city, and in turn, greatly inform my views on relationships, professionalism, friendship, accountability, and in general how to conduct myself with maturity and grace. Granted, I continue to strive towards the two ideals, but I never would have come as far as I have were it not for those individuals and the lessons they have taught me along the way.

Recently, it seems that I am encountering a lot of these individuals, and mostly I am happy when I see them. It's comforting to live in a city composed of familiar faces, especially as the psychological scars that we may have afflicted on one another have faded enough so that we may comfortably co-exist.

Of course, I still remember a time when DC seemed hopelessly bland, when everyone I encountered seemed like a pompous douche, when I hated the Metro and couldn't find an engaging job. And for those individuals who continue to hate on DC, I can still empathize with their plight. I simply don't feel it anymore. Well, I don't today at least...


Blogger Kristin said...

I, too, love DC in all its seeming smallness. As for me, I was glad to run into you last night. It wasn't exactly random but I didn't know I'd see you. It was a pleasure.

10:32 PM  
Blogger Tom Bailey said...

When I visited we traveled through areas that were nice and quickly came to areas I did not feel safe being there after dark.


10:34 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Home is where the heart is, and it sounds like your heart is here now. The constant random encounters makes DC feel like a family -- a dysfunctional family sometimes, but family nonetheless.

12:01 AM  
Blogger Ryane said...

I am always perplexed to hear people say they 'hate' DC. I realize it is not NYC, or San Fran,but we have gorgeous architecture, some of the best museums (which are FREE!), art galleries, great shopping, an entire world of food choices, trees, water and even a few interesteg folks or two.

I am with you HP (and being a local, possibly a bit biased)--DC is wonderful.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Michael J. West said...

It absolutely breaks my heart whenever I hear someone say, or even imply, that they hate DC. I love this city. Absolutely, unreservedly, and unconditionally. I love it for the small Metropolitan oasis that it is, for the major cosmopolis that it tries so hard to be, and for the major cosmopolis that, suddenly, it is actually becoming.

Which probably makes me as silly and short-sighted as the people who hate it with a passion, but hey: to each his own extreme behavior. Besides, if they hate it here so much, why are they still here? Why not apply for jobs in NYC and San Fran? Ryane cannily points out that DC is neither of those cities...but if I wanted to live in NYC or San Fran, I would

3:59 PM  
Blogger TravelGirlDC said...

I am with you, I love DC. I love the energetic mix of people and deing surrounded by all the fabulous Federal buildings!

4:11 PM  
Blogger 123Valerie said...

I am not such a big fan of suburban Maryland, but D.C.'s a'ight with me.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Zandria said...

What a great post! I really enjoyed reading this. Sometimes people think we need something "bigger and better," that we'd be more content somewhere else, but then it dawns on us that we have all we need already. Just because we're in a different place doesn't mean that our lives will automatically be "better." I figured that out from experience. :)

9:07 PM  
Blogger Mala said...

This is such a great post!!!

I moved here 11 years ago, fresh out of college, thinking I'd get a couple years work experience and then move back up to Boston or move in with friends in NYC. And though occassionally I toy with the idea of moving to Chicago or Seattle, DC is my home and I really can't imagine living anywhere else.


6:54 PM  

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