Saturday, September 10, 2011
Now three weeks into life in Washington, DC, I would like to reflect a bit. A month ago, I moved here for school, primarily because it is the best city for my major, International Relations. The amount of internships, jobs, careers, volunteer opportunities available are incredible. Despite being the Capital, DC is smaller and more intimate than one would think. With charming rowhomes - as opposed to imposing, light-blocking skyscrapers - and friendly, sweet tea-drinking locals who always say hello, it can more resemble a genteel Southern town. Granted, a genteel Southern town with an outsized international political influence and standing.
Compared to other places, people here are extremely career-oriented. About half of the city is comprised of overachieving, ladder-climbing nerds here for government jobs and internships. It is a very segregated city, with the city’s NW quadrant and close-in locales, like Arlington, being the primary domains of the city’s young and white. In a stark contrast to other areas, these parts are typified by manicured rowhomes, new condos, bike lanes, dog parks, coffee shops, and quaint, sidewalk cafés. Blocks away from safe, yuppified enclaves, often lie places like Trinidad, an almost-exclusively black nabe best known for the (unconstitutional) intrusive police checkpoints of July 2008. By contrast, rundown homes, fried fish shacks, barber shops, and Eritrean-owned, bulletproof glass liquor stores dominate the landscape of NE and SE DC.
Still, several of my favorite DC neighborhoods are in the large, multifaceted NW section. Easily the center of DC’s political, social, and cultural scenes, it is home to my favorite (DC) neighborhood, Columbia Heights, as well as many embassy events, of which I try my best to attend. One of few integrated nabes, it is roughly one-third Latino, White, and Black, giving it a multiculturalism otherwise absent in the city. Bizarrely, it is a place where professionals and their million-dollar “dream homes” can coexist alongside violent, troublesome Section 8 housing, and crowded Salvadoran tenements. That said, it is the food options that deserve much praise: a wealth of contemporary American, Salvadoran, Vietnamese, Peruvian, and Caribbean options makes it a local culinary paradise. The cheap Peruvian pollerías are particularly abundant and tasty.
Supposedly, it is a “hipster” neighborhood, yet I see more people in suits and ties than skinny jeans, plaid shirts, vintage floral skirts, or on fixed-gear bikes. Business attire, along with awful Flyover Country university apparel. All over DC, I see far too many people walking around in University of Michigan or University of Texas-Austin shirts, as if they are still living in dorms. Curiously, DC lacks the hipster (basically, 18-35 y/o’s with interests previously deemed unconventional, but are now conventional) scene popular elsewhere. Migrants here are attracted by well-paying Federal jobs and political ambition; not hipster incubators like street art, dive bars, cheap rents, or indie music.
Bloomingdale, the first part of the city built outside of the L’Enfant Plan, is another favorite, even if somewhat isolated and lacking in amenities. Residential, with a coffee shop as its only meeting place, its turreted Victorian rowhomes are among my favorite, having every bit of the detail as the more expensive, better-known ones in Dupont and Logan. It is the city’s walkable, human-scaled rowhome neighborhoods that I find most ideal and livable.
Prevalent in neighborhoods with multi-generational native Washingtonians, like Anacostia and Petworth, is a quaint Southern vibe. People on porches greeting passerbyers, getting dressed up on Sundays, and Southern cuisine and mannerisms. Same goes for the WASPy Brooks Brothers look-alikes in Chevy Chase. On a personal note, the familiarity of sweet tea, peach cobbler and grits resonates well with my stomach. To this Angeleno, these traits, coupled with a distinctive Southern drawl, spell out an unmistakable Southern influence.