Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some Recollections of 20+ Years in WDC in 4 Days

Day 1 (Saturday): I fly into National Airport (I never call it is and always will be its original name to me - National). It is the National airport. So it remains. Always the beautiful view flying into that airport, coming across the Washington suburbs and finally the city comes into view with its monuments. It is so green around here. I miss that.

I pick up my rental car in the late afternoon and drive, drive, drive west on Rt 66 out into the deep suburbs of northern Virginia to visit family. It feels beautiful to zip around in my new rental car. It is Spring in Washington. Trees blossoming everywhere - the sweet scents making me sneeze. I have a car. And I know this place. All this familiar territory. I arrive to familiar smiling faces. I miss these faces, this banter. Great food, great company and a lot of laughs. Little ones who will forever be toddlers in my mind are now teenagers, taller than me. My nephew who only a few years ago was half my height and shy and sweet towers over me now. He is so handsome. He looks like his uncle, my ex-husband. He has his first girlfriend. I stare at him in disbelief that he, the little one I held in my arms as a baby at my wedding many years ago is now becoming a man. Time passes even if the cherished images of those we love stay still in our minds.

Day 2 (Sunday): Returning to the city the next day to visit friends in Arlington, VA, I know many routes and can't decide the best one to take. I plug the address into my iPhone GPS and it sends me on a crazy route - Rt 29, Rt 66, the Beltway (495) S, Rt 50, Rt 7, into Fairlington. I don't mind. I want to travel on all of these roads - passing old doctors' offices I frequented, places where friends lived over the years, places where we ate here or shopped there. Every road has its time and its memory.

Later I drive my friend to pick up her car. We cross the Potomac River into NW Washington then I shoot down Massachusetts Ave, into Dupont Circle and over to Logan Circle. Every street, every block I pass - 20+ years of memories. I lived on Corcoran Street. And California Street. And 18th Street in Adams Morgan.

I meet old friends for dinner at a new Spanish restaurant. I think that parking appears to have gotten even worse...or maybe my memory has faded, having been away from this for almost a year now. The weather is getting warmer and it is Sunday, so people are out they do in this city when the warm weather comes.

It is so good to see these old friends. One I've known almost as long as I lived in this city. We worked together a lifetime ago. We remember cheap pitchers of beer at Mr. Eagan's and shopping at the Soviet Safeway when $20 bought you a week worth of groceries. What I miss the most about this city is these friends - all of these people who have been woven in and out of my life fabric for so long. And the familiarity of knowing this place. I live now in a place that I do not know. There is excitement in the opportunity to learn a new place, but there is also the loss of the familiar and the power that comes with knowing. It is a toss up.

After dinner it is dark and I drive again through familiar streets, down 14th Street, past the beautiful Washington Monument to my right, and across the river into Crystal City to my hotel, near the office my organization only moved into a few years ago. I know the news anchors on the nightly local news. I mean I know them in the way one knows them from watching them for years and years. Familiar voices and faces and mannerisms. Comforting background noise.

Day 3 (Monday): In the morning as I get ready to head to the office, I turn on the radio in my room and the sounds of my old NPR morning routine are there. Familiar stories for life in DC. Controversy with the mayor. Suspicious package found downtown. Metro delays due to someone "falling" on the tracks. Weather patterns up and down.

I work a full day - wanting to leave the office at 5 pm, but leaving instead after 6...a familiar pattern from my life here in DC. Back to the hotel, back to the rental car and then drive, drive, drive again, but north this time. Into Maryland. This time I take my old commuting route - from the office to my old home in Takoma Park. I am going to visit another dear friend for dinner. I am excited to see her and her daughter, but also to do this familiar drive, to see my old neighborhood and to drive by the home - my first house - that I sold last May when I left this place. Will it look the same?

Having been gone now almost a year, living in Salt Lake City now, I am shocked by the traffic. I've now been in this area 48 hours and I have felt the energy. My energy has changed to meet and match and survive the energy I feel around me. I am stressed. I feel it. I feel rushed. I feel late. I don't feel those things very much anymore with my new life in SLC. But for 20 years that was my world.

The drive is slow, due to traffic, even at 7 pm. But I don't care. I take the route through Rock Creek Park, winding through the city. This was my daily route to the office and while I did not relish driving 45-60 minutes each way, if you have to do it, this was a beautiful route to drive. I love this park. Its roads and scenery are burned into my brain from years of driving that route twice a day. What I love about living and driving in a place for so long is how you learn the crazy little routes - the twists and turns and short-cuts that you couldn't explain to someone new to the area - you just know them. You figured them out over the years. Now you feel like you could maneuver them in your sleep.

The little downtown Takoma Park looks the same. Some changes, but mostly the same. How I miss the Sunday Farmers Market. I miss it a lot. SLC has a summer market that is mostly crafts and very little food. I miss the farms of Virginia and Maryland and Pennsylvania and West Virginia - all close enough to deliver their fresh produce to this city and its many wonderful farmer markets.

Favorite tree in my old yard
I have dinner with my friend - in familiar surroundings. Lovely. Old memories. I have known her too for a long time. Through a number of changing times in her life and mine. I wish I had more time. With her. With everyone I see here. With the friends I won't be able to see this week because there just is not enough time.

My old house looks very much the same. Wow. Did I really live there for 7 years or more? My first house. Little cottage. My world. So much happened in that house. I hope that the young couple who bought it - their first home - is happy there. I hope they take care of the trees and the flowers I planted. I hope they keep up the little garden I had in the back yard. I miss the trees and the birds and the squirrels from that yard. I miss the jungly green lusciousness that is this area. You know how it is the summer. Jungle. Amazing.

I am now excited to drive yet another old, familiar route - down New Hampshire Ave, past the turn off to North Capitol that would beeline me to Capitol Hill, past the intersection with Georgia Avenue, Sherman Ave to Florida Ave, crossing U Street, south past the "new" Convention Center (no longer really new, but it will always be new as it replaced the "old" one, down 9th Street, and onto 14th Street, and again I am driving down to the Mall and past the Washington Monument and over that river, back to Crystal City, fake city with its underground mall world that always made me think of Planet of the Apes when I was younger, and its defense contractors and now a surprising number of restaurants and places to go out making it no longer such a desolate, lonely place at night.

Roosevelt Island
Day 4 (Tuesday): Another busy day in the office - meetings, meetings, meetings. I am burnt out. Like I used to be. Somehow now that I telecommute, its all different. I work a lot, but it is so much more relaxing when you work from home. And I don't have as many meetings anymore. I am not used to this pace. Not used to the quiet stress in the office and the less quiet stress on the streets. People rushing everywhere, constantly on their Blackberrys and iPhones. Lunch places unbelievably crowded. Business appears to be booming in the Nation's capital. A full day and then I am off to Georgetown to run some errands. I drive past more familiar places. My old route around the neighborhoods. My favorite spa, nail salon, yoga place, etc. Remembering shopping days and times at restaurants and celebrations with friends and hikes along the water.

This time I get to drive across the Key Bridge and back into Rosslyn, the place where I worked for so many years and just further up where I lived also for many years in two different apartments. It seems so long ago. I miss that little area. I miss my gym. I miss being so close to the Iwo Jima monument and the paths along the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island my favorite place in this city. How many times did I walk and run that island? With so many friends and family and lovers. Spring. Summer. Winter. Fall. I hope I can go there for a hike before I leave town. Remembering hikes with groups of friends on the trail that would run along the VA side of the Potomac, crossing the Chain Bridge and then walking on the C&O Canal tow path back to Georgetown. Feeling justified for a huge Sunday meal after that several hour hike.

Me, streets of DC, a year ago, 1 month before I left DC
Now back in the hotel in Crystal City...for a few more nights. Near the National airport where tomorrow I will return my rental car that has allowed me to travel so freely all over VA, DC and MD the past few days. Now I will reacquaint myself again with the DC metro and the taxis to move back and forth across the river, mostly driven by African taxi drivers. I love these taxi drivers. I love to get into a taxi and listen to Ethiopian music or chat with someone about what is happening in their home country. When I first moved to Washington, after spending a year in Kenya, then back in the US and then a summer back in Kenya again where I really still wanted to be, I felt happy and comfortable and familiar to get into a taxi with a driver often from east Africa. That was so, so long ago...but it is all still so fresh in my mind.

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