DC is a strange composite of culture and the global and economic diversity that naturally accompanies city life. Here’s a little bit about the District where all the stupid politics go down:
The Capitol Building serves as the epicenter of the four quadrants of DC, no doubt an homage to justice, liberty, and the American way. Another symbolic oddity of this building: many people claim that, excluding the Washington Monument, the Capitol is the tallest building in the city. Usually following this statement is the misguided citation that there is a long venerated law that dictates no other architectural structure in the District of Colombia can be taller than the Capitol. There is actually no such law, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception surpasses America’s most beloved building by a staggering forty feet. Only after the Old Post Pavilion and the National Cathedral it is noted as the fifth tallest structure in the District. To level with the Basilica, the Capitol would have to add something forty feet in length to the top of its celebrated dome, and it just so happens that forty feet is the length of a T-Rex, the mighty ruler of the Cretaceous Period. I’m sure the Museum of Natural History would generously donate its T-Rex skeleton for this endeavor in the name of patriotic one-upmanship. Dinosaur skeletons in all these museums are all replicas anyway. You think they’d expose such a precious artifact to
me the grubby hands of deviating schoolchildren? I think not.
Back on track: so Capitol Hill divides the city into four areas – Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. The most famous parts of DC – the monuments, the mall, etc. – are not in any quadrant but lie on the border of Northwest and Southwest. This area is teeming with a diverse sample of America’s population as well as the earth’s population. This is a roundabout way of saying ‘tourist’. If you’re on the mall and you’re not a tourist, you’re probably a jogger. The plight of the DC jogger is a tough one. You constantly encounter the formidable task of navigating through seas of people who don’t know how to walk, who are annoyingly enamored by every single thing simply because they’re experiencing it in their nation’s capital. If they excitedly point to a squirrel scurrying across the path, it’s because it’s an American squirrel. And that’s an American bench. If it’s cherry blossom season, forget it. Given the crowds, a casual jog somehow transforms into an exercise of overt photo-bombing in springtime. You can’t run five feet without permeating some German family’s totally original photo of the Lincoln. If tourists are friendly to me, I reciprocate the kindness. I’ve spent a lot of my life being a tourist (I’ll be pretentious for a moment and opt for traveler) so I know what it’s like to be in a new place, excited beyond belief, and not know what the fuck you’re doing. The problem is when someone of self-righteous disposition approaches me and demands my attention and an immediate solution to their stupid problem, like directions to the nearest metro map. They’re from the grand state of Mississippi after all, it wouldn’t be right – nay – it would be un-American for me to refuse to devote my limited knowledge and capabilities to solve their dilemma. If they’re really mean, I point them towards the ghetto.
Moving on to Northwest DC. This sector is the largest, wealthiest, and most diverse in the District. It’s home to pockets of cultures from all over the globe: Ethiopians, Vietnamese, Koreans, West Africans, Latin Americans, Pakistani, and more. My favorite side effect of this is that these people tend to open restaurants. And I tend to eat at them. I seldom use taxis but when I do, three times out of five the driver will be Pakistani. Four times out of five, he will be on his cell phone. When they’re not on their phone, they’re almost always friendly and conversational. This means that my odds of getting an amicable Pakistani driver who is not on his phone is twelve percent. One out of two of these drivers will be willing to discuss food with me. I enter a taxi, and there is a six percent chance I walk away with an authentic recipe of Korma. These odds are large enough for further justification to take a taxi should I feel the need.
NW is also home to mind-boggling wealth. Politicians, executives, and businessmen alike settle here with their well-to-do families and obnoxiously manicured lawns. When walking through one of these neighborhoods, simple observation can lead you to believe there is even class warfare among their garden gnomes – why is one gnome carrying a wheelbarrow while the others are standing around with their noses in the air completely tool-less, without even a bucket to carry flowers to help his wheelbarrow-toting friend?? It’s an obscure quandary, to be sure, but a question worth asking. But even before warfare between the classes and lawn ornaments, NW occupies a great deal of its energies to a different kind of combat, a Trojan Horse of saturated fats and darling decorations: cupcake wars. Georgetown is the battlefield, Georgetown Cupcakes, Baked & Wired, Sprinkles, and others are the ill-fated players. Cupcakes, you see, are fashionable. These tiny individualized cakes say soooo much about how haute you are, so enthusiasts have vested interest in debating which cupcake retailer deserves the crown title. Before I come off as innately, perhaps unjustly, anti-rich people, the truth is that NW harbors the most affluent zip codes in the District. Real estate prices stagger to the millions in areas like Georgetown, Spring Valley, Dupont, and Friendship Heights. If you’re going to be hit by a car in these areas, it will likely be an Audi, Merc, or one of those terrible Beemer SUVs. God forbid you’re hit anywhere near Embassy Row where there is a larger chance that your aggressor has diplomatic immunity. What can I say. I think about these things.
Southwest is probably the least celebrated quadrant of DC, and it’s mostly full of dirty Potomac water. It’s peppered throughout with various Smithsonian institutions and federal buildings, but SW’s most notable landmark is the Jefferson Memorial. Popular opinion dictates that this is a silly location for a memorial. If I’m on the Mall, people will ask me where this memorial is because it’s not in plain sight like the rest of them. The next question is almost always ‘why is it soooo far away?’ in an obnoxious tone, as if I’m the one who decided to plop it there, as if it’s my fault their new sneakers are giving them blisters. To any DC resident, the Jefferson is a hopeful guiding light for late-night jogs, a beautiful, substantially less-visited vestige where they can be locked inside an airy lacuna of history while enjoying sweeping panoramas of DC’s world-famous landmarks and their world-famous reflections in the equally dirty Tidal Basin. The Jefferson is impressive from afar, but even better from up close.
This concludes an outline of generalized characteristics of Western DC. It is by no means comprehensive, but simply the impressions of a sarcastic Squeaky Robot.