Busting Loose

A yet to be "rehabbed" street in Shaw. Around 7th and L, NW. Close to the cop shoppe.

Growing up, a meaningful block was a half-mile long. Nobody walked much, so it wasn’t a big deal, but the distances between stuff were actual distances. Walking three blocks was a mile and a half. Distances were covered in miles per hour, thank you very much.

When I first moved to our nation’s capital, these were pre-GPS days–I know, right?, I pulled out the map to see where I was heading. It was on the other side of the beltway. Using my historical point of reference, I figured it would take about 60-70 minutes. It took me less than 20, and that might have included a little bit of time when I was lost.

Geographically, D.C. is a small place.

Today I told The Spouse that drinks were on me at the hip watering hole that just reopened. I decided to hoof it from downtown. The Spouse hit the pavement from The Mall. It’s a sign of the times that we would even consider walking. Five or six years ago, when the development was in planning, I would not walk that corridor. Boarded up shops, drug deals on corners, and no reason to be there. Nope. Seventh Street was a car route.

I walked the dozen blocks, passing the new convention center, spiffy hotels with five-story atriums, rehabbed buildings, shiny new box apartments, a grocery store with wine and a ton of prepared foods, and a few windows still boarded up. For now.

There were still the few blocks of subsidized apartments, but they’re much less notorious. There was still a cop going back and forth with a citizen. They were being observed by a sidewalk full of the neighborhood a few yards away. Nobody was cuffed. The convenience store was surrounded by folks waiting for the bus. The air included the smell of tobacco and weed. But no piss.

The city was always tiny, but now the walk from the FBI building to the burgeoning condo, bike path, coffee shop and restaurant fueled blocks formerly known as the hood and now known by their hip nicknames was much faster than a cab during Friday rush hour. In less than twenty minutes, office commuters can traverse to the land of brown liquor with artisanal ice, biergartens, craft roasted coffee, dog groomers and hipsters.

These thirteen blocks span less than a mile, not the 6½ that I would have expected in my youth. As the city gets closer together, it gets bigger for some people and increasingly inaccessible for others.

The Spouse remarked on our independent walks through what had been a tough area. I noted that there was new paint and landscaping at the public housing complex across from the shiny new grocery store. The rec center that had an awesome makeover was full of little and mid-sized kids that did not live in the new studio and studio +den apartments with the marble counters and stainless steel appliances.

We don’t want the city to lose the people who have raised generations of families here. Both of us, at the same time, said we really hoped that there was enough room for everyone. I better go call the Mayor.

Shook Me All Night Long

Captain Jack Sparrow, offering, or at least toasting you, rum.

He was fit. In that way that the word is used to describe someone who is teetering on the top, but not yet quite over, the hill. Let’s call him Steve.

Steve was a common name in his elementary school. There were two other “Steves” in his fifth grade classroom and seven in all of the fifth grade. They would be called by their first name, Steve, and the initial from their last name. It would be Steve P., or Steve J. It would not be Stevie because you lost the diminutive form of your name before kindergarten–except with your aunts. It would not be Steven because people were never called by their full given name when he was in fifth grade, or even eleventh grade for that matter.

He was born at the very beginning of Gen-X, but was constantly confused with the Baby Boomers. His musical history was Stones, Zep, Rush, the Eagles and Journey to newer music like Bon Jovi and Genesis. Maybe some Men in Work and The Summer of ’69. For hipness there might have been some Elvis Costello and The Clash. Maybe not, though.

He missed out on grunge. He preferred reciting Jenny’s phone number over and over rather than the rhythmic dirge of, All in all is all we are. All in all is all we are. All in all is all we are. Some of his friends just saw their dads on weekends. He came into an uncertain job market after college but did pretty well. He married the friend of his best friend’s sister. They don’t see their old best friends anymore, except on Facebook, to mark their own children’s proms and, most recently, graduations.

It was hot at today’s graduation party but the kegs of beer were on ice and tented with a tarp to protect the brew as well as the brew drinkers. He had a rocks glass in his left hand and a fifth of an artisan whiskey held by it’s neck and trailing down his leg in his right. He was holding it there like Kanye held that bottle of Hennessy the night he interrupted Taylor Swift with “imma let you finish.”

Steve purportedly brought the fine southern bourbon as a gift for the host. The bottle, however, never left his right hand. Sometimes he’d swap his rocks glass out for a clear plastic cup filled with beer. Sometimes he would offer someone else some of the amber booze. Only to men, though. And with a story about the rarity or the exquisiteness or the origin of this particular distillery, punctuated with the adjective “smooth” or the feature “no-burn.” Sometimes the tale included all of this.

He wore the bottle swinging against his thigh like it was a medal or an honor sash. It was almost like a marker of his own substance or significance. As the bottle emptied, his swagger was incrementally augmented. He stopped offering to share his bottle and stopped pouring it into a different container before he drank it. He was pacing himself, though.

The bright sun was replaced by multi-colored party lights hung from the tent poles, tiki torches–which gave everyone a quick rush when they were lit and burned off that petroleum smell–and the light from the French doors leading back into the house.

He drifted away, just on the other side of the tents where his peers were tipping back beers and refilling wines and sharing pictures on their phones from their recent trips to Italy and Ireland and Croatia. The music was loud and carried around from the back of the house past the rows of trees to the neighbors’ acre lot. They were invited and this level of noise was so unusual and it was two hours before midnight so there wasn’t a fear of a complaint. He was down to an inch and a half of liquor at the bottom of his bottle.

It wasn’t clear which woman in the floral sundress was his wife or which clean-shaven young man in a tropical shirt was his son. Nobody was checking in with him. When the tinder was torched for the bonfire, he moved into the circle with the group of people who were now all old enough to bring their own beer to the party at someone’s parents’ house. He sat down on the almost unstable white plastic folding chair. He put the bottle on the ground between his legs and soaked in youth.

He heard the air release from a beer can and called for one. There was a cringe from within a tropical shirt. There’s his kid. The youth next to the boxes of Miller Lite made eye contact with the oldster before he tossed him a can. Underhand rather than the rocket he just hurled to his buddy on the other side of the circle. You don’t want to bean somebody’s dad. Because no matter where the guy sat in the circle, he was somebody’s dad.

Steve pulled the last of the bourbon and opened his beer. Some in the circle around the fire were laughing uproariously. Steve was earnestly tightroping between hanging with the “kids” and dispensing fatherly advice. He was a father. He really couldn’t help it. But he was more than a little drunk, too, so he didn’t realize that he didn’t really belong in this circle. The youths welcomed him, but this wasn’t his tribe.

And then, the band started with the chords from an AC/DC tune. No, Steve. Not the air guitar. Yes. The air guitar.

Steve’s son’s girlfriend turned to him and whispered, “at least he’s not trying to twerk like Liam’s mom.” It was a small consolation, but the young man was consoled. By that and by the next rocket launch of a Miller Lite.