Making Change

A restored store on Old Maple and 4th, NW.

The town is changing. The corner store where patrons could buy a single black and mild along with a lotto ticket is still there. It still sells lotto. There are a few cold 40s in the cooler, next to an extended collection of batch artisanal beer from the Rocky and the Sierra mountains. None from Milwaukee.

The long-term neighbors keep an eye on the new folks. The ones who foolishly stand on the street, rifling through their bags, not paying attention to the opportunistic predators. The first ones who fixed up Miss Carter’s house after she passed on. They were very into their front yard. The next ones who bought the houses that someone else fixed up. Lots of granite and walls coming down for an “open” floor plan.

The ones with their fancy three-wheeled strollers. They carry their fat babies in their reverse backpacks, facing out with their pink cheeks and pillow feet. In one hand they grip a stainless steel coffee cup and in the other the leash for their misshapen dog. The dog that is afraid of blowing leaves and trash trucks and barks at the ladies wearing their church hats.

The old timer likes most of his new neighbors. They borrow his tools and ask for his opinion on roofers and electricians. He tells the youngest ones to get their keys out before they step out of their Ubers. He’s not crazy about the Ubers, though. His buddy supplements his retirement by driving a D.C. He said that he’s not going to drive his own car.

Looking up and down the compact streets with homes that were residences to African American professors, judges and lawyers before it became a “transitional” neighborhood, two or three homes on every block proudly fly the red and white D.C. flags. A bunch of them “work” from home–whatever that means. One thing he knows it means is that there are more people around during the day.

The old timer sits on his front porch and nods to the parade of walkers and bikers and strollers bringing life to his street. He’s glad to have activity out in the open–but he knew what was happening in the shadows, too. It’s not gone, though it’s definitely on the wane. But every time there is a car break-in or a mugging, there is much clucking. It’s still the city, man, he thinks to himself.

He wonders if they will raise their kids here. If they will go to the neighborhood schools. He hopes so, because the corner store is carrying organic milk in addition to wines with foreign labels. But there’s also sandwiches. His wife doesn’t like him eating greasy carryout, but if he brings home a wrap, they’re both happy. These new people? They better stay.

In Case of Fire

A fire hydrant at night.

It stood watch over it’s corner, counting the flurry of commuters passing it by. The brick and asphalt that it sat on was coated in water mixed with oil and fuel that reflected the light from the street lamp above.

The bricks were being forced up by the roots of the tree. They were only set in sand, and were susceptible to upheaval. The bricks were spotted with pock marks and the remains of chewing gum. A few leaves were held in place by the suction of the surface moisture.

The hydrant itself had been painted and repainted over the years. It was currently a muddied green. It’s base was thick and topped by eight heavy bolts. The bolts had to be heavy to hold back the rush of water that pushed to get out.

This hydrant hadn’t been used in case of fire in decades, but wore a brooch that certified that it was in good working order per this summer’s test. It was an especially important hydrant that was ready to protect the three-story red bricked box on the corner. The old school building was one and a third centuries old. Its huge double hung windows were topped by another arched pane. They had been bricked over with newer bricks that looked pink in contrast to the deep red of the old bricks. Better bricks than broken glass.

Nobody wanted that old building, despite it’s prime location across from a swanky hotel and even swankier retail. Any new owners were subject to the heavy hand of its immediate neighbor, the U.S. Secret Service. The fire hydrant stood vigil for them, too.

In the meantime, late at night and early in the morning, big city rats would cross the same paths that pedestrians scurried over during the day. Sometimes a wayward conventioneer would steady themselves on it before they crossed the street back to their hotel. The occasional meeting between the city rat and its country cousin would be exaggerated to monstrous proportions over a coffee, cheese omelette and headache in the morning.



Bright orange sneakers.

It wasn’t actually a lunge. Lunging connotes quick, sudden and direct. Hers was more like a floating surprise into someone else’s space. It was an interruption, but certainly without direction.

The woman who was interrupted expected that she would be asked for money. But she wasn’t. There was no ask. There was no recognition from the glassy eyes bobbing in front of her.

The other woman, the one who floated in a surprising way, was dressed in a bright orange track suit. It may have been velour. It had a fuzzy look to it. It may have been terry cloth. The jacket was zipped up high, up to her neck. The fit of the pant and the jacket made sense on her long body.

She had one of those jumbo wheeled folding shopping carts next to her. It was filled with bags and maybe a blanket. There was a cigarette lighter and a half pack of Newports in the drugstore bag on the top. There was also two orange bottles without the child proof tops. It was her prescription medicine. But it wasn’t the scripts that glazed over her face.

Her eyes were almost hazel. So they were hazel since they had a bit more color than brown. They bulged out a little bit and the whites had thin variegations of red.

The orange sleeves of her jacket, while filled with her arms, seemed to not belong to her torso. They moved independently of her body. Not in a convulsive way, but fitfully aggressing through the nearby air. She levitated back and forth from the curb to the middle of the sidewalk, like a tethered helium balloon that was starting to loose it’s bounce. Her movements were without rhythm, without rhyme, yet fluid.

Gliding in and out of the lunchtime foot traffic, she silently forced the people seeking sandwiches and grain bowls to move out of the way. Most were glad to avoid her, but a few looked for the cup to toss in some coins. When they searched to end of her orange cuff they only saw a burning  menthol that she never drew to her mouth. And then she receded back until her next teeter into the next wave of pedestrians.

Walking Without a Net

Sunset in Brookland. At the intersection between work and home.

It’s the end of a long week, meaning, in part, that it’s the weekend. The last steps to home are in front of me.

I texted The Big Guy to see if he wanted some special pizza for dinner. Not like the stuff the guy in the beat up Nissan compact brings to the door. I like that it is brought to the door, but I like much less the similarities between the cardboard box-container and the crust. He replied and special pizza it was to be.

I left the station and walked the block around the old Brooks mansion. You used to be able to criss-cross the lawn to reach the corner, but now there’s an iron fence with pointy metal pickets to direct foot traffic to the sidewalks. Better for the lawn, I guess.

It’s a little late so the remnants of rush hour traffic are gone. The sun was sinking low and red on the other side of the bridge, and I see a lone car making its way over the hill and coasting toward me. There are no cars on the other side. A quiet night.

I slowly stepped into the street, the same street where I jaywalked the cop. I was, again, walking against the light. The approaching car was getting close to the intersection and then came to a dead stop two car lengths before the crosswalk.

Oh, jeez. I was three short strides into the road and, if the car kept at his reasonable pace, he would be past me, through the light and onto the next block before I was near his side of the road. I was not intending to interrupt his progress. Not at all. I was just trying to make the most out of my time, and the timing of my pedestrian commute.

I looked at his tags. The blue and yellow bands framing the white background and the blue raised letters. Pennsylvania. Not likely Philly. Nope. Rural or suburban Pennsylvania where pedestrians drive. He had no concept for the give and take of an urban parlay between vehicle and walker. He didn’t know that I knew where he was and that I was timing my crossing. He didn’t know the choreography, or even that it was choreographed.

I felt bad because he stopped his car. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. I scurried past him and alighted on the curb on the other side. He waited for me to be on the sidewalk before he shuttled down the road. I was annoyed that he refused my curtsey and disregarded the dance, but he wasn’t part of the corps de ballet. That’s a hard part of living in D.C., the audience that enters the stage.

But at least we were going to have pizza. Except they ran out of crust.

Pitchers of Water

Post storm water droplets reflected on the leaves of the tree. This is awesome. Who knew you could capture this on a phone? Really, who knew?

The sky opened up with a fury unleashed from the heavy ball and chain of oven heat and thick humidity. It was like a bunch of frat boys balancing an unlimited supply of beer tubs full of cold water and dumping them, one after another, over the deck and the wet splashing down on unsuspecting bystanders. It was that. With an EDM light show and the deafening boom of Thor’s hammer. And, tragically, without the eye candy of the God of Thunder.

A bunch of people were plastered against the wall of the building underneath a narrow overhang. They must be waiting for the bus. The bus must be delayed. Of course it was, since the “safety surge” is serially shutting down stretches of the subway all summer. The people were mostly wet, some very very wet. But they jostled for dry space as they waited for their mad dash to the H Bus. They held umbrellas and plastic CVS bags against the wet. Almost all of them had at least a small dry patch. They worked to maximize that patch.

There was a man who exuded misery, or he would if anything could come out of him. He was slick with water, his white shirt glued to his back. It wasn’t that he didn’t care. It was that it didn’t matter if he did. His abject look of surrender to the buckets that poured over him was truly miserable. His hair framed his face with a mousy brown fringe. Water drops fell from his sharp nose, from his chin, and his hands were too wet to brush the rain away. They just moved the wet around. He plodded along. He would get on the subway platform and a pool would form around his soggy shoes.

A pair of young women walked on the other side of the street. Their rubber flip flops absorbed nothing. One woman grabbed her companion’s arm to stop her from tumbling into the rushing water as she slipped off her sandal. They both said sorry at the same time. They leaned into each other as they laughed. And they poked each other with their useless umbrellas. “Why are we holding them?” they laughed, again.

The rain ran down from their waists and then splashed up from the sidewalk to soak the hems of their dresses. One wore a skirt that had been flirty before the wet made it hug her legs. The other wore one of those cotton shifts with an overlay of lace. It was heavy now and was causing her legs to chafe.

The one with the chafing pointed to the mojito bar. They shook their umbrellas, squeezed out their dresses, shook their thick manes of curls and stepped out of the rain into the ice box of a bar where they took their spots.

Tour de DC

Man and Horse sculpture at FTC

Met a friend and her delightfully punky son at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery last weekend. There was beer. There was space for a crazed toddler with a full nappy to terrorize tourists. There was amazing art. Not all at the same time, though, but parts were concurrent.

After our parley, I gave her a hug and the sweet imp a kiss and exited the museum. I strolled past the Spy Museum even though it was drizzling. My hair didn’t care and it wasn’t too cold. I walked past the Shake Shack to my jalopy, which was expertly parked across the street from that cement monstrosity also known as F.B.I. headquarters.

I foolishly did a u-turn  (“Srsly, Doc! Have you no shame?” you ask. “Right in front of the heat?”) so I could circle the block to Pennsylvania Avenue. I drove away from the White House–that’s about six blocks in the other direction.

Instead I went left and passed the Department of Justice and the Archives. My whip  wheeled past originals of our nation’s founding documents like the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They are just there.

Next on the right is the Federal Trade Commission. I have no idea what they do, but they have an amazing stone statue of a beefy guy trying to tame an even beefier horse. I love this sculpture.

I drive by the Canadian embassy guarded by Mounties on the left and on my right is the National Gallery of Art. The West wing has those beautiful Monets as well as the bronze cast and canvas ballerinas of Degas. Crossing 4th St, I pass the East Wing  of the Gallery where they hang the red and black triangles balanced on the Calder mobile.

Where Pennsylvania Ave merges with Constitution, I see the sometimes infamous U.S. District Court. It’s infamous when there are are dozens of reporters with their satellite sticks jutting in the air like a field of unwelcome windmills in Nantucket Sound.

If I look straight ahead, which really is the right thing to do since I’m driving, I see The Capitol. I’m grateful that it sits at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue because I get to drive and walk by it all the time–even now as it’s covered in scaffolding. It makes me feel so patriotic, so American. Like somehow I’m a founding father. It’s one of the best sites in our beautiful city.

On this trip as I jogged left onto Louisiana Avenue, I see three round blue orbs. The helmets on top of Capitol Police motorcycle cops. All three bikes have sidecars, too. I never see passengers in the police sidecars. Never. There are, however, covers on them. I imagine that they have an arsenal, like Detective Billy Rosewood from Beverly Hills Cop, underneath those hoods. The three follow Louisana Ave to North Cap Street, then they peel off towards the trains at Union Station.

I went up a a few streets then made a right on H Street, behind the station. I took the arched bridge across the tracks. At the end of the bridge is this crazy set of accidents waiting to happen where the new trolley will cross into traffic. The street cars aren’t starting up until next week. No street cars; no accidents; so no traffic jam. Not today.

I made a left at Sixth Street, NE. This is the corner for the new Whole Foods.

I’m on my way to Union Market to stop at the bread guy for tonite’s dinner and at DC Fishwife for tomorrow’s.

As I head up Brentwood Road to home, I can see the blue dome and spire of the Shrine. The same Basilica that Justice Scalia was laid to rest the day before and that we walked to for Easter Mass that time Baby Bear was two and his pants fell down around his ankles as he was walking to the pew. He was likely singing, too.

Welcome to my town. This Sunday drive was all of twenty minutes (including the 5 minutes in the market). Yup. This is where I live.

Addicted to Palin

Okay. I said it. It’s the first step. I admit that I have a problem.

I have been thinking about Sarah Palin, reading about Sarah Palin, watching video about Sarah Palin, following convention coverage about Sarah Palin, wrestling with my feelings about Sarah Palin, and trying to figure out what I think about this polarizing newly minted political rockstar.

I can’t get her out of my mind, because I am having a hard time making a decision about her and what to think about her.

There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President.

The qualifications for the vice presidency are the same as those for the presidency. The vice president must be a native-born American of at least 35 years of age who has resided in the United States for at least 14 years. — Encarta

This means that I, too, am qualified to be Vice President–or President for that matter.

In my obsessive reading, some folks are saying that they have alot in common with Gov. Palin, and since they do NOT think that they are qualified for the job, therefore SHE isn’t qualified. Others are happy to have somebody who is “just like me,” who will understand and respond to their needs. Next I find myself thinking about why I believe that Brack Obama is qualified to be President.

This gets me thinking about serendipity and timing. Before Obama became a 2008 Presidential candidate, I was wishing that he would wait until the next round. But sometimes circumstances thrust you into a position and you have to grab for the ring. It might not be presented again. And I think that I need to apply that same standard to Palin.

But what about her family?, I was thinking. How could Palin be a mother to babies, young children and teens while being Vice President?

What wrong thinking.

I always thought that I tried hard not to judge other parents and their decisions–whether mom should work or stay home, what role does dad play, is quality time better than quantity time, prudes versus permissives, milk versus ice tea? In our family the mom went back to work when the babies were 9 and 8 weeks old–and still nursed both until they were two. The dad worked part time for the first few years and did main duty. The mom took a new job that entailed alot of domestic travel 4 months before the youngest was born–and she dragged the baby from coast to coast. His first hotel was in Boston at 10 weeks. Good mom? Bad mom? Sometimes. Okay, I think Palin is a fine parent. Her kids look happy (and gorgeous!) and I bet they will survive her parenting and become productive adults. As I pray my kids will survive my own parenting.

But what does parenting have to do with being a “heartbeat away from the Presidency” anyway? Nothing. But the heartbeat away from the Presidency thing is pretty important.

So, I think that Palin is qualified enough. And I think that, as Obama has forcefully and genuinely said, her family needs to be off limits. So that leads me to where I should have been from the beginning–what do I think about her as a potential president, because that’s the job she is going for?

I definitely think that she is a shrewd and formidable politician. She has worked hard and appears to spit nails and bring down the hammer on foes. Her rise to the governor’s mansion in Juneau is something to be respected and admired. Politics is a tough game, and a young upstart from a small town making it to the top of the heap in Alaska is nothing to shake a stick at. Go Sarah Barracuda!

So now I am returning to her convention speech–what tells me most about who she is and what kind of president she might be, because that’s all we got. And this is the source that makes me most uncomfortable about Sarah Palin, and a McCain-Palin presidency.

The speech–well delivered by a confident, accessible, smiling candidate–helped to draw a clear distinction between the choice we have in November. And it isn’t about Palin, specifically, but about what her ticket stands for.

Change for them means making a U-turn and going back to the 50’s. The speech was very backwards looking, to the “good ole days” of some idyllic and perhaps mythical small town America. Where people are homogeneous (but not homos), where nostalgia and the familiar trump intellectual curiosity, and where we need to run back to the cocoon rather than boldly face the challenges of health care, the environment, education and globalization.

Backwards to when diplomacy means that the U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A. (chant it with me like its 1980) plays nuclear games of chicken with our enemies, and globalization means that everyone oversees wants an American car and the imports from Japan are cheesy.

Where small towns are filled with honest, sincere dignified people who are somehow immune to a failing economy, the mortgage crisis, and the false prospect that cutting taxes for the wealthiest will make us all better off, even if that leaves state coffers empty without money for infrastructure projects and public safety (can you say levies?) and with gimmicks to improve education.

When the natural resources of this great planet were seen as infinite, and frontier settlers were the masters, taking whatever they wanted and moving on when the land was depleted or destroyed because it was their right. In contrast to the people already in this country that the settlers displaced. People who were stewards for the land, the water, the air, the animals and plants.

I watched Gov. Palin’s speech–and within the context of the Republican Convention–felt like she saw the best times were behind us. Simpler times. Times that needed to be protected from the future.

And her reiteration of wedge issues in the guise of small town values–guns, abortion, creationism–sets up the old “us against them” no-compromise zone. I appreciated Sen. McCain talking about reaching out across differences to make changes during his acceptance speech, but he really didn’t advocate anything new. And, if his running mate and others making speeches have their way (as they did with his choice for VP), his calls for pragmatic compromise to resolve tough issues will likely disappear.

I used to work in an academic environment with decisions made by “consensus.” What that meant in practice was that anyone could stop an idea by crapping on it. It was a huge challenge to get anything done, make change, see things in a new way, innovate or invent. It was status quo all the time, because there was always someone who knew they could stop change and keep their fiefdoms intact.

So it’s really not about Sarah Palin, who is truly a remarkable person on many levels. I don’t need to think about her, although she helped me to reconcile some ideas that were vexing me.

It’s about the fact that on most issues I absolutely and fundamentally disagree with Sarah Palin and her running mate. And all the distractions that have been fed up by the 24/7 news personalities and Democratic and Republican spinmeisters are just that. Distractions.

So yes, I have been thinking alot about Sarah Palin. And I think that now, I am on the road to recovery.

To Market To Market

My recent trip to San Francisco included a morning stroll along The Embarcadero and the recently redeveloped Ferry Building at the Port of San Francisco. I walked through the market/commercial space–formerly the baggage handling area–on my way to watch the incoming catamaran ferrying commuters from across the water (I don’t really know where they came from, but they were mostly people going to work).

There were a bunch of stalls at the Port with the most incredible array of goods. Artisan cheeses, clams, high-end beef (and high-class hot dogs!), olives, wine, caviar, clams, fish, farmers’ market vegetables, fresh baked sourdough breads and rolls. All foods were super quality–and nary a chain in sight. All I could think of was, “I wish I passed through here every night on the way home.”

I am not an urban planner. But, I am a user of urban areas. I bought my cheese and olive roll and left thinking, “Why does SF have a surfeit of great shopping? What are elements of such success? City support? Income levels? Downtown access? Start-up and risk taking behavior?”

And, most importantly, “Why don’t we have a place like this in Washington, D.C.” (burned down Eastern Market notwithstanding).

Everyone in an urban neighborhood wants to have a great shopping district in walking distance. The District government pays alot of money for it. How do you jump start a great retail/restaurant row? How do you encourage people to frequent great local shops, like Dwellings, instead of the Tar-jay? What makes the local coffee shoppe–like Cafe Sureia a reincarnation of Cup o’ Dreams–viable?

I strive for the authentic–try Uncle Brutha’s hot sauce on Capitol Hill for the BEST, most flavorful hot sauce EVER.

I think, though, that authenticity can’t be manufactured. Darn!