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.

Boom Clap

A pint of beer topping the bar, flanked by a napkin dispenser and a religious candle.

It was a classically delightful bar, from the worn wood floors to the mirror-backed shelves stocked with firewaters to the small well-curated selection of brews  Friendly people were amassing to watch the game, like they did every Saturday afternoon. The stalwarts arrived early to stake a seat around the cozy bar.

The folks in the front, lining the bay window had been there for a while. They had that end of the night volume, and it was just 2 p.m. There was the crash and shatter of a glass. The hands of the guilty flew into the air with a flurry of apologies. The server quickly arrived to clean up the shards.

A few minutes later he was at the bar for refills. He wisely ordered cans this time. The smash and splintering of a second glass hitting the floor ensured everyone’s attention. Patrons clustered around the bar all individually and as a group exchanged glances that said, “Who are these people and I hope they leave before kickoff.”

The server came around a second time with her broom and dustpan. She was much less cheerful this round. “You can’t break any more glasses.” The folks in the front knew that, but in a bar you have to be very clear with your instructions and warnings. Drunks aren’t the best at comprehension or nuance.

The man at the bar was worried that they would be asked to leave before they could finish the beers he just ordered. He safely cashed out and was joined by two young women who defiantly ordered more drinks. A guy watching the pre-game warmups suggested plastic cups for their round of vodka and tonics. The new bartender on shift verified that they were the ones with “two strikes.”

She asked to see their IDs. She was a bit gruff, but she was establishing dominance. She had a long shift ahead. She needed to assess their sobriety levels. Her goal was to make sure they stayed within the lines. This wasn’t her first rodeo. And anyway, she was a bit hungover herself.

It was time for kickoff.

 

Blinded by Stars

A stylized DC flag with three red stars on the top and 2 red stripes on the bottom. It's u.

Oh, my babies, let’s act like we been somewhere, okay?

There was much anticipation when Michelin announced that it would bring it’s food judgement crewe to D.C. to let us know if we have good food. By awarding stars. One, two or three. Or maybe none. This anxiety started in May.

After Bon Appétit named D.C. it’s restaurant city of the year, the opening up of a series of highly priced and highly sought after dining rooms, and the encroaching hipterization of our fair city (like where do they find all those guys with the well trimmed oil groomed beards–some with black boxy framed glasses and all with plaid shirts–to wait on our tables at the laid back fine-dining halls?) you’d think people would feel confident that D.C. had made it in the foodie category.

D.C. dining is longer an afterthought of stuffy steak houses and seafood restaurants that did the fish version of those steakhouses–side of creamed spinach, anyone? The variety and quality of D.C. fare and the range of locations have definitely been kicked up a notch. Fine dining on First near Rhode Island Ave? Petworth? Brookland? And the former streetwalker circuit near Logan Circle with dozens of fun, interesting and, in some cases, delicious bistros and taverns and counters and bars?

So this morning there was even more anticipation and some anticipatory handwringing. Today was the day that we’d know who “won.” Whatever that means.

And it hit with much hoopla. One chef proudly tweeted his honor early–TWO stars! The rest seemed to appropriately hold off until the official announcement of a dozen restaurants that were deemed high enough on the spectacular scale to be included in a thin blue book. [The Doc has dined at four of these, in full disclosure.]

Some thought that the list was wrong either by exclusion, inclusion or delusion. That the secret society of inspectors just don’t get us and who we are.

But seriously, ain’t no Stay-Puft Marshmallow looking quink can put my knickers in a knot. Let’s maintain our pride. We are a town that is more than the marble buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We are Washingtonians with a baseball team on the way to the World Series (fingers crossed), a football team with an embarrassing name, awesome public libraries, beer and whiskey dive bars, theatre, dance, sixteen art museums, ten colleges and universities (seriously!), a zoo with pandas and a malfunctioning subway system. Also a ton of named neighborhoods where real people garden, have cookouts, argue and fight, walk their dogs, prep for marathons, go to church and make and raise babies.

Eat where you want. Respect yourself. There’s plenty good food in town. All stars!

Splice of Life

A almost collapsed cake with four lit birthday candles. The cake is greenish. With some chocolate cake poking through the frosting. What a mess. We didn't eat this. It's just a picture from the Internet.

Our neighbors moved a few months back. It’s only a few blocks from here, and they really needed more space. Their new house is terrific. The people who moved into their old house are very nice.

But it’s just not the same. It’s like there is a hunk of film spliced out of the reel. Something is missing.

My dog misses their dog. He’s gone up to their porch to check if his pupster uncle is there. He never is. He doesn’t live there anymore. Or maybe The Beast is just waiting for the door to open. One day they were having a party and he pushed into the house and beelined to the brie wheel on the table which he proceeded to eat in a single gulp. The kids were amazed by his audacity. It might have been their favorite story, ever. I know this because they have told it to me more than once. So maybe the dog’s standing on the porch because he wants more cheese.

I miss watching the kids running to the car in the morning on the their way to school. Sometimes they were in a big hurry and there would be backpacks flying and open jackets and someone carrying their coffee in their almost free hand. Sometimes it would be less frenetic and we would have a short visit. The kids would all ask to come across the street to pet the dog. Even though they had one of their own that they didn’t actively pet.  It was always a charming part of the morning. Sometimes I would bitch about The Spouse. Sometimes she would bitch about hers. Always in a loving way. That’s what neighbors do. Listen to each other bitch about loved ones.

I miss the extended family. Grandma’s and sisters and nephews and cousins. After a while, they all knew me. And I knew them, too. I’d get called over for a glass of wine at the tail of a family party. One day The Spouse brought over the leftover ginger ice cream I made. It was Christmas Day. Another day we were all snowed in and they saw that someone made me a fancy mojito. IN THE WINTER. You know how Facebook makes you jealous of your friends? So I sent the Big Guy over with a summer drink to make them feel less envious. The flow of goods and services frequently criss-crossed the street.

My friend and former neighbor had a birthday party. There was cake. There was dancing to favorite music–Hall and Oats and Skee-lo and some 80s music that I must have slept through but that everyone else knew.  And there was love. My neighbors are spliced out of the daily reel, but still have important scenes. I miss seeing them every day. But am glad I still see them.

Mumbo’s The Word

carryout

The D.C. corner carry out. This one has been most recently named Sammy, but it used to be Sammy’s. Before that it was Granny’s, and before that, Granny’s was Granny’s BBQ. I forget what it was the time before or the time before that. But Carry Out was always part of the sign.

The carry out menu features “Chinese and American food, seafood and sub.” I guess, given the new big sign on the top of the building, pizza, too.

Before the exterior bricks were painted red, it was white. And before it was painted white, it was blue and maybe green. Different names, different facade, same food.

No matter its name or color, the food is always Chinese chicken/beef/pork/veggies that are indistinguishable from each other with rice and a sauce, subs, gyros (for some odd reason, maybe because it’s on the menu generator template that all the carry outs seem to use), fried fish, fried chicken, wings and pizza. Most everything is less than $10 and you can get a 2-liter soda, to boot. They’ll deliver for a fee, but the driver won’t leave his car. You need to come and get your food from the curb.

The carry out takes care of people who don’t usually cook or usually cook but are pressed for time or ingredients. The food itself is filling if not healthy. There is congealed sauce on many of the Asian entrees. The sub rolls are thick and chewy, but without taste. Same with the fried catfish and fries, taste free, if you discount the fat and the salt.

That’s why they have mumbo sauce.

Mumbo sauce is the mainstay of D.C. carry outs. It’s squeezed on the fried fare–french fries, fried chicken and fried fish. It’s an amazing shade of fluorescent orange with more than a little hint of pink. It is not spicy. It’s sweet. If you want to punch it up a firey notch, there’s Texas Pete’s or, increasingly, sriracha.  If you ask me, I’d tell you it was sweet and sour sauce mixed with ketchup. But there are folks who would dispute my cynical recipe.

The carry out condiments are not an accompaniment as much as they are the entire flavor. But between the fat and the salt and the sweet + sour and the spicy all of your natural tastebuds are covered. And you will be full. That’s what a carry out is for.

Abetting the Deplorable

A rain spattered windshield at DCA. You can see the tower.

I hate taking cabs. Really I hate taking cabs by myself. Really I don’t like a stranger driving me home.

The stranger that picks me up at the airport after a late flight. The stranger that is surprised that a nice Doc like me lives in my neighborhood and wonders if I don’t feel scared and asks how do I like living as a minority?

This is the script that more than one white cab driver recited. I get in the cab, tell them my address and the quickest way there and then they start talking some racist shit like I’m in their bigoted white people club just waiting for the safety of their cab to go all KKK with them.

And I just look out the window while trying not to respond in a way that will either encourage him or insult him. The former because I want him to stop. The latter because he is driving me home and it’s dark and I don’t want to be dumped. This was especially terrifying before we had cell phones. I felt vulnerable. Oh hell, I was scared that he’d force me out on the sidewalk in front of the cemetery on Lincoln Road. I’d be a ways from home without much chance of another cab coming by. They didn’t want to take me home, to my nice middle-class neighborhood, in the first place. And don’t call me ridiculous because anyone who easily and safely spouts dehumanizing and vile comments could just be bilious enough to do something else hateful.

So I wouldn’t say anything to offend the racist in his rant. And I likely made it seem that I, at least, didn’t disagree with him. But I did. And when he pulled up in front of my house, the blue one with the white picket fence that was even brighter under the reflection of the street lamp in front, I would get out of the car as fast as I could. I learned to keep my roller bag small and next to me in the back seat so I didn’t have to wait for the intolerant asshat to open his trunk. I wanted to be away from him and his ilk as fast as I could.

I always felt complicit, though. I felt like I should have told him that I wasn’t a member of his intolerant club. That his racist insinuations–or sometimes a full rant–were deplorable. Instead, I learned to interrupt him as soon as he brought up his surprise at my address. I’d tell him how lucky I was to live in such a wonderful neighborhood with such terrific neighbors.

We are the company that we keep.

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.