The British Invasion band called the Beatles first played in the States in Washington, DC. It was in an upside down half pipe called the Washington Coliseum. A half pipe the size of an airplane hangar.
There was some kind of massive snowstorm that forced the lads up to New York via train. My favorite recollection was that of a man who said all he remembered was deafening, high pitched screaming. That and the smell of urine. I guess thousands of the teeny bopper fans pissed themselves in excitement.
To me the “coliseum” is a decrepit old building among many old decaying structures on the other side of the train yard where the Amtrak, Maryland light rail and the subway tracks criss cross and then feed in and out of Union Station. It was tagged by the prolific Cool “Disco” Dan, as well as by more visually talented graffiti artists.
I had no business on 3rd St, NE so I didn’t see it up close until the our offices moved to the development at NOMA–which is a made up developer’s name to make the industrial area of empty lots, bus terminals, armories, and abandoned warehouses that was the real estate surrounding the tracks north of Union Station into a destination for high-rise offices, apartments, coffee and pet stores and restaurants.
I saw the “coliseum” up close the first time I passed under the bridge, driving along M Street. You could park your car in that rundown cavern for $5. That is an unheard of and remarkable price for DC. I kept driving. The overhead of walking under the bridge from a sketchy lot wasn’t worth $4 to me. Seriously, I paid $9–almost double–to not park there.
Now, that spot, where the Beatles played and the girls peed and the cars parked, is being converted to a very nice outdoors sporting goods joint. And condos, and, I bet, a new fast casual spot that has greens and grains in a bowl with some sauce.
This changes the neighborhood. Not a little. But a lot. And it’s mostly good.
In my neighborhood–two subway stops and a scant three miles away–we’ve had a torrent of new people moving in. I am very happy that people are buying houses and making spaces and creating families. This is what people in my neighborhood have been doing for the past hundred years. Not the same people–since our time on this earth is finite–but people who move in after others have moved out.
So, this moving into houses thing is NOT new. But, somehow, some of the people who move into the houses think it’s new. That, somehow, their being here defines new. And special. Really special.
I would call this attitude gentrification. Know that my neighborhood, that we have lived in ourselves for multiple decades and have been overlapping with other multi-decade residents (some from many decades before our multi-decade gig), was just fine before the newest new people got here.
Don’t get me wrong. We are happy you are here. We welcome you. We welcome you when you move in when you’re still are single. We welcome when you adopt your shelter dog and as you struggle through your training. And we are downright excited when you have babies and are tickled when you stay here when they go to school. And when we watch them go to prom and graduate high school, we know you are one of us.
But know that we have been a close knit middle class ‘hood pretty much forever. Maybe you haven’t lived with native Washingtonians before–I know I didn’t before I had my children–but they did fine before you. You are not the savior of our ghetto neighborhood, because this is not the ghetto and we don’t need saving. We are super happy that the clusters of new apartments and condos and overpriced townhomes have increased the density of our neighborhood so we can support more restaurants and a fancy wine store in addition to the liquor stores that don’t have tastings but have carried decent wine and excellent beer for at least a generation.
And, dearest new people, if I can give you one piece of advice, as you stroke your long beards and push your running strollers and swing your bikes from your driveway past me into the street, say “Hi!” or at least nod your acknowledgement to the olds and the new’s.
Remember, new people and gentrifiers, we are still a sleepy little Southern town; and those niceties that stitch us together into a community go a long way to ensure that your neighbor digs you out of the snow when you have a new baby and your spouse is out of town, that a neighbor anonymously keeps a watchful eye on your house when you’re away for the weekend, that someone gives the stink-eye to a stranger walking on your porch where your Zulily and Amazon boxes lie, that people who know who your kids are peep on them to make sure they “independently” make it to the schoolyard or playground or scout meeting, that an amazing stranger brings a CVS bag filled with toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap and a comb and tampons when your house burned down. Seriously. This is what we do.
Spend the time knowing the old, and the new. It’s really all good.
Hey, are you new? Oh hai!