Empty bike share in the evening

“Do you know Jesus?”

It was both loud and muffled. A budget bullhorn.

“Do you KNOW Jesus? Watch where you’re going. Look up.” He started to quote some scripture, I think. It was a little mixed up. He started singing a Christmas hymn.

“God rest you merry gentlemen, a child was born on Christmas day…I just called to say I love you, I just called to say how much I care. I just called to say I love you. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”

And ended with some Stevie Wonder.

He stood in the street near the curb. He was straddling a bike, his head covered with a pith style helmet and the bullhorn held in his left hand near his mouth. He staked out the spot at the corner by the subway entrance, across from the newly erected Christmas mart in front of the Portrait Gallery. Good pedestrian traffic for his message.

People across the street glanced his way and smiled. People on his side of the street looked down or away as they scurried past. He called out another sinner for not looking both ways. The next group of cross walkers looked hard to the left and right. The peace officer on the other corner kept an eye on him. She was looking out for him.

“Jesus knows you. You can’t hide from him.”

And you can’t hid from Jesus’s spokesman, either.

Round and Round and Round

Detail from the fountain at Dupont Circle. It's beautiful when you see it up close.

My initial approach into D.C., was down Connecticut Ave. It included my first traffic circle. But Chevy Chase Circle was nothing like the Circle at DuPont.

At the bullseye of the circle is a huge marble column carved intricately with nymphs. The column is topped by what could definitely be a receiver dish to summon aliens from unknown quadrants of the galaxy. It also functions as a ginormous cistern from which water overflows and splashes into a big round basin below.

But I didn’t see that.

What I saw was a most confusing roundabout. We didn’t have roundabouts where I came from. We had entrance and exit ramps, traffic lights at cross streets and a very odd left turn pattern. Our streets were designed to efficiently move people to and from factories. Not to protect the capital.

Connecticut Avenue off the freeway starts as a typical suburban road and narrows to a tree lined boulevard with traffic lights timed to 30 mph and the signals inexplicably nestled near the trees on the sides of the streets. Where newcomers can’t see them and therefore blow through them.

After driving past old, ivy covered apartment buildings, the zoo and a ridge topping bridge, the road zigs past the Chinese embassy and zags by the Hinckley Hilton to deliver you at the top of the upper DuPont business district. I wrongly avoided the tunnel under the circle and found myself at the “entrance” of the labyrinth. Almost to my doom.

Rolling up to the top of the circle you can see  two rings for cars. The outside ring has access to all ten street openings. Each of these openings have both an entrance and an exit. The inside ring is the express route for Massachusetts Avenue. To round out the picture, there’s also an under the road tesseract wrinkle that allows a clever driver to skip a half dozen blocks at once. But I missed that.

Instead, I merged into the circle and drove all the way around. About four times. It was like a merry-go-round that I couldn’t get off. I wanted to stay on the street I started on, but I couldn’t find it. Not that street. Not that street. Not that street. Wait…was that it? I don’t know. Drive around again. Pass where I came in. Not that street. Not that street. Yikes, did that guy just cut me off? I’m only driving five miles per hour and people are lapping me as they drive off to their destinations. Me? Just making another round.

My window was rolled down, but there was no breeze. My sweaty hands slipped on the steering wheel. I think I knew where to get off this round. No matter what, I was getting off this ride. Made it. Out. As I felt my heartbeat get closer to normal I realized that I had steamed up my glasses with my own humid air.

After that, I did whatever I could to avoid that tangle of streets. I found a good, straight route along Florida Avenue that allowed me to skip the circle. Until that time I walked it.

I had been in DC for two years when I took a job at the DuPont Metro station. It was at the patriotically numbered 1776 building, east of the circle. I normally walked the quarter of the circle to my office until this day. I crossed both rings to traverse the circle itself. It was actually a decent-sized park, with outer and inner walkways, benches, steps, and people playing chess. I walked close to the fountain that was splashing water from the big dish on the top. The wind picked up some of the water as it dropped 15 feet and sprayed it outside the bounds of the sculpture.

I walked around the outside edge and for the first time saw the streets. How they came in and wrapped around and resumed on the other side of the circle. It wasn’t a puzzle at all. From up close it was exact and knowable and smart. It just needed a closer study to reveal itself to me.



A sandwich wrapped in paper.

She stood balancing with one foot in the street with her other, mostly sensible, pump on the curb. The door on her silver Honda was swung wide, but she wasn’t in a hurry.

She was pulling the two halves of a sandwich apart. The sandwich maker clearly didn’t cut it clean through. It was wrapped well, and the paper was protecting the meal from the cold wind.

It’s the second day of Spring, but Winter is not quite ready to let go.

The man was there in his usual spot on the bench. He was in the neon orange snow pants and neon orange jacket. He doesn’t wear this gear every day and the pants only on especially cold days. Usually he just wears a hat, but today his cragged face–one of a not old man but a man who has lived old–was framed by the orange wimple of the hood pulled tight, framing around his face.

He looked up at the woman fighting with the sandwich, his head slightly tilted back with a beatific smile. It’s unusual for him to engage like this. Sometimes he interacts with people imagined, sometimes real. It’s not unlikely that his language is punctuated with hard words spoken sharply. Not today, though. Today he’s wearing a smile of a sweet child happy with his people.

Maybe the woman is his daughter, or his sister or a friend from before. Maybe she is just a kind stranger, and he is reflecting that kindness. Perhaps she was splitting that sandwich and they were going to eat together.