Tag Archives: DC

A love letter to DC

I have always loved DC for a variety of reasons. My standard line is that it has all the culture and amenities of a big city while preserving  the charm of a small town. It’s pretty, clean, walkable, open…all in all, a lovely place to live and work. When I travel elsewhere, I am always happy to return.

While visiting New York for a wedding this past weekend, I think I stumbled upon what really draws me to DC. As usual, I was struck by how different cocktail conversation is outside of the beltway. Imagine, discussions not dominated by one’s career and politics. That, I would venture to say, is something we all notice when we leave this little city. That superficial detail also says a lot about the kind of people who populate this city versus most any other.

Around this time of year, with an election approaching, it’s almost too easy to see the “bad” of American politics today. The polarized, partisan, soundbyte driven, self-interested culture of the beast is on full display. One can nearly understand why vast swaths of the population are completely turned off by the whole process to the point of not participating at all.

Nearly, but not quite. Being here in the heart of it all affords one a unique view of the other side of the coin. It is the lament of anyone interested in this little system of government we have that the aforementioned characterization of its current state is quite true. However, as a resident of DC who works in that arena (doesn’t everyone who lives here?), I am struck by the people I meet on a daily basis. The overwhelming desire to do good is everywhere. Sure, the endless networking circuit can seemingly wring a lot of the purity out of one’s motivations in the drive to get ahead, but the core is still there. Most everyone I know works for organizations trying to bring about some vision of “improvement.” While we don’t always agree on the logic and method of getting there, there is a common sincerity, passion, and commitment to doing good that has motivated so many thousands of people to move to this itinerant city, which makes it truly unique.

The next time you find yourself rehashing the political drama of the day at a happy hour, consider how lucky we are to be surrounded by an entire community of people who know about what is going on in the world and endeavor, in one way or another, to play a part in it.

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The Claustrophobia of Convenience

The year-and-a-half I’ve resided in DC proper has been my first experience with small town living. That probably sounds odd given that it’s a big city filled with lots of people. For perspective, I lived in ten different towns before I turned twelve. After settling in the place I call home – Annapolis – I lived a very suburban life. We drove everywhere. There were three different grocery stores that were equidistant, several convenience stores, all sorts of shopping plazas, etc. Then I commuted to college, traveled all over the state and the east coast for various extracurricular activities, and went to a school the size of a small city so it was easy to go an entire day not seeing a familiar face. For the most part, the friends I spent time with lived in Baltimore, Silver Spring, or at least the other side of town. When I started dating, none of the guys ever lived in my own town. In short, I was out and about and on the go all the time.  

Then I moved to DC. My office (old and new one, for that matter) is about a mile from my apartment and nearly all of my life takes place within that one little mile. Almost all the bars and restaurants I frequent are on the walk home, I go to the same grocery store week in and week out, when I need something at an odd hour I go to the convenience store on my block, five coworkers and a couple friends live within a three block radius and I bump into them often, and the three guys I’ve had more than a passing fascination with in the last year and a half are all there too — one works on my block and the other two live within a few blocks along the route I often run. I rarely go to other parts of the city because I’m still not a huge fan of the extra time one has to allot for public transit and, truth be told, I can find most things I need and want right here (such is the convenience of my tiny slice of real estate).

The same things, the same places, the same people, the same memories — in short my entire life at the moment — is on top of me all of the time and I’m constantly bumping into it. It’s like living in the smallest town I’ve ever known and, though it certainly has its benefits and one can’t argue against the convenience, I’m not sure I’ll ever fully adjust.

Paying to intern?

I got my first internship when I was sixteen. A professor (yes, I started college a bit early) of mine put me in touch with the person who was hiring. He did so, one assumes, because I applied myself in class, took an active interest in the subject matter (it was my major, after all), and had begun early on the task of networking (I went to a large school, but made it a point for him to know who I was). My professional life has evolved in much the same fashion ever since. I apply myself 100% in the office, get to know the people I interact with in a professional capacity, and never miss an opportunity to meet new people (aka, that most dreaded word, networking). These lessons, learned so early on from the task of acquiring my first internship, have served me well. As it should be in a meritocracy, no?

Thus, it was with dismay that I read in WSJ of a rising trend in procuring internships — parents paying exorbitant amounts of money to agencies just to get a foot in the door. That’s right, not only are internships still unpaid, but people are actually blowing thousands of dollars trying to get them. The tagline of the piece really sums it up: “Buying Your Kid an Internship.”  In short…

“Faced with a dismal market for college summer internships, a growing number of anxious parents are pitching in to help — by buying their kids a foot in the door. Some are paying for-profit companies to place their college students in internships that are mostly unpaid. Others are hiring marketing consultants to create direct-mail campaigns promoting their children’s workplace potential. Still other parents are buying internships outright in online charity auctions.”

Awesome, so if you can afford to fund the position (a la charity auction), you can have your kid fill it! Surely that will weed out the less qualified people and increase productivity in any organization. As someone who has had the occassion to hire interns, I really can’t imagine a situation like that. What happened to initiative?

My favorite quote has to be this…

“Without such programs, says Linda Bayer, executive director of the Washington Internship Program [$3,400 placement fee], the capital would be ‘the playground of the children of the rich, whether they were capable or not’ — because snaring internships would largely be based on personal connections.”

Yes, because the “average” parent has three grand lying around to finance something like that. If you’re that well off, I’m sure you could swing it without the money…after all, how many of us did a stint as an intern in the hallowed halls of Congress? When I think about the litany of people I know who have, they certainly didn’t get there because daddy was a major contributor. If you’re there because you paid that much to get into this program, I must say I think that puts you firmly into the category of promoting the “playground of the rich” concept rather than combatting it.

A curious incident

Today, for the first time since I was maybe fourteen, someone referred to me as “fat.” Far removed from the insecure taunts of fellow teenage girls, this little insult came from a man old enough to be my grandfather. To set the scene, a coworker and I were standing on the corner outside our office building downtown waiting to cross the street. People asking for money are not an unusual sight in this part of town. However, I’ve never seen this particular person before — an older man with a cane, having a slight bit of difficulty walking.

My coworker and I declined his solicitation, which precipitated a string of insults continuing as we crossed the street and until we were out of earshot. “Fat,” is the only one I could repeat in polite company. I can’t say I’ve ever been treated to such a…serenade. I was insulted by his crass language, the fourteen year old in me was briefly hurt by his raising a point I had thought I was entirely over, and I was just plain outraged at being harassed like that. I wanted to slap him, I wanted to curse him out, but my coworker and I simply looked the other way, crossed the street in shock, and reported the incident to our building’s security guard.

After google-chatting up a storm about those aforementioned feelings, another feeling began to take over. Here is a man who is obviously suffering. He’s older, appears not to be in the best of health physically, is obviously dealing with some mental health issues to put on a display like that…and he’s begging for his next meal, in weather so cold it’s snowing, on a street corner. How terrible that such a thing happens as the world shuffles along around it — around him.

Admittedly, I know next to nothing about the public services available for people who find themselves in such dire straits in this city, so I can’t turn this into a rallying cry for reform of this or increased funding of that. I can only speak of what I personally witnessed, which began to feel less like a superficial slap in the face to me personally and more like a collective slap in the face to a structure where a person like him fell through the cracks and found himself in such circumstances.

Happy 2009!

Tomorrow is about as far as I like to prognosticate so contemplating an entire year of “tomorrows,” here or otherwise, is far too daunting a task. 2008 brought a lot of changes. I’m looking forward to what tomorrow (and, by extension, the next tomorrow and the next tomorrow, ad infinitum) brings.

To my five or so loyal readers, most of whom I know in real life — thank you for the banter that usually inspires my posts. To the infinitesimal segment of the DC blogger community I’ve passed in the night, all too often reading what you write without commenting — reading your blogs makes me a better, richer writer.

I don’t make new years resolutions, but I am looking forward to more vigorously tending my little corner of the interwebs through increasingly frequent posts. No promises, but a girl can have aspirations!

Happy 2009!

PS: How can it be 2009 already, I really don’t feel like 2000 was all that long ago.

What does it mean to be a Washingtonian?

First, have you voted? Have you harassed all your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers about voting? If not, please stop reading right this second and get on that.

Now, assuming you have already done your civic duty (and possibly claimed the free cup of coffee Starbucks is offering to those with an “I voted” sticker), I recently came across an interesting contest WaPo is running. In 300 words or less, what does it mean to be a Washingtonian?

I find that a fascinating question to ponder with respect to such a transient city. Very few people I know are actually from here, so if you aren’t “from” a place what makes you “of” (for lack of a better word) a place? If we randomly met in a coffee shop in Ohio, what shared framework/experience/reference point/feeling could we draw upon that would unite us in our Washingtonian-ness?

You can find more details on the contest and submit your fabulously insightful 300 word missives here: http://tinyurl.com/6o4j9n

On that note, Happy Democracy Day! I don’t really care who you vote for, just that you do. And that you stay involved and engaged because that’s the only way change ever happens, no matter your definition of what change should be.

P.S. I find it a little odd that next Tuesday is a federal holiday but people have to squeeze voting in around their work schedules today (unless, like me, you hopped on the absentee voting bandwagon…but, sadly, don’t get free coffee because you don’t have a sticker). Couldn’t we just make Veterans Day coincide with election day? What better day to honor those who fought for our freedom than the one on which we exercise it by selecting our leaders?

On being a DC voter

I’ve always been a political junkie. One of the reasons I can’t see myself leaving this area is the irresistible allure of being surrounded by it all. Being in the midst of such an exciting election season should only add to it.

 

However, since I’ve actually been living in this most political of cities this year, I’ve felt something unexpected. In a way, I feel more disconnected from the political process than I ever have. Sure, one can’t go two feet without overhearing a conversation about the latest SNL spoof or Obama’s amazing fundraising machine. In that sense, I’m immersed in it. But. for the first time, taxation without representation is more than a slogan.

 

In the midst of the bailout debate, one of my friends who works for a senator told me about all the calls they were getting and what the tally was for and against. Being an engaged citizen, I considered calling my senator (okay, I know they don’t really care about the calls, but that’s the sort of thing one should do in a democracy), only to quickly remembered I don’t have one now. I suppose I could have called one of Maryland’s but what was I going to say, “Hi, I live in the part of your state that, well, isn’t.” Then after the vote, being a nerd, I ran to CRS to see the final vote count. My usual habit of checking on how “my people” voted was entirely irrelevant. It was a very odd realization for someone who has been engaged in politics since the age of 12.

 

At a time when there is so much talk about post-partisan politics and moving away from the divisiveness of business as usual, it’s the height of hypocrisy that the spirit of the constitution is held hostage by that very brand of partisan political calculating with barely a blip of recognition outside our fair city. The U.S. mint wouldn’t even let the slogan be on DC’s quarter. Apparently we’re enough of a “state” to be represented in the state quarter series but only if we don’t raise this issue.

 

In a semi-related aside, when I expressed my reticence to register to vote in DC because, as someone who is fascinated by international relations, I didn’t like the idea of giving up congressional representation a friend pointed out that local representatives have the greatest impact on day-to-day quality of life. This was right after the “Adams Morgan crime wave” story broke and he pointed out a senator or congressman wouldn’t be doing anything about that. Although that is obviously not a rebuttal to my original point, I thought I would embrace the spirit of that thought and attend the next Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meeting. Basically ANCs are the lowest level of elected representation in DC. Turns out the next meeting was more than a month away, as my local ANC only meets about every two months. Not exactly the real-time addressing of issues for which one yearns and just contributed to my feeling of alienation from the political process as a DC resident.