Thursday, December 13, 2012

I've Got a City Love: A Tribute to the Strangers of Washington, D.C.

I spent last Saturday evening (also known as the first night of Hanukkah) at my friends Debra & Jonah's apartment in D.C. for a little latke-eating soiree. We ate other things, too, but mostly we ate latkes. A lot of them.

On the way there, my friend Allison lamented the number of strangers who'd recently made "Hello, beautiful" remarks to her. Not five minutes after that conversation, a man outside a Chinatown liquor store looked us over in that piece-of-meat way & exclaimed, "Ooh-la-la! Hellooooo, sexy ladies!" Dear men of the world: Has that ever worked on anyone, ever? Has any girl ever been like, "You know what? Yeah! Actually I'd love to go on a date with you, gross cat-calling rando!" Still, I gave him credit for the French twist & for proving our conversation true & relevant.

I left the party around 11:30pm, hopping on the Metro from Chinatown to Dupont Circle all by my lonesome. As I got off, a seemingly intoxicated man approached me, one arm outstretched. In his hand, he held a small, white flower, obviously picked from some poor person's garden or some company's immaculately manicured lawn box. He held it out to me, & I accepted. "Do you know what this is?" he asked me. "This is a pansy. And I'm homeless, so I wouldn't mind it if you gave me a dollar or something so you can keep this pansy." I was already holding the pansy, of course, so I was, how you say, a little bit boxed in. Still, I gave him six quarters, because quarters are heavy & pansies are pretty, & I went on my merry way, flower in hand.

I tried to drive my car from my office to the place where I was staying, but there was nowhere to park. I circled the block for nearly 30 minutes &, exasperated, finally gave up & returned my car to my office's parking lot. It was already 12:30, & I was too exasperated (read: tired, lazy, etc.) to walk home, so I hailed a cab. The driver, a friendly man with a slight Middle Eastern accent, asked me about my job &, upon learning that I work in social media, about my educational background. "Kent State!" he exclaimed. "Even where I'm from, we know of Kent State." He told me that his daughter, a senior in high school, plans to major in journalism in college. "Do you think there will be any jobs for her?" he asked me, mining my journalism-grad mind for insight. I assured him that nearly all of my college friends are actual journalists & that even the ones who aren't see their degrees as being a solid foundation for other work. I tipped him extra, & he told me to have "a blessed holiday."

When I returned to my friend Sean's apartment, I let out his dog, Max. As I stood outside waiting for him to do his thing, a couple walked by with their small pink poodle, Shibby. "Why aren't you out tonight?!" one of the men asked me. "It's prime partyin' time, girl!" I told them I was all partied out, & they laughed - their partying hadn't yet begun. "Any good bars in the area?" they asked me, & I confirmed that the one they had in mind didn't suck before Max & I excused ourselves to head to bed.

As I drifted off that evening, Max at my side & latkes in my belly, I realized: This is what I miss about the city. All these people. These strangers with their stories & small talk & quick conversations. I miss talking to people I don't know, sharing little bits of our days & our lives, never to make contact again but for those few short moments, when we gather someone else's story, & those interactions become stories in themselves.

I'm a suburban girl who appreciates suburban comforts. Hell, I've even started to like not hate New Jersey. But the city has its appeal, its certain allure, those things you just can't find anywhere else. And in D.C., in particular, the city feels smaller, like a friendly little town where it's OK to talk to people you don't know & accidentally buy a pansy from a grubby guy on the circle & talk about the club scene with two middle-aged gay men & their Manic Panic-dyed dog at almost 1am. Those are things that don't happen in the small suburbs, but they maybe also don't happen in cities that are bigger, more bustling.

Yes, I'm a suburban girl who appreciates suburban comforts. But no matter where I may roam, that city & those people will always feel like one of my many beloved homes.


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