What does it really mean to be a District of Columbian? How would one characterize a Nation’s Capitolist? What really makes DC…DC?
I spend a lot of break time smoking cigarettes in the park near my steakhouse establishment. I’ve made friends with Mr. Hey-can-I-get-a-smoke (along his pack of wise cigsayers), attempt to juggle futbol’s with the local vatos, and best of all, analyze the comings and goings of the average Washingtonian to concieve what this whole city is really about.
Let’s start by first pointing out some other prominent American cities and how we tend to characterize them.
Baltimore – Weird semi-NY/Boston accent, The Wire, The Purple and Black, Crabs, Roudy full-beer chuckin Preakness “Baldimore” ragers.
NYC – Long Island Jews, everyone wearing black in the winter cuz black is soo sheek, Pizzerias, The Yankees, Fashion District, Wall Street, eating dinner at 9, pregaming till 12 then hitten the meatpacking district till 5, fast-paced, taxi dodging, cell phone walking New Yoa’kas.
Denver – Recycling, Vegan everything, mini-california where everyone has vacation homes, Snowboard Brand repping Bros, disc golf, health-conscious excerise no matter where you look, nestled in between snowcapped mountains, disgusted grimaces from locals who watch the innocent cigarette smoking passerby who doesn’t realize he/she mine as well be shitting all over the super clean fresh air and vibes this pretty little city exudes… and Redrocks.
San- Francisco – Buddah repping-dharma bums, can’t tell the difference between the backpacker and the wayward change-inquirer (both who you still smile and wave to as you pass), marijuana musk around every corner, hot pink shorts for the “boys”, Fullhouse..haha, bright colors and faces from the Mission, businessmen walking down Van Ness with a smile and a wave; and a conglomeration of content/unique INDIVIDUALISTS pulled by the mysterious magnetic force of the Golden Gate Bridge that leaves folks unable to understand what exactly brought them to San Fran, but that it was the only thing that DID in fact seem right at the time.
Lets now take a peek at Washington DC’s unique characteristics that contribute to it’s opaque and not-so definitive image that make it slippery to put your finger on.
First off, the folks who spend the majority of their time in DC…arent from DC. Every day, masses of commuters flock in from Northern Virginia and Maryland for their 9-5 and appear to be the “faces” of DC. This is the first problem in defining the Washingtonian…much of the population during work hours consists of Virginians and Marylandites, not actual Washingtonians. Not only is the city full of individuals paying taxes to three different states/”districts”, you also throw in the thousands of transplants from around the country and world that temporarily live in DC to the mix and it makes for an interesting melting pot of ideals, sports fans, and styles. To make the city even more disparate, you sprinkle in masses of the more underprivileged and lower income True Washingtonians (whose soapbox savior was the maniacal Mayor Marion Bary…) who end up being overlooked, overshadowed, and stomped on to form the bottom crust of this potpourri filled patchwork pie of a city. After initial inspection of the core constituents and demographics of the nation’s capitol, one can see how it is very difficult to start defining “The Washingtonian”.
Piggybacking off of the transplant/commuter anomaly, we should look at how the major professions and careers that make up the bread and butter of the district adds to the confusion of a defined image of the Washingtonians. The core of Washington seems to be the Diplomats, Congressman, Lobbyists, Politicians, and Lawyers along with their underlings that flock to the nation’s capitol throughout the year. DC is a playground of policy for these individuals who are from different cities, states, and countries that are lobbying their interests for their constituents elsewhere. DC is the country’s home base, and must promote an image of neutrality. The political individuals in the city, therefore must promote an image of neutrality as well. Neutrality seems to go hand in hand with the absence of individuality and uniqueness, which are the common traits for these “prominent” figures of Washington.
The bar at my restaurant is a perfect petri dish to analyze the comings and goings of the “power class” of DC. We have everyone from senators, lobbyists, lawyers, to BP bigwigs dwell around our bar every day and night. Some have grown to know each other, all wear solid colored dress shirts and a blue blazer, and love to talk big. In fact, the majority of our customers appearance and demeanor can be compared to the entrees we serve at Bobby Van’s Grill. They look the part, are dressed with all the proper trimmings, and garnished with expensive appearing accessories. In reality, they are just overpriced, not who they say they really are (“Prime” dry-aged steaks aren’t even prime..or dry aged) and leave you with nothing but an expensive bill and a bad taste in your mouth. You see, none of the “power class” of DC wants to stand out or deviate too far to the left or right of their comfort zone that can be described as a perfect balance of “blah” or “ehh.” When you look into their eyes once their buddy passes by, they let their guard down and give off a very unsure vibe, as though they are all trying to follow this image that they don’t even understand themselves. It can be compared to high school kids who feel as though they need follow the ways of the “cool” kids, when they are not even sure or know why the cool kids are in fact cool. In their defense, the core competencies of their jobs rely on making sure they don’t “shake the boat” in any way, and present an image that correlates to more votes, more clients, or more money AT THAT CERTAIN TIME. This is neither good or bad, just…interesting.
Lastly, most city-dwellers can at least find a common ground in a sports team that brings these incongruent pods of people together…but alas, Washington struggles with this angle as well. Lets start with the Washington Nationals. Here we had an opportunity to unite DC with a new baseball branded team, and since they’ve struggled for so long, most lost interest. The Washington Capitols provided a glint of hope once Ovechkin came on board, but hockey still isn’t respected enough on the national stage for Americans to start gloating about whose hockey team is better in casual bar-corner conversation. The Wizards??? Kind of cool when Jordan game back…yeah. We had some bandwagon fever for a time, then Mr. Gilbert Arenas had to bring a gun into the locker room and folks just lost interest completely. But wait…the Washington Redskins!!!! Many Maryland commuters love the Ravens, transplants love their home team, and Redskins fans only really get excited before the season starts (whining, cussing, and “fuck Snyder!” ensues post game 1). So without a strong foundation of sports tradition and the absence of even the slightest hint of bandwagon fever, the clueless classification of the Nation’s Capitalist ensues.
Washington symbolizes the strength and stability of the country and provides a framework for individuals to gain, usurp, and communicate power for the benefit of themselves or their constituents. But a framework doesn’t make a city a city. Heritage, culture, and unique individuals with common interests shape the image and “feel” of a city. I constantly ask myself where is the meat and potatoes of this city? Where’s the balls of DC? And I think it is safe to say that it is a city of comers and goers, a TRUE melting pot of society living side by side (at least 9-5) where ones comes to either make something of theirself or merely make a trip to see the national mall. However, once the career stint or day visit is over, the visitors make a move out of the city to return home. So Take what you can from the city, give a wave to my buddy the Blackberry-toting Bum off the 12th street bridge, and save some time to take a mental snack break in this nutty nation’s capitol. Whether you call Washington DC a city, a district, or a capitol, it is truly an anomaly… and I think I like it that way.
More by Tim Jackson on his blog.