It wasn’t necessarily today, sitting under the bus stop kiosk with the thermometer reading 99 F, the sweat quickly rolling down my back and into my waist, when I started to have my doubts about Washington DC. It wasn’t yesterday either when I got lost for the umpteenth time in a maze of streets split by numbers and letters, simple enough yet esoteric to a person not from the area. I think it hit me the first day I got to Washington as I went looking for my first apartment viewing. Maybe this place isn’t for me.
Nothing had gone wrong yet, but it just hit me immediately as such a weird city. The Metro was clean, air conditioned and fast. I felt good about that, and the bus system was equally refreshing after my experiences with transit in Buenos Aires. The driver was so helpful and even waived the fare the next time I got on, as I coincidentally got the same driver. But I realized that though I was still in the city, all around me was the quintessential suburbia. Low-rise houses, trees, and a quiet that chilled me as I thought I’d made some grave mistake and gotten off in Maryland.
That’s the way this city is, because law decrees that buildings can’t exceed the height of the Washington Monument. Therefore, outside of the downtown you find what looks exactly like small town suburbia for most of the city. Coming from such a huge city like Buenos Aires, with more experience still in Boston and New York, this image of a city just didn’t make sense to me. It was like a provincial city in Argentina, but not the capital of the United States. Right?
Take a few stops on the Metro in DC and you go from what feels like a small town to a busy city, and the contrast is almost alarming. Where does everyone go at the end of the day? Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Springs, Arlington, and on and on. Sure, plenty of people live in the city proper–about 500,000 or so by what I’ve heard–but they like to tout that they are taxed without representation. It says so on their license plates, “Taxation Without Representation.” You see, even though they are a part of the United States and are taxed, they have no representation in Congress. Someone told me it’s because the city would likely vote 70% Democratic, so the Republicans always block their right to add more seats.
Let’s just leave politics out of this for now. There are enough people in DC to work on that for now. In fact, one thing that I noticed about the city right off the bat was the sense of self importance that so many people carry about them. The National Blah of Blah…The Center for Yadda Yadda…Assistant to the Regional Who Gives a Shit…etc. Everyone thinks they are the most important person in the city, making them one of the most important people in the world. It’s a power game and while I’m intrigued to find out how far down the wormhole goes, I’m also less than willing to begin playing along with such well trained monkeys. We’ll just wind up tossing bullshit at each other.
Buenos Aires has a similar reputation, in that other Argentines think the porteños think highly of themselves. No one else matters outside of Buenos Aires, but don’t tell that to someone from Córdoba. Like Buenos Aires, the summer heat of DC is stifling, a suffocation which you either get used to or die. The key is running into an air conditioned building or vehicle as soon as possible, if you can manage. It’s all so modern, it’s all so official. I feel like a relatively laid back guy from the ‘burbs. The city might be my new home for the next two years, but for now I have serious doubts if it will ever be my home. Show me your best, Washington.