Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out

I found this piece in the Washington City Paper a little too self-indulgent for my tastes, but still parts of it somehow reminded me of the dark days between the 9/11 attacks and the barely-interrputed "prosperity" streak that commenced in the summer of '03.

And like a lot of things, it got me to thinking.

Sometimes, almost inexplicably, I get nostalgic for those two years. Even though I was blogging back then, and reading some of those entries - the personal ones, as opposed to the ones where I pretended to be a political pundit or a baseball analyst or pop culture commentator - made it clear that I was nowhere near as happy to be a slacker as the author of the article.
I had my fun though, in between gloomy blog articles. I met lots of interesting people and had lots of interesting encounters of the sort that I'm not going to discuss in detail here.

Get me in person and drunk; precedent suggests that I'll at least go into some gory details of my various exploits.

There is something to be said for not punching the clock and scurrying around in the rat race for a while, to just be able to wake up late every once in a while and just stroll around and see what you see. Especially in a city like Washington, where there are a lot of things to see, many of them free of charge.

But it's not as easy as it used to be.

Back in those days, rent was cheaper. I was living in a 2-bedroom apartment, the first floor of a rowhouse in Adams-Morgan on a shady corner that frightened hardcore yuppies but not our hero. Getting around town on Metro was cheaper, and I walked most places, especially when I was out of work; sometimes I walked to and from work, since it was sometimes faster than some of those buses.

Back in those days - and they weren't even that long ago, mind you - it seemed easier to make one's own way in the nation's capital. I knew where all the relatively cheap and edible all-you-can-eat buffets (generally Chinese or Indian) were, and the Tex-Mex joints where you could fill up on chips and salsa; if you did it up right, you could eat the one big meal in the middle of the day for not much money and eat light for the other two meals. I knew where the good happy hours and drink specials were, which could sometimes come in handy, as did the fact that I could stagger home from 18th Street, Dupont Circle, or Woodley Park.

But now when I visit DC, many of those places that sustained me are gone. Some of them have celebrity chefs, attract people from the suburbs who value valet parking, and sell the latest trendy cocktail in a martini glass for $10. It's not that there weren't places like that before too, it's that there's less and less room for everyone else and everything else. They were just easier to ignore.

I suppose there's some ironic justice insofar as it could be said that I played a part in displacing people from Adams-Morgan and the District of Columbia that in turn I got displaced myself, in that rents and prices shot up higher than I was willing to pay at the time for my own place.

When I have idle time sometimes I wonder who exactly dropping a million dollars to live on a noisy loft condo above 18th Street. I mean, if you're old enough to have that kind of scratch, I'd think you'd want a bit more peace and quiet than that sort of locale affords you.

All this does make me wonder what the interns do when they come to town now in the summer. Many of them have even less money to burn than I did in those days. Or the entire nonprofit sector, which is not known for lavish wages, especially considering the educational requirements that come with most of its jobs. I mean, if I had a nickel for every party at an Adams-Morgan or Mount Pleasant group house where the residents were all non-profit types...well, I wouldn't be a rich man, but I'd at least be able to fill the gas tank a few times. Or maybe they just all have rich parents now.

I'd love to blame this on George Bush and that Republican Congress the rest of the country stuck us with for years. And while the increased presence of the Young Republican type in Washington was an irritant to be sure, there's much more going on than a mere shift in the political winds. (Not to mention that I never spent much time on Capitol Hill, Georgetown, or in the Virginia suburbs near and beyond the Beltway that the Bushites tended to prefer; to the extent any of them found their way to Adams Morgan or Dupont, they were doing their best to blend in.) While good times for the well-off relative to the rest of us, a hallmark of the Bush era, does lead to more businesses marketing primarily to the well-off at the expense of the rest of us, the politicans aren't exactly trendsetters and there was a definite trend shift. Central cities were in again, as places to live and shop and not just as places where you cleared out when 5:00 came calling.

If there are any before-and-after photos of, say, 7th Street from E Street to I Street, or 14th Street from Thomas Circle to Florida Avenue, or U Street from Florida Avenue to 15th Street - the transformations are stunning. It takes many to fuel some of those things, and it's money that neither I nor many of us had to fuel it during the early stages.

It's enough to make one miss the bad old days when the District, outside of places like Georgetown, wasn't where it was at. If you could deal with a place that was a little rough around the edges, you could make your way here if you were careful and it didn't cost too much. It's gotten quite a bit harder.

I guess you could say that the first sentence of the above paragraph does sum up the appeal of Baltimore to some people, but that's another story for another time.

I'm just happy that those days of intermittent work and long layoffs in the middle of DC I had my 20s took place then rather than now.

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