The Washington We Know


"Of course there is more than one Washington." -David McCullough, 1991, "I Love Washington"

July 26, 2011, Washington, DC: The Washington we know is not the Washington you see at the end of this road. The Washington we know is the Washington you see all along this road and tucked away behind its trees. It is the place we unload our groceries from our cars and go for runs after work and ride down this East Capitol bike lane relieved there is no traffic. The Washington in there, the one that makes people angry, is not the Washington out here where we actually live. Sure, politics and policy creep onto our streets in large quantities. Washingtonians are used to it and we realize it's a bit odd. We don't find it strange to wait on a corner for a motorcade to pass, making us late for dinner. They were dorky at first, those conversations we heard in bars, but now we catch ourselves having exceedingly well-informed debates over a few beers ourselves. We talk this way whether out with friends who are government employees or artists or small business owners or young mothers. Now that we've settled in, we know all sorts of people who live here.

Yes, this is our hometown and we know it's a strange place. But it's strange, too, to hear on days like today that the nation is angry at Washington, as if the place has anything to do with it. It's weirder still because the people inside the Capitol at an impasse don't actually live here. We see them in airports at week's end, going home to their constituents. Literally and figuratively, they are not representative of this place or these people.

"Politicians are great men in Washington and get their names in the newspapers and hold their jobs just so long as they remember their home towns." -Edward G. Lowry, 1921

"Washington as the nation's capital and Washington as a local city where real people live are two different places. The city is full of contradictions, which many people feel is really part of the charm of the place -- part of its genius loci. The city seems to be one thing and then another. It's a place people look to for leadership, yet at the same time they feel free to criticize whatever leadership is attempted." -Katharine Graham's Washington