Keep Your Cool: Thoughts on Summertime in Washington


July 8, 2012, Washington, DC: The neighborhood chugged along slowly during those last heavy days of June and the swelter of early July. Greens wilted at the outdoor market. Thick heat rose off cement streets. A musician played a slow, sad song above the Metro platform in the midday heat. We moved deliberately, careful not to make a single unnecessary move in the onslaught of Washington's summer. Not to say the place was uneventful, just intense: In the heat of late June, our neighborhood hosted a slew of reporters who came to witness a monumental health care law deemed constitutional down the street at the Supreme Court. Twenty-four hours later, a foreign storm called a derecho downed trees and crushed cars throughout these city blocks. The hum of satellite trucks dissipated as the buzz of chain saws ascended. We stayed inside, irritable yet grateful to have ice, air and power. Much of the region did not.

We slogged into early July without a break in the heat. Mid-week, we tried hard to make the most of a holiday break without expending much energy. We watched our neighborhood parade on Barracks Row the morning of the 4th and spent the afternoon floating on the Potomac in search of relief and water. We were still, everywhere we went,  hoping for a slight breeze to ease the anxiety.

Later that night, more visitors arrived in the neighborhood, gathering sweaty and tired on the steamy plaza of the U.S. Capitol for a national concert and fireworks display. We biked east down East Capitol that night as most looked west into the night sky, remarking that the grand old avenue was more crowded than ever. We arrived at Lincoln Park ten blocks from the Capitol for a fireworks show known only to the neighborhood. Though shabby in comparison to its televised counterpart down the street, it was an impressive display, as hidden as explosions in the night sky can really be.

The heat blazed on into the following weekend, setting records. We hit the tenth straight day above 95 degrees, then the 11th. We recorded the 4th straight day above 100, a milestone the city hadn't seen since 1930. Bad movies won big at the box office. A plane got stuck in the tarmac at the airport. Strange things happen when the city is overheating.

Welcome to summertime in Washington. It is neither predictable nor quiet nor breezy. It is heavy and sometimes explosive. It tests limits. It takes patience and discipline to ignore any anxiousness about what's coming next. It requires focus and concentration to keep your cool.

And every so often, if we're lucky, it allows for a refreshing release from an oppressive season.