I love you…
I love you not…
I love you…
I love you not…
My relationship with Washington, D.C., and its environs is much like a lovelorn, twitterpatted, starry eyed young ‘un pulling petals off of innocent daisies in an effort to divine the true state of my inner bliss.
I moved to D.C. at the end of the 1980s and, barring the awful humidity, fell immediately in love with this provincial town and cosmopolitan wannabe. The history, landscape, museums, politics—all of it reeked with atmosphere and importance. And not just pretentious importance but real gravitas. The world happens here. Every day. It was heady and exciting! And I loved it!
I’d grown up in Utah and the most exciting thing we had approaching cosmopolitan was Salt Lake City. We could have moved to Keokuk, Iowa, and that would have been more exciting than Provo. But we moved to the D.C. area and I was in love! I worked for a year, then toodled off to Austria for 18 months. When I came home, it was at the end of the First Gulf War. I enrolled at George Mason U, graduating in 1995.
Shortly after graduation, I packed three suitcases with clothes and five trunks with books, bought a ticket on United Airlines, called UPS to ship my trunks, and I was off to California for graduate school. I was still in love with D.C., but excited to try a new venture. My plan was to stay in California only long enough to finish my master’s degree. Two years. That was all I was going be away.
I ended up staying for seven years. In that seven years, I cheated on Washington and, at about year four, broke up with this sultry southern town in favor of the beauty and abundance and joie de vivre that is San Francisco and its northern environs. I fell madly, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with the Bay Area. And when I left in 2002 to come back here, I became a cliché. That’s right. I left my heart in San Francisco,/ High on a hill, it calls to me….
And now, here I am, back in the city I once adored despite its awful traffic, god-awful weather, and back-then-only-sometimes rancorous partisan politics. I broke up with D.C. in a bad way and left it bitter and angry with me. I’ve spent the last five years trying to at least achieve an amicable reconciliation, but this town won’t give me the satisfaction. Oh sure, it teases and entices me with things like the National Sculpture Garden and the tromp l’oeil of Lincoln across from Ford’s Theater. It indulges me with little treats like Rock Creek Cemetery and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It lets me occasionally escape its confines and regroup in places like Widewater Gap on the C&O Canal or Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Valley.
But then it smacks me down in the 9-to-5. In my experience, this is a town that cares more about appearance than it does about performance, more about process and less about results, more about politics and less about ability. It is an often pretentious, conflated town with a lot of pretentious, conflated people.
Maybe I’ve just been unlucky in work, but I’ve kissed so much ass in this town, I’m starting to feel cheap and tawdry. I’ve worked for more egotistical, insecure people in this city than I care to count, and it makes me wonder if there really are people around here who actually want to get things done in a timely manner devoid of holding meetings to discuss ad nauseum whether to parse periods and commas in policy statements or just leave them as they are.
But enough about me and my skewed perceptions and broken-record affections for the West Coast. My point—and I do have one—is, I know I’m not alone in my ambivalence when it comes to this place. I know others who are in the same love/hate relationship, as well as an equal few who either totally, unabashedly, euphorically love this town or who totally, with utter rancor, deeply hate it.
So why does it work for some of us, but not for others? What is it that separates the sycophants from the sincere?
Getting back to me--which didn't take long, might I add: I love Washington, D.C. That is to say, I love all that it has to offer to stimulate the senses. I love finding hidden treasures and visiting old favorites. I love the variety and international flavor. But it's not enough to convince me it's worth staying.