Cultural Heritage DC has established 17 Neighborhood Heritage Trails throughout Washington, DC: my city for the past five years, although I live a little less than half a mile (about 5 blocks) outside its limits, and spend a surprising proportion of my life neglecting to enter its boundaries at all. In keeping with my usual completist spirit (or, also here), as soon as I knew these trails existed (and they are, after all, merely a stroll through existing streets, looking at points of interest), I desired to walk them all. In keeping with the procrastinatory spirit that provides the opposite pole for my mental compass, it took me a year or two to even begin one of them.
Which one to try first?-- Well, the first one listed on the website, of course. That's how completists do things. So off I went (a year or two later) to Adams Morgan.
I didn't plan to cover the whole 2-hour walk at once. For one thing, I thought that training myself to walk in unfamiliar places by myself, without my usual sense of Fearfulness of Men, should be a gradual venture. For another thing, on Thursday, July 7, it happened to be 94 degrees and very humid. So my first Adams Morgan walk was short (though my day overall featured enough outdoor time that I was badly overheated by evening). I took the Metro from Bethesda (where I don't live, but happened to be that morning) to the U Street stop in DC, then walked to the beginning of the "trail" at 16th St. and Florida. The neighborhood between the metro stop and the "trail" appeared economically diverse-- a lot of demolition and construction projects were going on, so I expect the area is gentrifying, though not yet fully gentrified. Shabby corner convenience stores mingled with yoga studios; a trash-filled vacant lot adjoined a trendy restaurant. Judging by the people on the street, it was a majority-black neighborhood.
July 21: another hot, sunny day over 90 degrees. And it is always a bit hotter on the city sidewalks than it is in my tree-filled neighborhood. I walked my half-mile to the Metro, changed trains at Fort Totten, got off at Columbia Heights to resume my journey. To my surprise, Columbia Heights is really only three stops from my home station, even though it requires a line change. It is close. I could probably walk there.
Maybe this project really will serve to familiarize me with my own city, where I have lived for five years now.
When I got back to the Moonie church, I knew I was on track to continue the "trail." The cityscape changes a lot in the few blocks between the Columbia Heights station and that big intersection of 16th St. and Columbia Rd. I'm always surprised by the abrupt transitions between neighborhoods here. On one block, the row houses may appear rundown, in ill-repair, with barren front gardens and an air of desolation. But on the very next block, you may suddenly realize that the same row houses (buildings that are inherently lovely, even when neglected) are clean and spruced-up with bright paint in trendy colors, with flowering bushes, shiny cars and bicycles in front. (And in DC, even the modestly-sized ones will be going for at least half a million dollars.)
Sept 1-- this walk has taken me a while. On a day that was mercifully cooler-- not only than my past two Adams Morgan walks, but than yesterday and almost every day for the past two months-- I set off again for the Metro. It was a gray and drizzly morning. A long ride on the Red Line later, I got off at Dupont Circle and set off up Connecticut Avenue towards Kalorama Road and today's start point at Kalorama and Columbia. Once again, on the quiet residential streets, the only people coming and going were the staff necessary to maintain these imposing buildings. A group of men folded a series of dropcloths; another group of men were armed with mops and pails. This is a neighborhood where people really take pride in their front gardens, which are full of flowering shrubs, exotic trees pruned in artistic shapes, and bright blooms in stone tubs. But the actual work, no doubt, is done by gardeners.
The walk back down Columbia Road towards Florida Ave. was familiar: I passed the Churchill Hotel again, with George McClellan and his horse, and the Soho Cafe. I noticed one or two more small embassies I did not see before. Mostly what grabbed my attention were the architectural details: these buildings, whatever questions of class they may raise, are beautiful. So are the gardens.
On my walk back to the Metro (Woodley Park/Zoo this time), I got to cross the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge, which for some reason I find really beautiful. It is not a beauty I find easy to capture in photographs.