It was a drizzly September day-- there's been little respite lately from the damp-- and I decided to go for one of my expeditions. This Georgia Avenue trail was not one of the most scenic or fascinating of the Neighborhood Heritage Trails, but its main advantage was that I got to view the campus of Howard University for the first time. As I've lived here longer, I've come to regard Howard with a certain reverence. The campus, too, while not ostentatious, felt dignified and solid and old. A few details, though overall the rain depressed my photographic efforts:
I ate lunch at a Potbelly close to campus and read Bob Woodward's Fear. From Howard, the trail mostly moseys straight up Georgia Avenue, with a brief detour over to parallel Sherman Avenue, only a block away. It's an excellent illustration of the gentrification landscape: Georgia Avenue, mostly, is still lined with small local storefronts that are graffitied, barred, and/or drab and dingy-looking. Down-and-out individuals limp by with regularity. But turn off this main drag onto a side street and the row houses are looking freshly-painted and bright, with many rainbow flags (strangely, often the first sign of DC gentrification), flowers, and arty-looking porches. The businesses along Sherman Avenue are a little more upscale and funky-in-a-cute-way, despite being only one street away from Georgia. Here and there, a block of Georgia Ave. is following suit. It's only a matter of time, it seems, before all of Northwest DC is downright adorable.
Ah, my beloved Washington DC, how you have changed in these past two years. No longer can I wander your streets and feel pride in ever-strengthening democracy and a president beloved by the world. Now I narrow my eyes at federal buildings and look suspiciously at passing tourists. What have we become? Our beautiful stately buildings house a cancer that must be cut out sooner rather than later.
Beginning at the Archives Metro station and proceeding up Pennsylvania Avenue and back down Constitution, the Federal Triangle Trail passes institution after crucial institution: the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Old Post Office, the EPA, the Department of Commerce, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the IRS, and the National Archives, as well as several Smithsonian museums, the Newseum, and multiple outdoor memorials. The area is architecturally lovely, imposing, and full of contradictions. The flowers are pretty. A significant number of homeless people try to catch some more sleep beneath makeshift shelters, their possessions strewn over expensive benches. Inside the stone walls of the buildings, state power lurks quietly, big enough to devour us all if it chose.
I had never before been to the center of the Federal Triangle, where Federal Triangle Metro station-- strangely-- nestles into and underneath the EPA building, and a large enclosed courtyard hides beyond it, almost Italian in style, full of sculptures and with arched passageways leading out to Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution Avenue, 12th Street, 14th Street. There is an odd semi-circular shopping center punched into the ground, accessible by a down escalator from street level. Apart from the shopping mall, it reminded me a bit of Florence. There were trees, benches, sidewalk cafe tables. Only steps from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol building, a Tibetan monk strolled one of the arched passageways. A woman wearing a chador rode the escalator down towards the shopping mall. The heart of DC persists in being wildly international despite the hostility to internationality that inhabits it now.
The fuck-you tour:
On the other hand, beauty:
And then there are the things that are neither alarming nor beautiful, but iconic:
Hang in there, America.
As an aside, there are some pretty damn weird sculptures outside some of these federal buildings. This guy is guarding the National Archives:
Immediately after I took this photograph, I was approached by a DC street vendor (they will sell anything), who asked if I wanted to buy a Trump hat.
And, because I know you were wondering, here is a picture of the below-ground shopping mall.
The East Loop
The Downtown Heritage Trail exists in three discrete sections: East, Center, and West Loops. The East Loop begins along Pennsylvania Ave., by the Pennsylvania Ave. National Historic Site, and zigzags (extensively!) up through Judiciary Square and ultimately into Chinatown to the Gallery Place Metro. It is a land of statuary: few businesses, lots of courts, all spare Washington grandeur.
The day was gray, but promises of spring lurked in the streets.
Though I'd planned to find someplace to sit and read, there was practically no place to buy coffee. I got temporarily excited about going inside the cafe of the National Building Museum, but they turned out to be closed for a special event.
As I got close to the Chinatown neighborhood, I ran into a lot of construction. One building was wearing a shroud:
And another was bravely holding its own against the onslaught... but how much longer?
DC's Chinatown is picturesque and full of restaurants, but tiny. It's trendy and full of white people and African-Americans, fewer Asian people except for business proprietors. Do Chinese people actually live here anymore? Not too many, but some.
The Center Loop
The Center Loop starts at Pennsylvania Ave. again, this time at the intersection with 7th St. There is a monument to Charity there, right in front of the National Bank of Washington. I'm not sure what that means.
It was raining, and I didn't have an umbrella. Everything looked a little blurred, like in this picture.
Here is where all the restaurants and retail establishments are located, adjacent to the stark courthouses and museums. It's an unselfconsciously moneyed neighborhood: valet parking, expensive hotels and apartment buildings, Anthropologie, Sephora, trendy restaurants festooned with strings of white lights, cupcake shops, J. Crew. I ate my chicken salad sandwich at an Au Bon Pain, but I could also have chosen Starbucks, Pret a Manger, Cosi, or half a dozen other similar joints within a two-block radius.
There are some important tourist destinations here:
The West Loop
Foolishly, I decided to finish the West Loop of the trail on the same day Washington held its Capitals Stanley Cup victory parade. The parade was over by the time I arrived downtown on the Metro, but thousands of people were still milling around wearing Caps attire, or at least whatever red clothing they could come up with. The Subway restaurant where I stopped for a quick lunch after getting off the train was a surging sea of red.
This loop, if I may be so bold as to say it, was incredibly boring. It runs from the Metro Center station towards the White House, then back up New York Avenue, making a little loop on K Street, then back to Metro Center. Besides the revelers, there was little to see. There was a scourge of these kind of mirrored buildings:
Who doesn't hate those? And it was hot and sunny, and crawling with sports fans (not shown). There was still an overabundance of crappy fast-casual restaurants. So close to the White House, and yet so dull and colorless.
Instead, I'll leave you with a photo of the Silver Spring Civic Center during early voting. Now here's where the real action is!
Well, I finally found a DC neighborhood that hasn't gentrified yet-- although that doesn't mean it won't. Getting to the beginning of the Greater Deanwood Heritage Trail meant taking the Metro to Union Station, then a long number 96 bus to 52nd St. (The second half of the bus ride was the most alarming part of today's expedition: all signs pointed to the bus's having sustained a flat tire, but the driver appeared not to notice as we bumped and rattled and hurtled to and fro along the streets. A man behind me said to his neighbor: "I'm just here visiting a friend, hope I make it out alive.") From 52nd St., I walked north along Division Ave. until I reached the beginning of the trail at Foote St..
Division Ave. near E. Capitol St. had that poor-but-respectable look: small, drab houses with neat yards, quiet streets with trees. As I approached Deanwood proper, though, the air of respectability diminished. There was more trash along the street, everything looked grimier, and almost all visible people were male and appeared to be just hanging around. Not that I felt directly threatened at any point; just out-of-place and highly self-conscious. It didn't seem like a place where white people from outside the neighborhood go for exploratory walks.
It also didn't feel like a place where it was appropriate to pull out my phone and take lots of photos of everything; there was little that was picturesque, so I would have been transparently documenting the exoticism of everyday (black) poverty. One thing I did wish I got a photo of: the police station. I was passing a series of houses with front porches on which groups of young men were hanging out. Just past one of these there was a clearing in which a police station suddenly appeared: long and low and vaguely ominous, with an impressive number of police cars parked in rows along the street outside. Maybe twenty or thirty of them. In that location, with that degree of overwhelming police presence, they seemed to be overtly threatening their immediate neighbors. I wish I could show you; I should have shown you.
There was one truly beautiful spot on the trail: a low mosaic building just across from Marvin Gaye Park, of obvious historic value. (I learned, upon later research, that this building was the club in which Marvin Gaye began his career.) But the park was, again, full of men standing around, and there was an ancient, perhaps drunken homeless guy on the corner in front of the mosaic, and once again it did not seem appropriate to photograph the scene with all these unconsenting people in it. (This park is apparently much nicer than it was a few years ago, as is detailed here.)
On Nannie Helen Boroughs Ave, a hopeful note: a line of greenhouses tended by community gardeners. I like their sign.
On 49th St., a middle-aged man passing by wearing a "Black Lives Matter" tshirt hit on me. I mention the tshirt because it prejudiced me in his favor. Also, I have to respect the rare individual who is capable of hitting on a total stranger on the street without coming off as aggressive or mocking. I'm not a fan of stranger ambush, and I would totally make the rule that no man shall accost a woman walking by whom he does not know. But, if you're going to do it, do it like this man: get in with the compliment (and don't make it overtly sexual), be friendly and respectful, and get out again. Telling the woman to "have a good day" and then MOVING ON wins you extra points. No creepy following or pestering. I actually felt more welcome in the neighborhood after this guy hit on me, and that is, believe me guys, highly unusual.
I'd meant to stop and have some coffee and lunch while I was in Deanwood, but there were no restaurants along my way, just a few tiny makeshift food stores. (I did see a Wendy's and a McDonald's a bit off the path, but did not go there.) Deanwood is kind of a food desert. What there was, instead of restaurants, was churches. Churches and churches and churches. A couple of them were biggish and pretty, like this one:
But most of them were like the food shops: tiny, dingy, in mostly residential buildings, with names like "Macedonia Holy Church on the Rock" and "Divine Love Baptist." I'm having trouble finding the names, actually, of the more obscure ones, and yet it was the profusion of obscure ones that struck me. In one location there were three contiguous church properties. What Deanwood lacks in business investment, it apparently makes up for in faith.
The Minnesota Ave. Metro station, where I ended my walk, was dimly lit and had large amounts of water dripping from the entrance onto the floors below. Even Metro looks like it invests less in this neighborhood.
May Deanwood find a way to enjoy greater prosperity without its residents being wholly run out of town by rich white people.