Southern Efficiency, Northern Hospitality

My friend Alex, upon finding out I was in DC for the summer, told me that this is where she had imagined me living permanently – I believe the term “puzzle piece” was employed. I like the idea of fitting here very much: D.C. connected with me a very electric way (I’m tempted to use words people use when explaining why they love New York, which I could never understand). I like the youth and the energy, the wide boulevards and the grand structures provided for government buildings, and the pressure to work, constantly. The southwest may have a permanent grip on my heart, but this is undeniably where my head needs to be – at least for the next few years. SO: here is a collection of things I enjoyed doing, and might suggest to other people making their way here for summer months. Consider it an epitaph to infatuation – when I’m back next, I expect it’ll grow to something more thorough.

D.C. Summer Intern Bucket List

Activities

1. Run the monuments. There is a way to do this at every skill level – the loop to WWII from GW is a perfect 5k, and the Capitol to Lincoln Memorial and back is just over 5 miles, which you can extend to 7 if you swing around the Tidal Basin (the way to meet up with TJ & FDR). Add on three more miles by swinging across the bridges to Roosevelt Island, which has fantastical things like real trails and tree cover. Or cut wherever you’d like. In any case, I loved making a habit of this; it’s the best way to be an early-morning patriot.

2. Eschew private transportation. This is coming from a girl who treats her car like a person, who will agree to drive 14 hours at a stretch without blinking: I adore the Metro. I get the same feeling of awe from the arched vaulted ceilings that I get from approaching a tangled loop of Texas highway interchanges – a sort of gasping pride that people managed to create this. Wait until a thunderstorm in off-hours and snag a car to yourself. Run up and down like this guy.

3. Watch 4th of July fireworks form the Lincoln Memorial. I can’t say I remember this, but the pictures make it look lovely.

4. Spend a hungover Sunday strolling through Eastern Market. Try on a bunch of jewelry, and revel in items of absurd political kitsch. I bought these ridiculous portraits of the city stylized a la Van Gogh…

5. Visit the monuments at night. Jefferson at night is particularly spectacular, as is WWII when the fountain is working. The place fills up with fireflies.

6. Watch a motorcade. I can’t provide actual instructions, but somehow managed to catch both Obama and Biden. Even too-cool-for-school Dupont halts, giddily.

7. Tour the three branches of government. Indisputably a must; I was lucky (?) enough to hit the Capitol on the final day of debt ceiling proceedings.

8. Shop in Georgetown. Dress up. Laugh at the Ralph Lauren café (why is that there??!). Wish all streets were so cute.

9. Wander by everywhere you want to work. In addition to providing some solid motivation, most of the buildings (Ronald Reagan!) that ought to be in question are lovely.

10. Walk. DC is a city of neighborhoods and townhouses and shops crammed in between – you miss it by taking the metro.


11. Creep. Creep so much. I wandered Georgetown hoping to see Maureen Dowd, who lives in one of JFK’s old bachelor pads (this eventually happened in an ENTIRELY different way – as in someone on our nonprofit’s board is her neighbor – but that’s a longer story). I got to be the mayor of the State Department on 4square for two days before someone who actually works there figured it out (this is basically the only thing 4square is good for). Eavesdrop on staffers at happy hours, deliberately leave for work early so you can pass Foreign Service employees walking from Foggy Bottom, smile at the attractive ones, go on runs by the Pentagon. This may be a tragic example of my poor taste and general nosiness, but I like important people who are good at their jobs and it’s exxciiiiittting with all the extra letters.

12. Become reacquainted with trees on Roosevelt Island. Real trails! Genuine shade! A statue of Theodore! I had never been so excited.

13. Arlington Cemetery. One way to grasp at immensity.

14. Visit the National Zoo. GIANT PANDAS! Giant pandas giant pandas giant pandas.

15. Go on lots of random dates, because during the summer this place is swarming with twenty-somethings in suits with interesting jobs, and if you’re like me and simply here for two months you never have to see them again. This is also the best way to eat in nice restaurants.

16. Bus to New York for a weekend. It’s twenty dollars one way; there is no excuse not to.

17. Listen to Secret Service agents having normal conversations. He was turned away from the crowded street outside the White House, speaking furtively into his walkie-talkie: “No, honey, the five grain bread.

18. Houstonians: keep quiet when locals complain about the heat and humidity, for they are naïve and know no better.

19. Browse Kramerbooks. 1) There is a bar in a bookstore, and that is great 2) They have an excellent selection of niche works likely of interest to anyone who would get a summer job in DC. There was an obscure development travelogue I had spent months passively searching for – it was sold out on Amazon and missing in every chain bookstore I visited. They not only had it, they had TEN copies and more by the same author. Fantastic selection of works in international development and counterterrorism and wine.

20. Watch a lot of West Wing. Be inspired by fictional retellings of things happening down the street. Shrug off cynicism, relish tiny victories.

21. Recognize obscure policy makers in your field of choice. Become momentarily star-struck. Get over it and introduce yourself if appropriate (Peter Hotez after a talk he gave about moving to Houston? Yes. Kal Penn looking scruffy outside the White House? Rajiv Shah hurrying home? No.)

22. Check out the White House protestors. Some of them are crazy, and some of them seem too sane to be spending their time where they are. My favorite was actually a counter-protest: two old men with “ARABS are people, too” written in incendiary red letters, standing next to your typical “kill the Muslims” stock. In any case, they will likely be more interesting than the fenced-off rose garden across the boulevard.

23. Get out of town. Unlike Texas (where three hours will take you from Houston to San Antonio, and perhaps 12 will allow for a state-wide crossing), here there are not quite so expansive stretches between places of note. Hiking in Great Falls, MD is accessible by public transportation, Charlottesville is two hours southwest, and Shenandoah NP is a scant 90 minutes away. I opted for the latter two – vineyards in CVille, Appalachian Trail runs and BEARS, OH MY! in the park.

Restaurants

24. Order a Rickey, DC’s official (yes!) cocktail. Preferably at The Passenger, as they managed to make one that landed in my top 10 list and the shadowy train-car atmosphere makes for a unique venue.

25. Founding Farmers. I can’t get enough of this place. Stuffed French toast, butternut squash ravioli, locally grown food, brilliant decorating and more LEED-certified than Duncan.

26. Peregrine Espresso in Eastern Market, right behind Capitol Hill, unequivocally provided the best latte I’ve ever had. There is and never will be a contest: I took one sip and realized I’d peaked.

27. Amsterdam Falafelshop on U-Street is open all of the hours you would like it to be, with a fantastical variety of toppings.

28. Julia’s Empanadas, anywhere. Size of your hand and warm and delicious. I got into an awful habit of running here for dinner, eating, and running back. There are worse zero-sum games.

29. Ben’s Chili Bowl. Classic, crowded drunk food. Veggie dogs! Veggie chili! Oh, the joy.

30. Crepes A Go Go, Dupont Circle. I wandered in randomly, mostly because of the similarity in name to my favorite Houston taco place, and then came back…and came back…and came back. Whatever they put in the batter kicks ass; going back to Coco’s will be a struggle.

31. Baked & Wired, Georgetown. Stop in post-shopping for…honestly, anything I’ve had there could be described as impossibly delicious. The menu changes based upon what they bake that day. One standout: an espresso brownie the size of my face, loaded with chunks of dark chocolate and made with still-detectable cream cheese.

32. Market Lunch, also in Eastern Market, provides a damn fantastic breakfast. A line out the door at 7:30 on a Saturday morning should speak for itself (but if it doesn’t, the buckwheat blueberry pancakes were killer).

And for the moment? I’m stuck in limbo – San Antonio – feeling homesick for both D.C. and Houston. One of those is going to come up much more quickly than the other!

Southern Efficiency, Northern Hospitality

D.C., day three

The new things I have encountered and accomplished during my first three days in DC can be best conveyed in list form:

  • 1 Biden Motorcade encounter in Dupont! It is a poorly-hidden secret that I wish Joe Biden were my drunk uncle, so you can imagine the excitement that ensued.
  • MANY fantastic coffee shops. Favorite thus far: my present haunt of SoHo Tea & Coffee, distributor of an indescribable blackberry mocha. This combination of flavors has entirely altered both the drink menu in my ideal version of heaven and my future plans for cocktail experimentation. This was accompanied by a bagel served with, get this, Axelrod Cream Cheese?! YES PLEASE. Port City Java was also a nice place to stop after a Sunday stroll through Eastern Market.
  • 2 catcalls yelled from cars?! I have dealt with the opposite, oddly enough, more frequently – this can be explained with the words “San Antonio road construction” – and in Houston, it’s mainly bored homeless dudes playing the “who can be more vulgar” game downtown. In any case, this is probably a natural result of walking much more. And I like that I can walk virtually anywhere here. Still wishing I had my (albeit critically damaged) car, mainly for the purpose of taking a weekend drive out to the Appalachian Trail or Shenadoah, but I’m becoming increasingly used to life as a permanent pedestrian.
  • Trader Joe’s. I will ammend my mental grocery store hierarchy to place this on par with Whole Foods but still, of course, below reigning king Central Market.
  • 2 hostels. My room at GW isn’t open until July 3rd, so I am crashing in the absolute sketchiest of ways imaginable until then. It’s a very, very strange experience full of Germans. From discussions with my friends who have stayed in hostels exclusively abroad, I get the feeling that these maintain the basic structure of simple and cramped living quarters while lacking any sort of sense of community. So it’s very hilariously American – we will sleep in the same room as strangers, but still refuse to make eye contact or say hello.
  • Visits to TWO universities I am glad I do not attend. However, I will say without hesitation that I relentlessly envy the opportunities Georgetown and GW students have to intern in DC during the school year, basically without competition. Can’t imagine how advantageous that is, experience-wise, especially since Rice basically offers lab or Rockets or nada.
  • 3 6-mile morning runs through and around the National Mall. This is undeniably my new favorite thing. Tourists think I live here, and I get to feel pretentious, and the scenery beats the outer loop any day. Also in my head this makes me feel constantly like a patriot and/or a badass.
  • D.C., day three