A bunch of my friends from the Concordia Honors program have been posting notes on Facebook regarding what they are learning after graduating from undergrad, living in new cities, and embarking on new adventures. I thought I would join the party and figured I would also post it here for your reading pleasure.
Here are a few things I have learned in my first two months of living in DC. It is intense. It is chaotic. It is awesome.
1. Honking is polite? Coming from the rather friendly highways of Oregon and California (at least in relation to the East Coast), I was astounded and filled with shame the first time someone honked at me. I was sitting at a stoplight and apparently did not accelerate with satisfactory speed the millisecond it turned green. As I drove away with tears in my eyes (not really) I wondered what I had done wrong. Now I realize that in DC, honking is somehow considered a polite reminder to move your ass and keep up with the (in my opinion) rather unnecessary fast pace of the city. It still kind of freaks me out.
2. Don’t ever get caught simply “strolling.” While we’re talking about fast pace…this city is ridiculous. I mean, do we all really need to get where we are going so quickly? Are we all so important that we need to drive as fast as possible, walk as fast as possible, and live as fast as possible? I don’t think anyone is that important.
3. WALK ON THE LEFT, STAND ON THE RIGHT. If you ever come to DC and plan on riding the Metro, memorize this motto like your life depends on it. Really. I have never seen people get so upset about not being able to walk…on an escalator. Some probable responses if you don’t adhere to this rule include loud sighs of exasperation, the words “excuse me” sounding like they are really saying “move, you dumbass”, or simply a light shove towards the right side (usually with some form of briefcase or purse so as to not actually touch someone). I know people are trying to get to their trains on time, but really, they come every 2 minutes. Just another example of an unnecessary need for everyone to move as quickly as possible given them the right to get indignant if others do not move as quickly as they should.
4. How to ride the Metro…aka the steel tubes of death. Once you step onto the escalator and descend to the hot, sweaty underground world that is the Metro station, there are two things you must avoid at all costs: eye contact and/or talking to anyone except your Blackberry or iPhone (yes, I am pretty sure that when you move here the city government demands you purchase one). There are also two things you must remember in order to ensure neither of these rules are broken: an iPod and a book or stack of papers that make you look like you are important and smart…and probably a snob. As you sit on the Metro with your head down and mouth closed, you will realize that you are no longer a human, but simply an android waiting to reach the sun again.
5. Compete, compete, compete. The god of DC is power and competition is the best way to get it. And, although it does not seem possible, the city’s atmosphere of competition has gotten about ten times worse given the current economic crisis and lack of jobs. People are nice, but in a way that says “if you ever threaten my career, success, etc, I will ruin you.” I think that’s why everyone is always moving so fast – the faster you move, the busier you look, the busier you look, the more successful you look, and the more successful you look, the more power you have over everyone else.
6. Embrace all the chaos, because when it comes down to it, this is still the best place to live if you want to see change. Despite the past five hard lessons I have learned in our Capitol City, I am hard pressed to say that I would want to be anywhere else at this point in my life. No one will disagree that DC is on the very edge of reform – both politically and in many ways, culturally. Especially in the past ten years or so, as musicians, and actors, and artists have begun to take more seriously the dramatic influence they have on the masses (think HIV/AIDS policy reform and Bono), public policy reform in DC has become even more powerful. In my vocational calling to see change in developing nations in terms of extreme poverty and women’s rights, I cannot think of a better jumping off point that this city. Despite the dehumanizing nature of the Metro; despite the ruthless competition for power; and despite the pace of the city that is quickly turning me into one who can practically run in high heels, this is a city in which opportunity flourishes and change truly begins. For better or for worse, it is a city that is changing the world.
Note: Please keep in mind that this is just my experience of DC so far. Although, I love the city, I am HUGELY blessed to be able to retreat to the sanity of Northern Virginia every night. I don't know what I would do if I lived downtown - probably spend my weekends wandering aimlessly around hoping for at least one person to smile.