When I moved to the Washington metro area in 2002, I was determined to live in the city proper. Not over the state line in Maryland, nor across the Potomac River in Virginia. I wanted to live in the District of Columbia. I had accepted a new job that would have me working at the U.S. Department of State’s main building close to the National Mall and I had it fixed in my mind that I should be able to walk to work. I remember thinking at the time that if I was going to work in the city, I should live there, too.
My housing search landed me a studio apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, right off of Scott Circle. Rent for my new space took one entire paycheck, of the two I received each month, and the apartment building was in desperate need of both a renovation and an expert exterminator. But, I was living in the city! I had done it! I had somehow navigated my way from northern Indiana to downtown Washington, D.C. I was twenty-seven years old.
I really enjoyed living in the city, too. Everything was convenient. Most things were within walking distance. There was a sidewalk cafe where I could sit and read, a little mart where I could buy a few groceries, a book store close by where I took on a part-time job. It was charming being a part of the constant hum of such a storied city like the nation’s capital. Very Mary-Tyler-Moore-with-the-hat-toss kind of a thing.
Sure, there were less savory aspects of city life. Like my neighbor that I’m pretty sure hadn’t left the confines of our apartment building in decades, relying on mysterious, oddly-timed deliveries for subsistence. Or, that one time I was talking with my friend on my cell phone while hoofing it to my job at the book store and a random guy started hitting me over the head with his umbrella. That was definitely a bit off-putting. Hey, it’s the city. People are ECCENTRIC in the city.
But, I loved walking to work. My thirty minute commute home from Foggy Bottom took me through parts of George Washington University, past the World Bank and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where I would cut over past Blair House through Lafayette Square Park to walk north on 16th Street to my apartment building.
Lafayette Square Park fronts the north side of the White House which, without the three story facade of the south side and sweeping South Lawn and Ellipse, is probably the less iconic side of the historic building. In fact, it looks rather unimposing when viewed from H Street, which runs past Lafayette Square. It just looks like another old house with a really nice fence and beefed up security. I always found it sort of otherworldly to walk right past this compact epicenter of American politics, all casual like on a daily basis. It’s odd to find yourself living in a place that previously had only existed in your mind in scenes from television or pictures in textbooks, the scale abruptly adjusted from your imagination.
Other people were just as surprised at the modesty of the White House from that vantage point, too. I remember standing at the corner of H Street and Lafayette Square, waiting to cross at the light when an SUV with Michigan plates pulled up and stopped right in front of me. The passenger rolled down their window and said, “Excuse me. Is that… the White House? Right there?” I replied, “Yes, it is,” and watched as the small scale of such a huge place registered. “Wow. It’s so… tiny,” they exclaimed before driving away.
The entirety of Washington seems a lot like that. All of these amazing places and historic buildings and important people that are also just places and buildings and people.
Four months after moving into my apartment in the city, I fell in love with Bob and not too much longer after that, I unceremoniously relocated to the suburbs, far away from the White House.
I had a chance last month to show Charlie the White House when he won a ticket to the Easter Egg Roll through his elementary school. I was excited to head back to the big city and so was Charlie. Obviously.
We arrived at the White House to find extra long wait times since the festivities were closed for a bit while they sorted out an active shooter situation near the U.S. Capital (this is America in 2016). We eventually made our way through the lines and the crowds and found ourselves on the South Lawn. Charlie wore a button down shirt and tie (clip-on, of course) for the occasion.
After wandering the grounds for a bit, just relishing where we were, we made our way to the main event, the Easter Egg Roll. Charlie came in last place but I would argue that there are no losers when you’re playing a lawn game with the White House in the background.
By the time we headed to the bus for the drive back west, it was dusky outside. Traffic was lighter and our drive down Constitution Avenue took us along the National Mall where the monuments were lit up for the night. That’s the best time to visit them, in the evening. It was great fun to point out the same places to Charlie that I found so awe-inspiring when I lived in the city.
More time in D.C. is planned for our upcoming summer adventures. Fifty miles from here to there is far but not that far. Maybe I’ll take the kids to Lafayette Square Park and marvel at just how much my life has changed in the past fourteen years.