So there I was, sitting in Zengo, enjoying a nice brunch of dim sum and antojitos and reading the latest issue of LunchBox. There was a fascinating piece comparing the prices and tastes of a Ricky in Chinatown versus a Ricky in NoMa (one locale prefers the more traditional bourbon, whilst the other favors the more plebian gin. Natch).
I continued reading the magazine as I hopped onto the Green Line --while jamming out to some Rare Essence, of course-- past the Borf mural, down to U Street for a quick little nosh at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Following that, I snagged a conveyance from the Bike Share and made my way to Anacostia to pick up an eight ball of Hinckley and a quart of mambo sauce. With those tasks completed, I wandered over to the Hawk ‘n’ Dove for my shift running the glory hole in the men’s room.
The magazine article that really caught my eye was about living like a native in this fair city. The places to go, the places to be seen, the things to do and eat, what to wear, what to do, what people to hate and the myriad other things that differentiate living in this particular city from any other city in the world.
And it was all the most egregious of bullshit.
See, I live in the Washington D.C. metro area. I was born in the city proper and grew up right outside its august gates. As far as I can tell, there are at least three separate D.C.s:
1. There’s the touristy portion, full of free --or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, needlessly expensive-- museums, national monuments, hot dogs cooked in toilet water and crappy tee shirts stitched together in Indonesian sweat shops.
2. The political side of D.C., which is anything around Capitol Hill, (or just “The Hill” as smug, self-important assholes call it).
3. And the actual, honest-to-goodness locals, the groupings of which can be divided into sub-categories, ranging from the scared white people in Georgetown, to the scared black people in South East.
The group that tends to lead the charge when it comes to these stories about being a local and fitting in to the area, is the second group mentioned. More specifically, the people we call “transplants.” These people are usually political staffers in their 20s and early 30s who amble into town for a few years and irritatingly mandate what’s “hot” and “in” around here. Then, after the transplants have left as annoyingly as they came, we locals wash their stink off of us, have a good laugh at their expense and continue to do whatever the hell it is we do. I think it has something to do with driving like insane people.
For years, I would occasionally see these stories pop up on the laziest of “news” websites. But over time, I noticed that those kinds of pieces were appearing more and more frequently, and not just for D.C. but for all major American metropolitan areas. And even non-metropolitan areas. Which makes no sense. I don’t mind that I’m not a native of Abingdon, West Virginia. I certainly don’t need to know the proper local etiquette for asking my first cousin out.
But back to the D.C. articles; I would quickly look over their checklists of local behavior to see how I measured up, and I often found myself wanting. I would panic, because I felt that I wasn’t living right. Yet, like an addiction, I would feel compelled to read about how I was a failure as a native Washingtonian. I would pick up a newspaper, --or, more likely, click on a link, because we live in Buck Rogers times now-- and thick, sour rivers of sweat would pour down my face as I read about the restaurants and bars that I’d never heard of, but everyone was going to, including my loved ones and family pets.
I was forever baffled. I couldn’t understand how I, as an indigenous dude, had missed the double-decker tour bus on all of these wonderful things that absolutely everybody I’ve ever known had been doing for years. And then it hit me: these lists aren’t written by, or meant for, locals. They’re written by outsiders. The Unbidden. Those who have weird geography identity issues and are OCD about classifying humans. And, on top of that, the lists are so esoteric as to be meaningless to anybody who reads them beyond a two-block radius of the author’s pretentious coffee house of choice.
You see Washington D.C. is a large city, using land appropriated from more than one state. It has about nine dozen distinct neighborhoods and a population of “oodles” according to the US Census Bureau website. The point is that the day-to-day life of a citizen in Tenleytown can be the polar opposite of that of a resident of Ward 8, but they’re still both inhabitants of the same city. Just two different parts of this multicolored, patchwork quilt we call The Former Murder Capital of these United States.
Anything I have done as a local is automatically something that a local does. It’s one of the simplest truisms to ever make itself known to me (the other being Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy). And it’s one I wish I was famous enough to abuse. Because then I’d be constantly walking around town in footie pajamas, walking my pet llama on a dental floss leash and eating only pineapple rinds, making sure that all the tourists got a good steaming gawk at me. And then, when I was sure I have everybody’s attention, I’d scream at the top of my lungs “Welcome to the Nation’s Capital! I’ll be your guide!”
I can see it in my mind’s eye. My “Living Like a Local” tour would be a smash hit. Buy your tickets now.