Why I (Still) Love DC

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since I wrote one of these. (Not that I’m required to this time around.) During yesterday’s festivities at a friend’s house – a place my wife and I have celebrated Independence Day for the last seven years – someone new to our gathering asked me how long I’d been writing for WeLoveDC. That’s when it dawned on me that it’s been half a decade since we unveiled the site to the world.

When we initially launched, our crew of rebels all wrote a piece on why we loved DC. The more I thought about it last night, the more I realized that I needed to revisit my own thoughts on the matter. Five years is a long time here in the District, especially at the speed of digital noise in which we traverse our daily lives.

Since I last visited my thoughts on why I loved this city, I’ve passed several milestones:

  • Changed jobs three times
  • Published works in nearly twenty books, including a non-fiction work on games
  • Clicked the shutter button more than 10,000 times through two cameras
  • Cranked out nearly half-a-million words across more than 630 articles on this site
  • Seen dozens and dozens of new exhibitions, plays, and special events as a guest of various organizations, museums, and individuals
  • Celebrated a middle-age birthday of note
  • Made numerous friends and acquaintances across all walks of life and career paths
  • Agonized through five seasons of Capitals hockey successes and epic playoff failures
  • Become more aware of my cultural heritage

It’s an eclectic mix for sure.

But even as I look at that list, it doesn’t do justice to how I feel about living here. DC is such a different city when compared to others across the country – heck, even the world. The personality, the vibe, the “gist” of the District is so distinct, so different, and so….very DC.

Take away any segment of our town’s personality, and the city suffers for it. We’ve come to expect a little corruption from our government officials, a little crazy from Barry, a lot of insanity from WMATA. Day-to-day, we know escalators are broken somewhere, the greenspaces have angry homeless, and cyclists will be involved in an accident. Pedicabs will screw up traffic near the Mall during tourist season, food trucks will cluster various curbsides, and “suspicious package” is a common occurrence in commuting reports.

I can’t imagine seasons now without associating area events. Spring brings us the Cherry Blossom Festival, the lottery for the Easter Egg Roll, the flower mart at the National Cathedral, the annual Capitals playoff collapse. Summer draws the tourists and the inevitable “locals vs. tourists” watercooler talk, but also the Fourth fireworks crush, the lighter traffic on the Beltway, Fringe festival, and the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival. Fall rolls in with the National Book Festival, renewed idealistic hopes for Washington football and hockey fans, fall foliage trips, and the Southwest DC Arts Festival. And of course, winter shuffles through with (mostly imagined) threats of snow, holiday pageantry, the lighting of the White House Christmas Tree, and the DC Holiday Market in Penn Quarter.

Remove some of these things—and a lot more I didn’t mention—makes our city less of itself. Yes, there are downsides and disappointments to living here: unemployment, high rents and property values, transit, Pepco. But I think that taking some of those things out would also lessen our city’s personality as well. I feel like I know DC as a crazy uncle: warm and compassionate, cranky and irritable—often all at the same time.

Five days a week I walk a mile each way from where I park to my office, taking varied paths to get to my destination. Lately, I’ve tried to look around me, see the people and the places. Some look tired, or harried, or somber. Determined. But I’ll also catch a glimpse of a smile, a lightness of step, a vibrant display of color or wares or personality. These flashes come from all around, sometimes from the most unexpected of sources. It’s in those times I feel the District alive around me, an entity that gasps and grasps, smiles and saddens, laughs and cries as we go about our daily business.

I’ve been fortunate to take walks like this in other cities around the world: Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Paris, Dublin, Hamilton, and more. While each carries their own feel, their own identity…it’s DC that draws me back again and again. I find that I miss that comfort, the everyday-ness of living here. Finding my life’s path winding through our gridded streets and trafficked highways has been a joy of a different degree since WeLoveDC came into being. It’s a journey I value and cherish, one that I feel is the highlight of my existence here on this planet, at this time, in this age.

As I conclude this time of reflection, I have to pause and consider something: you. That’s right, you. The reader. The one who lives here now. Or you used to live here but can’t quite walk away. Or maybe you’re a visitor, considering the journey here—or recently departed from our streets. You make this place what it is, entwining your life, injecting your experiences and culture into this capital, this center of American spirit. Even if just the briefest of moments, you add to our collective spirit, making us a true mixing bowl of America and the world. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what sets DC apart from everywhere else I’ve been. You, dear reader, are an instrumental part of DC, and it’s a privilege to have you here, sharing our stories, reading our words, enjoying our photos.

I guess, with five years now past from my initial musings, DC hasn’t changed…and yet it has. Actually, no, it’s that I’ve changed. My appreciation for this town and its people, its culture and history, has deepened. My experiences over these days and weeks and months has opened my eyes and enriched me in ways I still don’t think I can truly explain. What does it all mean, then? What does it boil down to? Simple:

I still love DC.

Do you?

Having lived in the DC area for ten years, Ben still loves to wander the city with his wife, shooting lots of photos and exploring all the latest exhibits and galleries. A certified hockey fanatic, he spends some time debating the Washington Capitals club with friends – but everyone knows of his three decade love affair with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

A professional writer, gamer, photographer, and Lego enthusiast, Ben remains captivated by DC and doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

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