When I moved to the Washington area in 1998, it wasn’t for any single good reason. I had a few reasons that added up to something, but I can’t say my logic was in any way sound. Mostly I was 27 years old and felt like I’d exhausted my opportunities in my home town. I didn’t have anything tying me down, and I figured I had enough connections here that I could make a go of it. When people asked me, I’d say that everyone else lived in DC for four years so I thought I’d give it a shot.
I had a friend who lived in a group house on the Hill, and she idly said she was thinking of moving out, but she needed a roommate. I told her I’d arrive in August, and she should find us a place to live. That first year we lived in a rented house in Crystal City, but a couple weeks after Metro’s Columbia Heights station opened up I moved into an apartment a few blocks away, where I lived for ten of those four years.
Seventeen years later, I’m a married homeowner and I have a different glib answer about why it would be impossible for me to leave: I can never live anywhere with fewer than three airports. Given the choice I’d never use any of them but National, but I’ll fly out of Dulles or BWI if the itinerary is right.
But that doesn’t really answer the question of why I (still) love DC.
When I came to DC I found a culture that didn’t revolve around the business of government. My friends aren’t lobbyists or politicians. I’ve come to know a few congressional staffers and lifetime feds over the years not because of their answer to the question “so what do you do,” but because of the things they do when they’re not on the Hill (drink, mostly). I know a few lawyers, but most of them continue to prove my belief that the happiest lawyers are former lawyers.
The culture that existed between the margins of what outsiders think of as Washington is now, to me, the dominant culture here. My friends make art; they build apps; many of them create spaces where other people can come together. I met my wife and got married here. An offhand joke resulted in a second wedding (immediately following the legal one) in the best bar in town, presided over by one owner as his brother walked my bride down the aisle. The rings were consecrated with single barrel bourbon.
Cherry blossoms, the Lincoln Memorial at night, fall colors on Grant and Sherman Circles and in Rock Creek Park, hearing monkeys at the zoo through open windows in Mt. Pleasant, concerts at the Library of Congress, Rodin sculptures at the National Gallery, even the three airports: those are all great things, but they’re not why I love DC.
In contrast to Tiffany’s comment, DC isn’t where I became who I am, it’s where I found my people. My people aren’t the people who come for four years, try to make a difference, and then leave again. My people are the people who make DC home. They are why I love DC.