DC Is purgatory

Living in DC isn't good or bad, its fine.

My three years in Washington have always felt temporary from the moment I arrived, and there was never a doubt in my mind that I would return home once college ended for the simple reason that DC just doesn't feel 'real.' It lacks a certain quality that other cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston possess, the proverbial "grittiness" so often ascribed and so rarely clarified. DC is the Duplo to New York's Lego, the RC Cola to San Francisco's Coca-Cola, the Lifestyles to Boston's Trojan. It just seems... off-brand.

There is nothing particularly bad or offensive about Washington, DC - and perhaps that is the biggest problem.

Yes, there are many minor annoyances. Everything closes too early. The Metro is woefully unacceptable - trains seem to come every two minutes during rush hour, leading to catastrophic backups and constant delays, while never EVER coming much past 9PM, leading to pissed off drunk people hailing down creepy taxis that don't take credit cards.

Yes, it is lacking in certain basic amenities. You cannot find pizza, or bagels, or Mexican food, or Italian, or decent sushi for the most part. You must look hard for malt liquor, a strike against any legitimate city. For some inexplicable reason you cannot purchase liquor on Sundays, which seems like a vestigial remnant from some long forgotten time when religious types ignored the fact that sometimes a man needs to buy whiskey to go along with his football.

Yes, there are too many tourists. However, it is difficult to blame the tourists themselves for the pilgrimage, given how pretty this city can be. Free museums, art galleries, monuments that rise from the ground like marble emblems of freedom: it makes sense that people would come to visit. In New York, tourists are a constant annoyance to residents because it seems as though they just don't 'get it.' They walk too slow, they choke the streets and ultimately they just don't understand that people are trying to work here. New York isn't some cityscape in a snow globe meant to be admired - it is a real place where people work and live.

DC does not seem real. It seems like the kind of city a corporation would set up for its employees with all the comforts of a real city and none of the little details that make a city whole. I assume residents of Celebration and Hershey feel the same way trapped in preplanned cities supported by one main business.

In that sense, maybe this is what Catholics mean when they refer to purgatory. Between the fires of hell and the bliss of heaven is God's waiting room, neither good nor bad.

I remember my trip back to Washington this January, driving down I-95 in snow so bad that the front window of the bus looked travelling through hyperspace in the Millenium Falcon. Stepping off the bus on 10th and H was like stepping into a nuclear winter, as hail the size of Tic-Tacs pelted my clothes and immediately froze to the fibers. I stood in the sleeting downpour and grabbed the first taxi I could find. I was aghast when the driver allowed another person to pile in with me so he could score a double fare. I arrived at my building covered in a thin layer of ice, realizing that for the next two weeks the city would be utterly paralyzed by a scant few inches of snow.

It was too deserted to be hell, too infuriating to be heaven. Hence, purgatory. If only I could find the Virgil to my Dante.


It's time.

New York City is a territorial place, like any city, but with a fundamental dichotomy between uptown and downtown, east and west, Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Where you are from in New York informs what you are referring to when you say 'New York.'

I have spent 22 years of my life in upper Manhattan, with a quick three-year interlude in Washington DC. When I say New York, I mean my little enclave on Park Avenue tucked underneath Spanish Harlem. My New York is equal parts luxury and squalor, prewar and postwar, integrated and ghettoized.

In those years spent uptown, I have learned a few lessons. One: I am an idiot. Two: the Yankees suck. Three: Downtown is scary.

The first two speak for themselves. But for the life of me, I cannot understand my fear of lower New York. It is undeniably the authentic New York, the 'real' New York using the same criteria Sarah Palin defines the 'real' America. And yet I fear everything below 14th Street like I fear deep water and pictures of clowns (not actually clowns, just pictures).

Perhaps it has something to do with the distance or the fear of getting caught out of my element. I flash back to a particularly hazy night near Rivington Street when a torrential rain pour soaked me to the bone, and something possessed me to abandon my friends on the street and jump into a taxi bound for uptown. Total cost? $32. Anywhere that is $32 away from my house can't be worth my time, right?

But with graduation fast approaching, I realize it is time for a change. Upper Manhattan reminds me of high school, and wasted evenings in Riverside Park and late night hot dogs at Grey's Papaya and deathly quiet walks home up Park Ave. Downtown is something new, something jarring that will represent a clean break from the liminal stage I currently inhabit.

I have spent 22 years in a bubble, and a few months ago I made the decision to let it pop. No longer will I inhabit the cozy confines of Park Avenue. I will force myself to live downtown. I will have to learn what NoLita is. I will have to navigate through streets with names and not numbers. I will finally at restaurants New York Magazine bothers to review. I will experience the real New York - or have a panic attack in a gutter on Mott St. or Grand St. or I'VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE.

This blog will document my move, my acclimation to living how the lower half lives, and the joys of looking for a job with nothing more than a journalism degree and a smile.

Also, I'm gonna complain about sports.