Dear Washington D.C.,
You pulled me in with your siren song three years ago. I will never forget stepping out of the National Archives metro station and basking in the grandeur of the Archives staring right back at me. It was spring 2014, and I had no idea that my journey to live in one of the most bustling cities in the world would begin right then.
I would be back, more often than I thought. Marine Corps Marathon, pet sitting, Marine Corps Marathon again, more pet sitting, Rock ‘n’ Roll DC 5K. I was lucky to only have been five or six hours away in Pennsylvania, because I could easily make your trip in one shot.
I finally made the move in 2016. I got a job (surprisingly, since apparently Higher Education didn’t—and still doesn’t—want me in their ranks), packed up my stuff, and traded the sleepy little hometown I grew up in for the lights and noise of the nation’s capital.
At first, I was like a kid in a candy store. So many places to explore (and revisit), so many things to see, so many things to EAT! With the distractions of the pretty things, there was also the issue of moving to a new residence, navigating the Metro, and figuring out my new job.
Soon the luster was gone, and reality kicked in. My presence from your city streets diminished as weekends were spent number crunching, as my current wage wasn’t cutting it. I spent those days in blissful silence, away from the district, only to be hit with a blow on Sunday evening that screamed, “Work week starts tomorrow! Welcome back to Hell!” and accompanied by crowds, screeching train brakes, car horns, and sirens. And, of course, the occasional rainstorm that greeted me the moment I emerged from the underground chasm of death known as the Metro. (Safetrack? Don’t even get me started.)
I do have to thank you for not killing me on your semi-unreliable transit system whose temperament reflected that of a hangry, tired toddler on an almost daily basis. I was only offloaded once in my fifteen-month tenure, and living on the Green/Yellow lines felt like a luxury. Also, thanks for the twice daily rush hour entertainment via Twitter. #wmata for the win.
As the seasons turned, my attitude toward you also did. Going into battle twice a day, five days a week against the city elements wore me out faster than I thought. I was trapped in this vortex of constant noise, noise that I wasn’t used to. I though that I could adapt and conquer, but I became more introverted and miserable. My annoyances aggrandized: Why were there so many people? Why were the trains never reliable? Why does it take an hour to drive nine miles? Where the hell did these tourists come from? Why are things so goddamn expensive?!
Oh, let’s talk about your pricing for a moment. I’m not sure who you’re kidding, D.C., but the average person cannot afford you. I don’t care how shiny the labels are advertising for locally-sourced, organic, gluten free, carb-free, blah blah food…you’re still charging $15 for a slice of “artisinal” bread. Who the hell are you? There’s a reason why Whole Foods is called Whole Paycheck around here. Honestly, your pricing me out is the number two reason why I’m leaving you. I feel like I didn’t get the full city experience because I couldn’t afford to do most things in your presence. Any time I did try to indulge in something like a “normal” resident would, my wallet was not happy and I would hold my breath ’til next payday, hoping to make it. Granted, I had many friends who offered to pay my way because they understood my financial woes, and I definitely appreciated the help. But financial anxiety is not worth nights of endless worrying, stomachaches, and tears, trust me.
A note for those who are considering moving here: if you’re not banking a $50K starting salary, don’t bother coming here. Seriously. DC is one of the most overpriced cities ever. It’s not quite as bad as Silicon Valley, but it’s up there. Apartments in relatively safe areas start around $1900/month, for maybe 600 sq/ft. The closer you get to the center, the more expensive it’s gonna be. I was fortunate to be just beyond city lines in Maryland, but when rent and the Metro were added together, that was half my paycheck. Going out after work? Ehhhhh. Hand-crafted cocktails start around $12 each (on average, about $15), same with appetizers. And brunch is still a phenomenon that I haven’t wrapped my head around. I mean, I did brunch a couple times with my cousins, but that was it. No big group outings or brunch parties or anything. Bottomless mimosas seem to be the cocaine of Saturday and Sunday morning brunch-goers, and I found by working in hospitality that if your establishment doesn’t offer them, you get ripped a new one. (Trust me on this…when I got questions about whether we were “bottomless” or not, and I said no, whoever was on the other end of the line would get so pissy. Newsflash: It’s not the end of the freakin’ world. If you’re so concerned about your precious mimosas, then buy the damn champagne and orange juice yourself. It’ll probably be cheaper.)
I guess I have to thank you for exposing me to a whole new variety of people, culturally and otherwise. The cultural aspect was definitely a shock sometimes, but it just goes along with your melting pot atmosphere. But upon observation, I noticed your typical city dwellers (“Washingtonians”) would fall into one of four categories: sincerely sweet (the rarest), utterly stupid, total snobs, or smart (arrogant or legitimately smart, mind you). The middle two (most common) were the reason why I didn’t go out of my way to make friends. All conversations seem to revolve around careers and politics. Snoozefest. If you don’t work the “right” job, or do anything “right”, you were promptly judged and smushed into the pavement. I knew was an outsider. I tried to fit in, but knew I failed that miserably. Thanks for increasing my awkwardness and reassuring that I was no city slicker.
Even though there was a lot of negativity surrounding my experience, there was some positivity that shone through, and not just through your brilliant sunsets. You are full of hidden treasures, whether it’s a cafe tucked away or a new eatery that’s not a chain; little-known historic sites or a back way to walk to the waterfront. Duck watching at the Lincoln Memorial became a weekly engagement, and people watching even more often. I could enter the Library of Congress and be surrounded by the most brilliant minds in history; it was the one place where I could go and feel intelligent, and be enveloped with that same energy. Walking in silence among the tombstones and untold stories at Arlington National Cemetery gave me a new sense of respect and appreciation for our young nation. Taking part of your race traditions during Rock n Roll DC, Marine Corps Marathon, and Cherry Blossom 10 Miler weekends showed me what DC truly has to offer by way of community and support. Sometimes all you need are a few good races to bring out the good in almost everyone you encounter. You are full of stories and history, and that’s one of your best attributes.
My love/hate relationship with you will continue to linger far beyond the city limits. When I travel to Florida tomorrow to begin the next chapter, your lessons, both good and bad, will follow me there, as they have shaped me into the person I have become today. I may still be awkward and introverted and hate excess noise and unreliable transportation, but you also taught me how to fight for my career, to never settle or stand for mediocrity, to dig a little deeper for excellence, to keep your friends close and your enemies far, far away…and that there is better coffee out there than Starbucks.
So to you, Washington D.C., I thank you. I will return in due time.