Once, on the way to Whole Foods, I saw a little boy wearing a sequined green dress, skipping along holding his Mommy’s hand. “Nice dress!” a woman passing by said, smiling. “Thank you,” he replied.
Usually I walk these streets in the early morning, hungry and sleepless with jet lag. My final destination is Tryst in Adams Morgan, where I have eggs with fresh spinach and gruyere cheese or a homemade morning bun or both for breakfast. It reminds me of Central Perk from Friends, with sofas, comfy armchairs, and a rich amalgamation of all different kinds of people.
Last time, an interview was conducted at the table next to mine; he was a film man who had been reading a French book until his young, curly-haired interviewee came. At another table, an Asian woman was reading a surgical text book and ordered herself a bowl of bacon. (I’d never thought of bacon as a snack food before – my mind was blown.) A young family was eating breakfast on a sofa nearby: “Did you see the sign?” the Mom asked. “It says unattended kids will be given espresso and animal crackers.” While she went to the restroom, her husband spoke a language I couldn’t quite recognize (was it Japanese?) with their two kids.
I love spending whole mornings here eating and writing and reading and people watching. I love how diverse it is, how tolerant.
The other day I was speaking with a Swiss/Brit, and of course there was a lot of joking about the usual American stereotypes. This included our patriotism and how great we think we are in spite of our shortcomings in such areas as health care or foreign policy, for example. “But,” he said, “just because it’s the greatest country in the world, doesn’t mean that it’s perfect. Greatness is not perfection.”
As proud as I am of the greatness I see when I walk down 17th street towards Adams Morgan, I am equally saddened and frustrated by what I encounter when I walk in the opposite direction, towards the White House.
Eventually, you come upon Lafayette Park. You can see the White House Rose Garden from here, tourists taking pictures through the tall iron fence, police with their bullet proof vests. You can also see that practically every park bench occupied by a homeless person. And the predominant skin color is black.
Adams Morgan is a nightlife hotspot now. You can go salsa dancing or sing Karaoke in the Irish Pub. There are Asian and African grocery stores, clothing shops, and restaurants serving global cuisine – remnants of the immigrant neighborhood it had turned into before gentrification began creeping in.
I really wish that the gentry, myself included, wouldn't tolerate poverty and racial segregation. Not that I have the perfect solution to a complex problem, but there is one thing I could do:
One morning a few weeks ago, I spoke with a homeless man named Reggie, who was sitting on a bench in the summer sun on Connecticut Ave. He talked for twenty minutes or so about his life and how he messed-up, going in and out of jail. He wished he could find a job, but it’s tough with his record. Someone had bought him breakfast and Reggie was just so happy to have that one meal taken care of.