Dear Washington, D.C.,
What has really bummed me out about this shutdown is how national pundits have bemoaned how "Washington" is broken, petty, and dismal. The synecdoche slight shouldn’t bother me, but I find myself coming to your defense, explaining to strangers who inquire about our relationship, that the District I love is creative, vibrant, and hospitable — welcoming new gaggles of idealistic millennials on a daily basis. Back in the '80s, you welcomed my father off a Mexico flight and he’s still so proud to have been adopted into a new federal district.
Last Tuesday, I roamed around your neighborhood, trying to spot the shutdown. Would there be crowds on the streets like last January’s inauguration? Would people be angry, protesting like they did two years ago in McPherson Square? I saw other federal millennials milling about, confessing that they were initially grateful for the unplanned vacation, puzzling about how for the first time in their overachieving lives they were strictly forbidden from work, and exchanging furloughed pick-up lines. (To the guy on Sixth Street: I appreciate your effort, but "furloughed" and "get low-ed" probably sounded better in your head.)
For those people who just met you, my old love D.C., this past month — the Navy Yard shooting, the shutdown, the Capitol shooting, and the Man on Fire — was perhaps the most stressful and anxiety-inducing in recent memory. And as we start on our second week of the shutdown, it seems like you are, dear D.C., both shaken-up and stir crazy. The cable news trucks have started to leave their posts for a more interesting story but, you remain, pacing, at home.
The current state of upheaval brings me back to another October, now 10 years ago when minivans rushed to their childrens' bus stops. The Beltway sniper shooting still quietly haunts DC born-and-bred millennials. For nearly a month, we nervously turned on the news to see who had been randomly killed at a gas station, park, or just cutting the grass. I remember how recess was suspended indefinitely, and how, as the days piled up, our caretakers’ assurances gradually became less confident and more desperate.
Remember that shutdown, D.C.? Like these past few days, we tried to shrug it off because there seemed no point in admitting how scared we were at the suspended normalcy. Better to stock up on boardgames and books as we waited for the storm to pass.
Our generation is familiar with mass disruption that is devastating but relatively brief. The storm makes landfall but then leaves; we calmly take cover, knowing the all-clear is just hours away. But during this shutdown, this human-made emergency — there’s really no forecasting if conditions have improved or worsened.
Although you’re a bit older than me, we’ve both grown up. Here in 2013, we still find ourselves in an out-of-control situation. While we’re forced to wait for these temporary visitors to put up or shut up, maybe we can use this time to build yet another community out of this muggy swamp. Maybe we could get coffee and catch up with another old friend? Volunteer at a school down the street? Try that project that we never thought we had time to even start? Certainly we have time to check in with each other and just see how we’re doing.
Although "Washington" is despised, D.C., you are loved. Yes, Boston’s strong, New York’s tough, but you, D.C., are resilient.
With all my love and full confidence,