The Why and Wherefore

Which City Are You?

Posted on: July 8, 2008

No, this is not a lame LiveJournal meme. Not that I didn’t do my fair share of those before I abandoned LJ (I love you all but I don’t care what you had for breakfast).

A while back, I read a post about this article on Broadsheet. It’s about the personality of cities, and the people in them. I continue to fail at the #1 successful blog requirement of being timely, but when it comes time to care about how this blog performs, I’m moving it to a server where I can host AdSense anyways.

Broadsheet points out quite correctly that the article is primarily a pop-psychology excuse to claim Cambridge (in Boston, MA, not the original) as the best city in the U.S. I won’t argue with them too much on that one, having spent a summer there. Though I probably would if I’d ever been there in the winter.

That aside, though, I found the article a really interesting read, because it reminds me of one of my favorite aspects of Washington DC, where I lived for a few years. I’m a political junkie, and in DC, of course, politics is in the very air you breathe. It’s more than just the motorcades that interrupt traffic (that’s right, everyone else’s traffic jams are just annoying. DC’s are state business).

What I miss about DC is the way you can watch C-SPAN (and especially election returns) on the big screen in bars around town. The cocktail party chitchat that inevitably turns to the latest judicial appointments. The handicapping of election races the other way people talk about point spreads in football. The way you can wander around the National Mall on a summer night and make shadow puppets on the Washington Monument. Walking down the street and going hey, there’s Bradley Whitford (OK, not anymore).

There’s a lot of complaining about how isolated DC is from the “real world” and how everything there is about power and connections. Insider status is definitely valued there, no question (just like everywhere else, I’d say), but the other thing I love about DC is the idealists. The city isn’t just full of government types; it’s the headquarters of just about every major nonprofit organization in the country.

DC is crawling with twentysomethings who have spent every penny of their measly salary (often lower in thousands than they are in age) renting a run-down townhouse just on the edge of a bad neighborhood with five of their friends, so they can take a gofer job with a nonprofit or think tank and do their part to Change the World. Entry-level salaries on the Hill aren’t enough to keep a person fed and clothed, which is why you’ll see a lot of well-dressed quarterlifers at every reception, snarfing down every morsel of free food they can get their hands on because they spent their food money on a nice suit. Even the jaded ones really care about what they’re doing; it’s only when beating the other team becomes more important than getting your bill passed that things get ugly.

I ran up a lot of credit card debt living there, and I still have all my suits. I look forward to wearing them again one day. If they still fit.

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