Thursday, March 27

Washington Scenes

Washington, D.C. has gotten a very bad name in recent years. But it's my home.  Here, a couple short stories dredged from my memory to introduce you to some Washingtonians who had their priorities in order.

Winter:  Always keep a grip on your kill
One early Sunday morning almost 20 years ago I was walking on 17th Street, Northwest.  There had been heavy snow so the city was even quieter than usual for that day and time.  No cars on the road. No one else on the sidewalk.

I didn't dress warmly enough for this trek, I thought morosely as I trudged along in the freezing silence.

I spied a man and a dog, an Irish Setter, walking in my direction.  They were a few blocks away but even from that distance I could see it was a happy dog, springing along, its tail held jauntily high.  As they drew nearer I saw the Setter was carrying something in his mouth. Then I came to full a stop as I stared in amusement.

The dog had a large, well-filled McDonald's takeout food bag clamped in his jaws.
The man, seeing my expression, said conspiratorially as they passed by, "We've been hunting."

Summer:  Always keep a grip on your chapeau

Upper Northwest commerical district, dead of summer in the District of Columbia, maybe 30 years ago. The sidewalks seeming to melt in the oppressive heat and humidity that had gone on day after merciless day for weeks.  The people who hadn't fled the heat were drooping by then, marking time for the end of the work week so they could drive to the beach or start their vacation.
It wasn't lunch time yet.  The streets were almost empty. (Washington then was a much smaller city than today.)  I stopped shuffling along upon hearing the incongruous sounds, then followed them down the Metro subway escalator. I was met by blessedly cool air.  There was no mechanical air-conditioning, just the way the station was built. 

The Metro had only been in operation a few years. It still looked brand new. It was immaculately clean.  The state of the art trains pulled in quietly with only a whoosh of air to announce their arrival.  The station platforms with their stone benches were evocative of a medieval cloister.  The garishly bright fluorescent lights in other city subway systems were not there. The platforms were dimly lit by small spotlights set in the ceiling.
There, on a platform overlooking the train tracks, I found the source of the sounds.  Five musicians, not the usual run of street musicians but accomplished ones, classically trained.  They were improvising on Malagueña, adapted for violin and guitar.  

Puzzlement: I didn't see a tip jar or open violin case awaiting dollar bills and pocket change. Then: Of course; they're here for the acoustics

At that moment there was a hubbub as two college-age girls charged past, tearing down the next set of escalator stairs to the platform as a train glided into view.  Both girls were attractive but one riveted the eyes.  Tall, deeply tanned, wearing a sparkling clean white T-shirt, well-pressed khaki Bermuda shorts and the most impossibly silly hat for someone of her age and dress. 

It was a large-brimmed black lacquered straw affair, of the kind Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany's, the kind a chic dowager might wear to a formal garden party or summer funeral. Probably sequestered from her mother's hat shelf. 

The hat was in great peril of blowing away in the wind tunnel made by the arriving train and the girl's mad dash down the escalator but the wearer refused to carry it.  She held that silly hat on her head during the entire sprint as she and her friend whooped with laughter and tumbled into the waiting train car. 

I turned back to the musicians, who smiled and nodded at my unspoken question. They too had seen the vision of eternal youth.  And they played on, the notes from their instruments soaring and echoing against the softly curved gray cement walls and rust-red Spanish floor tiles of a grotto-like subway station.


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