The smorgasbord of free museums and government building tours make DC the picture perfect city for budget vacation advertisements. In the summer, pink-faced tourists in baseball caps flock downtown to visit the air conditioned buildings and pay their respects to dead political figures and war victims. Spring has a short peak season during the cherry blossom festival, although this crowd also consists of Washington suburbanites on their yearly pilgrimage, who have most likely spent the previous weeks watching the development and penduncle elongation of the Yoshino cherry tree buds.
The buildings of downtown DC guard many secrets and take their jobs very seriously. They demand respect with their sturdy white marble construction and massive, ornamented front doors. Almost all have wide, flat staircases running up to the Roman columns that support the heavy roofs. If the outside doesn’t have security guards, it has a pointy black fence surrounding the perimeter.
The buildings want to look important and want to be seen. But when navigating the city grid in search of a shady park during the sticky humidity of the summer, you grow tired of the authority that these buildings have over entire city blocks. And how maddening these buildings are when the bitter winter winds are funneled directly into your frostbitten face by their bare grey walls.
Outside of the visitor- friendly mall, our nation’s capitol is not known for its hospitality. The locals, dressed proudly in black business attire, stare forcefully ahead as though they must calculate in exactly how straight of a line they can walk. Don’t try to ask for directions.
Fortunately, every city has a soul, even DC. You will find it at night, when greedy politicians and quarrelsome lawyers and derisive secretaries (and college students of course) let loose and become normal people. They go to Adams Morgan, where they can squirt whiskey down their throat with a ketchup bottle at Dan’s Café, then cure their drunchies with a loaded Amsterdam Falafel.
You can find DC’s soul on a Sunday afternoon, when the Washington parents take their kids for a bike ride down the Capital Crescent trail, first stopping in Georgetown for a cupcake at Baked and Wired.
You can find DC’s soul at the 9:30 club, where the most awesome bouncer ever, Josh Burdette, left his legacy. After, DC’s soul heads to Ben’s Chili Bowl, just because it’s iconic.
In the summer, DC’s soul likes to rent a canoe from Fletcher’s Boat House, and float under the green canopy of trees that line George Washington Parkway, just upriver enough to be swimmable.
You can find DC’s soul watching ripples in the evening reflection of the Lincoln Memorial over the Tidal Basin after all the tourists have exhausted to their hotels.
On Monday mornings, DC’s soul frowns as it leaves the bright orange lighting of the Metro car and joins the sea of black trench coats in the cavernous station.
Yes, even DC has a soul, but it won’t be found where the guidebooks point.