On Becoming a DC Resident - Part II
The following is Part II of my reflections on becoming a resident of Washington, DC. Read Part I here.
There’s a term you’re bound to hear if you hang around Washington, DC long enough that refers to someone who is an expert in a certain field or discipline: wonk. A wonk is someone who is an authority on a subject... or at least believes they are. American University adopted the term for an official brand campaign a few years back, and it’s become ubiquitous around the city. The Washington Nationals have even printed the word on promotional giveaway apparel.
Referring to someone as a wonk can be a complimentary nod to their education or knowledge of a topic or a backhanded nerd bash. Frankly, it’s a pretty appropriate stereotype for residents of the nation’s capital.
I’ll make no claims that I’m an expert on any specific topic, policy or otherwise, like many of my neighbors. Heck, to be honest, you’re reading a post written by a guy who still needs to sing Schoolhouse Rock’s “I’m Just a Bill” under his breath to have any recollection of how the legislative process works. However, I can attest to the fact that being a resident of DC often causes people outside of the beltway to assume that you are in some way politically informed and inclined. And while it’s a nice, if wholly inaccurate, stereotype to represent, it’s one to which I feel less and less connected the longer I live here.
In my last post, I described the impression DC has left on me in the five years since stepping off the Capital Limited Amtrak at Union Station into my current neighborhood. It's difficult to avoid the gravity of the district's social, cultural, and political pull. But not impossible. Residents aren't fated to share the ambitions and restlessness of Doug Stamper, Remy Danton, Josh Lyman, C.J. Cregg, or any other fictitious character from a television drama based on Capitol Hill. Instead, I've found that DC can support the interests of many, making for one awesome social melting pot of a city. Kind of like the concept of E Pluribus Unum, but for your social life (Ugh, Packy, you hypocrite, you’ve gone full DC).
I've made it a habit of including bulleted lists in my posts so far, so in the spirit of consistency, here's another one covering a few of my interests and pursuits that divert at least slightly from some of DC's more quintessential amusements.
- After eight years of playing competitive rugby through high school and college, I wasn’t ready to give up the sport, so I found a great men’s club team for whom I’ve been a member for going on four years (Waddap, Washington Irish!). This left no room for DC’s most popular pastime: intramural kickball.
- DC’s fine dining scene is burgeoning to say the least, with new options sprouting up on 14th Street, in Shaw, downtown, and everywhere in between on a seemingly weekly basis. Yet you’re way more likely to find me stuffing my face with Taco Bell and Papa John’s than expanding my cultural gastronomic horizons. And if you even mention small plates to me, I’ll be on my soap box faster than Joey Chestnut on a hotdog.
- With fine dining logically comes fine drinking. But despite the plethora of cocktail lounges and celebrity mixologists that grace the city, I’m more likely to venture to the few craft breweries that line the outskirts of the city, or even play Igor to Mike’s Dr. Frankenstein with our own home brewing projects (Gingham Bros. will rise again).
- Finally, on any given weekend, you’ll have your pick of thousands of exciting events in any number of DC’s unique, urban neighborhoods. Yet more and more frequently, I find myself hauling it out to Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, or even Pennsylvania to chase Duncan around some trails for a few hours (Go west, young man… or north, or east, or even south).
I’m not saying that any of my preferences are better than others, except for small plates – why’d you make me bring them up again, now we’re in a fight – those are crap. Nor am I claiming that my interests are especially unique to DC or any other metropolitan area. What I’m saying is that I’ve found gems that may be less widely celebrated in and around DC, but that align to all the things I enjoy and want to experience. Even in a town of politicians, lobbyists, and consultants (What…? Don’t look at me…), there are many incredible opportunities that you may just as likely find on the West Coast, in the Midwest, up in the Northeast, or elsewhere. Just as DC has left its imprint on me, so too have I been able to project my values, interests, and personality on my city.
This was a pretty big realization for me. Occasionally, when I used to feel overwhelmed by DC’s big personality, nitpicking the details that didn’t quite jive with me on that day, I’d daydream about starting over in a new environment. Maybe take up a new outdoor hobby like mountain biking or kayaking in Portland. Go full ski bum in Colorado or Montana. Or even rediscover my roots in a place like Chicago, closer to my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. What I finally discovered was that you don't have to move to a place to embody a personality, character, or lifestyle. I’m lucky because I’m able to scratch most of these itches right here in the Mid-Atlantic Region.
It's trite, but I find it important to remind myself that I am not solely defined by my hometown, job, or social status. We are all the sum of our values. And it's possible to flex those values, even in the political, break-neck vortex of Washington, DC.
I can't claim responsibility for any significant, lasting impression on DC in my five years here, and I’m far from a wonk when it comes to finding the sweet spot in your relationship with your home. However, I have molded my city, all of its stereotypes, and all of its offerings to fit me. That’s got to earn me at least some sort of nerd status, right?