On Becoming a DC Resident - Part I
The following is Part I of my reflections on becoming a resident of Washington, DC. Read Part II here.
Occasionally when I allow myself a few moments of self-reflection, I ask, “What would college Packy think of me now?” I don’t have a definitive reason why the 20-year-old version of myself is the go-to assessor of my present character. Throughout college I was energetic but borderline reckless, idealistic but naïve, ambitious but aimless. I was far from a finished product. But I had developed values, hopes, and a self-image that I’ve carried into adulthood. To this day, I want to make that person proud, to live out the inspirations I discovered as a student, and to hopefully convince him I’m not a total stooge.
Washington, DC was the place I envisioned putting it all together. It was the city that I believed would empower me to further forge my identity and character. I practically Mary Tyler Moore’d my green, corduroy baseball hat when I stepped off the train at Union Station with then-girlfriend Rachael and all of the too-cool-for-school 8th graders on their middle school trip to the Capital. Turns out the District had its own idea of how I’d grow up, as if I was one of those 8th graders.
In general, I believe that over time people come to embody the place in which they live. Even in a transient and diverse place like Washington, DC, there is a character that reflects off of its inhabitants. Exceptions certainly exist, but by my count, it’s difficult to fully reject the inertia of a city and its soul. This is why we have regional stereotypes. It’s also one of the main reasons why I was attracted to DC in the first place.
DC is fast-paced, highly educated, diverse, worldly, socially conscious, and metropolitan. After spending my childhood, adolescence, and college years in conventional Midwestern suburbia, I immersed myself in my new home, and the District immediately began to work its way into my persona.
Here are a few everyday examples of how I’ve evolved to match the DC stereotype for better or worse:
- While I maintain the ratty t-shirt collection that my wife justifiably laments each time we move to a new apartment, my wardrobe on most days is in lock step with the collared shirts, slacks, and blazers donned by all the other typical young professionals.
- I’ve come to regard my 45-minute commute to the office on two separate, crowded, and unreliable metro trains as “pretty good,” all things considered.
- Getting together with friends over beers, dinner, or that marquee college basketball matchup (Go Irish, amirite, Collin?) is a perfectly acceptable and common use of a weeknight, as is a presentation at one of the Smithsonian museums, a panel discussion at a think tank or academic society, or a networking event on Capitol Hill.
- With deadlines and appointments constantly looming, time is a precious and limited resource, which is why most of my phone calls to friends and family occur during my rushed commutes or afternoon walks with Duncan.
- I’m less likely to greet neighbors on the sidewalk with anything more than a subtle nod or smile, since we’re all making those personal calls we didn’t have time for during the work day. Unless, that neighbor is also walking a dog, in which case it’s rude to pass without asking for the dog’s name, breed, age, food preference, and viewpoints on the 2016 presidential campaigns.
These habits and ticks may seem insignificant, but they’re quintessentially DC and evidence of the District’s impression on me. To be sure, there are more significant examples, such as the various cubicles I’ve inhabited inside Federal office buildings, my strong opinions about the best beer bars in each neighborhood across the city, and my “Taxation without Representation” license plate. However, it’s the little everyday behaviors that signal that I’ve gone fully native.
Take me out of the District, and the DC influence is even more noticeable. My walking speed is perhaps permanently set to “beat the H Street Streetcar” hustle, waiting any more than five minutes for public transportation is excruciating, and for some reason, I’ve forgotten that it’s possible to buy a local craft beer for less than $6. All of these behaviors are probably obnoxious to friends and family back in the Midwest or elsewhere, but if you think about it, I’m not at fault. DC is.
I like to think college Packy would approve of his older self because of, or in spite of, DC’s undeniable influence. Sure the District swallowed me up and spit me out among the masses of WMATA-cursing, brunch-consuming (that’s right, Rooney), happy hour hopping DC consultants. But the District has also afforded me invaluable opportunities, experiences, and relationships. I think he’d be proud of the identity that I’ve projected back on my adopted city as well. More on that next time.