Letter From DC: World May Be Going to Hell, But the Natives Get Their City Back

By , Columnist

Congress's August recess is always a welcome relief for native Washingtonians as the city returns to a bygone era of its small Southern city roots. DC empties of senators and representatives and their staffs, lobbyists head to the beaches of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and their trophy beach houses in Rehoboth and Dewey in Delaware, and just about everybody else ditches town for holiday.


Things just slow down and those who stay behind relish the re-emergence of the city’s core identity and ethos free of the partisan transients.

It’s a stark contrast to New York City’s summer where the anxiety level seems to rise with the annual August evacuation of the city’s psychiatrists and therapists. Being stuck in the steel canyons of a hot and muggy Manhattan without your shrink can be pretty harrowing.

In DC, the headlines become less pressing.

  • The loss of 30 American troops, 23 of whom were Navy SEALs, in Afghanistan when their Chinook helicopter was downed by a Taliban RPG attack.
  • The rioting in London that appears to be without a clear agenda aside from the opportunity for “Pure terror and havoc & Free stuff. Just smash shop windows and cart out da stuff u want.” Call it the Flat Screen Revolution.
  • The volatility in U.S. and European financial markets this week with the graph trajectory of a yo-yo. With the downgrade of the U.S.’s credit prompted by the debt ceiling fiasco, it may be time for "Told ya so."
  • The utter loss in confidence of Americans in their federal government. A poll from CNN has only 14% of those surveyed approving of Congress and a Washington Post poll revealed that only 17% of those asked thought their own representatives should be re-elected in 2012.
  • Sarah Palin going to Iowa for her perpetual Presidential tease. She’s looking forward to “some of that famous fried butter-on-a-stick, fried cheesecake-on-a-stick, fried Twinkies, etc,” she e-mailed. Good to have an agenda.

You’d think that with the nation, and much of the world, going straight to hell, DC would be on edge and saturated with its sense of self-importance. Not in August.

  • There are no lines at the coffee shops and people smile, are patient, and re-discover their manners with “pardon me” and “please, go ahead.”
  • A Presidential motorcade to Ted’s Bulletin for homemade pop tarts on Barracks Row ismotorcade.jpg kind of cool, rather than an inconvenience and source of ire.
  • The Washington Post becomes thinner and less “he said, she said” with solid efforts at sober analysis without political scorekeeping.
  • There are actual parking spots available in Georgetown.
  • Rush hour?  What rush hour?
  • Lines are short at the Smithsonian museums with security check-in personnel pleasant and helpful and European tourists remarking how polite and nice people are in DC.
  • smithsonian.jpgYou don’t have to wait for a BBQ at the pool.
  • When a car breaks down on Pennsylvania Avenue, folks help push it to the side, rather than lay on their horns and spackle their windshields with spittle.
  • You can get a reservation at the restaurant you want at the time you want.
  • Despite the dog days of August, you get breaks in the humidity that eliminate your sweat output and you actually consider shutting down the AC and opening the windows.
  • No uptight gray suits and those that inhabit them.
  • The interns are out of their summer money, so they’re out of the bars, out of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and out of energy to scream like they’re back at Alpha Sigma Sigma (ASS).
  • It’s quiet in the city at night with a lovely setting for that backyard martini.

We’ve got another week or two of this bliss, this charming city with beautiful architectural aesthetics, lush greenery, and a native population that smiles knowingly at one another in appreciation of Congress’s recess.

Be nice to make it to Labor Day, but DC schools and colleges are ramping up for their upcoming year, so back-to-school exercises and the exchange in housing between interns and college students will clog things up. Political blowhards will return to the city after decrying in their home districts and states the poisonous atmosphere in DC that they themselves create, oblivious to the tranquility of their absence.

Be even nicer, though, if you could bottle up the sense of good will, relaxation, and civility in DC now and present it to those who hijack the charm of our little city on Potomac. They just might learn a thing or two from us natives.

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Marc Osgoode Smith has covered – and participated in - Washington DC policy circles for more than two decades as a journalist covering media and as an association and think tank executive. Smith now enjoys his role as a “cultural observer” of DC Politics and the people that engage in them.

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