He stumbled into my room, mumbled hello and proceeded to throw-up all over my vanity. “Are you KIDDING ME?!” I screamed. He looked up, his eyes blood-shot and unable to open. He tried to say (what I can only assume to be) sorry when his head bobbed and, violently, it happened again. My friend Liz* came running from next door. She looked from Paul to me. “I can’t deal with this,” I said to her as I grabbed my sweatshirt. She nodded. “We’ve got this,” she replied.
I stormed down the hallway, tripping over pizza boxes and students studying. I mumbled under my breath as I walked into the elevator and continuously pushed the “close door button”. Why wouldn’t the damn doors close?! It felt like hours before the elevator made it to the first floor. As soon as the doors opened, I darted out, smacking into someone. I didn’t stop to say sorry. The doors to the building were too close to stop. I pushed the door open and felt the crisp autumn air hit my face. I shut my eyes, took a deep breath and walked towards the monuments.
It was my Sophomore year at GWU and Paul was “that guy”. Most women have known “that guy.” The guy that you have a crush on, who is one of your best friends, who flirts with you constantly but who, in no way, has the words “relationship” and “you” strung together in any thought that crosses his mind.
I remember walking up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial contemplating my relationship with Paul which, over the past few months, had become all take and no give. What was a mutual exchange of conversation, advice and friendship had become one-sided. Paul had also discovered his new friend, that we’ll call “E”. “It’s DONE!” I remember saying loudly, anger flowing through my body, down to the finger tips. It was midnight on a weekday. Except for a few tourists, and a few veterans with their POW flags, it was silent. I sat down on the steps and looked up, staring across the mall to the Washington Monument. Suddenly, I felt calm. The stress of the loud dorm, all of the students, Paul and his vomit all over my vanity – vanished. My head was clear and I knew what I had to do. I felt serenity. From that point on, whenever I felt stressed or overwhelmed, I turned to the monuments of DC for silence, peace, clarity.
I haven’t been to the monuments since 1998, when I graduated and moved to Chicago. Even now, living in the suburbs of DC, I rarely go into the city at all, much less to walk around the monuments. Why? Because the suburbs may as well be another planet. In a completely different solar system. That’s why I was excited when Date 4, who I’ll call “Esquire”, suggested that we meet this past Monday to take a walk around The White House. Then it came time to actually drive into the city for the date. Suddenly, I wasn’t so excited. I dreaded the thought of facing traffic on 66, of maneuvering around cars on Constitution, finding parking, paying for parking and possibly paying for a ticket at the end of it all. “Why not take the metro?” you may ask. Because driving 20 minutes to a metro station, paying for parking, waiting for a train at an off-peak time and having to do it all over again before “last call for trains” isn’t my idea of a fun way to pass time. It’s faster to drive. So I did.
I was pleasantly surprised. I left around 7 and it took me 20 minutes to get from Reston to the Hay Adams Hotel. I found a metered spot immediately (even paid for the parking by phone). Got out of my car and saw Esquire approaching our meeting place. I was pleasantly surprised by Esquire as well. Charming and funny, the conversation flowed naturally from the first words exchanged. We had a great deal in common (both attorneys and both having gone to law school in Chicago, among other things). We started our walk around The White House, actively engaged in conversation (except for the few moments when he flung himself in front of a car to save my life during the walk. One word. Sexy.). He said he wanted to take me to his favorite location in the city, which he called his “urban park”, Freedom Plaza.
It truly was an urban oasis in the middle of a loud city. As we stood there on the plaza, together we read aloud the inspirational quotes etched into the stone. As I looked around, I felt that same sense of calm that I did as a college student when I would “take to the monuments” for clarity. I felt happy. Relaxed. Why did I not go to the city more often? I decided to interview other residents of the ‘burbs to see if they felt that the same “great divide” exists between the city and the suburbs. They do. The reasons for suburban residents not going into the city often, or at all even, were consistent. Horrible traffic. Public transportation that isn’t convenient to a majority of the suburbs. The nightmare of parking. Fear of parking tickets and towing.
Yet, I had made it in to the city in 20 minutes on a weeknight. Found parking immediately, which only cost $4 for the entire duration of my visit. Didn’t get a ticket. Didn’t get towed. Have we just conditioned ourselves to think that getting to the city is a horrible ordeal when, in reality, it’s simply getting to the city at certain peak times?
The suburbs have become “my comfort zone”. Trust me, when Esquire initially asked me out I contemplated saying no just so I wouldn’t have to deal with the stress of the commute and associated hassle. I’m glad I didn’t. By breaking away from the ‘burbs, I met a great guy, enjoyed an interesting evening out and rediscovered a city that used to be a huge part of my life. Maybe the commute can be a bear at times and maybe parking isn’t the easiest thing to find. But by driving just a few miles from my front door, I open myself up to an expanded world of activities, opportunities and people.
A suburb is an attempt to get out of reach of the city without having the city be out of reach.
There is a fabulous city, full of exciting things, within my reach and I’m going to take full advantage!
(*Thanks to Liz for cleaning up Paul’s mess by the way. You were always the best.)