Reflections on a Changing City: Nostalgia and Nuance in a Return to Washington, DC

My wife Jen works as an Anthropologist helping organizations do good and be better through her insights in social impact, strategy, and innovation. She recently started helping another company via her own consulting firm, which required her to make a trip back to our old home town of Washington, DC, where we lived for 4 years from 2017-2020.

Since her trip was covered already through her work, I decided to tag along and I bought a plane ticket using my Delta SkyMiles. We stayed in the Viceroy Washington DC, which was a great location for us near the corner of Rhode Island and 14th St. It made it easy for her to get around the city as needed for her work, but it also worked for me as well with my internet-based work. I could just walk to local coffee shops or do my work from our room and/or around the hotel.

Plus, when we weren't working, the location was fantastic because 14th St is bustling with walkable activity. We also used to live in Bloomingdale near Rhode Island and 1st St in NW. That meant getting to our old stomping grounds was just a quick shot up Rhode Island. It was also hot in DC and having the rooftop pool was a nice way to cool down.

The rootop pool at the Viceroy Washington DC
An appetizer plate on the roof top of the Viceroy Washington DC

Jen had been back to DC since we moved away during the pandemic on Halloween of 2020. However, this was my first time back and I was very curious how I'd feel about it.

When we first landed on Sunday, September 3rd, it was still Labor Day weekend and 14th St was very busy. DC felt familiar, but also it felt unfamiliar and like a vacation of sorts. To me it was quite exciting because, although I am enjoying being in Detroit, DC is a much more full and built out city at the moment. In Detroit, you need a world-builder mindset and an attitude of creating something if it isn't there for you. On the other hand, DC doesn't need that to the same extent and you can go more in to consumption mode. That was a relief because I felt a little burnt out being in Detroit always being "on" as far as thinking about how we can enhance the city. So, it was refreshing in that sense.

After we were there about a day, things started to click in again and I felt more like I was back home in a way instead of on some sort of working vacation. In our spare time, we saw some old friends and went back and ate at a couple spots we used to enjoying eating at, including Red Hen and Le Diplomate.

I did feel a sense of nostalgia while there and felt grateful that we had the opportunity to live in DC. On the ride share to the hotel, I remember being struck how amazing it was to see the Washington Monument and other things of national significance…and that we had the chance to see those things almost daily. In fact, you could see the Washington Monument out of our old bedroom window. Pretty amazing.

That being said, DC felt different, though…like someone pulled out a loose thread and things were coming unhinged. Of course, there was the constant wail of sirens and helicopters that I had become so accustomed to. But this time, there was definitely an edge in the air.

When we went in to CVS, someone came in with a duffle bag and started shoving merchandise in to the bag. An employee came up to him and said, "C'mon, man." before the guy emptied the bag and left.

An old convenient store that we used to shop at, which had previously taken down it's bullet proof barrier at the counter, put the shield back up due to several recent break ins.

We were also walking along Florida Ave after work during rush hour and there was this woman that climbed up topless on top of a road barrier in the middle of the street and started grinding herself on the road barrier.

I'm not sure quite what it all means, but something definitely shifted during the pandemic. It's like people in the US are exhausted from a system and way of life that is working only for a few and not for the many. Although, one could also make the case it's worst for everyone because even the minority who are doing better still have to live in a worst-off world.

It's going to be interesting how this all plays out in the next few years, particularly with the US presidential election coming up next year.