A stream of consciousness perhaps. But bear with me for a few minutes.
John Kennedy famously observed, “Washington is a city of southern efficiency and northern charm.”
He flipped it.
Typically, people think of southern cities as being charming, if inefficient.
Ever been to Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, San Antonio, Knoxville, Louisville, Charlottesville, Wilmington, NC, Biloxi, Fayetteville, or Beaufort, North AND South Carolina? Pretty charming in their own unique ways. But no one in their right mind who has ever been to one of them would argue they are efficient.
On the other hand, northern cities have little charm, but are efficiently laid out, for the most part. New York City has a population of nine million, but you can get around it if you educate yourself. Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and certainly Boston are the same.
Perhaps Mr. Kennedy was saying that when people think of northern cities, they almost never think they are charming. Boston comes close though, in certain areas.
On the other hand, I have to agree that most southern cities are never laid out in an efficient way. They tend to meander, dare I say, sprawl, in various ways and directions, almost like the streets were laid down over the top of ancient horse trails or something that goes off all over the place. You almost never think of “grids” when you think of southern cities.
I’ve not yet been to a southern city I would call efficient.
Sorry Houston. Sorry New Orleans, Atlanta, Austin, Little Rock, Dallas, Memphis, Birmingham, Miami, Charleston, Jackson, and/or Charlotte. You just ain’t efficient.
Bringing it all back to the capitol, JFK meant that DC has neither efficiency, nor charm. A strikeout on both counts.
Having lived here off and on for almost a decade, I would have to agree. Washington sits on some strange fault line, not quite northern; not quite southern. A proverbial no man’s land. A demilitarized zone, if you will. No real quality to call its own.
With my experience of having grown up in Texas, gone to school in Arkansas, and served in uniform in Virginia, Rhode Island, California, North Carolina, Washington state, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina — indeed, having traveled through every state except for Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Alaska, and Vermont — I feel very secure in offering this observation: Washington is a northern city; it has the feel, look, smell, spirit, and soul of a northern city.
Enough of that. Make of it what you will.
A quick week of reserve duty flew by. Time does seem to fly when I get to do this again. I put on the uniform and I flip the switch, and all is right with the world, again. Almost all, anyway. But it all goes by way too quickly. On the other hand, it seems that time often stands still in the “real” jobs I’ve had; the weekend cannot come soon enough.
My first time back since last August. DC is the same as it ever was. This is one of the few cities that I can drive around without the need of a GPS. But this time, there wasn’t a lot of venturing out. I was just too busy. A couple of late afternoons at my favorite spot here was all I needed really. There are a few places here I do enjoy, I must confess; “Leverage the good,” my wife and I say. And that is what I am doing right now.
We joined when I was a young Captain. Our boys took swimming lessons here. They went to summer day camp here. And I’ve written parts of three books here in this room. One attaches significance to these types of events in one’s life.
Good memories. History. A place of respite, decompression, quiet; a sanctuary of sorts within the cacophony of the Capitol. Something reliable that never changes.
Mixed emotions. Like the opening to “A Tale of Two Cities,” I have seen the best of times and the worst of times here. I think I’ll leave it at that. No need to revisit things. As I often say, we are the sum of our experiences.
Having left last August, I wish I could say I miss it here. But I just don’t.
But where I am heading in the morning? Now that’s a different story.
Glen Hines is the author of the Anthology Trilogy of books — Document, Cloudbreak, and Crossroads — and the recently released Cathedrals in the Twilight, all available at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. Look for his new book, Of Time and Rivers, targeted for release this fall. His writing has also been featured in Sports Illustrated, Task & Purpose, and the Human Development Project.