June 2, 2004

City Sights

Twice a month, sometimes three times, I visit a client in downtown DC. I like it that I get to go into the city regularly but not so frequently that the commute becomes a drag.

When I drive in, I pay $12 plus a $1 tip to the attendant for parking. My garage of choice is located in an alley. The folks there are very nice and take good care of my car (hell, they ought to for the exorbitant price charged for few hours parking!). Despite the fact I park there infrequently, the attendants always remember my car. They see me coming and race off to retrieve it for me. How the hell do they remember what kind of car I drive? Kinda freaks me out, but in a good way.

The alley itself is an interesting microcosm of city life. There are dumpsters that occasionally smell bad. I'm not sure it could officially qualify as a city alley without the dumpsters. I often have to weave in and around delivery trucks as I walk. There is a Subway sandwich shop that vents into the alley and in the morning I can often smell the bread baking. Yum. Interesting dichotomy between the dumpster smell and the scent of the bread. This past winter, there was a homeless fellow living in one of the many dingy back entrances to the surrounding buildings. He had quite an assortment of possessions including a bicycle. While I was waiting for my car one afternoon, I watched him settle in and pull a large piece of cardboard over the entrance. Cozy enough I guess but not a place I'd like to spend a cold winter night. I saw him on several visits and then he was gone.

Sometimes I take the subway instead of driving. There are good and bad parts of a public transportation commute, but I've gotten it down to a science that eliminates much of the bad. Parking at the station can be a challenge. The best spots are reserved for carpools or folks who purchase parking passes. If I time my arrival after 9:30 a.m. when the restrictions on those spaces lift, I can get a decent spot in the garage. I also avoid paying the rush hour premium fare. All hail flex time?

One of my favorite parts of riding the Metro is that I get to read uninterrupted. I'm one of those commuters who buries her nose in a book and doesn't put it down until she reaches street level again. I take that back. I do look up during one part of the ride: when the train leaves the Pentagon station (and conversely L'Enfant Plaza on the trip home) and emerges into daylight to cross the Potomac River. I sit there grinning like an idiot surveying the various cityscapes I can see from the bridge. I like the Rosslyn skyline and the pair of towering buildings that used to be the USA Today buildings. One was still under construction when I worked in Rosslyn way back when. I don't know what they are called now.

And there is Washington, DC: the monuments, all the construction cranes and such, the cherry trees stretching along to Haines Point (breathtaking in spring), and, of course, the river itself. Being borderline superstitious and more than a little obsessive-compulsive about some things, I have a routine that must be observed. It is imperative to be watching when the Jefferson Memorial lines up in front of the Washington Monument just before the train heads back underground (or conversely just as it emerges on the trip home). It's almost phallic when they are fully aligned. No, check that. It is phallic. The one time I was too absorbed in my book (damn but that Robin Hobb can weave a tale!) to look up, my book disappeared before I got home. I lost the goddamn thing! Still don't know what happened to it, it was just gone. But now I am quite careful to take the time to pay attention to the sights when crossing the bridge and have not lost a book since.

The train bridge runs parallel to the 14th Street bridge. I will always remember the winter a plane crashed into that bridge during a massive snow storm and the adventure I had getting home from my job in Rosslyn that night. On one commute this past winter, there was a chatty tourist seated next to me on the inbound train. When I looked up and smiled my goofy grin at the ice-covered vista of the river, she asked me if it froze often. I replied yes, every winter, and blurted out how beautiful it looked to me. She nodded, seeming to agree.

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