I haven’t visited Capitol Hill in so long that I don’t even remember the last time I was there. Was it maybe 1994? Certainly last century, not counting seeing a play or two at the Folger theater, which only entailed driving up after dark. But this past Sunday, I met up with a college friend, Steve Morrison, who lives on the Hill for brunch. Eight hours later, we had toured the 8th Street corridor, the river walk near the Nationals Ballpark, and strolled along the waterfront to the seafood stands on Maine Avenue. (And in between the sights, we also managed to tour our lives in the thirty-five years since we had last had a good heart-to-heart chat.)
I have so many connections to Capitol Hill. My grandmother grew up on the Hill–North Carolina Avenue and then Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. Her father worked at the Navy Yard, a steelworker who cast the big guns. I worked at the old (despicable, poorly ventilated, rodent-filled, mold-ridden) EPA building at the SW Mall. And after college, I had a boyfriend who lived on the Hill. Back in the days when the city was worn-down, dirty, and decaying from the center out.
The transformation is astonishing for someone still thinking of her youth. My boyfriend in 1979 lived at 4th and A Streets SE. A new movie theater had only recently opened, a big change for the area that mostly sported that old term ‘urban blight.’ And the dingy Safeway was the only place for groceries. I think even it eventually closed at some point. George went crazy buying groceries one time when he was visiting me in Arlington. That spree set up the famous French dinner I made for the guys in his group house and their friends right before I moved to Paris to live with cousins. I used the Julia Child French cookbooks my mother had had for years. That year, February, Presidents’ Day Weekend–no, it was long ago enough that we still called it George Washington’s Birthday–a wonderful blizzard set in. George and I were driving home from the ballet at the Kennedy Center as it started with small flakes falling intensely. By morning two feet had piled up, but by midday, the temperature was warm enough for shirtsleeves, and the snow had melted enough that Tuesday was work as usual.
I remember the record store, red brick, on the corner of 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, where I nearly bought Keith Jarrett’s Sun Bear Concerts until George pointed out that I did not have enough hours between the purchase and my imminent departure for Paris to listen to the set of records. Le Pain Quotidien has now set up shop there. The Tune Inn is still around, but most of the other neighborhood landmarks seem to have faded, fallen down, or burned out. Then again, the city looks shiny and new now.
Time refashions the world around us. The decay of the old replaced by the new, which in its turn will subside into grime and rubble (how Grendel of me). But on a wonderfully sunny afternoon, with a good camera, I enjoyed the view and the new laid over over the old. It was a good brunch.