June 18, 2014, Washington, DC: I remember receiving Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” as a graduation gift long ago. I loved every word at age 18 as much as I did at 5, and I appreciate his book even more today. But this weekend, I was also compelled by the words of another doctor, likewise offering advice to graduates about the power of place.
This gem from doctor and writer Atul Gawande, appearing at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, was included in a compilation of excerpts from 2014 commencement speakers in Sunday’s New York Times:
“One thing I came to realize after college was that the search for purpose is really a search for place, not an idea. It is a search for a location in the world where you want to be part of making things better for others in your own small way. It could be a classroom where you teach, a business where you work, a neighborhood where you live. The key is, if you find yourself in a place where you stop caring — where your greatest concern becomes only you — get out of there.”
Isn’t that terrific? I thought those words deserved some space here on Neighborhood Nomads, both as a reflection on the places we’ve been and on those still ahead that we’ve yet to explore.
June 12, 2014, Washington, DC: Home on a cloudy weekday morning: The dishwasher is humming. The dryer is broken. Miniature wet clothes hang off chairs, drape over the table, and dangle off the bicycle and stroller in this room now littered with baby products. In addition to the many joys that arrived with our newborn, she also came with a lot of stuff.
I left all that stuff at home earlier this month to take a quick tour of Boneyard Studios a tiny house community in the DC neighborhood of Stronghold that’s showcasing the merits of living small with a lot less gear.
Miles from Monday is a travel series focused on venturing out of the spaces we inhabit during our work week and retreating to landscapes that feel far from routine.
June 2, 2014, Washington, DC: It was thumbtacked to a bulletin board in Eastport’s Leeward Market last week, just across the creek from downtown Annapolis. “Wanted, a place to pitch a tent… just a safe spot to sleep under the stars… my phone fell in the river so email is temporarily the best way to contact me.” A vine of flowers, birds and sunshine surrounded the message. Simple. Idealistic. Handwritten.
Maybe that’s why I found the note refreshing instead of naive. It was a throwback to an era that preceded the online status update, a return to a time when a lost cell phone was not the end of the world. It was a retreat to days when a bulletin board in an old deli was the optimal to contact the neighbors. It was a reminder of a former phase of my own life when solo travel was the greatest adventure imaginable and all a girl could ask for was a safe place to sleep under the stars.
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May 24, 2014, Washington, DC: The art of slow travel has some history along the C&O Canal towpath. Back in the day, boats transported goods between east and west along the canal that parallels the Potomac River before railways offered a faster alternative and helped make canal transport obsolete. A journey on the 184-mile canal once took five to seven days, a pace at which the tiniest details of this landscape might have become quite familiar to those at work along the route.
May 18, 2014, Washington, DC: Sunday morning. Paul Simon plays softly on the record player. I open the front door to retrieve the Sunday Times. I look left and right in awe of the colorful rose bushes that have overtaken in my neighbors’ little yards up and down the block. White tents rise at Eastern Market across the park. Pancakes, crepes and homemade donuts are being prepared for the morning crowd. Inside the house, coffee brews and our newborn rests peacefully in my arms, soothed by Simon’s lullabies: “Was a sunny day, not a cloud was in the sky, not a negative word was heard, from the people passing by…” I open the newspaper to “36 Hours on Capitol Hill,” delighted that today my favorite section of the paper features my favorite neighborhood. I watch the places referenced in the article stir to life from the front door. My stomping grounds are truly as good as New Yorkers have made them out to be.
This is one in a series featuring our city neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.
April 29, 2014, Washington, DC: It doesn’t take long after meeting local business owner Matt Weiss that we’re deep in conversation about the power of a good location and a belief in this neighborhood. We’re sitting in a Capitol Hill basement known as the Elixir Bar within Weiss’ new establishment, Barrel, a whiskey joint on the 600 block of Pennsylvania Ave. SE. We’re in agreement that this is a curious block. For years, the turnover on this stretch was rampant despite its geographical allure as a strip of the city that connects the bars and restaurants closest to the US Capitol with those on Barracks Row and at Eastern Market. The block is home to a post office, an old mattress store and a realtor’s office, but hasn’t been much of a hub for good food and drink. And yet within the last two years, there’s been a noticeable shift. This stretch is now offering a bit more connectivity with the addition of new bars and restaurants including Hank’s Oyster Bar, Beuchert’s Saloon, Sona Creamery, and now, as of three weeks ago, Barrel.
April 23, 2014, Washington, DC: There’s something about ballparks. Their charm and nostalgia is unrivaled by virtually all other types of gathering spaces. Today on the 100th anniversary of the opening of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, I’m especially appreciative of those old ballparks still standing in the heart of our cities, now wedged tightly into urban neighborhoods. They’re aren’t many of them left and they’ve stood there as anchors while their communities grew up around them. I recall an afternoon I spent at Wrigley several years ago, drinking a Schlitz on a snowy April afternoon, and I can’t think of anything more quintessentially Chicago.
The Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune have lovely tributes to Wrigley on their websites today. It’s evident in features like these that there’s more to it than the game, that there’s something about the place as well that brings out the collective energy of the people who gather there. The last time I was in Wrigleyville was about a year and a half ago on a drab day in the offseason. Even then, driving west on Waveland Ave. past that ancient scoreboard, the history and pull of the structure itself was palpable. I was immediately daydreaming of the next time I’d be inside, enveloped by the spirit of 100 years worth of fans and ghosts.
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