October 20, 2013, Washington, DC: Ever walk past the same structures again and again only to look up one day and notice something striking? That’s the manner in which I’ve started to notice the churches of Capitol Hill. There are literally hundreds of them in this big old neighborhood, upwards of 20 within a six-block radius of home. I can hear their bells ringing from our kitchen and listen to singing voices burst from them as I’m jogging past. Several are cores of activity, a few were renovated into condos years ago. Most, I imagine, house great community stories, both past and present.
I’ve taken pictures of them here and there when the light seems unusually flattering or soft or the outline of the church appears especially bold against a severe blue sky. This morning I set out on a purposeful walk to photograph the others. I zigzagged throughout the immediate neighborhood between 2nd and 9th Sts., only as far north as Massachusetts Ave. NE and as far south as G St. SE. Sometimes I’ve gone out searching for something specific only to have it elude me, but not this morning: At every turn was another church of another denomination and another architectural style that I pass by daily without much thought. Here are a handful of my church photos collected during walks around the neighborhood…
October 4, 2013, Washington, DC: For the last few weeks, our neighborhood has been surrounded by chaos. Three weeks ago, it was the mass shooting at the Navy Yard less than 10 blocks to our southeast, yesterday it was an isolated shooting outside the Capitol less than 10 blocks to our northwest. Between these bookends of violence, this place has boiled over with anger and frustration about this week’s government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands are out of work throughout the country, and the widespread reverberations of each crisis have originated right here in the neighborhood we know and love. It’s all so unsettling. It hits close to home.
I assure you there have been moments of goodness on the Hill during this same period of time. I share these images from Sunday’s Barracks Row Fall Festival to show you something positive — however small and inconsequential — happening here in the neighborhood we call home.
See the rest of my photos on Barracks Row Main Street’s Picasa site.
“There have always been periods of crisis in Washington, but earlier in this century people of the capital could endure sweaty excitement that gripped the city for days because they knew these things had a way of subsiding. District of Columbia inhabitants, for example, could count on October…
…In short, this was once an uncomplicated and peaceful part of the year for Washington. But no more. No such seasons exist. Surcease and relaxation have departed the banks of the Potomac for what may be an indeterminable period.”
Merriman Smith, The Good New Days, 1963
October 1, 2013, Washington, DC: I hadn’t thought much about what a government shutdown would look like until I rode my bike home today through the heart of the city. It looks like men and women in suits were wiped off the face of the planet. It looks like it can’t possibly 80 degrees and sunny because kayaks and crew teams aren’t crowding the Potomac. It looks like a little less traffic and a bit more alcohol is flowing through the city at 4:30 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. It looks like live shots are ready to roll for the evening news and it looks like local business owners atop Capitol Hill have declared on their chalkboards that they’ve had it with our dysfunctional neighbor.
I’d like to believe that the Washington you disdain has little relation to the Washington where I live, but that’s simply not true. Today on day one of the first government shutdown in 17 years, nearly half of every couple I know here is out of work, their daycares are shuttered, and high school athletes aren’t heading to practice after school because their rowing shells are sitting on federal land. In one short day, the consequences of Congress’ ineptitude have infiltrated our city, some surfacing as minor blips and others erupting as massive problems. Federal Washington has local Washington in a chokehold.
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“They sat about in bewilderment as they sit now, and will again, saying to one another, “Was there ever such an extraordinary situation? Was there ever such another mess as we find ourselves in now? Was there ever such another set of dolts, knaves, and incompetents in command of our destinies?” The answer is: There was. This is not the first time that the wind has moaned through the rigging.”
-Edward G. Lowry, Washington Close-Ups, 1921
September 26, 2013, Washington, DC: The neighbors are at it again. They’re not in town much, but when they are, they’re fighting. Bickering beneath the Capitol Dome, they are not ashamed of their behavior. They prefer, in fact, for it to be noticed. Despite the thick marble facade that seals them off from the rest of the neighborhood and the rest of the world, you can hear the dysfunction thousands of miles away.
It’s the same every year, to the day, like clockwork. In these final five days of September, they are forced to find common ground or trigger a government shutdown. The neighbors have found a temporary solution every year we’ve lived nearby, then predictably blamed each other for “kicking the can down the road.”
After the spending bill will come the debt ceiling. After the debt ceiling will come more of the same. We shake our heads like we did last year. Have you ever seen anything like it? This type of neighbor gives this place a bad name.
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Fragers Hardware, Spring 2012
June 8, 2013, Washington, DC: It’s a scary sight to see a four-alarm fire breaking out four blocks away. To arrive back in the neighborhood just as dense black smoke begins to rise up ahead. To have the story unfold over the course of a single block — first as people stop in their tracks, one foot off the curb, and crane their necks towards the southeast sky; then as the shopkeeper in Labyrinth game store peers out the doorway with a telephone to her ear, hands the phone to a coworker and races up the street. It’s eerie to walk a few doors farther past Li’l Pub just as a man rushes out and says, “It’s Fragers.” It’s bizarre to realize that no less than a dozen fire trucks have torn by in the course of that surreal walk down the block, and to see the concerned look on the face of neighborhood councilman and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells as he zips by on his bicycle a few minutes later.
May 23, 2013, Washington, DC: How delightful it is to put on a summer dress and walk through the neighborhood to a garden party! Because that’s something that happens, well, never, Tuesday night was extra special. It was also one of the first hot summer evenings of the year — not just hot, but only-in-DC steamy — which made the music and chatter and cold drinks perspiring in clanking glasses all the more mesmerizing at this gorgeous home on East Capitol Street. It was almost as if I’d been whisked away to another era, to an earlier time on a grand old avenue where neighbors mingled regularly on impossibly warm summer nights.
What made this garden party especially fabulous, though I’m guessing they all are, is the reason this group came together. Everyone who attended did so because they love Capitol Hill and support the mission of Barracks Row Main Street, our neighborhood organization committed to economic development on 8th St.SE, historic preservation, and safe, clean streets throughout the community. In every corner of this tented garden and on the wide side porch of a neighbor’s lovely home, conversation lingered around a shared conviction: the belief that we live in the greatest neighborhood on earth.
I took photos of the garden party for its organizers; you can check out the rest of them posted here.
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“It was being a runner that mattered, not how fast or how far I could run. The joy was in the act of running and in the journey, not in the destination. We have a better chance of seeing where we are when we stop trying to get somewhere else. We can enjoy every moment of movement, as long as where we are is as good as where we’d like to be. That’s not to say that you need to be satisfied forever with where you are today. But you need to honor what you’ve accomplished, rather than thinking of what’s left to be done.” — John Bingham
May 20, 2013, Washington, DC: We run together through a spitting rain. First as a tight pack and later as a long string of a neon sneakers stretched out over the entire neighborhood. We check the landmarks off the list first, tagging the back of the Supreme Court and the Shakespeare Library before beelining it away from the city in a straight shot out toward its edge. Familiar faces and strangers reach into the street offering paper cups and high fives. Clutching coffee mugs, wearing baseball caps, there’s the shopkeeper from around the corner, the family who lives down the block…