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sincerely_anna
06-04-2013, 03:09 AM
Hi, writers! I'm currently in the thick of revisions for my YA novel. About the third of it is set in D.C. but I have a problem: I don't have a lot of experience traveling around this city! I was wondering if any residents, prior or current, of the city could answer a couple of questions? I'd be really grateful. Thanks!

My questions:


Describe a time (or times, if you feel like being really nice to me) when you felt connected to the city. What were you doing? What sights, sounds, etc did you identify with? What makes this memory so poignant for you?
You decide to take me on a walking tour of “the real D.C.” You can start and end our excursion anywhere. What do you show me? What do you point out? Any anecdotes worth telling? Feel free to answer this in as many or as few words as you'd like.


Thanks again! -Anna

Michael Davis
06-04-2013, 06:36 AM
I worked there for a decade. The parts I liked were the simthsonian museums, the needle monument (one hell of a view), the capital mall, The VW memorial. Other than that, DC like many metro clusters has become an unreported war zone. While I was at the OTC in one year three were killed in our building by thugs. While at the Auditors building in 3 years two were killed. While at the Pentagon four were killed and ya never hear about it and that was twenty years ago. Lord knows what its like now.

ironmikezero
06-04-2013, 08:24 PM
I worked there for a decade. The parts I liked were the simthsonian museums, the needle monument (one hell of a view), the capital mall, The VW memorial. Other than that, DC like many metro clusters has become an unreported war zone. While I was at the OTC in one year three were killed in our building by thugs. While at the Auditors building in 3 years two were killed. While at the Pentagon four were killed and ya never hear about it and that was twenty years ago. Lord knows what its like now.

Sadly, it hasn't changed much. The tourists areas are very interesting and relatively safe - during daylight hours. After sunset, all bets are off. I may be somewhat cynical, but I earned that perspective as a cop there from '70-'87.

Alpha Echo
06-04-2013, 08:33 PM
I love the Cherry Blossom Festival and season. Love it! Everything's in bloom and smells so good, the grass is so green, and everything is just lovely.

Minus the crowds that show up for the Festival.

Muppster
06-04-2013, 10:13 PM
Sadly, it hasn't changed much. The tourists areas are very interesting and relatively safe - during daylight hours. After sunset, all bets are off. I may be somewhat cynical, but I earned that perspective as a cop there from '70-'87.

Wow. Don't tell my boss! Was there recently for work, had a risk assessment insisting driving a hire car on the wrong side of a road would be Dangerous, so was taking public transport at gone midnight instead. Lols.

Back on topic, I got a chance to wander around some, and for a capital city I thought it was kind of empty and quiet. Maybe I'm comparing it to the wrong parts of London (I guess the City is equally deserted at weekends) but it seemed more like a sleepy town with overly-large architecture. It felt more civilised than London for not being rammed with tourists and/or locals.

Duncan J Macdonald
06-04-2013, 11:02 PM
I'm not a D.C. resident -- I've just been working at the Pentagon since 1995 while living in Northern VA.

The main thing is that D.C. really is two different cities. You have the Government part of it, centered around the Mall, and you have the rest -- a fairly standard American city of approx 650,000 residents (Boston sized). It has the same inner-city blight, re-urbanization, gentrification, good, and bad areas.

It is also a large commuter town. Hardly any of the Federal workers live there. Speaking of which, unlike any other city in the US, the Mayor does not have a State government or infrastructure to use. The role of the State is performed by a committee from the House of Representatives. Makes things interesting.

vagough
06-05-2013, 03:13 AM
Hi Anna --

I don't live in the city itself but have been in the area for a long time. Most neighborhoods are not nearly as crime-ridden as some might think. True, it's been pretty bad in the past, but that has calmed down in recent years.

As others have mentioned, there are two parts to the city: the federal part (pretty empty at night) and the parts where people actually live. The descriptions that will work for your story kind of depend on what your story is aiming to do or be.

Some random thoughts for you. In terms of memorable views, I've always loved driving along the George Washington Parkway at night (in Virginia) and looking across the Potomac at the federal area, where all the monuments are. They're really lovely at night. And then there's the Kennedy Center off to the left, too. It's always impressive to bring visitors in to DC that way at night if it's their first time here. Of course, the Washington Monument is closed to the public now and all covered with scaffolding because of the earthquake damage from 2011. (Some day, they'll actually get it repaired. But then it is the government that's in charge of this project, not a private company, so who knows how long it will take.)

For just nice walking around, check-out-our-neighborhood kind of things, Connecticut near Calvert is nice because it's a residential neighborhood (mixed apartments, townhouses) with a lot of restaurants all along the main streets, up toward the National Zoo. Kalorama is nice, with nice views of downtown because it's up on a hill. Adams-Morgan is usually a hopping place to be, but can be crowded in the evenings. Georgetown is also good for walking around, but it's kind of touristy. But there are nice restaurants there, plus the waterfront development there (by the Whitehurst Freeway) has some restaurants with nice views.

There are a couple of big touristy times. Cherry Blossom Festival means that the monument area, especially by the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments and the Tidal Basin, are absolutely jam-packed with tourists. But the cherry blossoms are absolutely gorgeous, especially on a sunny, cool spring day. There's nothing like it. (Just get up extra early to beat the crowds.) And at Christmas, there's the National Christmas Tree on the south lawn of the White House. The decorations are not exactly high-tone, but then they have to be weather-resistant. And there are 50 smaller trees, one for each state and each decorated by that state. Something that always brings in a lot of tourists.

Does this help at all?

lac582
06-05-2013, 05:21 AM
Hi Anna,

I was raised and currently live in the Maryland suburbs of DC. I only went into the city for specific occasions while in school, but now as an adult I work there part of the week, and my sister lives there.

Here are some random memories from my experiences:

- hearing the animals at night from the nearby zoo when you are just walking around in the commercial area nearby (Woodley Park)
- walking the long walk back across the 'bridge' from Adams Morgan to the Metro with my friends on a warm summer night after feeling like such a grown up for going to the bars.
- Eating astronaut ice cream at the Air and Space Museum
- Watching the July 4th fireworks on the national mall
- Spending part of prom night having our limo driver take us to the Lincoln Memorial
- Driving across the bridge back to Virginia at night and admiring all the lit up monuments
- The architecture of the Metro stations is beautiful, though the system itself has gone down hill in terms of reliability. Some cars smell like mildew before the doors even open. But they are heavily commuter trains. You don't see begging on the trains very much at all like you would in NYC. People don't make eye contact, they sit or stand and read their newspapers or e-readers.
- Passing buildings with interesting architecture and realizing how many of them are government buildings
- My grandmother was a docent at one of the art museums, so I have fond memories of them
- Sitting and eating lunch in Dupont Circle
- Eating Ethiopian food for the first time (there is a large Ethiopian diaspora here) and marveling that you eat with your hands
- Seeing traffic grind to a halt as a vice presidential or presidential motorcade goes by
- The Cherry Blossoms, as others have mentioned
- Seeing a show at the Kennedy Center
- Seeing the staircase from the Exorcist in Georgetown
- Driving down embassy row and admiring the buildings and trying to identify the flags
- Going with my coworkers down to the mall to watch the arrival of the space shuttle as it circled the monuments on the back of a 747.
- Participating in political rallies or protests.
- Going to a Capitols or Nationals game.
- Seeing a play at the Arena Stage or Ford's Theater or Shakespeare Theater.

As for the 'real dc', yes, there's a physical separation between the touristy parts and areas where people work, versus the more residential neighborhoods (with varying degrees of diversity and safety), but I wouldn't say people here make a 'real' vs. 'not real' distinction. Unless you're hanging out at someone's apartment or going to a specific bar or restaurant or thrift shop, there's not really reasons to get insider 'tours' away from the touristy stuff.

There are spy tours and things you can sign up for, where they'll drive you around and show you alleged drop-off points, or places where, say, Deep Throat was, etc.

I don't know if this is the kind of stuff you're looking for :)

vagough
06-05-2013, 05:29 AM
- Eating Ethiopian food for the first time (there is a large Ethiopian diaspora here) and marveling that you eat with your hands
- Seeing traffic grind to a halt as a vice presidential or presidential motorcade goes by
- The Cherry Blossoms, as others have mentioned
- Seeing a show at the Kennedy Center
- Seeing the staircase from the Exorcist in Georgetown
- Driving down embassy row and admiring the buildings and trying to identify the flags
- Going with my coworkers down to the mall to watch the arrival of the space shuttle as it circled the monuments on the back of a 747.
- Seeing a play at the Arena Stage or Ford's Theater or Shakespeare Theater.

Great choices, lac582!

I also had Ethiopian food for the first time here -- it's really a marvelous experience.

And I love that staircase from the Exorcist movie. (Hubby went to Georgetown U. way back when, so we've made the rounds there multiple times.) Kind of gives you the creeps, doesn't it?

We didn't go to Ford's Theater to see a play until actually pretty recently, but it's a wonderful experience, especially when you're sitting in the theater and, as you watch the play, can see the Presidential box where Lincoln was shot. (We saw A Christmas Carol, and it was a lovely production.)

mrsmig
06-06-2013, 07:34 PM
Dear anna -

Like vagough and lac582, I've been in the DC Metro area for a long time, but rather than live in the District, I've always resided in Northern Virginia.

The weather here can be a big adjustment for some. We get "Three H Summers": hazy, hot and humid. Temps can stick in the nineties for weeks, but it's the humidity that's killer. It's sometimes so humid that you can't even break a decent sweat - you're just sticky and miserable, particularly if there's no wind. Spring can be spectacular. A lot of folks talk about the cherry blossoms, but to me there's nothing prettier than the bright yellow daffodils that sprout up all along Rock Creek Parkway at that time of year. Both spring and fall can be fleeting - sometimes it feels like we just get summer and winter and a couple weeks of weird weather in between.

One of my favorite nights in DC was a couple of years ago when I took a late-night Segway tour of the Capitol, down through the Smithsonian Mall and around the main monuments. I was in a show at Ford's Theatre and one of our cast members worked part-time for the tour company. Almost the entire cast made the trip; it was still early spring and quite cold and we had the whole area almost to ourselves. It was so beautiful to see the Capitol all white against the indigo sky, and to ride down the Mall and hear the gravel paths crunching under your wheels. We parked our Segways at the Washington Monument and laid down with our heads pointed at its base. It was amazing to look at the monument that way - it loomed over you like a giant's long white finger. We zoomed all over and laughed until we hurt.

DC can be a sobering place, though. It's not unusual to see fighter jets scrambling over the area on a drill, and when the president or any of his cabinet goes out on official functions, there's always a strong security presence. I was just at Ford's last weekend, performing at a function which Biden attended, and we had to vacate the building for several hours pre-show while Secret Service did their sweep. Once we were in the building for the show, we had to make way for a squad of snipers who took up positions on the roof. Once we got word that the Veep was on his way, those of us who were in the opening number were called to places and then had to wait there (behind the set) until Biden finished his remarks and left the building. Everyone else backstage had to go up to the second floor and wait until his departure. It was kind of spooky.

I_love_coffee
06-07-2013, 05:53 PM
this may not have any relevance for you but since you are writing YA, thought I would throw it out there.

My 13 yo DS just went on a class trip to DC, and when I asked him how the trip was his first response was "we walked alot and saw a bunch of stuff" I am not making this up and this is a smart kid, but anyone who has ever peppered a preteen/teen boy with questions can relate! With more probing, he related that the tour of the Holocaust museum was boring ("sorry mom, but it was. we had to walk slow and be quiet.") and his most interesting moments came when he was in the bathroom and a drunk homeless guy struck up a converation with my son and his friends.....Two years prior to this, we took the kids as a family and our favorite moment was when we visited the Lincolm Memorial and just climbed the steps and looked out to the reflecting pool and washington memorial. very cool and inspiring.

young kids and teens, especially boys might not be interested so much in the museums as in the more physical acts of sightseeing. we saw these bike tours when we were there and if we go back I would love to do one of these bike tours. there is so much to see and it seems like a fun way to do it.....