I got my first good look at Washington (DC) in the winter/spring of 1955--my stars, that's 56 years ago. I ws working as a copy boy for the Associated Press at the House of Representatives. My pal Bob and I, both 20ish with byronic leanings, would wander around all night, I mean all night, ending with scrambled eggs in some diner, and the discussion of a favored text (we fancied Ibsen). I have an impulse to say we wandered "more or less everywhere," but I suppose I mean more or less everywhere white--callow and ignorant though we may have been, we enjoyed at least an elementary instinct of prudence. But even with that qualification, I find it quaint to look back on those halcyon times and to recall that we never gave a moment's conscious thought to issues of safety, to the risk that we might get into as whole boatload of hurt by wandering the streets of a great city at night.
I suppose one response is that as 20ish males we looked more like predators than victims although I have to tell you that then as now, we were not particularly formidable specimens. I suppose our main armour in those days with invincible ignorance. And this in what became notorious during, say, the 80s, as one of the most menacing cities in the United States.
I was recalling stuff from the old days this last week in Washington, for here is a curious fact: Washington today seems a pretty pleasant place--much more so than I remember it at any time before. You can can get the drift in the data: we saw newspaper stories last week about how the population is getting younger, and how people are trying to wheedle their way into the DC schools. And crime is about half of what it was in the 90s (albeit inching back up again lately).
Perhaps most noteworthy is the smell. I remember Eisenhower Washington as a sink of rancidity and bus exhaust. Grant that last week's weather was unusually balmy, still it's a remarkable fact that the aroma today is almost pleasant.
But I'm still not that nuts about DC, actually. Too marmoreal. Too many places where it's too far to walk, too close to drive. And cabbies. Don't get me started but the two worst cab rides I've ever endured in my life were in DC, one yesterday. Is there some rule that requires that every cabbie I engage there is doing his first day on the job?