July 17, 2011

Down These Quaint Streets

I found the neighborhood in an online brochure over three years ago. It had rave reviews, fresh food, local artisan goods, and history. I bookmarked the website and wrote the location on my "To Do This Summer (D.C.)" list in pink marker. Three days later, on a Thursday afternoon, I hopped the metro with a co-worker to visit a high school a few blocks away from the area. We turned right rather than left at the top of the escalator and walked through a fine neighborhood, but I kept glancing over my shoulder. This weekend, I promised myself...

I walked that Saturday morning, from my tiny apartment to the tiny neighborhood a few miles away, because the sun grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me out into the streets and through the parks. I knew I had arrived before I looked up to number the blocks. The streets had become quieter and row houses lined both sides. Tiny gardens met the sidewalk edges and front walks led visitors to front stoops with iron rails, gentle but strong front doors, and brick exteriors, some painted soft, some painted bold.

The chorus of guitars and barbershop voices led me to the neighborhood's heart. They stood in front of the coffee shop that offered my second iced drink of the day. The opposite side of the sidewalk overflowed with vendors, people, colors, and sounds. Dogs navigated around table legs, sun dresses and flip-flops. Once out of earshot of the guitars, I turned my ipod volume up and lost myself in bright necklaces, fresh strawberries, oil painted scenes, ceramic wall hangings, used books... Hours later I found myself at the other side, only a few blocks down, next to a man playing the saxophone under a tree's shade. Jazz music centers me. Then moves me. Halfway through my walk back home, above the notes from my ipod, the saxophone still set my pace.

When I left at the end of the summer and returned to school, I poured myself hot coffee on Sunday mornings and streamed Pandora's avant garde jazz station. I had a small oil painting, purchased from one of the vendors my last weekend in D.C., in the corner of my desk. I spent the beginning of every Sunday looking at apartments and real estate in that D.C. neighborhood. I had plans. To rent and buy and live and work. I had the job and the apartment and the condo picked out. On those Sunday mornings, with the oil painting a hand's reach away, the cup of steaming coffee, the jazz music filling the room, I could slip out of the present and find myself in the future.

I held onto my Sunday morning ritual for almost a year. Until it became clear that despite blood, sweat, and tears, I would not be moving to D.C.

Reset. Maine. Okay. Yes. Friends. Crashing waters and long beaches. Familiar politics, faces, I am in the know, even though I am from away. Until it became clear... falling stocks and rising unemployment became more than a ticker, more than a statistic. We were all struggling. Student loans that can't be sold, returned, foreclosed on, dismissed in bankruptcy. Reset. Connecticut where the rent is obsolete and New York City where pay checks are still issued and I'll figure it out from there. I'll go anywhere from there, Minneapolis, Austin, San Francisco. And in this shuffle I found my heart stood in plain sight all along, in the skyscrapers, tiny apartments, streets I know well, faces I love. Overnight trains to D.C. for interviews but my heart gets off at Penn Station while my head chugs south.

My career landed a job in D.C. and I landed in the suburbs. I learned to love the commute. I learned to love this distance. On weekends, I travel to the tiny neighborhood I love. The rent is so high there I can't even daydream. I've faced reality for so long I can't even hope.

Out here in the suburbs, my living situation has gone from pleasant to absurd to "GET OUT OF THERE NOW" advice from people. I begin to bookmark craigslist ads and scan for apartments I can afford, posted by people who don't seem crazy, people who can put together a coherent sentence.

On a Friday night at 1am, I stumble upon an apartment in that tiny neighborhood with a description that I could have written and rent within my meager price range. I email the next morning and we arrange for me to check it out Sunday evening.

I went this evening.

I won't have any word on whether or not I got it until Wednesday (Thursday the latest), but it is lovely. So very lovely. And I walked out feeling more myself than I have in a very long time.

Fingers crossed for me please?

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