Tuesday, May 6, 2008

If You Don't Watch Closely, You'll Miss It...

Today's job will be digging that trench in the back--I gave myself a sort of day off yesterday to make room for other pursuits (and to save myself some joint pain, truth to tell). It's warming up quickly outside and I'll have to get started soon or I'll be sweating like a pig. Hate that.

My current state of being so very house-focused has made me realize how big the changes have been in my life over the past nearly 30 years, how my priorities have changed. I suppose it's a function of getting older and the responsibilities that come along with that....

I live within a stone's throw of one of the most interesting cities in the world. Cynicism about politics aside, the physical manifestation of "official Washington," in all its marble, neo-classic splendor, is beautiful. So are the Potomac River and The Tidal Basin, and the walks along them. Entry into any part of enormous Smithsonian complex on The Mall is free and a mere subway ride away. The city is replete with performance venues from the Kennedy Center to Arena Stage to the National and Warner Theaters, plus good local companies too numerous to mention. There are world class restaurants. People from all over the world pay thousands of dollars to visit.

And we participate in none of it.

Before Steve and I met, we both went through our young singles stage of living in "The District," as downtown DC is called locally. Steve had an apartment on Capitol Hill; I lived in the Dupont Circle area. Actually for me, having grown up in the suburbs and then leaving, only to follow jobs back, DC was not completely unknown territory, but living in the city itself as a young adult was a totally new experience and I fell right in with all the other newcomers. DC is a social paradise for young, well-educated professionals: they tend to be of a feather, motivated and idealistic about work in some federal agency or other, and ambitious. Watering holes catering to them are abundant, and I took my share. I've had the fun of walking half-looped along the storied sidewalks of Washington, D.C., with my friends, skewering the pomposity of some presidentially-appointed boss, and in general feeling priveleged to be enjoying myself so thoroughly in such a vaunted place.

Soon enough, though, I found my way back to my "roots," the Virginia suburbs. (Some people go back to the farm; others to the ghetto--people like me went back to tree-shaded suburbia. A purely American phenomenon, I'd wager.) I settled into a new life in this house and work became the daily means to that life, and no longer the definition of it. I still enjoyed the Peace Corps and always counted myself lucky to have a career there, playing a role in such a worthwhile institution and knowing such splendid people. But at some point the nest became more important, and a trip downtown only meant going to work. As a couple, we were house-poor at first and could no longer afford the cultural amenities across the river. We became accustomed to entertaining guests at home, in our own style, all of our friends did the same thing, and that way of living became the default. By now, I don't miss that old DC life at all. I'm grateful beyond words that I lived it, but I'm perfectly happy to let others have their go at it now.

If the move to Delaware ever becomes a reality, one of the things I'm looking forward to is the relative smallness of the place. Sometimes in Washington there can be too much choice; you can feel simply overwhelmed by what's available. In Delaware we'll have three small places to enjoy: the towns of Lewes, Rehoboth Beach and (if we feel like a short drive) Bethany Beach. There are great one-off restaurants, there's a local choir I may join--there's even a yearly movie festival--and we know where to find the best local, small purveyors of everything from plants to pizzas, unique to that tiny corner of that tiny state. I think no matter what, we will end up there. I just hope it'll be relatively easy, and soon.

Meanwhile, life carries us along gently, thank God. Changes are imperceptible to the point of invisibility. We must stop and think even to be aware of them.


Nan said...

what a beautifully written post, Ralph! I loved it - and love your descriptions and reflections. Very rich, humorous, real. And a day with Rufus on my quick lunch break at my desk to boot! What a lucky person am I?!

Anonymous said...

I try to get back home to DC at least once a year and when I do it's always a thrill to walk Georgetown as nothing really has changed there. Still Clyde's, Mr. Smiths, Blues Alley, it's still all there although the Apple Pie has new owners and I already forgot what they changed the name to. I think when you move to Delaware you will miss the DC Area for all that you describe in this post. You will journey back because I sense you too have the bug, like I do. And I certainly have more friends up there than I do down here in Florida. I usually spend the week partying from Chevy Chase, through downtown DC, Georgetown, Vienna, Virginia and south to Charlottesville, have retired friends there too. I drive from there to the sailing Marina across from National Airport where I got my first summer job as a waiter and sail boat instructor, and sip coffee as I wait out the time for my flight home. I could sit at that Marina all day and all night I love it there so much. I always meet nice people jogging or walking the bike path that rolls around the front acreage there. Love it!

Ralph said...

Z&M, I agree with you about the Marina. Gorgeous. I hope your prediction is true, that we'll use the city more when we leave it than we do now. All of our friends have either left or will be leaving--many of them, in fact, have moved to Delaware! We'll see...we've been know to travel hundreds of miles to see some special show, that's for sure.

Ralph said...

Hi, Nan. Glad I could lighten the lunch. I thought of you when I posted the Rufus...glad you like the Radiohead, too! They go well together.

Jenny said...

"If the move to Delaware ever becomes a reality . . ."

It WILL because you want it to. Our move to British Columbia is just around the corner now and there were times when it seemed like it would never happen. We began planning it almost 10 years ago when we bought property there. As you know, we just returned from a visit out there to check on our house and move the cats out ahead of our actual move. The house looked great after 7 years of tenants (thank goodness!) and we left the cats in it with my sister and a friend checking on them daily. The visit confirmed all the reasons we want to make a change this big. After being gone 10 days, we returned to Kentucky and our home here was in its full spring glory--this is definitely the most beautiful time here--we have a lot of memories here, especially since my husband grew up here, but we're excited about the future. "And now for something completely different . . . " to quote Monty Python.

Ralph said...

Jenny, your words of encouragement are so kind and so welcome. I hope we don't have to wait 10 years--I don't think we will.

Yes, something completely different. That's what we're ready for!

Cuidado said...

I love living a small rural life. I've lived in and now travel to big cities often enough that there is some culture shock but not too much and it always makes me appreciate the small rural life. I got lost in Washington DC one time. Oh.My.God.

Ralph said...

Cuidado, you made me laugh! Every newcomer to DC gets lost. You have that logical alphabetical-numerical grid, and then those diagonal avenues are thrown in there and they seem to get everything off. Sorry you didn't have a better time!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ralph,

As I was reading your post, it came to mind that I had the similar experience of living near NYC and not participating.

Growing up on LI, our school trips consisted of going to the "Big Apple". Then in my teens and early 20's, there were the movies and clubbing. Late 20's I dated someone who had a parent who worked for one of the museums and that was very special to take a tour with someone who spent most of their childhood weekends at a museum!

Yet, after the relo, I realized what a lot of people told me about missing museums, new shows, etc. etc. and I thought - well, if one doesn't take advantage of it - how can one miss it. Yet, I do. I miss hearing the buzz - the excitement or non-excitement. I miss the whoopla about the Yankees or the Mets. I found myself reading NY Magazine everyweek and for quite sometime the blog everyday.

However, as time moves on, I have found myself longing to be close enough (as I am now and will be with the next relo) to do one-day trips to NYC and come home to a less higher pace of energy and stress. NY moves at what is known as a "NY minute" and that is something that does not happen in my corner right now. We move much slower and at this stage of life that is alright.

I am content with the knowledge that NYC is there for me - within reach and in my heart, I am always the New Yorker! Yet, NJ beckons and I am more than happy with that.


Ralph said...

I know what you mean about proximity to the action, Linda. Even when we're in Delaware, I still buy the Washington Post every day, and not just for its excellent national and world coverage. I also eat up the local stuff. Yeah, a certain part of me will always care about what happens in these parts. But for so many reasons, I won't mind leaving, either.