A couple Friday nights ago, I went out with some of my friends to a bar in our new, temporary hometown – Washington, D.C. We wandered to the patio, taking in the social scene – loud music, people everywhere, alcohol. It was just a lot like Bloomington.
But when I got outside, something glaringly unusual was staring me in the face – I had a perfect view of the Capitol building, right from outside the bar.
That’s what’s unusual about the culture of D.C. entertainment. There’s this constant juxtaposition of fun against super-serious, official business. People still do the same things on the weekends. The restaurants are just restaurants, the bars are just bars, but when you go to them you’re surrounded by some of the most important places, and presumably people, in the world.
I went on a date last week, and we stopped and looked at the White House for a minute on the way back. You get a great view of the Capitol building from our baseball stadium, Nationals Park.
I went running my first week here and passed a row of cars with “DIPLOMAT” license plates. If you dare drive a car here, you might end up lost around the Pentagon (I know someone who did).
Even if you tried to live a “normal” life as if you were in any other city, you wouldn’t be able to escape the constant reminders that there are powerful government officials within mere miles of where you are watching a movie, meeting a friend for lunch or going shopping.
Some of the businesses embrace it, I assume for the tourists. A few days a week, the Greek restaurant down the street changes its happy-hour drink specials from $3 sangrias to election-themed cocktails. For $5, you can “cast your vote” and have either the Obama Rama (something banana-flavored) or a Sugar McCain (this had something to do with lemons).
Sometimes, it reminds me of living in a theme park, with all the constant, cheesy reminders that this is Washington, D.C., home of the White House.
Take, for example, our beloved baseball team, the Washington Nationals. The name of the team itself is a play on the whole “nation’s capital” theme. The team’s colors are red, white and blue. The mascot is an eagle named “Screech.” Among the many concession-stand choices are “Pentagon Pizza” and “Senator Sausages.”
But the most corny, hit-you-in-the-face D.C.-theme reminder at Nationals games is the traditional fourth-inning Presidents Race. At every game, four people dress in full-foam mascot attire as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and race across the field. Teddy never wins.
And of course, every shopping area has a few shops with cardboard cutouts of Barack Obama and John McCain (and sometimes Hillary Clinton, still) wearing sweatshirts that are sold in the store.
Before coming here for the summer, I often thought of Washington as a place for official business. Other cities were for fun and relaxation – cities like Miami, Los Angeles and New York. But D.C. has its share of both government and fun, as long as you don’t mind a little government-themed fun. Senators need to go out and have a good time sometimes, too.
Otherwise, there wouldn’t be bars by the Capitol.