Intersections: 18th Street and Columbia Road NW: When the man fell off the roof
By Robert Samuels,
In his weekly series, staff writer Robert Samuels explores the District, street corner by street corner.
As far as Saturday nights partying in Adams Morgan go, Hursch Vasant found this one pretty tame.
As he puffed a Newport outside the McDonald’s at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road NW, the zenith of the neighborhood’s bar scene, swells of young revelers struggled to walk and bite into their big, floppy, pizza slices at the same time. A man stood in front of a cab to protest the driver’s picking up someone else. A homeless man exalted after discovering a box of cheap cigars lying on the ground.
“I’m headed home because there aren’t many people out,’’ Vasant, 21, said. “But this corner can be unpredictable.”
At the gateway to Adams Morgan, mayhem often toggles between amusing bacchanalias and unforeseen danger. The McDonald’s that Vasant walked away from had a large window covered in black tarp — a car crashed through the entryway in December. (It has no formal drive-through, alas.) In November, an 18-year-old was stabbed to death at the Woodley Park Metro station after confronting a group of men who stole his Helly Hansen jacket at this corner.
On this night, three police arrived to manage Adams Morgan’s mania. It was Christmastime, and crowds walked about dressed as Santa Clauses and sexy elves. Bass pounded from the Latin club where the band was on the last number of its set. The police officers stood at ease. Then their eyes widened. A man gaped.
“Oh, my God!”
A man had fallen from the sky. Landed on his back.
And then, another man. He landed on his feet.
“That man fell off the roof. His legs hit me on the way down,” a dark-haired woman told her friend. “Then his friend jumped after him and started giving him CPR.”
“That’s the friend of the year,” the woman’s friend replied.
Sean McNeill, 34, was across the street when the man slipped off a roof deck.
Here was McNeill’s account: It happened at Madam’s Organ, which has three floors. The first floor is on the ground level, where a bouncer checks ID. The second floor is the awning, hosting what appears to be the bar’s cooling system. On the third floor is a tiny roof deck, supported by a spiral staircase.
“It looked like he was playing around on those steps,’’ he said. “Then he just slipped over.”
The victim’s friend, dressed in a gray sweater, jumped from the roof deck to the awning, and then to the ground. Then the friend was stabilizing the victim’s neck as police called an ambulance.
Police told the encircling crowds to put away their iPhones and their cameras, that this was a serious situation. On a cold incline of the sidewalk was a man, breathing but hurting, under a street lamp with a banner that said “Adams Morgan: Play.”
“That man is talking, but other than that, he’s not moving a pinkie,” McNeill told people in the crowd.
The line between the ridiculous and the dangerous near 18th and Columbia is often blurry, and this situation was no different. Where was the line between entertainment and voyeurism? Should one man’s injury end the party?
A man stood in the back of the crowd. His eyes reddened. A couple watched from the windows above, dancing then gawking, dancing then gawking. A woman looked at the body, then across the street and grew despondent.
“I can’t handle this; it’s too sad,” she was overheard telling a friend. But she wasn’t talking about the man who fell.
“That bar [across the street] used to be called McNasty’s. Now it’s called Shenanigans. What is this? It has to be McNasty’s.”
The medical technicians arrived. A person watching noted that anything can happen in Adams Morgan. They stripped the man to his boxers and strapped him to a gurney. Two men started fighting outside McDonald’s.
The fallen man’s friend never left his side until he was lifted and carried away in the ambulance. The woman was crying over the bar’s having changed its name from McNasty’s.
Both the ambulance and the onlookers struggled to break through the crowds. Two people dressed as Santa Claus made out under the sidewalk. The Latin band started its next set at the bar next door. A woman stood outside, swirling her margarita.
“Men falling off buildings, oh, my God,” Erica Jones said. “I’m really too old for this place.”
She was 25.
For more in this series, visit postlocal.com. What’s your favorite D.C. intersection? E-mail the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.