Between the Holidays, a City Basks in Sunlit Silence

A worker sweeps up on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday, when much of the city was still on holiday.
A worker sweeps up on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday, when much of the city was still on holiday. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In its quietness, a big, strong-shouldered and often hurly-burly metropolis suddenly exposes other emotions. Other joys will come to the fore.

So it was the day after the Christmas holiday yesterday. A city found itself less peopled, nearly bare. And still, it found its own way, its own music.

"I'm actually enjoying the city," 11-year-old Trent Cook said, standing underground at the Van Ness Metro station with Jodie Cook, his aunt. Trent was on a visit from Binghamton, N.Y. He had a little drummer boy's sweetness about him. Or maybe it was just that there was room to swirl and twirl on the platform. "This is a better time to catch the trains," he said, bouncing joyfully.

A train whizzed into view. There were empty seats everywhere, and an everyday commuter stared in disbelief.

Above ground, sunlight fell everywhere. Hemingway, who was into clean, well-lit places, would have loved the day, its warmth. Through the tree branches, through the leaves, the sunlight took on a golden glow.

Whole swaths of city blocks were quiet. So you heard birds chirping. Saw diners slumped back in chairs, as if this were Paris and it were April.

Joggers ran about fearlessly, like gazelles. "It's certainly easier here on Connecticut Avenue," said Maura Lee, a lawyer, slowing up. "I don't have to zigzag today, don't have to deal with a lot of stop-and-go coming across the bridge, either."

The big banners outside the National Zoo advertised Mei Xiang and her cub, Tai Shan. This may be the year of King Kong, but the pandas are still quite the sensation. The lines have been painfully long. But yesterday, at times, there was unalloyed joy. "There was no line when I entered," said Tsutomu Oyabu, a 65-year-old visitor from Japan in town for a convention. He confessed he had heard about the long lines, then smiled at his own luck. As for the pandas, they thrilled him. "I was at a distance, but I could still see enough."

There were simply plain blessings. "I could find a place to park. Isn't that great?" piped Amy Beth Harmon, 31, a freelance violinist. "Although there was nobody in my building to let the furnace guy in this morning, and I had to get up and let him in."

Robert Daughtry, who lives in Southeast Washington, who is 61 and semi-retired, was standing outside Union Station yesterday. He had his sketchbook with him. He lives for a quiet city, a city on holiday. "This is a good time of year," he said, allowing as to how he bolts in these days after major holidays to find perches to sketch buildings. "When tourist season picks up you have to choose your time and places," he explained. "But now I can go around and get inside buildings and sketch and then get out."

He said: "I'm a bit eccentric."

He said: "Washington was laid out on a constellation, Virgo."

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