What 'Washington, D.C.' Means to Them

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On the grounds that others often see us more clearly than we see ourselves, Close to Home asked some local newspaper columnists from around the country to tell us, briefly, what the words "Washington, D.C." mean to them and their communities.

Oregon: It's What's Lit Up at Night

Let's begin with the obvious: the wince, the weary shake of the head, the sigh of cynicism. Washington? That Washington? An Oregonian recalls his most recent trip to the nation's capital, hearing the pimps and hookers bicker and barter on the street outside his hotel. Others see the jagged divides -- rich and poor, black and white -- and the District's apparent inability to heal itself."

Power and glory and crack houses. Kids starving. An American metaphor if there ever was one," a local college magazine editor told me the other day. Washington is still Jack Abramoff's town: Someone is always gaming the system, mocking our sense of urgency, taking their K Street cut.

But just when you wonder if all hope is lost, a little optimism, a little Jimmy Stewart, bubbles to the surface. Not because anyone in the Northwest expects Washington to solve our problems, much less take the hint and allow Oregon to solve Washington's. (Seriously, folks, what part of "vote by mail" don't you understand?) No, it's the meaning of the stuff that's lit up at night. That still sticks in our throat. That's why we want our sixth-graders to climb the marble steps at the west end of the Mall and walk beside us along the Wall.

That's why we wince. Even the White House looks like it stands for something from a distance."

I can't allow myself to believe the system is beyond repair," a Portlander told me inside Powell's Books. He is savoring the election, hope, the threat of change. "Let me just enjoy this feeling of optimism."

- Steve Duin


Michigan: A Bad Case of Metro Envy

Washington is 500 miles away, but we think of you whenever we step onto the Detroit subway.

Hey, wait a minute. We don't have a subway! Or a high-speed el, or dedicated bus lanes, or any mass-transit system to speak of. Nothing we'd recommend to a visitor from out of town, anyway.

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