Washington: Her Kind of Town

By Dispatch From An Ex-chicagoan
Monday, January 12, 2009

So what does it take to be a Washingtonian?

I moved here from Tulsa in 1986 to start a new job. I was fresh from the throes of a divorce. Didn't know a soul. I was a woman without a country. I remember distinctly the feeling in my stomach as my plane circled National Airport the evening I arrived. I looked down at the Tidal Basin, the glittering monuments and the Capitol and burst out crying.

When I would travel away from Washington and people asked where I was from, I'd answer with my birthplace, Chicago. With a chip on my shoulder and fright in my heart, I set out to meet my new world. I was steeling for rejection. I grew up in a blue-collar family from Chicago's South Side, and my use of the English language included vernacular such as "Youz guys," and, from my years in Tulsa, "Y'all."

How could I possibly survive here?

And then . . .

Pretty soon, I made friends at work, and those people introduced me to other people, transplants just like I am. That Halloween, I decided to have a party and asked folks to come dressed as the persons they were in 1968. I figured 10 people might show up, but it would be a start. There were 50.

I got lost around the Beltway and learned that the people who told me everything was only 25 minutes away from my house in Silver Spring were lying. I was soon in on the joke. I got mad when Woodies closed, and I found the graves of F. Scott and Zelda.

I joined a carpool and bought a long, black coat and learned where all the bookstores were in my neighborhood and Dupont Circle. I found out that Sniders had a great deli and the cleaners had coupons and my next-door-neighbor would be happy to watch my dog.

After a few years, I remarried, and 200 people came to my wedding. I discovered that the change of seasons was beautiful here, that there is a shortcut to the Kennedy Center, and that Reno Road keeps you away from Wisconsin Avenue in the height of traffic.

My husband and I adopted a baby from South America, and her entire preschool attended her citizenship party. It seemed not so weird to be a Jewish Yankee, as I was in Tulsa, and Chicago was becoming a distant memory.

So what does it take to be a Washingtonian? Not too long ago, I was on a trip to the Midwest and planned to visit some friends in Illinois. Someone asked for my itinerary, and finally I found the answer.

"First I'm visiting Chicago," I replied. "Then I'm going home."

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