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."

-- Cheryl Kravitz, Silver Spring

Was the Discount Really a Diss?

It's worse when they ask.

My local grocery store gives senior citizens a five percent discount on Thursdays. Upon returning from the store one Thursday, I noticed to my dismay and amusement that my receipt showed that I'd gotten the seniors discount, without the cashier or me having mentioned it. Since it was the cashier's error, I decided not to feel guilty about being undercharged $4 on my $80 bill but vowed to watch the ringing-up process more closely in the future to make sure it didn't happen again.

Not to worry. Today I was asked by a different cashier if I qualified for the discount and was able to decline it. The liberation I feel at age 47 as a result of letting my hair gray naturally is obviously perceived differently by others: I look old.

-- Mary Steiner, Leesburg

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company