Washington has officially moved into the month of nothingness. This is the great, fortified myth of August -- nothing happens, no one's here, and what's implied is so long, suckers. Read all about it, if you're around: "Nothing happens in Washington in August, anyway," The Post's media critic pronounced on his usual Monday Web chat, before departing. "I'll be away in August," the ombudsman let it be known in the last line of his Sunday column.
Congress is out of session. Mass exodus there. We are all supposed to believe that anybody who is anybody (read: anybody who is really rich or is friends with someone really rich) has now decamped to exotic environs like the Vineyard or the Hamptons, the Eastern Shore or some classic, tasteful country house.
Or Crawford, Tex. The president hung around to appoint John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations -- but of course he had to wait until August, to make sure all those pesky senators were already out of town. Wheels up for Texas yesterday afternoon, and gone.
So that leaves . . . us. Yes, us. And we still have a quorum.
Standing on the side of 45th Street NW at 8 a.m. with a gaggle of children bearing overstuffed, oversize backpacks, waiting for the bus to Valley Mill Camp. "Why did you forget my boots?" "What's in my lunch?" "I know that kid!"
Monday was the first day of the camp's second session, which lasts three long weeks into August. That's almost all of it, save for a few insignificant days before school starts at the end of the month. There is a myth that all Washington children miraculously get to go away to some beach house for the entirety of August. It is a myth propagated by many of the local private schools, whose summer camp offerings start to dry up by July 31.
But tell that to the dad in the long shirt sleeves and tie waving goodbye to his son or the mother wearing the "Free Judy" T-shirt. "Goodbye, sweetie!" "Love you!" "Have fun!" The bus rolls off and, across the street, coaches start unloading the bats and balls for the kids showing up for baseball camp. "You have that other bag?"
Down Nebraska Avenue, the construction guys are still constructing, and this whole idea that Washington in August is "peaceful" seems a bit unrealistic. There's a Payless Shoe Store around the corner on Wisconsin, where three women huddle, waiting for the store doors to open. Next door, at Starbucks, two D.C. police officers sit outside sharing notes. "And I hit him like this." Playacting ensues, shoulders thrust forward, heads nodding.
Inside, there is a ponytailed young woman waiting for her latte, a cell phone pressed against her ear. "I can't wait. He said he wouldn't tell me, but his surprises are always so good, you know?" She glows.
Down on Columbia Road, the guys are setting up their outdoor carts, nodding to passersby carrying groceries home from the Adams Morgan Safeway. A little girl in a peach top bounces up and down and up and down on the stairs of Tienda Santa Rosa while a man vacuums at the top and an older, impatient boy stares out at the street from the bottom. The refrain is consistent. "No vacation, no."
A few blocks away comes a voice, a man trying to control his dog and a cup of coffee at the same time -- "Wait, Jess!" David Schwarz, psychologist, works from home. Hopes to take a long driving trip to Nova Scotia at the end of the month. Right now, there are patients to see.
"TWEEEEET! Okay, everybody out! By the fence. Go put on your shoes. Time to stop swimming, sweeties!" It takes only a moment, but the bodies bob to the surface, pull up over the concrete side and huddle against the chain-link fence at the Banneker Recreation Center. Just like that, with the booming voice of a woman swathed in hot pink, the pool becomes an empty, inviting slice of blue. From their assignment a few yards over, teenage boys, carrying rakes, brooms and garbage bags, look up at the noise.
Down Georgia Avenue, down into the city, down into the epitome of August, Capitol Hill. Two Hill staffers pass, badges hanging against their shirts, Subway sandwich bags in their hands. "I can't believe I'm not going to be able to get out early on Thursday." "Yeah, that sucks." They do not have time to stop for questions. Moving, moving, into a building where the air itself seems to be on a circulation vacation.
Lunch lines remain long at Cosi. "I heard he was going to go out with her, but I didn't believe it."
"Did you see 'Wedding Crashers'?"
"My mom is coming to visit next week."
There seem to be more parking spaces, but maybe that's only an illusion. The traffic down Massachusetts Avenue flows more smoothly, too, but maybe that's just random good fortune. Mostly, our Washington feels normal. Crowds jockeying to cross at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street. A woman sunbathing on the lawn at the park by Washington Harbour. A couple having a midafternoon drink in the back, on the patio. The cabbies congregating out front, waiting for fares.
And the couple -- well, the guy, Thomas Tomlo, is a trainer at Sports Club LA in the Ritz-Carlton and he's able to escape for the afternoon because fully 40 percent of his upscale clients leave the city in August.
And the cabbies, they will tell you the cold, hard truth: August is bad. Business is down, dead almost. This is the way it always is in August. People go out of town. Waits for fares get longer. They don't make enough money.
"It's been the same for 32 years," says R. Linwood Washington.
Still, every August -- all those 32 dead-hot, deadbeat Augusts -- Washington stays in Washington. He keeps driving his cab. No beach for him. No vacation. No fleeing town. He prefers to remain one of us.
R. Linwood Washington, above, who has weathered 32 Augusts as a cabbie in town, sits in his taxi as he patiently waits for that rare fare. Thomas Tomlo, below left, a sports club trainer, gets to have a midafternoon drink along with Pamela Williams because many of his clients are doing their sweating elsewhere. And a couple of canoeists have the Potomac all to themselves.