The only sign of life beyond the long, winding, tree-shaded driveway is a tiny Neiman-Marcus bag resting at the pavement's edge, daintily piled with trash. But at the top of the hill, WKYS radio blasts as a young man in faded denim cutoffs painstakingly hoses down a brand new Olds Monte Carlo.
Eighteen-year-old Blair George's parents gave him the fire-engine red car in June when he graduated from Wilson High School. After years in the all-male, prep school environment of Town and Country Day School and the Bullis School in Potomac, Md., George decided to spend his senior year in a public school "because I wanted to keep my identity." He sees that as a special problem for young people like him -- the scions of the District's affluent black uppper crust.
George, whose father is a physician and whose mother is an elementary school counselor, lives on Primrose Road NW, in a lush, densely foliated area of the city known as the Gold Coast. A triangle bounded roughly by Eastern Avenue, North Portal Drive and East Beach Drive, the Coast is nestled next to the Montgomery County line, and populated by upper-income black professionals whose homes are worth from $120,668 to $227,636, according to a recent District survey.
At a time when black teen-age unemployment is at a record high, these youngsters do not face the typical D.C. youth's quandry over how to spend their summer vacations.
Blair George, tall and athletic, with a smile right out of an orthodontist's fantasy, reaches for a can of paste wax. The car, he says, has to be washed "as often as it gets dirty." Every few days or so. His family's affluence is not something he spends a lot of time thinking about.
"Hell," he says with a sardonic smile, "I don't even own any Izods."
He is an orderly at Washington Hospital Center, a job which his father, who practices there, helped him to get. Like a lot of his friends, he had the option of turning to his parents or other relatives as an employer of last resort, but the job market didn't turn out to be as tight as he had expected. In fact, he turned down a job his school counselor found for him, and another as an ice cream truck driver for Good Humor.
His earnings (about $5.10 an hour) will come in handy for "social affairs" when he starts his freshman year at Morehouse College in Atlanta this fall.
It's especially important that he get good grades during the first semester, George says, "because my Dad won't let me bring the car down unless I do."
George's good friend, Charles Curry, lives a couple of blocks away on Verbena Street NW. He too, thought about letting father, a cardiologist at Howard University Hospital, find him a summer job.
"But he wanted me to be independent, and so did I," Curry says, so he looked a little harder and a little longer than some of his friends, and finally landed a position as a stock clerk for Drugfair. He earns about $3.20 an hour on the night shift, money which he needs for upkeep of his '78 Olds Starfire -- a gift from his parents when he graduated, with honors in science, from Bullis School. His expenses at Duke University, where he will be a sophomore in the fall, are paid by Mom and Dad.
"I guess it's always been there," he says of his folks' money, "but it wasn't something my parents stressed as the most important thing. In fact, I think that because of it, they tried doubly hard to teach us the values that go with hard work and making your own way. We were always told that you have to work for whatever you want in the world -- you don't just get it."
At 14, she is really too young to find a summer job. So Lisa McGinty spent most of her vacation in the Howard University Children's Theater Workshop, just as she has done for the past three years.
Shy and soft-spoken, McGinty, a sophomore at the Academy of the Holy Names in Silver Spring, says that she chose CTW because she is interested in theater, and because "there really aren't that many kids my age in the neighborhood, there's not that much to do." Now that the program is over, she and her best friend will probably spend their time swimming, going to McDonalds, seeing movies and shopping.
"Shopping is the one thing we do all the time," McGinty says. She and her friends hit White Flint and Mazza Gallerie with great frequency, armed with their parents' money or permission to charge. "Sometimes I do go overboard." McGinty says of her spending habits. She doesn't have an allowance, and just asks her mother whenever she needs something.
"She's pretty good about giving me what I want, but she's got this one look, you know . . . you can sort of tell when you've bought one thing too many."
A couple of years ago when she was a 16-year-old graduate of D.C.'s prestigious School Without Walls, Greta Duncan's parents gave her a trip to Europe. But this summer, the 18-year-old University of Virginia junior is a counselor at the D.C. Rec Department's Beach Knoll Day Camp. It is her third stint at Beach Knoll, the same camp she attended for seven summers as a child. The director, whom she has known since girlhood, helped her get on at the camp as an activities coordinator.
Greta leans into the sofa of her family's living room and sips an iced tea. The notion that the Gold Coast is populated by snobbish blacks and their spoiled, arrogant children amuses her, she says, because it is a myth partially rooted in truth.
"I do know some people who have spent the summer driving around in their Mercedes and watching the stories on TV, but they are in the minority here, just as they'd be anywhere else. People think we're snobs because we are a neighborhood of close-knit families and everybody knows everybody else. I guess that could make us seem unfriendly to people from the outside . . ."
Ducan is a pre-med student at UVA, where "almost everyone" from the Gold Coast goes because it's close to home, "and has much more reasonable tuition than some of those Ivy League schools."
Her parents have always insisted that she work, she says, "because you can't just sit around and grow up thinking that life owes you everything." She allows that the $4.20 an hour does come in handy for shopping.
Greta Duncan loves to shop. She inherited if from her mother, Ruth, a homemaker who "can't pass up a bargain." An avid reader, she says she spends a good deal of her money on books.The walls of her parents North Portal Drive home have several floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with her books, or what Mrs. Duncan proudly calls "Greta's things."
Her school expenses, and an allowance of $400 to $500 a month to maintain her Charlottesville apartment, come from her father, a retired Navy engineer.
There are fewer young people in the neighborhood these days, Duncan says, but still enough to get together for parties and other social events. She and her friends enjoy spending time in Georgetown, disco dancing at Paragon Too and Black Tahiti, and seeing a lot of movies. Most of the people from the neighborhood date each other, Duncan says, "Because it's easier. You know something about their background, and you have some of the same things in common. You just hope that when you start going out with a new person your three best girlfriends don't all say, 'Oh, I know him. We used to go out.'"
Duncan says she sometimes feels guilty because she has had more than others her age, "but, by and large, I just appreciate my blessings."
Greta's best friend, Debbie Marshall, lives practically around the corner on East Beach Drive, but in a section so exclusive that it is called the Platinum Coast. Many of the homes here are newer and larger than other Gold Coast homes.
Debbie's father, Randall, a partner in the architectural firm of Navy, Marshall and Gordon, designed the family's luxurious hill-top home several years ago.
"You know, he really is very good," Debbie says proudly, looking around the all-white, sleekly furnished first floor. Someday she, too, would like to be an architect, but for now she is working for the Republican Party, telephoning people around the country to raise funds for Ronald Reagan and orther Republican candidates.
Her parents are "real Democrats," she says emphatically, noting that she hadn't paid much attention to politics at all until she tired of her job as a sales clerk in a dress shop, and learned that the GOP was looking for help. Now she thinks the Republicans "aren't too bad at all," although she doesn't agree with their stance on abortion and the ERA and didn't go to Detroit.
Marshall lives at home and attends Howard University, where she will be a junior in the fall. Unlike the rest of her friends, she uses her money for tuition (which costs less for her because her mother is a social worker at Howard), books and expenses.
"My parents never told me I had to do anything like that, but I don't want them to pay for everything. I mean, you get to be my age (19), and a lot of your self-esteem comes from being able to do things for yourself." For that reason, she didn't ask her father for a summer job in his firm.
" I need more experience and I know it. I don't think it's right to walk in there and say, 'OK, I'm the boss's daughter so give me a job.'"
In her free time, Marshall gets together with her friends from Howard, and with her girlfriends from the neighborhood. But she doesn't date young men from the Gold Coast because, "everybody knows everybody else's business . . . There's something about that that just isn't good. Besides, if a girl can't find anybody to go out with Howard, well, I just don't know about her then . . ."
Marshall says the difference between her and some of the other Platinum Coast women she knows is that she hasn't confused her parents successes with her own.
"A lot of people will talk to you about 'my boat or my summer house' like they earned it themselves. But believe me, I know the difference. My parents have always told us that we've been blessed, and that when we leave here we're going to be on our own. So I guess I'm motivated to do well for a lot of reasons. After growing up like this, it would be awful to be poor."