After three weeks away, here we are again in Washington -- that is to say, Washington, D.C. For those weeks, pronouncing out "D.C." has been necessary in explaining where I'm from, and that's something of an antidote to the mind-set of anyone who regards the nation's capital as the center of the universe.

Think of yourself in a social setting in the Sierra foothills of California -- the Gold Rush country of 1849, which provided the name for today's San Francisco 49ers. Somebody, knowing you're a stranger to the town, asks, "Where are you from?" You answer, "Washington." Your new acquaintance then asks where in Washington -- "Seattle? Tacoma? Spokane? Walla Walla?" -- and you answer "D.C."

"Oh, that one, back east," said most who had challenged me.

Though the nation's capital is only five jet-propelled hours to the east, the concerns of Washington, D.C. -- the D.C. is essential here -- seem as far off as the moon to folk in Rough and Ready or Nevada City. The deficit and the summit go unmentioned. They talk of Rambo, used-car or real estate bargains, and zoning issues. Washington, when mentioned at all, is merely the home of the Redskins, destined for defeat by the 49ers.

It's a good lesson in the Real America for a temporary outlander who usually wallows in Washington's travils.