So what happens when 93 percent of your neighbors don’t want you, but you’re coming anyhow?
“Ugh,” huffed Reena Shukla. “I’m terrified.”
Donald Trump as leader of the nation is hard enough for the nearly 63 million Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton to swallow. (Her popular vote count is now 1 million higher than Trump, despite his electoral college victory.)
But the idea of Trump moving into one of the United States’ liberal strongholds — with its advocacy workers and activists, food trucks, yoga studios, legal pot, SoulCycle and dog parks — is a total disconnect.
It’s Archie Bunker moving into the penthouse of the Jefferson’s building. Ralph Kramden moving to Carrie Bradshaw’s street.
Trump is suing the city he’s about to move to, for heaven’s sake, over the tax bill for his fancy new hotel just down the street from the White House. And he’s displacing a president deeply beloved by residents of the nation’s capital.
The Obama family didn’t just occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They moved into this town and made it their town.
For the millennials who’ve been fueling the District’s growth by the thousands these past eight years, the town’s identity is deeply connected to the Obama family.
The president was a regular at school sporting events; he did his Christmas shopping at local bookstores; the first couple went to D.C.’s hottest restaurants for their Friday date nights.
“Being here, growing up with this family here? It has been such an amazing experience,” said Gege Okon, 19, a sophomore at Howard University, who decided to go there partly because she’d be living in the first African American president’s city.
“I grew up in a pretty white town in Pennsylvania, so coming here at this time in history was a positive experience,” the Harrisburg native said. She’s close to the Obama girls’ ages. She’ll always remember the day the family was elected. “Seeing them in the White House has changed how we see each other.”
Plus, she used to work at the sandwich shop where President Obama liked to stop in every once in a while. And a couple weeks ago, she was standing, like, two feet away from Michelle Obama. How cool is that?
This vibrant city?
Nothing more than a swamp to Trump.
“We were just saying other day, what would happen to all this once he’s here?” said Angela Kung, sweeping her arms around the streetscape. She’s 35, a lawyer, liberal and loves the District.
The neighborhood at 14th and U streets where I met Kung is the epicenter of Washington’s gilded age. Not gilded a la Trump’s take on Louis XVI. Gilded today means endless condominiums, Bikeshare stations, $14 craft cocktails, sushi burritos, doggy day care.
The Obama aesthetic — diverse, progressive, fashionable — is part of the city’s contemporary fabric.
“We were in China Chilcano the other night and the Secret Service came in and started doing their sweep. We got so excited,” Kung said. Obama-sightings are sport in Washington.
This kind of interaction probably won’t happen with Trump, who has already hinted that he’d rather run the country from his pink-and-gold Versailles in New York.
Plus, China Chilcano does not serve Trump Steaks. (Oops, they exist no more, like Trump Taj Mahal and Trump University.) I mean, steak well-done, Trump-style.
And we all know where China Chilcano’s owner, renowned Washington chef José Andrés, stands with Trump. (He’s being sued by the president-elect for refusing to open a restaurant in Trump International Hotel after the candidate slammed undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers and promised to deport them.)
Does the occupant of the White House influence the rest of the city?
Before Obama, George W. Bush rarely dipped his toes into the D.C. swamp. His big adventure — they still remember the chair he sat in — was a night out at Cactus Cantina in Northwest Washington.
His dad didn’t do much better, favoring a strip mall Chinese place in Northern Virginia.
Bill Clinton’s jogging excursions to McDonald’s were famous. The Kennedys were Georgetown denizens. And Richard M. Nixon even had a favorite booth in Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. Abraham Lincoln was an infamous insomniac who paced the city streets.
But what will Trump do?
Probably nothing good for the District. We’re not just a company town. We’re an art town, a music town, a food town. We’re a sanctuary city for immigrants, something the Trump family — I mean, administration — is already threatening to end.
Kung and her husband, Stephen Lei, 35, a Web producer, who were picking up their pups from doggy day care when we talked, said Trump’s election is the first time they’ve considered leaving the city.
Shukla, 34, who works for USAID and came back to the United States from her last foreign posting specifically to get a taste of living in the thriving capital, said that she hopes the threat of Trump will galvanize the 93 percent of D.C. voters who didn’t vote Trump.
“A lot of people are pissed off and riled up,” she said. “So this may also bring people together.”
Maybe. But you know what?
Before the yoga mats, yerba mates and Obamas, the District was already cool. U Street was known as Black Broadway. Howard Theatre — where Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, the Supremes held forth — opened before the Apollo in New York even existed.
Down the street, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Pearl Bailey played at the Lincoln Theatre.
This city is home to Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack. It’s the land of go-go (long live Chuck Brown) and punk rock (Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Henry Rollins and Fugazi).
And many of the musicians who played U Street went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a half-smoke after their shows. Obama stopped by almost eight years ago to sample the city’s larger and spicier version of a hot dog.
“We serve everyone at the bowl,” said Virginia Ali, matriarch of the Ali family and owner of the place for 58 years.
Ali’s eyes didn’t sparkle when I mentioned the mogul about to move into our town; she prefers to stay out of politics.
“Well, the election is over. What’s done is done,” Ali said. “But we’ve always served everyone here, everyone is welcome.”
On a recent night, Ali posed for pictures with diners. A pair of tourists from the Netherlands came to pay homage to the place that survived the 1968 riots, Harding, Coolidge, Nixon, Reagan and not one, but two Bushes.
The District is used to the changing of the guard. Presidents and their hordes of political appointees come and go.
This is the place where Yarrow Mamout, a freed black man and devout Muslim, earned enough from his hauling business to buy a house in Georgetown in 1800. It’s where Carter G. Woodson edited “The Journal of Negro History,” where abolitionist Frederick Douglass was a U.S. Marshal, where Alice Paul ran the suffragette movement, where black feminist Mary Eliza Church Terrell became head of the D.C. Board of Education way back in 1895, where gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny ran the Mattachine Society, and where civil rights firebrand Stokely Carmichael studied.
This town was cool long before condos and CrossFit. And it will stay great long after Trump Town retreats.