In his weekly series, staff writer Robert Samuels explores the District, street corner by street corner.
Kenny Newsome leaned on the stool of his walker and puffed his last cigarette of the night, waiting for the latest episode to unfold outside his building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Newton Place NW.
What a loud corner it was. It rumbled with the running engine of a beer truck parked in front of Giant Liquor’s neon sign. It vibrated with the bachata bass from a minivan where a family unloaded bags to take to the Spring Laundromat. And then the thwack heard round the block, from a gold Yukon sport-utility vehicle parked in front of the curb where Newsome sat.
A woman wanted to know why her man kept on visiting another woman’s building. He said the relationship is innocent; he simply sits on the woman’s couch.
“Bad answer,” Newsome said.
The woman smacked her guy, repeatedly, until he jumped out of the car.
“I’m just having my cigarette,” Newsome said, laughing after the man walked out of sight. “But you never know what you’re going to see out here. Some things never change.”
Some things do. When Newsome was playing basketball at Cardozo High School, everyone was black. When he was in his 50s, he started seeing more and more people from Latin America. And now, at 65, with a gravelly voice and a hearty chuckle, he watches as four white 20-somethings debate whether they should drink tonight in Adams Morgan or Columbia Heights.
Around the corner, Joe Harre is walking his corgi, Jasper. He and his wife moved to Newton Place from Rockville about three years ago. In truth, he said, they are city people. Although the neighborhood has become quieter, he doesn’t want it too quiet.
“It wouldn’t feel right to me that the whole neighborhood would lose all the people who have been living here for a long time,” Harre said. “We like the grit.”
The changing racial make-up of D.C. neighborhoods is now a familiar story, as different groups sometimes grapple over ownership of the culture of a neighborhood. If the District is not Chocolate City, then what is it?
Who knows. But what’s indisputable is that when Newsome goes out to smoke his cigarette, this corner in the Park View neighborhood belongs to him.
It was his when he was a kid, before the Army and the gray hairs, before the loss of his wife and the stroke and seizures that confined him to a wheelchair.
It is his still, as he rents a one-bedroom in a snazzy new buildingthat leases units that can be affordable at all income levels, from the young professional to the disabled veteran.
Behind Newsome, his fellow neighbors are seen through the lobby’s glass exterior, buzzing around in wheelchairs and glancing up at the chandeliers and high ceilings.
A fellow vet steps outside to talk to him about the Redskins. A medical student walks inside carrying dry cleaning. This was the nicest building she could afford.
“We can all learn from each other, now that we live with each other,” Newsome said. “No one smokes in this building; that’s why I have my cigarettes outside. If someone just drops something on the floor, everyone says: ‘Pick it up. This is a nice building.’ It’s how the city should be.”
Before he moved here, Newsome spent nine months in Temple Hills at a transitional housing site for veterans. Social workers gave him a voucher for an apartment. He could have gone anywhere, but he wanted the familiar sound and grit of Park View — the same thing Harre said he wanted while he walked his corgi.
The new neighbors are much younger, but Newsome likes guessing the breed of the dogs they walk. The Penthouse, a longtime strip club half a block away, is now the House, but the crowds entering can still get rowdy.
Down the street, the restaurant Fish in the ’Hood has watered down its name to Fish in the Neighborhood. But that man with the eye patch is still stumbling and mumbling and holding a mysterious brown bag, like he always has. And “Charlie-Wolly” is still out there, after all these years, riding his bicycle.
“You doin’ good man?”
“All right, Charlie-Wolly,” Newsome tells him. “Everything is great.”
To read previous stories in the series, go to washingtonpost.com/local.