Chuck Brown Is Dead (or, how money changed the city)

We’re twenty-five and paying higher rent than my parents’ mortgage, playing in competitive bocce leagues and complaining about the exorbitant prices of happy hour specials.  Four dollars for a domestic beer and half priced appetizers, which means we pay only six dollars for a plate of lamb sliders with mint pesto, as if that’s passable bar food anywhere other than DC.

This city, which ranks social stature based on your lapel pin celebrating America, its Democrats, Republicans, or special interests.  The nerdy ass pins with the pinched-on gold backings that I got when I flied up from Daisies to Brownies to Juniors.

We use the word ‘exorbitant’ because it sounds better than admitting you’re getting ripped off.  Because we learned it’s culturally insensitive to say “gypped.”  This is when our Jewish-when-it’s-comically-expedient friends make a point of reminding us that they’re Jewish with a joke about being cheap, which I wouldn’t bother making because I’m Catholic, even though I’ve never been Baptized.

We live in this city, built not on rock ‘n roll but on government contracts and gentrification.  We rate our quality of living by our proximity to Whole Foods, and turn our noses up at the Safeway on 17th Street.  “It’s not that we’re snobs,” we explain, “it’s that it actually smells like urine.”

The black folks hear us when we say we can’t wait for that goddamn Central Union Mission to close.  That place is an eyesore, we scoff.  They hear us say we love how much our neighborhood has changed, how much it’s grown, how much better it is now than when we first moved here.  We think nothing of displacement, of gentrification, of the businesses that have turned over and the families that proudly owned them before they turned over to a restaurant group.  It’s only capitalism.

We’re proud of the economic tenacity in the District, where the housing market never even flinched.  Where none of our friends lost their jobs.  Where we have overpriced gym memberships and running stores that teach you about overpronation and pick your sneakers for you.  It’s a nanny liberal utopia, where we can finally sun ourselves in rooftop pools and (or because) gay marriage is legal.  We are finally cool, for the very first time.

We’ve become foodies.  We demand authentic Thai and Ethiopian, although we don’t even know what we’re ordering when we go to Lalibela or Dukem.  We just love “that spongey bread” that we can’t pronounce, don’t bother to pronounce, or never learned to pronounce.  

We can pretend only so long.  The truth is we’re more comfortable when the snot-nosed hostess at Logan Tavern tells us it’s a 40-minute wait for brunch.  We side up to the bar and order a nine dollar mimosa or bloody or bellini or whatever.  It’s Sunday.

We call it a transient city, but what we really mean is that our friends — who are mostly white, dripping in law degrees, and who will likely move to Bethesda if we don’t send our kids to private school — come and go as we please.  We have no loyalty.  We’re tourists.  But we did vote for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

But when was the last time you heard Go-go?  And do people moving here now even know who Chuck Brown is?  The soul of the District packs its shit and forges eastward.

Did you really expect them to stay?  To embrace the Nats’ young talent and shiny new stadium?  Why bother?  Whatever they love turns to shit or turns white or turns its back on them.  So, they settle in PG County where their beloved, hopeless Redskins continue to let them down year after year.  They’re used to it by now.

The in-crowd moved them away from U Street and the hipsters edged them out of Bloomingdale and H Street.  The Hill staffers reclaimed Southwest as “The Waterfront” and New York Ave is no longer recognizable.  The area went all witness protection — getting cosmetic surgery and changing its name to NoMa.

It took us years to notice.  We were busy with our kickball leagues and our happy hours and checking our iPhones for emails from work.  It was all too easy to forget the men and women who have always loved this city, even when it was burning.

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