Monday, December 12, 2005

Music floats from the Jazz clubs around me; trumpets squeal like adults from a Peanuts cartoon, and saxophones moan along with morose songs that cut deep into the heart. I’m walking down U St., taking in the sights, sounds and smells of one of DC’s culturally rich neighborhoods. There seem to be more Ethiopian restaurants here than in the whole of Africa; I realized I’d never really thought of “Ethiopian cuisine” before. The popularized dearth of food in this nation made me naively think there could be none; I initially wondered if they served Red Cross rice rations and malaria ridden water, but I suppose this was more of a sardonically conceived notion than one grounded in any kind of preexisting knowledge on my part.
Unfortunately the six dollars in my pocket made Ethiopian food a new experience that will need to be further delayed. In any event, I’ve just come out of a concert down the street at the 9:30 club and it’s far too late to sit down for a meal. I walk past liquor stores, more restaurants and finally arrive at Ben’s Chili Bowl, where I can have a more affordable and convenient meal.
Pictures hang on the walls—it seems many a famous face has stopped into the establishment, and I can see why. The greasy air iss thick and warm, a steady steam rises from the grill behind the counter. A gracious amount of runny, red chili is slopped onto a hot dog as I wait to order, and suddenly my watering mouth and grumbling stomach know exactly what they desire: chili and meat on a bun (in other words, euphoria). Individual slices of cake are stacked on top of one another in small plastic containers. They seem perfect, almost artistic representations of what cake should be—fluffy off-white pastry slathered with a bountiful quantity of frosty pink icing just waiting to be consumed.
I down my hot dog and leave the restaurant. I look around as I light a cigarette; the smoke hangs heavy in the cool air above my head like a cancerous halo in the glow of the streetlight. So, I think, this is gentrification. I know I wouldn’t have been able to lazily stroll in this area a few years ago, but it is satisfying to see a less antiseptic, less “neoclassical” side of the city. These are real Washingtonians, I suppose, people who know nothing but these streets and have no time for the city’s grandeur. I like them, I like it here, I realized, until I saw a woman walking out of a bar with furry boots that probably cost more than my life, she drove off in a Mercedes and I saw why people fuss about gentrification. Oh well, you can take the woman out of NW, but you can’t take the NW out of the Woman.

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