Monday, January 19, 2015

Gains from a week in Washington, DC

As I mentioned last Thursday, I just spent a week hanging out with friends in Washington, DC.

The visit was sort of last-minute, I bought the plane ticket at the very end of December and headed there just over a week later.

I met the friend I stayed with, Mike, in my Madrid study abroad program, and hadn't seen him in nearly two years—but we haven't lost touch.

Dec. 2009

He's the type of person it's hard to lose touch with, only because even with months and months of no contact, the next time you talk it feels completely normal.

Last seen: Summer, 2013

Another friend from study abroad, Steph, also lives in DC, and I hadn't seen her since 2011! I got to spend lots of time with her too, which was a complete treasure.

Saying goodbye in 2010!

Here are the reasons my time in DC, which was also time spent with these people, was so wonderful:

Soak up the feel of a new place

I haven't traveled much in the states, and it was nice to explore a new place—to break up the monotony—while staying in the country. I like noticing the tiny details that give a place its vibe.

In DC, the people cross big intersections as soon as there's an opportune moment, whether or not the "walk" light is on.

The metro trains are from the '70s, which is easily noticed in the carpeting and lack of shine.

The District is a grid of streets numbered and lettered, with diagonal or every-which-way streets named after states. The letter and number coordinates are used often (so you might meet up on 7th and H, or live near 5th and I). Everyone's got an intersection.

The happy hour culture is huge, and most firms and offices often go out for drinks after work. If your office isn't, you can meet up with your friends who work elsewhere and get drinks with them. This is a place of young, driven business people who do internships at the White House, but also of extreme poverty and crime-ridden communities.

A week only offers you a small taste of a place, but it was nice to have a different flavor in my mouth.

Relive early college memories

This actually wasn't my first time to Washington DC. After my freshman year of college, I road tripped to DC with two peers from my university's Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics club to attend the 17th World Humanist Congress.

We basically spent our entire time there at the conference site, so I hardly got a feel for DC. We did walk around the National Mall one day, and according to a few photos we visited two museums as well—which I hardly even remember.

That conference had been in June, so seeing these monuments again in winter offered a new angle, as well.

But it was most interesting to think back on that time, seven years ago. Oh how little I knew! And how little I must still know!

What were my thoughts like back then? What were my worries? How are we the same person, when I feel so distant from her?

Since it was a world conference I had attended, I do remember meeting many Europeans—which really stuck out to me at the time. Come to think of it, that was probably my first full interaction with the rest of the world! That trip had also been the first time I'd ever stayed in a hostel, so I think I owe more credit to that conference and road trip than I've originally given it, considering where my life has led since.

Leave the bubble I didn't even know I was in

Since coming back from Korea, or actually probably starting long before, I've unintentionally created this bubble. I think it must happen to most people, though, especially when you work in a specific field or live in a certain place. That's what you see every day, and it forms this closed idea of what life is.

I've been reading travel blogs for years, and many of my closest friends are or have been expats. Travel is part of my life now, and blogging has been a significant piece of me for ten years. It's these elements that are also found in my "bubble."

But then boom—there I was grabbing lunch with two George Washington University grad students who could talk politics or economics all day. Or flash—the next night over drinks a girl just nonchalantly mentions her internship at the White House, which she did after teaching in Korea... wait for it... on a Fulbright grant. Which is totally awesome, but I felt out of my league.

These people are sharp, young, business-y go-getters who know their shit. Whereas for me, on the other hand, the word "business" makes me uncomfortable (right along side its partners "consultant" and "marketing"—What does that mean? What do you do?).

But to look at it from the opposite way, I would bet on the fact that these folks don't know who Liz Carlson or Geraldine DeRuiter are, two bloggers I've been following for years who have both come a long way (They're writers!). These two names mean something to me. They mean a lot, actually, but for most of the world they don't exist.

So it was good to be reminded that writing isn't the only way to go, just as business smarts aren't everything either. Had I been in New York City, for example, I may have found myself wondering why I weren't more creative and artsy. The realization also got me wondering what else is out there. If millions of people don't have a clue about Young Adventuress or the Everywhereist, what do they know that I don't? What else should I be reading and doing and experiencing?

James Clear's recent post offered a different angle to drive this point home for me, in which he suggests we develop new mental models by reading books outside of our norm, and then draw connections from that information to distinct disciplines.

Feel more connected to current events

In case anyone missed it, last Monday smoke filled a tunnel in the metro as a train was going through, so the train had to stop. Smoke filled the train cars, and people were breathing it for 30-40 minutes. Tragically, one woman had died by the time the firemen could get the passengers off of the stopped train, and over 80 were hospitalized. Everyone had to walk through the tunnel back to the station to get out of there.

It was scary and ever so real, since I'd been riding in that very subway all week. Had I left the apartment at all that afternoon instead of staying in to work, I could have just as well been on that train.

So while it was obviously devastating what happened, the fact that I was in DC at the time made it that much more real to me. Many friends and family back home hadn't even heard the news by the time I returned days later. But I'm glad I was there because this way I knew and I cared. I could grieve for this woman and fear for the people who ride the trains every day. I'm not sure if this makes sense, but it was definitely an important part of the week that I couldn't leave out.

Experience bits of France and Spain

One of Mike's good friends in DC is his childhood friend from Minnesota, so they're practically brother and sister. One night, the three of us grabbed a drink (happy hour, see?) at a French bistro. His friend started speaking gorgeous French with the bartender, during which some side whispers between Mike and I taught me that her father was French. Amazing!

This girl seemed to know everyone who walked into the door, too. A few minutes later she was talking with another man—in Spanish. Mike and I got pulled into the conversation when she mentioned that we both had lived in Spain, too, which was neat. Turns out this guy was from Spain, so that was cool.

We saw a little more of Spain one afternoon when we met up with one of Mike's friends for lunch at 100 Montaditos (Cien Montaditos), a Spanish chain we went to often while living in Madrid. I had no idea there was one in DC!

Afterwards Mike and I walked around, and look what I was delighted to see on our way to the National Mall!

A piece of Paris in Washington DC

Discover the world of Uber

I got to use Uber (via Mike) several times during the week, and I'm so impressed. If you're unfamiliar with Uber, it's an app that connects drivers to people wanting rides, eliminating the need for taxis basically. So regular people sign up to be drivers, and can work (drive) whenever they want.

As passengers, Mike would pin our location, and the closest Uber car would come pick us up. We honestly never waited longer than a minute—every time. You can also plug in your destination, so the driver has it ready to go up on their GPS. You're given the driver's photo, car model and license plate number, so you can easily spot the right car. It did feel funny the first time, when we just opened a random car's door and hopped in the back ("For Mike?" he would confirm as we jumped in), but I quickly got used to Ubering.

Once you get to your destination, you tap a button on your phone after you get out, confirming you're there, and then the driver is automatically paid (you've previously hooked up your credit card to your Uber account).

Drivers are rated, so you can check their rating before accepting a ride from them. If you have a bad experience, you can rate the driver and contact Uber (Mike's gotten his money back once before, when a driver took a ridiculously long way to get to the destination). It is so convenient (cashless) and pricing is clear.

I hadn't had any previous first-hand experience with Uber prior to this trip, so it was fun to use the unique app with an experienced user.

Reconnect with old buds

Finally, the sole purpose of the trip was to hang out with Mike and Steph. It didn't even necessarily feel like reconnecting, it was like continuing right where we'd left off last time.

One night after dinner at Steph's the three of us stayed talking away until 4am! That's the latest I've been up in a loong time, chatting with old friends. It was a wonderful, wonderful night.

Steph's place was so inspiring, too—a beautiful studio decorated in such a way that it made my soul smile.

After being so isolated in Korea, my DC trip also made me realize that working from home and not interacting with coworkers all day was yet another form of isolation. Which is fine, but I need to force myself to get out and do more things, because it shouldn't feel like such a shock (as it did some days in DC) to leave the house after dark and get together with people.

So thank you, you fabulous people, for a wonderful week!

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