I’ve been trying to get to Washington DC for a few years now, and every time I tried life has interceded. Finally I’m here. As I’m writing (most of) this blog post, my trip is almost done, having been here about two weeks. First I attended a conference for professional speakers, then I did my own seminars and coaching. I had two days in the middle to go do fun stuff.
What a great city! I ended up liking DC much more than I was expecting. If it wasn’t for the horrible weather (I’ll explain in a minute) and taxes (5.5% sales tax, 8.5% income tax; yuck), it would seriously be a city I would consider living in. It’s not perfect of course, but overall it stacks up pretty well compared to most other large US cities.
As always when I do these city reviews, I stayed in the downtown core (on purpose) for the entirety of my stay. I understand that as you move out from the core, things start getting more shitty, which is usually the case for a big American city. Keep that in mind as I go on; I can’t describe the entire area of Washington DC, just the central city core.
1. The women. Let’s talk about the women here since I know that’s probably what most of you are curious about. When I first arrived at DC, I was surprised to see how fit and trim everyone is compared to most other US cities. Several guys informed me that DC won fittest city in the US at some point recently, and I wasn’t surprised. DC women are definitely fit. In terms of attractiveness, they’re about on par with Chicago women. Chicago women are one tiny notch better than New York women, which is to say that Chicago (and DC) women are fit and generally average looking but nothing to get super excited about. This is opposed to places like New York (women who are fit and trim but somewhat plain looking) or Miami (super hot women of all races).
As you get closer to the government buildings, the women do start to get a little better looking. There are hotties to be found in DC, but you have to hunt for them.
So as to whether or not DC women are “hot,” that would depend on what city you come from. If you’re from Miami or LA, you’re going to find DC women disgusting. If you’re from Memphis or Detroit, you’ll think they’re gorgeous. (I stopped off at Detroit for three days prior to this trip, and the difference in women between there and DC was staggering.)
2. The subway system here is clean, efficient, and seems to be well kept. Regardless, it’s still decades behind the subways of Asia. The subways in DC use primitive LED signs that look like something out of the 1970s. Instead of a computer voice announcing the next stop, there’s either complete silence, or a very fast muttering from the conductor over a 30 year-old speaker you can’t understand. On the plus side, the subway stations are very clean and well thought-out.
While the subways in DC are adequate, it’s a little sad to see the subways within the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth so far behind those of other nations. Oh well.
3. Traffic and crowds in Washington DC are very interesting. Like most cities, things get crowded after about 5:30pm. Unlike most cities, everything stays crowded until 11pm or even later. Very strange. I was in a Walgreens on a weekday night at 10:30pm, and it was jam-packed crowded, with huge, long lines at the checkout counter. At a Walgreens? At 10:30pm on a Wednesday night?
I asked someone if some big event had just ended, like a concert or sports game. “No,” he said with a shake of the head, “it’s always like this.” Even Manhattan doesn’t have late-night crowds like this in stores. Fascinating.
People in DC are very chill and relaxed as compared to most American cities. It’s refreshing. They’re almost as chill as the Seattle/Portland people I’m accustomed to. However, when DCers get into a car, they suddenly become New Yorkers. DC folks honk their damn horns constantly. Walking down the street at any time of the day you’ll hear honk after honk, all day long.
I started paying attention to why these people were honking, and as you might expect, they were honking for the dumbest and most minor reasons you can think of. And no, this is not a “black thing;” most of the people I saw honking for no good reason were white folks.
What is it about the east coast that turns normal people into short-tempered assholes when they get behind the wheel of a car? It’s probably the biggest cultural difference in the US between the east and west coasts, and I admit I don’t understand it. At least in New York it somewhat makes sense; New Yorkers as assholes in or out of a car, but DCers are chill people…until they start to drive. Bizarre.
4. The weather here is dreadful. I have a rule that I never travel in the summer, because that’s when most of the world is too hot and/or humid and it’s also when were I live (Pacific Northwest) is the most beautiful. This year I had to make an exception to this rule because of this conference I had to attend (I had put it off two years in a row and couldn’t put it off again), so I was prepared for shitty weather.
And boy, did I get it. Friends of mine in DC have admitted that while DC is a cool city, the weather sucks. Well, they’re right. The humidity here is bad. Not horrible bad, but definitely in the bad category.
You walk outside in the summer time, and within about four minutes you feel sticky and gross. I’ve noticed that people who live here carry around spare T-shirts with them to change halfway into the day because they sweat so much. Sweaty armpits here are common. People here shower two, if not three times a day in the summer time.
Worse, the humidity brings mosquitoes and little flying bugs, the like I’ve which I’ve never encountered in a big city like this. We’re talking both indoors and outdoors.
The final day I was here, it was 85 degrees, hot, and humid as usual. Suddenly there was a boom in the sky and it started pouring down rain, and I mean pouring. My smartphone suddenly beeped with all kinds of flash flood warnings, and within minutes the streets were like rivers. Hot. Humid. 85 degrees. And pouring down rain. Yeah. “Sucks” doesn’t begin to describe it.
I was trapped outside without an umbrella and my laptop in an expandable backpack that was not waterproof. Taxis become scarce when things like this happen, and I was very lucky to be by one that I lunged for instantly.
I had to fly home that day, and the Uber ride to the airport (had to Uber, couldn’t use the subway, long story) cost double because of the rain. Nice. I arrived only to find the airport was damn near shut down, planes had been rerouted to different airports, mass chaos, all because of…rain. (What the hell? People in DC aren’t prepared for this stuff?)
My flight was an hour late, then we had to sit in the plane an additional hour before takeoff, making my five-hour flight back to Portland a seven-hour ordeal.
Man, what a pain in the ass. DC is a very cool place, but this weather is a deal-breaker. I can’t imagine living in DC full-time and putting up with constant sweaty-sticky-multiple showers-change clothes-flying bugs thing for months on end (even without buckets of hot rain dumping on my head).
5. The city itself is surprisingly clean, with a pleasant and unique mix of modern and colonial styles (though I hear Boston is similar). I could easily spend an entire week walking or biking around the city and I’m sure I’d enjoy every minute of it. The people, streets, buildings, and sidewalks are very clean and well-maintained. Homeless people are present but there isn’t very many of them.
One very weird thing was the size of the buildings. No commercial or residential building in the entire city of Washington DC is taller than about 12 stories. Some ridiculous, outdated law from a bazillion years ago restricts building height in DC to something around 130 feet. As you walk down a DC street, you see these new yet short, squat buildings for as far as the eye can see. There are no skyscrapers here. None. As a result, Washington DC doesn’t have a skyline.
If you’re accustomed to big cities with tall buildings as I am, it’s a very strange sight. I actually laughed out loud when I first emerged from the subway station and saw this for the first time. My first thought: “There’s no way in hell the free market would do this. There must be a stupid law, and I bet it’s artificially depressing the economy here.” Apparently I was right.
Like Miami and many other cities these days, DC offers a very inexpensive and efficient bike rental system, complete with a smartphone app, which I did use. My only complaint is, once again, after about 5:30pm, most of the bike racks are completely empty, causing you to walk around for blocks (getting more sweaty and sticky by the minute) to chase down a rack that might have one bike left.
DC is flat for the most part, so biking around is easy and fun. Biking around National Mall and hitting all the monuments once the sun went down was one of the most enjoyable moments I’ve ever had travelling. Good stuff.
The food in DC is on par with most large cities, certainly better than a city like Seattle but still not nearly as good as New York. Like with the women here, I put the food at about the same level as Chicago.
6. Let’s talk about those national monuments. I did pretty much all the cool ones, just like a dorky tourist. Being a libertarian who is planning on leaving the country, seeing the iconic monuments of my homeland is a little bittersweet. As I looked on the Capital building and the White House, I tried to focus on the times when these structures really did mean freedom, trying to keep my mind focused on men like Van Buren, Tyler, Jefferson, and Coolidge rather than the bloodthirsty authoritarian emperors like Clinton, Bush, and Obama we have now.
The Capitol building and most of the Smithsonian museums were mildly interesting but mostly blah. The Washington Monument was very cool. The Lincoln Memorial was unexpectedly grand. It actually created a positive, powerful, and visceral reaction in me. Lincoln was a racist and a tyrant, and history has shown he really should have just let the south go, but regardless, viewing the majesty of that monument connected with my heritage as an American. Ah yes, we Americans are a violent people, but you guys are still my peeps.
My strongest moment of emotion was standing in front of something that wasn’t American at all. It struck me as I beheld the original Magna Carta, held in the National Archives building. A very strong and magical moment for me; a connection with the middle ages I wasn’t expecting. I also visited the Rotunda holding the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. The huge mural artwork around the documents was almost as striking as the original documents themselves.
The American Constitution is perhaps the most important single piece of writing in modern history. Too bad our government doesn’t follow it anymore. I will see these documents (including the Magna Carta) again. Definitely a highlight in a trip full of highlights.
I was also able to fulfill one of my life-long goals by being able to go inside the Pentagon(!). One of the attendees at one of my seminars mentioned he worked at the Pentagon, and when I expressed interest, he was able to get me in using a civilian visitor’s pass. A rare treat. Being inside this massive, iconic building (30,000 people work there!) was exciting to say the least. I was even able to snap a few pictures, which technically is a no-no. Here’s one. Hopefully the NSA won’t be throwing me in jail.
In summary, Washington DC is a very cool place and I enjoyed every minute of my two-week stay. Other than the weather and taxes, those who live in DC should be proud to live there. DC is now officially one of my favorite cities in the US, and certainly my favorite east coast city with the exception of Miami. I will certainly be back (just not in the summer time!).