Capital Offenses

A brief stint in D.C. left one Hudson Valley resident homesick.


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Illustration by Tim Foley

Before making a temporary move from the Hudson Valley to Washington, D.C., I knew things would be different.

Because I had a full-time job here, I planned to scope out apartments during a weekend visit to our nation’s capital. Bad idea.

“We’re only open weekdays,” said one representative. Another closed shop on Sundays. “You have to keep one day a week for the Lord,” said the nice woman.

Strange. As a writer for a real estate publication, I often worked on weekends. When calling sources, they’d quip, “working on a Sunday, eh?”

I responded, “Yes, along with the realtors,” who typically hold open houses on weekends — because it’s logical.

Living near downtown D.C. for three years, I realized that Washington is a sleepy Southern burg. People move and think slow, and not just during the tropical summer months that make New York humidity seem tolerable.

Small talk is expected and while walking down the street, strangers would often catch my eye to say or wave hello. A similar experience occurred in Nashville, where I’d think, “Why is that man saying ‘howdy’?” or “Is that woman coming on to me?” Then I remembered: “Oh yeah, I’m down South.”

The city is overrun with lawyers, policy wonks, and former class presidents with politics on the brain 24/7. Must we discuss your pet political issue at a nightclub? Don’t these people talk shop all day at work? Where are my fellow artists and musicians, anyway?

I once entered a restaurant to find CNN looping the same clip of a politician walking down the street, the patrons staring agape. “Can you please put on the game?” I asked.

“Well, this is our sports,” the bartender replied, “and we don’t know what channel it’s on.”

A few days later, aghast, I read in the Washington Post that because Donald Trump’s ascension signaled the fall of Western Civilization, Archibald’s Gentleman’s Club “switched its televisions from sports to CNN and Fox News.”

Forget that esoteric stuff: Washington’s crumbling sidewalks, pockmarked with misaligned pavement and holes deep enough to break an ankle, reflect society’s collapse. My advice: Look down when you walk.

Still, Washington is home to one of the great urban escapes, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal trail, which leads to Great Falls National Park along the Potomac River, a dozen miles from the city’s edge by bicycle.

Unlike the wondrous Hudson Highlands, however, the falls are inaccessible by public transportation. Complain about Metro-North all you want, but service is far more regular and reliable than Washington’s commuter rail system.

And, several barriers in the Potomac limit boat navigation to around two miles upriver from Georgetown, whereas the Hudson River is navigable from the city through Albany.

D.C. boosters also trumpet the city’s recent restaurant boom. Too bad that Hudson Valley hippies helped pioneer the farm-to-table movement long before it reached the swamp (as covered in these pages).

Turns out, I met a gal with a little bit of D.C. and Hudson Valley — a lawyer who practices in a river town. She can sing like Streisand, and it’s good to be home.


Marc Ferris is the author of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem


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