Wonder what the atmosphere is really like in Washington, DC, and Philadelphia lately? It was an interesting trip I took to those two historically American cities recently. I have a few personal observations for those who might be curious.
The usual hustle and bustle of visitors during spring break in Washington was noticeably absent. This visit was just dinner and an overnight stay, so I didn’t have extra activities planned. The expressway traffic seemed normal for a weekend, but driving near the Capitol was challenging, even for seasoned locals. Streets are closed, blocked off, or one-way. Many businesses are closed temporarily or shuttered for good.
Runners and locals were near the Capitol fencing. The homeless and mentally disabled were also very present in the area where all of the razor fences are located. A word about the fences: there are a lot of them. Lots of fences. Shocking, really. They are black with silver razor wire. The television cameras make them look way taller than they are up close. However, the razor wire on top is exactly as pictured. I did not see an abundance of our National Guard there. Most likely, the remaining Guard were close to the actual Capitol structure. I was farther away, just outside of one of the many fences.
Well, a lot of the restaurants have closed. The remaining opened restaurants have spent $$ to save their businesses. The restaurant I visited was delightfully accommodating. However, we ate outdoors in an open tent with 2 heaters. Diners were spread far apart outside, maybe seating half the capacity. Yes, it was cold, but the second heater made our time warm and very doable. When it’s March, 40 degrees, and the sun is setting, you need your stadium blanket, the required mask whenever the wait staff arrives at your table, and great food to keep you returning. It is my understanding the open establishments require reservations. People there are willing to do whatever they need to do to go out and socialize. Keep in mind, this is Washington. Social distancing is not the way of politics there, so these rules have required a huge cultural shift. In fact, I was told that when a particular local bar opened up a few weeks ago, they were so crowded that the management had to have people go outside. No pushing tables together. Mask up when being served.
My goal in meeting up with one of my contacts in Washington was a success. When administrations change from one party to another, people leave town, change jobs, and new people come in. That’s just how it’s done in Washington. This contact is willing to be a guest speaker for my civics class and hopefully will be available when I want to check up on what is happening on the ground in DC. The pandemic makes it difficult to meet new people, so I am grateful for opportunities that come my way.
Philadelphia was another story. The homeless and mentally disabled were very present and acting out. Who remembers Tiananmen Square, 1989, with the lone protestor, arms outstretched, willing to risk his life in front of an enormous road roller to make a statement for freedom? I had flashbacks as I witnessed a man, wearing shorts in the cold, damp weather, placing himself in front of a city bus that just turned the corner. The bus driver, concerned for everyone’s safety, tried to no avail to get the man to move. The guy’s arms were outstretched, body stance stoic, and clearly willing to risk his life. After a lengthy showdown, somehow, he moved toward the driver’s window. The driver began to move his bus to get it out of the intersection. The man grabbed hold of the side of the bus until the increasing speed forced him to let go. I saw more incidents. Breaks your heart. It really does.
Philly was not its usual self. Many establishments are closed. However, I saw restaurants in the process of building outdoor “huts” to serve people—no end to the pandemic there. What struck me is that Philly supported the burning of two city blocks in 2020. I watched it live, in real-time, on tv. When I was walking the streets a few days ago there, every single person had on a face covering. Some had on double masks. They wear them everywhere. The civil disobedience last summer, in contrast with obedience to the mask mandate, gives pause for thought. I still don’t know what to make of it.
Observing what is going on in our country and assessing it makes us better informed citizens.
This is Common Sense Civics and Citizenship.🇺🇸