Downtown All Night

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2010 at 5:27 pm

In honor of Thanksgiving, some reflections on overland travel. Photograph of rural Maryland, taken from an Amtrak dining car.

DuPont Circle, Washington, D.C.

Just remember, if you’re ever in Washington, that the Metro stops running at midnight. On Thanksgiving morning, it doesn’t run until 7 o’clock, so if you’re depending on it, make hotel reservations. When I arrived at the Greyhound station at 11:52 p.m., I didn’t know these things. I walked past the Capitol, ready to sleep in the bed my Grandmother had dressed in her comfy Silver Spring cottage.

Halfway down the Mall, just a couple blocks from the Washington Memorial, there’s an easy-to-find Metro station; this is the one I track down every year to catch a train to Silver Spring. This time, at the bottom of the long escalator, a cage-like metal frame had dropped from the ceiling, sealing me out.

I just started laughing. Of fucking course the Metro was closed. Why the hell not?

So I started trekking toward DuPont Circle, which is in a college neighborhood, which means young, partying people. When I finally got there (Washington can be very confusing for a planned city), the clubs were jammed with college kids; the lines were long and full of sparsely dressed young women – all talking on cell phones, everybody dressed to the nines, all of them glaring at my backpack and chuckling.

I decided to go to a Grown-Up Bar. Screw these kids. First, a stop at the MAC, which was encased in a glass enclosure – the fortress-like ATM that you only find in ritzy downtown areas. Inside, I took out $20 and tried to open the door.

The door wouldn’t budge. I yanked again, then again. I tried the other door. I tried the side-door (which, because of the glare, I didn’t see led into an office). I stood there, taking deep breaths. Was I seriously stuck inside an ATM kiosk?

A woman knocked on the glass. She was brown-skinned, wearing a suede Prada coat. I waved helplessly. She waved back, then pointed to the green button on the wall. It said, “Handicapped Access Only.” I pressed, and nothing happened. She pointed to the door, and I pulled; the glass swung open, resisting only slightly.

“I know,” she said, laughing. “I got stuck in one myself.”

I thanked her and headed to The Front Page, a posh little restaurant-bar where a man named Sergio fed me free beer and shots. When he poured me a second kamikaze, telling me it was on the house, I asked him why.

“Because you’re here,” he said. “It’s a slow night. Just happy you guys are here, is all.”

Insanely, last call in Washington is 1:30 a.m. – a half-hour before Pittsburgh’s last call and three hours before New York’s. People on the street claimed that there were no after-hours clubs, no all-night coffee places, no Howard Johnson’s – literally, not one place where I could nurse a cup of coffee for a couple hours.

So I went to the Mall, curled up on a park bench, and slept for a few hours. No police bothered me; no squirrels danced around my shoulder. For November, the weather was very warm – a full 60 degrees – and the sky was a forgiving overcast. The only disturbance was the plodding of a jogger, which finally woke me around dawn. I walked to Union Station, where everything opens at 7 a.m. The police were friendly, pointing out the Metro station and the Au Bon Pain. I bought a bagel, rubbed my eyes, and determined, fuck it, I’m getting too old for this.


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