Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Ms. Ackerman Goes to Washington

AnotherAbby's picture

30 Club with people

My relation to the City is best summed up by an anecdote: The Time Jacob and I Found the 9:30 Club (pictured above).

I live in Herndon, Virginia, a small town in the shadow of Washington, DC. There are always a lot of events my friends and I think of going to, but never actually do. Then, my best friend Jacob noticed that one of our favorite bands was coming across the pond to play a show at a small but well-known venue in DC, The 9:30 Club, the night before Homecoming of our junior year. Unlike the times with other bands when we would wistfully shrug and say we’d “catch them next time”, Jacob and I actually bought tickets. In the days before the concert, we painstakingly planned what metro stop we’d get on at, where we’d transfer trains, and which street we’d take after we left the station.

The night came, and our carefully planned commute got us to our stop right when we thought it would, so all that was left was for us to actually walk to the club.

The problem was that neither of us had ever been there before.

We turned left out of the station, and then walked up the road until we saw what we thought was the street we were supposed to turn right on. We followed that for a couple blocks until we noticed that the numbers were going in the wrong order.

No big deal. We should have turned the other way, obviously, so we turned back, walked past the initial street, and then down a couple more blocks.

Still not right. Now we had no idea where we were, but it was clearly residential. It was also the kind of place that our parents would have been alarmed to know we had been wandering around in after dark. We retraced our steps again, back to the Metro station entrance, not bothering to ask for directions or even look at our phones, because that’s what tourists do, and we were from here, right? We should be able to find it. Finally, after passing what I thought was the same Ethiopian restaurant six times, we found a nondescript, brick building with a line of people outside it. It was practically right across the street from the Metro station, and the inside was filled with similar suburbanites whose parents let them out for the night.

My relationship with DC has always been very informal. I willingly admit that I underutilize the opportunities it offers me. It’s a place I sporadically commute into for fun events like museum trips, plays, concerts, or festivals, but not a place I spend the night. I’ve always seen myself as a step above the average tourist, even though both of us are technically “out-of-towners”.

When it comes down to it, I’m not from DC.  I’m from Herndon. I don’t experience the “drama of disharmony” on a daily basis, or even know the City that well. I know it on a very superficial level. I barely go outside of the areas the average tourist frequents, and have only been in the City past midnight once.

Frankly, DC scares me. Compared to Herndon, DC is dangerous, but thrilling. Getting there is a challenge in and of itself, and finding specific places that aren’t large, visible monuments can sometimes be nearly impossible, as I’ve proven.

As my friends and I have grown older, our parents have gradually given us more and more freedom to explore DC on our own, but even with that freedom we mostly stick to what we know. We go to Nationals games. We go to the Zoo. We use bedding to beat up strangers on the Mall at the National Pillow Fight. We’re not going into the residential neighborhoods where people actually live, we’re going to see the pretty surface of the City; the one it shows off to people just visiting to see the marble pillars and museums. My friends and I don’t visit the places we hear about on the nightly news, where the schools are in disrepair and desperately underfunded, or where someone was sexually assaulted walking home. I’m not trying to say that those parts of the city are more authentic than the places I visit, but by never exploring them, I don’t feel like I can really appreciate the whole of the city. By ignoring entire portions of DC in favor of the places I’m familiar with, I deny myself the experience of the City one would get by living there.

 (Photo courtesy of


Rhonda Byrne's picture

Similar experiences

Funny story! I enjoyed reading because something similar happened to me once..
DC may be a strange city..