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9 Commandments for Living in Washington D.C.

Washington, D. C.
by Andy Elijah Aug 10, 2016

Thou shalt not be afraid of the suburbs.

With its diverse population across economic and racial lines, Washington D.C. has always been a bastion of progress and cutting edge culture. But with a recession-proof economy, a rising cost of living has made it harder for the common man to survive within the city lines. Much of the city’s middle class (immigrant or not), the middle class that would have occupied the city in its past years, has found homes in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. It’s that part of the population too, that is responsible for much great culture and great food. Stay in the city lines, and you’ll be missing out.

Thou shalt think of other questions than “What do you do?”

It’s become a bit of a punchline at this point that the first question you’ll hear at parties in D.C. is: “what do you do?” They don’t mean what you do for fun, what you do for breakfast, what you do in your free time; they mean what you do for work. The culture at large is so career focused, it can seem like your work life defines you in D.C.- but it doesn’t have to! It’s a diverse and beautiful city, with a lot happening. Think of conversation starters beyond the most obvious one.

Thou shalt meet your neighbors.

The president serves in four-year terms, as you know. That also means the city population tends to shift every four years, or even less. It’s seen by many as such a transitional city, with many coming to add a great job to their resume before moving on to other bigger cities. No matter how long you stay, invest in your community. Meet your neighbors, whether they are born and raised Washingtonians or drifters as well. Doing so makes it a better, warmer, more vibrant city.

Thou shalt leave extra time when taking the Metro.

Like so much public transportation in America, The D.C. train system known as the Metro is old, decaying and sort of falling apart. Epic delays, closures, small fires, and sadly even crashes have made it a decade of trouble. So much so that the whole system had to be shut down in March of 2016 for emergency safety measures. Sadly, it’s still one of the most reliable in the country. Ride the metro for sure- just give yourself plenty of time to get wherever you’re going.

Thou shalt eat as many pupusas as possible.

D.C. is one of the major centers of El Salvadoran life in the United States. You might even notice much of the Mexican food you eat in town doesn’t taste the same as other Mexican food you’ve had around the country. It’s because most of the time, folks from El Salvador are making it, and their cuisine is quite different from that of their northern neighbors. If you want to have the real authentic Salvadoran food in D.C., you can binge on some pupusas- like thicker quesadillas with the ingredients cooked into the cornmeal, as opposed to being sandwiched in between.

Thou shalt explore local music.

D.C. is the birthplace of go-go music, an early ancestor of hip hop, and a style that blew up locally in the 60’s and 70’s in the city’s African-American community. This was all thanks to countless bands, but especially to the “godfather of Go-Go”, Chuck Brown (7th Street in the Shaw neighborhood is also named “Chuck Brown Way.”) Go Go blended funk and R&B in a percussive heavy mix, with jams that would go on seemingly forever. No one was keeping track of the time though because they were too busy dancing and singing in response to the calls from the band-leader on stage.

Then, of course, there’s Dischord Records, the seminal punk label founded in a small house in Arlington, VA, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, by Ian McKaye and Jeff Nelson. Started in their late teens, Minor Threat took hardcore punk rock to another level. They started Dischord as a way of putting out their own music, and their friends’ music, on their own terms in a DIY fashion. The label would go on to do nearly 200 releases, all from local punk and indie bands. While they’ve slowed down considerably on new releases, you can still see its legacy in the ever-present influx of new young punk bands, as well as the Fort Reno summer concert series.

Thou shalt look beyond Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Capitol Hill for places to live.

Back in the 90’s, these neighborhoods were where you lived in D.C., kind of like Manhattan for the characters of Seinfeld and Sex & The City. If you can afford to live there now, well, good on you. Even if you could though, would you want to? From Shaw to Bloomingdale, from Petworth to Brookland, from Columbia Heights to 16th Street Heights, there are so many beautiful places to live, you may as well keep your options open and explore until you find the right place for you.

Thou shalt not stay in an unhappy job (there are other jobs)

With the federal government being a major employer, D.C. has always been considered “recession proof.” That means when the 2008 crash rolled around, it was one of the only cities in the country that actually grew. There are so many jobs in town- people seem to move here for 9 to 5’s like people move to Los Angeles to act. While each job may have a lot of competition, they still exist aplenty. So there’s no need to stay in a job you hate. Look for one you might hate less…or even like.

Thou shalt never drive through Georgetown (AKA don’t go there)

Georgetown is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, tucked away in the southwest corner of the city, running along the Potomac River. It’s also one of its richest and whitest. The DC metro never made its way over there- and tales have been told for years that the powers that be stopped it from happening as a way to preserve the neighborhood’s elite status. If that’s true, karma has worked its way into the area with horrible traffic jams at all hours of the day and night. Avoid driving (and parking) there at all costs.

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