Growing up, I would watch the Amazing Race with my family regularly. It wasn't uncommon for me to talk about how much I would love to participate in that show. This afternoon, I got a taste of what it would be like. The staff was sent on an "Amazing Race" of the city. We divided into 2 teams of 4 and were given 10 locations to try and go to during a period of 6 hours. That's a lot of numbers...but you get the picture :)
During one of our stops at the Ebenezer Cafe, we ate lunch at Union State. The picture on the right is the view from our table. Halfway through our meal, I took this picture because all of a sudden I saw the contrast. If you look below where the floors are divided, you see a pretty generic tourist cafeteria. It has generic tables, colorful columns, and fast food. But...if you look above the dividers, you see the beautiful architecture that Union Station is known you. There are umbrellas in front of restaurants, (clearly for aesthetic purposes...since I doubt it rains inside). There are trees instead of murals on columns, and there is an elaborate, and beautiful ceiling. I've been to Union Station multiple times. These differences between the first floor and the second floor have always been there, the station hasn't changed. I just didn't see the contrasting levels of a luxurious eating area and a common cafeteria coexisting until I looked for them.
This changed my approach to the rest of the afternoon. As we guided ourselves around (literally) the whole city...I started to see the contrasts that I have been passing everyday, because today I decided to look for them.
The second picture is the backyard of the Anacostia Art Gallery in Southeast DC. This afternoon, my group walked into the Art Gallery and had a great conversation with one of the owners of the Gallery. She was wonderful, and has a heart for poetry and travel. On the right of the picture is a stage with an African theme for decorations, and the garden is actually an ancestral garden. Southeast, and especially Anacostia can sometimes have to battle a reputation of being a rougher area of the city. This reputation isn't entirely true...in fact some of Capitol Hill is technically considered Southeast. Regardless, this oasis in the middle of Anacostia was beautiful, and so unique to it's neighborhood.
The third picture is the front of a house near the National Cathedral in Northwest DC. The location alone, in comparison to Southeast DC should give you an idea for its reputation. It is about as far away from Southeast as you get. This neighborhood has affluent houses, and is held in much higher regards than Southeast. In fact, from this neighborhood, and the National Cathedral, we were able to walk to the Naval Observatory, which houses the Vice President. Down the street is Mass Ave, which is also named Embassy Row, because it is the major location for a majority of the embassies in DC.
As the pictures show, and hopefully my explanations articulate, DC most certainly has contrasts. Today, as we navigated ourselves around the city, I saw sites that I now see regularly. However, today I saw rich and poor segregated by their neighborhoods. I saw white and black on different bus routes I rode. I saw Catholic and Protestant as I went to the Cathedral, the Basilica and Ebenezer’s cafe (which houses a church in the basement). I even saw Political and an NGO as I volunteered at Food and Friends (providing ill people with healthy foods) then walked by the Capitol building.
What I saw when I actually opened my eyes today was absolutely amazing to me. To say the least, I definitely had a wake-up call as I go about the city these next couple of months. Today, I saw how my preconceived notions interfere with my perceptions of the city and its neighborhoods. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a way to overcome those obstacles in the future so that I can truly experience the city :)
--Stephanie, CSM Washington DC Summer 2010 City Host