Five years and six months; that was my sentence. Blame it on a molotov cocktail of bad luck and amazing opportunities; but I spent the early years of my adulthood in the Nation’s Capital plotting my escape. If it wasn’t a spring break or summer internship I was looking forward to, I was on the first Megabus to New York whenever I had a chance. Simply put — for me, being a young adult in Washington, D.C. sucked.
Fortunately, Howard University shielded me from the things I hated most about the region: the pretentious cruisers wearing their work badges to happy hours. The tension in the air between gentrifiers and D.C. natives. And the insane cost of living that continues to skyrocket.
Between the hellish traffic, parking nightmare and being a repeat victim of the rampant crime - by the time I walked across the stage in May 2011, I was beyond ready to go.
I didn’t get an opportunity, or the boot rather, until the beginning of 2013 when my company decided that it was “moving in a different direction” so it had to reduce a chunk of headcount. I literally spent two months living like a Georgetown housewife. Waking up to watch Moesha before hitting the WSC for a work out, shopping for ingredients to failed cooking attempts before meeting my friends for happy hour at five.
Eventually that got old and after paying off my last set of parking tickets in March 2013, I dropped another $600 on my chariot to freedom — a cross country U haul back home to Detroit. Sure the city had a deplorable job market and was on the verge of bankruptcy, but seeing old friends and family finally brought me some peace.
Unlike D.C., I could get where ever I needed to go in 15 minutes. And also unlike D.C., young professionals supported one another instead of trying to “oneup” each other every chance we got. Gentrification was more of a sociology term than a reality and no one was trying to strip the city of its culture. Life was well…easy.
It wasn’t until I got the itch to make a career move that landed me in the Bay Area last summer that I had a chance to fully appreciate the place I ran to Detroit to get away from. Despite the sunshine, blue skies and moderate weather, San Francisco’s lack of brown faces, horrible traffic and geriatric nightlife made me appreciate the terrible parking, snotty people, pricey rent and transit. I actually moved to a major city where I could spend a day outside and not see another brown face until I looked in a mirror - who knew that was possible?
Suddenly the repeat nights on U Street and drunken brunches from Dupont to Capitol Hill didn’t seem so bad. My last trip back was homecoming of last year and it dawned on me that D.C. wasn’t just that crummy place south of New York on the eastern seaboard, it was the place I grew up. From the second I landed at Reagan National and hopped on the yellow line, I tried to fight the feeling that I was back home. The yoga studios and luxury condos replaced former landmarks in my old neighborhoods of Brookland and Columbia Heights, but they couldn’t erase the memories I made there. The new name for Northeast near New York Avenue, NoMA, didn’t change the fact that I saw my first stabbing outside of FUR nightclub and the new shopping plaza in Chinatown can’t keep those bad ass kids off the corner of 7 and H.
Despite all the things that have rapidly changed, what made DC the most unique has remained the same; the people. College kids at Howard thinking they’re the greatest gifts to the planet walking up and down Georgia Ave, the young, well “ish”, Black professionals congregating on U Street and my old church, Alfred Street Baptist, still drawing flocks out sheath dress rocking naturals to the pews every Sunday. God.
As much as I complained about it when I lived there, DC will always be the same city I loved to hate. Thanks for the laughs, the tears and life.
See you at Homecoming,
Michael is a tech savvy, Detroit native working in Silicon Valley as a communications professional. He graduated from Howard University with a degree in journalism and is passionate about education, health & wellness and economics.