Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Columbia Heights

When I first moved to DC, I lived in a neighborhood that was, as they say, "in transition." What this meant in practical terms, was that you didn't walk more than a block from the apartment building after dark. I only lived there about 3 months before finding a more permanent home. Good thing, too. Scanning the paper today, I see that my old 'hood is having an upsurge in gang violence, with 2 slayings in the past few days.

There was only one grocery store near that house, and it was within walking distance. I'm sure there are much scarier grocery stores in D.C., but this was definitely the most frightening one I'd ever frequented. It was dingy like it hadn't been cleaned in eons, the lights were barely trying, and the street around it was populated by empty store fronts and liquor stores. I used to wear ugly baggy clothes and a sweatshirt with a hood over my head and my hair frazzled so that nobody would harass me while I walked to the store. This never seemed to work--I might as well have been wearing a leather micro-mini and hooker boots. My roommate used to tell me not to go to that grocery store, but it was just so close that I didn't really have a choice. I asked our next-door neighbor Ana, a tough broad who had lived in the neighborhood for 20 years, if she thought going to the grocery store was unsafe. "Oh, no!" she laughed. "You're perfectly safe! I mean, as long as you go before 6pm, nothing will happen!"

You could say I've had a sheltered life.

Sometimes I feel bad that I sold out and moved to a neighborhood of creature comforts and little league parks and families walking dogs. I feel guilty knowing that other people would like to raise their families in this neighborhood but simply don't have the means. I tough it out for a couple months before jumping ship, and reminisce about my days in a neighborhood that by DC standards, really wasn't all that bad. But then I read stories like this one, and I'm glad I can take a walk for some ice cream in the evening and fear nothing more than an unleashed dog.


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