Originally posted July 4, 2015

In Adams Morgan, all pour downhill in search of a clear view of the southern sky. The throng crosses the street to peer around and over buildings. The street feels unbalanced. A ship in danger of capsizing. The driver of a Safeway truck honks to break through the crowd, who interpret it as celebratory. From an apartment above, an unseen player attempts a Jimi Hendrix style electric National Anthem.

South of Dupont the streets are empty. A helicopter hovers low overhead. Sirens in the distance. Explosions reflect and ricochet off glass walls.

In Bloomingdale, kids shoot rockets off at the corner. Regulars from the emptied-out bar nearby look on. “Next year we’ll buy a huge box of our own.”

In an Eckington alley, kids dance around fountains of green, blue, red sparks.

Above, from the parking lot of the high school on the hill, fireworks tower over the city. Each one a signal calling wanderers:

an old man steps out of an old car;
cyclists stop en route to an after-party on U Street;
strolling lovers approach holding hands.

All are moths to the light of one family quietly taking turns lighting fuses. A private ceremony igniting the city.


Man on the 90 Bus

You got a place to stay? You doing alright? 
There’s one thing you’ve got to have and that’s a place to stay
Because nobody can afford the rent 
But I’ve got it figured out 
No rent!
That’s the best rent
I watch over the apartments
Big complex up on the hill 
Boss pays me to live there
He’s got more buildings than he knows what to do with 
And I’ve got keys to all of ‘em
He gave me a raise last week
Keeps sending more keys direct from the bank
Every day another envelope jangling 
FedEx, UPS 
Empty places all over town
It’s no trouble watching an empty place
Full place is a lot more work
Have my girl living in one of them now
She was staying with her people 
That wasn’t working
No alone time there if you know what I mean
Brought her there last week 
Had it all set up
TV, sofa, bottle of wine 
“This place yours?” she said
“No. It’s all yours sweetheart,” I said
No sense paying rent if you don’t have to 
But I’m about done with D.C.
I’m going to make my way to North Carolina 
It’s all set up 
Just a little more money
A little more time 
No sense staying in D.C. any longer 
Not when there’s nobody left can afford the rent 

I’ve been riding the bus all my life, but in recent years, the convenience of Uber has tempted me — even on short trips like this one (I was headed to a reading at the fantastic Solid State Books on H Street). I chose the bus in part because rent was on my mind and $7 saved is $7 I can set aside for my landlord.  

I don’t know if my seat-mate thought I was homeless — I hope I looked more put together than that — but his opening question seemed sincere, and his relief at hearing that I had a place to stay felt genuine. Or maybe he was hoping to set me up in one of the places he watches over. His story — condensed with only a few small poetic details altered in this telling — felt surreal to me. Real, in that apartment building superintendent is a real job. Real, in that displacement is a real issue in D.C. Surreal, in that his world seemed to be one in which all the buildings are hollow shells that bankmen stockpile for strange and inhuman ends. 

Many luxury apartments sit vacant after being purchased — monuments to money of sometimes dubious origin . NYC’s growing crop of extravagant air rights spires and Miami’s reputation for no-questioned-asked all-cash real estate deals may be the most glaring examples, but I have to wonder how many units in D.C.’s gleaming new apartment buildings sit vacant as places to park cash while the region struggles to build the 340,000 units of housing it will need to build this decade.