Explorations

chilis

1. A Jaunt Across the City

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to abscond on a Friday when we had nothing to do. We had no plan or schedule, we just hopped on the metro and went. We first stopped at the Chili’s in Crystal City (my favorite restaurant of all time and the epitome of fine dining in my opinion). The place was full of blue-color workers and salesmen. The atmosphere was very relaxed; the speakers tinkled top 40 and the TV showed some football game. Next, we metro’d to Arlington to see a movie (“The Green Inferno” – quite possibly the worst movie I’ve ever seen). The metro had a lot of tired moms and babies on it. The ride was infused with the soporific warmth of 3 pm. Besides one other couple, we were the only ones in the theater. The chairs were plushy and reclined! I was thrilled by the luxury. After the movie, we stopped in the ubiquitous corner Starbucks. It was full of beanie, hipster types and javapreneurs, all tapping away at laptops or gesticulating over obscure books. We then headed for the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop. We went to Madame Tussauds, trailing behind a group of matching tourists. They took a lot of pictures and got really excited at the Kennedy section. We then left to eat at our favorite pizzeria, The District of Pi. It’s a cute, Americana, craft beer kind of place. There were a lot of families and young people. The bar was full of pre-professional women picking at salads. Later, in the hopes of catching the hockey game, we wandered down to the Verizon Center only to find that the cheapest seats were $99! As we left the ticket window, we saw two groups of young black men start fighting in the doorway of the McDonalds. The guy that broke it up seemed very used to that kind of thing. A homeless man told me that I have pretty eyes. Everything was lit up and buzzing in a sigh of relief that the work week had finally come to a close. It started to rain, and the streets quickly emptied.

 

Ben's_Chili_Bowl

 

2. Come on Down to Ben’s

During the¬†preorientation program that I coordinate, we went for lunch at the original Ben’s Chili Bowl. The place was loud, hot, and packed. The line for the counter snaked all through the little antechamber. Pictures of prominent African Americans dotted the walls, and the place was hazy with smoke from the grills. We were shepherded into a back room and crammed at two long chrome tables. A 70 year old black man named Chuck came out and started to talk. He wore a Nats cap and a tropical apron over his jeans and t-shirt. He paced back and forth and spoke with the cadence of a pastor. He spun us the tale of DC in the aftermath of MLK’s assassination, how the whole city¬†was turned upside down by the race riots, how Ben’s was the only place to stay open amid the tribulation. He talked about how Ben’s became a stable, safe, local hub that people could depend on and flee to in times of terror. He went off on some tangents about his golf-caddying for Ronald Reagan and about getting injured during his collegiate athletic career. We watched a short video about Ben’s featuring everyone from President Obama to Chris Rock. I’d seen the video before and knew that Bill Cosby had been cut out of it. They left his picture up in the restaurant though. The food came out, hot and spicy. I ordered the half-smoke – Chuck said it’s what made them famous. The utensils were plastic. Heat rose in plumes off the pavement outside.

 

 

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3. Serving on the Surface

Earlier this year, I went to the Capital Area Food Bank. We took a metro and bus to get there – it’s in the middle of nowhere. The woman at the desk said that it’s on purpose – they don’t want people lining up at the door. A grouchy woman gave us a speech on the food bank and its mission. She had a blanket tied around her shoulders like a cape. She kept flirting with one of the mover guys. Inside the warehouse were tons of metal crates with labels for the food to go in them. We were told to throw out anything without labels or that had been taped shut. There weren’t any other groups there – just a few couples and the people that worked there. We finished our section of the food in about 10 minutes. They didn’t have anything else for us to do. They said that they were booked up and needed to save the other food for volunteers coming later. It was a bit anticlimactic.


One Response to “Explorations”

  1. You provide clear descriptions, with some editorial insertions, in these reports, but I’d encourage you to dig deeper in your thinking about them. How does the suburban version of DC, with its national chain restaurant and nice movie theater, give you a sense of what DC is like? (Note, I’m not suggesting that it doesn’t — I just want to encourage you to step back from the description to think about its significance.) Why is Ben’s a DC icon? As an icon, what does it represent about DC? And what do you learn about DC by visiting the food bank?

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