“It seems like August,” I said recently to a Lyft driver who was taking me to my retina specialist for yet another of those God-awful injections. “What do you mean?” she asked. Many drivers of for-hire services don’t live in the District of Columbia; they don’t fully appreciate the city's seasonal rhythms.
Native Washingtonians and folks like myself, who have been around for a while, know August is the month when the streets are nearly empty of cars. Politicians in the federal enclave — Capitol Hill and the White House — have left, returning to their home states or vacation resorts. Even DC Council members are on summer recess.
Tourists have abandoned the place, decrying the heat and humidity. Some residents who aren’t fond of those dog days have escaped to the Vineyard, Rehoboth Beach and other locales capable of providing an ocean breeze.
I love August in DC. It’s my favorite time to rediscover the city’s indisputable beauty and treasures. I visit restaurants with sidewalk seating, like Jyoti, my favorite Indian restaurant in Adams Morgan, or Lauriol Plaza, where my friends and I sip margaritas and sangrias. I rummage through bookstores like Kramer’s or Idle Times Books store, which is now Lost City Books. I frequently take aimless but luxurious strolls through neighborhoods like Shaw or Georgetown.
The museums aren’t crowded; there is time to contemplate a piece of history or a work of art without being overly anxious about whether I’m delaying someone else’s enjoyment. The gardens and parks are less cluttered.
When I listen closely, I hear the city humming its own song.
Unfortunately, spring has been disrupted by the coronavirus. Mayor Muriel Bowser has forced us all to the inside with her stay-at-home order, unless we have essential business. Just recently she extended the health emergency to June 8.
Could the entire summer be stolen from us. I am already anxious about August.
It's true there is some consolation that there are fewer cars on DC streets these day--although in the past two weeks when I have ventured out to the store--mostly Safeway, sometimes Harris Teeter--I have noticed a measurable uptick. No real pleasures are derived from the emptiness, however.
Truthfully, I am in pain.
Recently, as I read the morning news about the spread of COVID-19 and the number of people dying — not just in this region but around the world — tears quietly crawled down my face. I don’t know anyone personally, thus far, who has died. Still, the sheer volume of people ripped from their families and communities without any warning, without time for any proper goodbye has left me traumatized and heartbroken.
Restaurants and businesses have experienced death of another kind. Workers are left without the jobs that provide them the opportunity to maintain their self-dignity. Even with federal or local financial assistance, many do not have enough money to pay rent or mortgage or find food to feed themselves and their children. All across the country there are food lines--long food lines with people unsure about whether there will be one next week where they can get basic necessities.
In my mind, I hear lines from Scott Heron's song "Winter in America...cities stagger on the coastline in a nation that just can't stand much more....The people know it's winter in America."
There is word this week that the U.S. House of Representatives has yet another stimulus or relief bill that is supposed to help state and local governments. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cares nothing about regular folks or the cities and states who serve them. He is more inclined to give a lift to his rich friends and big businesses. So don't expect any substantial help to come very soon.
Even if more money arrives, the fact is it can't fully rescue DC. It will be a long time before there is a recovery. I would be happy if we could just get out. I miss the city, like I do a close friend. I can’t wait to fully embrace it again.