The Goodbye is an occasional series about women leaving a place behind. Are you moving and feeling nostalgic? Fill out this form, and you could be part of the series.
The first time I gave Washington, D.C., a second thought, I was 22 and desperate for adventure.
It was 2011, and despite the erratic job market, many of my friends had managed to move away from Ohio to pursue their careers. As they went, my lusty travel dreams gave way to a jobless summer. Devoid of money and options, I bought a car for $2,500 off a minister in my parents’ neighborhood and started working double shifts at a local restaurant that catered to the rich. I spent my evenings upselling side dishes, meat platters and $200 bottles of wine to restless businessmen.
Ten months in, I was ready to plunge headfirst into the biggest and farthest city possible. On a dreary January night, I was sitting in the parking lot of my local library when I received a call from a recruiter. She wanted to know if I was interested in an entry level position in international development at a company located in D.C.
As I listened to her describe the job, I glanced around my bumbling Ford Taurus. It was ridden with stained serving aprons and self-help books (the “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” was particularly unhelpful). I found myself eager to say yes to whatever.
“Ali – just one more question,” the recruiter said. “Would you be comfortable traveling to Afghanistan?”
I didn’t hesitate.
I found a room about the size of a queen bed on Craigslist near U Street for $800/month with three random guys. Taking bets on whether the cost of living or my potential serial killer roommates might get me first, I packed my whole life into my parents’ minivan and put blind trust in D.C. to deliver a career, new experiences and new adventures.
Over the course of that first summer, I gave myself to the passionate throes that every love-hate relationship brings. To me, in the first few unjaded moments, the city was magical. I basked in the chaos of my commute, shuffling my way through the throngs of government officials, executives clicking their shoes on pavement and interns my age. Everyone seemed important. At the same time, I grimaced every time the metro stalled in between shops, grew nauseous on the bus and got sick of people asking me what I did for a living.
The subsequent six years in D.C. were my most formative years. As any person in their early- to mid-20s experiences, initial moments in careers can be harsh, and the rawness of adulthood adds fuel to the fire. D.C. wasn’t perfect either: People are overly opinionated, and the grind is inescapable.
But the city, in a sense, understood me. It defined my individuality and gave me opportunities to travel, make career shifts and meet people from all over the world. I spent half a decade traveling internationally to the most disparate cultures (Afghanistan included). Each time, I returned to D.C. feeling relieved that I was finally back home, where my travels weren’t considered bizarre.
Now, I’m in my late 20s and settling into a new job and life in New York. I realize that there will always be elements of D.C. that I cherish as moments unique to that time in my life. I see it on the streets of New York: Young adults bask in its chaos and suck down every free drink, glorified in their youth and ability to live fearlessly. I see myself in them, though I’m glad I can put those years behind me. They already belong to D.C., anyway. It’s time to say goodbye to all that.
You were my first true D.C. love. We spent nearly my entire first summer together – enveloped in the breeze of the rooftop, doused in margaritas, faking salsa dancing in the basement. However hot and packed your basement club got, you inspired my love of tequila, a place to bring my out of town friends and a way to get lost in the heart the city.
You are the quintessential D.C. experience. There is no better way to welcome summer than escaping the humidity near the calm of the water, chug-chugging the boat pedals around the harbor.
You are vibrant, chaotic and at times a bit dirty. Watching the underbelly of a plane propel itself through the tail end of its long journey home is like nothing else. Watching from just 300 feet below, the noise of the engine always made me feel alive.
You are such a hidden gem – like an old woman filled with soul just sitting quietly among the college-aged chaos. Come in, you beckon – come in and dance. You are always bursting at the seams with live music, older Brazilian couples and singletons just waiting to teach one lucky person a thing or two about dancing the samba.
I’m not the biggest museum-goer, but you provided moments of calm when I needed detachment. I came here when I needed to think, feel or just see something I hadn’t seen before. Juxtaposed with the chaos of Chinatown, your endless exhibits and central courtyard are a great place for solace.
You provided me with so many post-cycling Saturdays satiating my calorie-starved body with the most delectable BLT bagels, mimosas and food vendors galore.
You are the most perfect, most intimate concert venue. You gave me the nights that are now the most nostalgic – from the most talented almost-famous acts to the quarterly dance hall ’90s nights with my favorite girlfriends.
Visiting D.C.? Find Ali’s recommendations mapped out here.
Going somewhere? Check out other installments from our travel series: