DC gets a bad rap as an unfriendly place. You walk down the street and no one says hello to you. People pass you by either with down-turned heads or cell phones stuck to their faces. Some people have mastered the skill of typing away on those little itsy bitsy Blackberry keys as they walk along, never once getting hit by a Metro bus.
The bad rap is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone here is from somewhere else, usually a more friendly small town where people are nice, a place to which DC compares unfavorably. When these people arrive from “Indiana” (in quotes because there’s some question in my mind as to whether it is an actual place) or “Missouri” (same reason for quotes), they decide they must fit in, and thus walk around ignoring everyone else’s existence.
But if you’re open to it, you’ll find many friendly people here in DC, because DC has a long tradition of friendliness, from politicians on the take to squirrels to regular people. For instance, there’s the guy near the door of the Starbucks next to the U Street Metro (I think he lives there) who greets me every morning and evening with the delightful words “help me get something to eat?” What’s more friendly than requesting a total stranger to share food with you?
In my old neighborhood near RFK, I had countless offers of help unloading my car or raking leaves or cutting grass, totally unsolicited help, help that I didn’t need, help that was a little aggressive and frightening, help that (of course) required compensation. Such friendly helpfulness!
There’s the joke guy who sometimes followed me down Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill telling me off-color jokes for some reason, and then there’s the “Final Jeopardy” guy down town who always wishes me to test his knowledge of state capitals as I staggered out of Indebleu (I’ve learned that’s how it’s spelled even when you NOT drunk!); better him than me, I say! I can only imagine the scene if he insisted on testing my knowledge of state capitals as I steady myself against a light post and blather on about how much I love him, man! He wouldn’t give me a cent.
But the friendliest guy I’ve met in the city was on Capitol Hill. He was some sort of Bottom–like mechanical, dressed in blue work clothes and a tool belt. I met him four or five times at various locations around the Hill, and he always seems to be in the same pickle. Quite the absentminded fellow, he’s constantly on the phone with his wife, trying to figure out how to get home. You see, he consistently leaves his wallet and keys in his coveralls back at work and doesn’t have any change for the bus. He always tells his wife to hold on and he’ll ask someone, and that someone was me. He was always happy and amused by his mistake. Such a friendly guy! And so prone to forgetfulness! If you see him around (and I bet you will), become a part of the friendly DC and tell him his old friend at aportablesnack says hello!