Monday, June 22, 2009

You Don't Want to Live Inside the Beltway

When this whole blogging phenomenon started (basically when Google bought Blogger and it became easy -- and free) I toyed briefly with a blog about living in the suburbs and working in DC and all the fun, interesting things that happened to me on my soul-sucking commute. I prepared, but never really published, a top 10 list of the reasons I prefer living way out.

Perspective is a persnickety thing, but lucky for me I have gained some. So now I have added reasoning as well as rebuttals to most if not all of them. Some of them are long and involved.

Which makes the whole idea of a Top 10 moot, but allows me to create a new category tag which I shall call "Top 10" but will actually be a running list of reasons I used to delude myself as to why living in suburbs and working in the city is vastly preferable to BOTH living AND working in the city and reasoned arguments debunking them.

So without further adieu, let's examine number 1:

You don't want to live inside the beltway

Now before anyone starts anything let me be perfectly frank: Bitch, please. I grew up in Prince Georges County. In PG County "You don't want to live inside the beltway" was practically a mantra that everyone in my hometown quietly muttered under their breath as they went about their business. Inside the beltway in PG was where the wild things were. They were the stuff of legend and nightmares, names barely uttered aloud for fear of what might happen: District Heights, Suitland and (shudder) Anacostia. Growing up, I heard all the stories.

Personal experience only reinforced the reality of it to me. In the mid 1970s when Metro finally opened, my only experience was riding the Orange line from New Carrollton into the city. The view along that end of the Orange line before one goes below ground is a bleak landscape populated by urban decay. It wasn't much better driving into the city, as anyone who has approached DC using New York Avenue can attest.

I went to high school right outside the beltway and the students who bussed in from inside the beltway told harrowing tales of muggings and gangland rumbles at fast-food joints, a far cry from my John Hughes-style suburban cocoon where families regularly left their houses unlocked when they went for an evening stroll in the neighborhood and 10-year-old children were sent outside to play and left to their own devices.

I attended the University of Maryland at College Park, perhaps the one place inside the beltway that was the exception to the rule. Of course, driving into DC (where I had grandfathered in to drink legally at the age of 18) continued to reinforce my perception of inside the beltway as unsuitable to live.

Perhaps if I had grown up in Montgomery County (where the toniest of neighborhoods reside inside) or even Virginia (where everyone in Fairfax thinks Arlington's streets are paved with gold) I might have a different perspective, but I didn't.

Even after I graduated and started working downtown at the PNP, I faced a constant reminder that the city was unsafe. My MARC-train commute dropped me off at Union Station, leaving me to walk up Massachusetts Avenue to my office. Let me tell you, in the 1990s Massachusetts Avenue, NW was nothing like the condo canyon it is today. Where Buddha Bar will soon be opening, there was a rat-infested tenement high-rise. All along the area now known as Mount Vernon Triangle there were vacant lots and abandoned row-houses. I remember one strip of 4 houses standing by themselves in the middle of nothing, only one occupied by an old Asian couple who would throw their stale rice on the sidewalks to feed the pidgeons and practice their tai chi every morning in the chain-link fence enclosed front yard.

Since then, experience has shown me that there are areas inside the beltway worth living in. I did some time in Virginia, where inside the beltway the violent crime and homicide rates are less than the whole of Montgomery County. And years of taking post-work walks through Georgetown, Rock Creek Park and up Connecticut Avenue, NW, not to mention the newly revitalized Mount Vernon Triangle (which is now devoid of the scary tenement and many of those vacant lots) have shown me a vibrant, exciting city that I want to live in, with an active nightlife, cultural events and throngs of consumer options.

So I recant. I do want to live inside the Beltway. And to anyone who ever utters the mantra "You don't want to live inside the beltway" I say: Bitch please.....get out of Prince Georges County.


  1. I grew up inside the Beltway in PG County too, and I think the proximity to DC is one of the reasons for a really long time I was scared of all cities -- crime infested cess pools, yada-yada. I got over that, live in DC now.

  2. DC has completely transformed itself in the last 10 years. I don't blame you for a second for feeling the way you did. I grew up outside of the beltway (MoCo), and my trips to DC resembled that of every school-aged child's trip to DC: the national mall and, maybe (maybe) georgetown. I've lived in Shaw for the past six years and my parents still think I'm crazy. But I wouldn't trade it for anything, and never want to leave.