I lived in Washington D.C. for five years, and now it’s time to leave it.
I’ve never been to Denver, and nope: I don’t know anyone there. But after a rollercoaster half-decade living in the nation’s capital, the time is ripe to set out for a new life out West.
As the coronavirus pandemic brought city life to a grinding halt, closing night clubs, sending people home, and landing me out of my bar job, there was one quote I came across that smacked me in the face as I spent my weekends on a hammock in Rock Creek Park daydreaming about the high peaks of Colorado and a new life outside the Beltway. It was a quote I read by Dave Hollis in mid-April as a country in lockdown desperately craved to get back to its pre-pandemic pace.
“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
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Yup, that stung. Not because I’ve been unhappy, but because a look into the future appearing seemingly identical to my pre-corona lifestyle felt deeply unfulfilling. To be clear, it’s not the pandemic or the riots pushing me out: it’s the culture.
I first came to Washington for college, spending my freshman year at American University before transferring to George Washington after failing to find my tribe and wanting to be downtown. I’ll admit, the first year was tough, and was by-and-large the worst one trying to acclimate to the D.C. lifestyle from the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. School was hard, the people seemed cold, and I didn’t fit in.
At GW, I joined a fraternity. It was great until it wasn’t. After a year I observed the people around me succumb to the exclusive capital culture of “who are you and what can you do for me.” I saw people in college transform from mascots of Midwestern nice to frozen shells of their former selves seeking a leg up in each new relationship with either a professional favor or a leap in social status. Maybe it was a college thing as people so often change in those four formative years, but even after spending a year in D.C. post-graduation, I’ve become a true believer in the idea that people often subtly assimilate to the people who surround them even if they don’t notice. They almost never do.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter which part of the country one might come from, because after some time, we all begin to acclimate. For a moment, even I did. Of course, there are always exceptions.
I don’t talk to anyone I hung around with my first year here in 2015. There’s only one from the second, only two from college. It’s not that I didn’t ever make friends at university, but if that’s not a testament to the shallow depth of the relationships formed there then I’m not sure what would be. Even one year after, I can say I’m leaving a lot of people I really like here, and I will miss them dearly, but it’d be a lie to say I considered many of them “close.”
I had good friends, bad friends, fun friends, fake friends, and others who were merely acquaintances masquerading as any of the above. It probably sounds like I’m leaving with an enormous chip on my shoulder about my experience. Really, I’m not. Do I own a few small ones for select people? You bet. Show me someone who wouldn’t, I’ll tell you they’re lying. But as my dad rolls in from Columbus with the moving trailer, I can say without a doubt these five years have broadened my horizons with a far more comprehensive understanding of myself and others while leaving me well-prepared to face tough challenges ahead both personally and professionally.
Meanwhile, moving to an unknown place is far from out of character. This time four years ago, I packed up my car in Ohio and drove out west with no plans for two months. In 2018 I hitchhiked around south Peru. Later that summer I landed in Bali with no agenda and a month to spare. While island hopping in Gili, I was caught near the center of an earthquake when I was far from sober prompting me to evacuate. My summer adventures financed by my restaurant wages always put a certain spark in life during those defining college years providing an excitement I hope to recapture exploring the great out West.
Even though I’m leaving, life in D.C. for the past year had still been great. Spectacular even. I liked my apartment, went out every weekend, loved my job, and started seeing someone. But under the surface, there exist elements to living here I’ve come to find profoundly unfulfilling, and it’s not just its inauthentic culture. On the weekends, there’s not much to do other than wait for the next party and visit the same museum over again. The lure to Denver comes from the desire to reach its majestic peaks, relish in its richer music scene and experience a higher level of personal purity, even if it comes at the high price of leaving friends I cherish and ending my first real relationship before it could really take off. But when I’m being honest, my heart is not in D.C. right now. And if it’s not in D.C., no one was ever going to capture it. Not here. Not this year.
When I told a staffer on the Hill that I was leaving, they guessed that I’d be back.
“The swamp has a way,” they wrote.
“We’ll see about that,” I replied. “So does authenticity.”