I am feeling lazy and unproductive when it comes to this blog. Also, I'm still kind of swamped at the office, so the time I usually take to brainstorm is now being dedicated to the filing arts. That's hardly fair to my dozens of readers, so I have recruited a friend (and former editor) of mine to rant about DC for 500 words. She gave me 462. A newspaper editor should know better than that.
Her name is Jen Turner (scroll down to the bottom) and she is a far better writer than me. She also has more downtown experience, so I invited her to write about Chinatown. Here she goes:
R[usty] asked this to be funny but it's actually just sort of bitter.
D.C.'s Chinatown is probably one of the more obvious reasons why this city is such a shit sandwich. Anyone who has been to San Francisco's, New York's, or hell, even London's would stand on the corner of 7th and H and curse whatever government charter decided to plop a Chinatown down right there.*
Chinatowns are notoriously grimy but nonetheless charming. Those familiar with the ubiquitous bus systems that affordably connects major East Coast cities know that all too well. Emerging from some bus shared with an old man spitting into a plastic Safeway bag and a woman with a chicken in a cage onto East Broadway at 7:30 in the morning is an experience all should have. Even the Chinatown in Portland, Oregon features a restaurant called Hung Far Low and a dozen seedy drag bars. There are oddities to be discovered and it sort of feels like a foreign country, which I guess can be refreshing when one stops to think about this one for too long.
Yet in D.C., what can our Chinatown boast? Ann Taylor Loft. Legal Seafood. Ruby Tuesdays. Urban Outfitters. Fado. Chipotle. Aveda. The MCI/Verizon/whatever Center and a motherfucking Fuddruckers. All with classy, brushed metal Chinese characters fixed above the signs and centered conveniently around that garish gate. I worked at NPR Headquarters for a while, located mere blocks from this hub of misplaced commercialism, and every day I noticed that the one thing people would take a picture of before sneaking back into the Metro with a couple of Urban Outfitters bags in tow was that technicolor, oh-so-ethnic gate. One gate does not a Chinatown make.
The final straw occurred while I walked to work one sunny afternoon a couple months ago. I actually could not believe this happened. This couple approached me and told me they were doing a tour of the nation's Chinatowns and had just arrived in D.C. -- seeing as how this is our nation's capital, surely we'd have some real treasures hidden in this 5-block radius, right? I pointed down 6th street at the row of about 10 moderate-to-expensive Chinese restaurants, none truly bearing that hole-in-the-wall charm. They asked if there were any Chinese shops to check out. I mentioned the Ruby Tuesday and Quizno's.** Oh man, they were so disappointed!
*I don't actually know if a government charter created Chinatown so chill out, nerd. It would sort of be fitting though, don't you think?
** I also realize this was unnecessarily brutal, as there are actually one or two places to buy those Mary Jane shoes and weird candy along H street but I can't resist squashing the hopes of others, y'know?