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04.30.2003

There Is Nowhere To Eat Dinner In DC

I'm at a cafe about a block from the White House, watching the world go by. There's a man to my left on a cell phone, with about ten large cameras hanging from his body. He's talking animatedly about cameras into the cell phone.

I've spent the last three days in a weird mix of meetings, slide demonstrations, and late night peregrinations through an Edward Hopper landscape, looking for somewhere that will serve me dinner. I kind of assumed that staying in downtown Washington was like staying in downtown New York, when you can wander out at any hour of the night and find someplace that will sell you a slice of pizza, or a pastrami sandwich the size of your head. Instead, D.C. is sneaky - packed with people during the day, with hundreds of little sandwich shops, but as soon as the clock hits five everyone descends into the Metro, doors slam shut, and it's just you alone in the nation's capital.

My first night here I wandered for block after block before resigning myself to a dinner at the picked-over City Buffet. If I had been better dressed, it would have been a night straight out of film noir - just cue up the mournful sax in the background. City Buffet was a fluorescent-lit cafeteria with some trays of leathery Chinese food off to the side under a hot lamp. For some reason I felt anything but down, happy to be in this great big city with no one in it, and the bored Chinese counter girl talking on her cell phone. I wandered back to the deserted hotel, woke up the next morning and suddenly there was a torrent of people down in the street, to the left and right and all around.

The next night was even worse - the bustle and hubbub during the day had lulled me into a false sense of security, so I was unprepared for the sudden lockdown at six o'clock. I had to pay two visits to a McDonald's (the first time just to give me the strength to search further afield). What gives, D.C.?

I have had three presentations in two days, and my brain feels like a steamed raisin. Yesterday I talked to librarians, today I talked to Hellenic scholars. Tomorrow I fly home, to the cats and the garden and the better half. Now that spring is here, there's no better place to be.

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