A City of Contradictions: Part 3, Dupont
Until moving to DC the only knowledge of Dupont Circle I had was that Donna Moss from The West Wing use to get caught there driving around in circles. I knew nothing about the culture or what was actually there. When you’re from the West, in a place where there are hardly any traffic circles, the idea that the center of one circle can be the center of a culture makes no sense. But, Dupont Circle is just that. It’s the heart of this area of the city.
You can’t go to Dupont without being berated by some volunteer from some NGO (usually Greenpeace) trying to convince you to pay an enormously high fee to join their organization. At least once a year you walk off the metro to someone playing drums or the saxophone. You see people lying in the grass, playing chess, sipping coffee with friends. It’s an area with an undeniably liberal, almost hippy feel.
I don’t get lost in DC. As long as I know where the main streets are I could wander around for hours and still find my way back to the nearest metro. But, I get lost in Dupont. Each direction seems the same as the one before. Each turn you think you’ll wind back toward the circle. I always find my way back it just takes a bit longer. That’s what best describes Dupont: Confusion. Anywhere you look in DC you see signs of poverty and segregation but Dupont has defined the issue in its own way. It’s part of the culture.
Like Georgetown, I consistently take at least one trip to Dupont each semester, either to go to dinner, to wander through the Farmer’s Market on Sunday, or simply to meander through the rows of books at Kramer’s. Each time I go, I know what the types of scenes I’m going to see. Line upon line of expensive bars, well priced restaurants, embassy after embassy. It’s contrasted, so pointedly, by the other end of the equation, homeless curled up on stoops to keep warm in the winter evenings or lying on benches in the circle on warm summer nights.
Most days the homeless keep to themselves, save for the few trying to sell a copy of StreetSense on certain corners. They’re friendly. They rarely take the time out of their lives to badger you for money. And I often get the sense that they’re more concerned with how you view them than they are with what you’re doing. You do get an encounter every once in a while that puts you on guard. But, it’s almost always followed by someone else telling you to have a nice day.
Dupont strikes me as the pinnacle of the city. It shows the contradictions that lie here better than anywhere else. The rent is too high to be affordable, the bars charge too much for their drinks and the boutiques are far from cheap. And yet even surrounded by all the wealth, showing force in equal numbers is the city’s poor. It’s a clash of worlds. And yet, there seems to be a defining community. You see people in business clad suits saying “hello” to someone begging for money on a street corner. They know each other. One heads to work each morning following the same path, one sits on the same corner each day hoping to make a couple dollars so they can afford a hot dog. It’s a community. Each restaurant and bar has its regulars. So do the benches in the park.
When you get off the beaten track of the circle, the atmosphere hardly changes. The only difference that exists is instead of store fronts and restaurants you have beautiful brick houses and apartments. All with their own front stoops. Despite the poverty the area sees, it’s a relatively safe neighborhood. It’s a place where anyone I know would be happy moving to. And yet, the people who live there, who need the houses and the apartments the most, can’t afford them. It’s DC.