RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Assessing D.C.’s busy pace from the bungalow’s porch

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – We are sitting on the cozy front porch of an old bungalow, a beautiful house the color of butter. Ozzie and Harriet might live next door, on this street with a whistling mailman and unlocked doors.
Betty, my oldest and most faithful friend, is in the construction game. The bungalow is hers and, in her spare time, she’s renovating it. This evening she lounges on one end of the porch, casually checking her text messages. My niece is on the other end, trying to decipher cell-phone messages. I am in between, pecking on a laptop.
At the moment, none of us talk. We are too busy staying connected to converse.
Washington, D.C., and its suburbs may be the most connected place in the world. Or so it seems to this rube from the dark woods of Hill Country, Mississippi. Things are going on just beyond this perfectly normal-seeming front porch.
It is impressive, even intimidating. In the coffee shops and on the Metro, the talk is of Judge Sotomayor, not going to the beach. Young people are dressed in professional-looking clothes, wearing pearls instead of tattoos. There are more newspaper racks lined up on street corners than I’ve seen anywhere in a long time.
The former ambassador to Kenya, a friend of Betty’s, stops by the porch to welcome my niece to her first real summer job. The ambassador’s best advice on surviving in Washington: Always stay to the right on the escalators. Else you’ll block those wanting to pass and walk up the moving steps, as opposed to riding. You’ll be judged a tourist. True Washingtonians love exercise and hate delays.
“That’s because all of us in Washington are soooo important,” Betty deadpans. “Which means we’re always in a hurry.”
To the untrained eye it does seem that everyone here is important – or about to be. An expert in nuclear proliferation has us to dinner. She looks like some movie star whose name I can’t remember, all blond hair and pink linen. But on her countertop are books she’s authored on weighty subjects, and her alma maters include Stanford and the Sorbonne.
Even the dogs you see on exercise tracks here look more polished and obedient than, well, say, my Mississippi hounds. Washington, D.C., dogs heel and trot, and bark only when spoken to. And the dog currently occupying the White House recently had his likeness on the cover of “The New Yorker.”
There must be something about living in a town lousy with museums and art galleries and Obama sightings that gives a body confidence. Nobody looks lost. The bus driver gets a big chuckle out of the fact that the niece and I get on the right bus headed in the wrong direction. It’s as if he’s never seen that mistake made before.
“Just trying to get my money’s worth,” I mutter after making the giant circle back to Square One.
I think ultimately I prefer lazier cities, places like New Orleans and Memphis, where food and music, not politics, is the biggest draw. I’m more of a ride-up-the-escalator, linger-over-lunch, listen-to-the-blues, lazy kind of gal.
And ultimately I must get back to my home in the hollow, where the only bus that runs is the Greyhound out of town.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

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