Tonight I walked across the Potomac Rivier. I didn’t intend to do so. I didn’t even know I could.
I’m in a small alcove in Maryland at a conference and I wanted to get away from the isolation for a short time. So I took a cab to old town Alexandria, VA. I like talking to cab drivers. They usually have good stories about life or are just good conversationalists in general. This man talked about how he was part of a boat club that was founded in the late 1800s (what is he doing driving for people if he’s in a boat club?) in Alexandria, but that the club was being town down by the city to make room for a new boutique hotel. Everyone loves eminent domain. I asked him to give me recommendations for things to do in the short time I had. He told me some good places to walk and a couple good places to eat - the main reason I wanted to take a cab in the first place was for the recommendations. I could have taken a water taxi, but there’s no guarantee that anyone would actually be from the area and would know a good place to grab a drink/meal. I’m sure I could check an app too, but I prefer someone’s in-person opinion. Anyway, the cab conversation was good and he gave me some good recommendations.
I walked around on my own for an hour or so, taking photos of things that looked interesting - as interesting as a place can be that is half touristy (maybe?) and mostly residential, with a ton of old homes. Then I stopped in at the bar/restaurant that the cab driver recommended. The place had a great vibe, good drinks, and decent food. Not in the least touristy, which is perfect. I had a couple drinks and some dinner. A regular who also happened to be a bartender came in at one point and the bartender started talking to him about the new boutique hotel that was opening soon and about how he was going to make bank working at it. He was going to make bank, but didn’t know the name of the hotel. Having walked by the construction during my photo walk, I interjected with the name. I also brought up that it used to be a boat club (making assumptions based on previous conversation in the cab). The bartender acknowledged that, but of course he wasn’t going to make bank from the boat club, so who cares. Turns out that even historic towns and people in them have no sense of or care for history.
The topic moved to the place where I was staying and how there was a casino going in - something the cab driver also brought up in our earlier conversation. The bartender was really looking forward to visiting. He loves slot machines and the glitz and glamour of Vegas-style casinos. I often go back to the theme of “lifestyles”. Everyone has their own lifestyle. Mine is a 180 degree difference from this bartender’s. I went to a seemingly old city to get away from the lights and sound of where I was having my conference. When I was walking around taking photos, there were times where it was so quiet that I could hear every footstep, I could hear every time my camera strap moved ever so slightly, and I could probably hear a pin drop. But then I stepped into a bar in this town and instead of having the same lifestyle and same reason for being there, the person had dreams of bigger and better things. I want quiet; he wants loud. Maybe the grass is always greener, or maybe it’s just lifestyles.
As I was in the car on the way to Alexandria, we drove over the Potomac. I noticed that there was a pedestrian walkway on the side and I was intrigued. It wasn’t a short bridge - it’s over a mile long (the Woodrow Wilson Bridge), so I was surprised to see as many people as I did - maybe a dozen or two as we drove along. After hearing some more conversation about the new casino and area where I was staying, I started to get the urge to be one of those dozen pedestrians too. I wanted a break from the lights and sounds, but now I was right back in them. I’m a technology director, but sometimes I want to just be alone with nature. My dad used to take me to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was his way of getting away. He was an electrical engineer and was constantly busy and constantly thinking about work. He would wake up at 2am and draw some ideas out on paper at the kitchen table. Often when I woke up there would be his scribbles sitting around - results of his overnight idea sessions. He used the BWCAW (I prefer BWCA) to get away, as a refuge for his mind working 24/7. He told me that someday I would understand and would also take refuge in something. He was right. I use photography, but at the same time sometimes I just like to be in the middle of nowhere, disconnected, and in complete quiet. Sometimes I still think about work, but at the very least, it’s some semblance of being able to process whatever needs to be processed. I asked the bartender if it was possible to walk across the bridge. He knew exactly how, and I was thankful. A refuge. I finished my meal and drink and cashed out and checked out. No more boat club, no more discussions about where I needed to go back to.
I walked across the Potomac and it was lovely. It was strange, but lovely. As I flew into the city yesterday, I saw the Washington Monument seemingly feet away, from the airplane window. Now I was seeing it from many miles away - a beacon in the distance, over a long stretch of freezing water. It shimmered, along with the Capitol dome, and a faint lightened White House. I felt so very American and at home in that feeling, but at the same time so far away from home - my wife and kids back in my real home so far away. Traffic zoomed by, just feet away, enveloping me in noise, beautiful noise. I wished I had a tape recorder so I could record this for later. But there was something more lovely about not being able to record this. By now, my phone was nearly dead and I was out of film. I could just look and listen and nothing else. Disconnected.
Tonight I walked across the Potomac River, disconnected, and it was amazing.