20 years. I moved to the DC area 20 years ago. How amazing and crazy that life has passed by so fast. Today is the anniversary of my first day at my good government job. I moved to the area a few days prior. I never remember the exact day but I always remember the circumstances. I waited 7 months for the background check to be completed for my job. By the time it was completed and I picked a start date, I accomplished nothing I wanted to prepare for my big move. It was an interesting time. Any time I say interesting, it means I am protecting some party from a potentially incriminating story. I hoped to do an apartment hunting trip, buy furniture and schedule movers in anticipation of my start date. I did none of this. All I did was look up potential spots online and realize I know nothing about D.C.. My girlfriend offered to look for places for me as she was near the area but I nixed that because she has expensive taste and I was worried she would select a spot I couldn’t afford. I came up with the brilliant idea in my 22 year-old mind to just drive to D.C. the weekend before my start date with a few suitcases, book a hotel and look for apartments that weekend. As a full-blown adult now looking back this idea sounds terrible but God looks after babies and fools. So it actually worked out.
I found a simple, clean, and cheap hotel to serve as my base. And looked around. Overwhelmed, I discovered I could rent a room in a group house. I decided to do that until I could better understand the area and pick the best apartment. This seems like the weirdest idea ever to anyone who doesn’t live in an expensive area, but this arrangement was very popular in the D.C. area. I had a room furnished with a bed, chair and dressers, shared bathroom, a parking spot (more on that later) and two random other people living there. The landlord ran a “Christian” house, meaning no members of the opposite sex there without the door open and no overnight guests. I really didn’t care as I didn’t know anyone anyway. I was so excited to start my new adult life that I couldn’t even process all of my mother’s constant complaining, which is miraculous in hindsight. I conducted a test run to my new office which turned out to be in a terrible neighborhood, a neighborhood that even looked terrible on a Sunday afternoon. I kept getting lost. This was pre-GPS and I relied mainly on actual maps and printing out instructions from Mapquest. I completely confused 295 and 395 but knew my job was off of one of them. I didn’t understand quadrants and first went to the same address in the wrong quadrant only to find a restaurant. Upon finally finding it, my mother remarked that this cannot possibly be where they let government workers come and she actually asked the guard if there was a nicer building I could work. This was my first instance of DC customer service when all questions from the public are just ignored.
But surprisingly, in three days, I secured a place to stay already with furniture, practiced driving routes to my job and found a Wal-Mart to buy sheets and towels after being told there was no Target nearby. Lies! There was a Target! For some reason, my landlord wanted me to have sheets that fell apart after two washes. I drove my first day but could not find out employee parking lot, which was not adjacent to the building. A nice guard let me park in the parking lot for another government building. This never happens but I must have looked young and clueless. Started my adult life and was well on my way to success.
Oddly that first week, it snowed. Not real snow to a Michigander but enough snow where everything was closed: my job, the stores. I had no food. I relied on my housemate’s okay spaghetti and boring conversation. Thankfully, the next day conditions improved (well for them). But my car wouldn’t start (I left my lights on all night). My kind neighbor actually recommended that I take the Metro to work and gave me detailed instructions. I hopped on the bus, got on the Metro and walked across the street from my job to work. Easy peasy. Unfortunately on my way home, I quickly realized Maryland was full of communities that all looked alike and I got off in the wrong neighborhood. I walked around aimlessly, slipped in the snow and lost my mitten. Which was hilarious (again in hindsignt). My solution: go back to the bus stop, get back on the bus, and figure out where the hell I lived.
After a few months, I found an apartment, not my first choice as it had no vacancies. Bought a bunch of economical furniture in Michigan. Had the government ship it back (turns out I had a 90-day window for moves, thank goodness). Had a huge fight with my landlord at my rooming house. She wanted to charge me for parking but our townhouse community only designated 2 spots per unit and I frequently had nowhere to park nearby. Funny enough, she still hates me to this day. I found this out the hard way a few years ago. But my apartment. My own little apartment. I felt so grown-up at 22. The mover (yep, just one) arrived and had me help him move my furniture to my apartment. That’s when I learned that the lowest bidder wins these contracts. So much education! But I didn’t care as it was all so new and exciting.
Thankfully, my job had a 4-month internal training program for my work role which was full of people like me – young, new to the area, and excited for no reason. The Agency, to stem the mass exodus of retiring govies, embarked on the largest hiring program in their history. Because of this, I developed a little social network via classmates and Agency employees including meeting my best friend on the shuttle bus. We discovered the power of D.C. happy hour. That was my Friday routine: happy hour after work. I attempted to explain this phenomenon to friends back in Michigan and so many thought it was so weird to drink in afternoons. Ha!
My social life consisted of Friday happy hours with coworkers and biweekly Sunday matinees and chain restaurant lunches with my college friend and her adorable toddler. I was so happy. And I wasn’t even busy. I would go on little solo outings around the city on Saturdays. D.C. is full of activities I would see in the newspaper. I met a woman at some free DC summer festival and she invited me to join her book club (this was quite hot back then). However, the book club was terrible with spotty attendance. I ended up great friends with a woman after the two of us attended a meeting alone. Yep, just the two of us. She introduced me to other friends, Howard Homecoming, Republic Gardens and U Street, CBC weekend, road trips. Man, D.C. was the place to be in the early 2000’s. City life almost kicked my butt. I even interviewed for another government position in another region which I got and turned down. After meeting potential colleagues, I didn’t like any of them. Decided to keep my talents right here.
Eventually some of those friendships petered out due to marriage and babies. But I survived. These 20 years have been nothing I could have imagined as that eager, silly 22 year old. Right now, I smile thinking of my great circle of friends – including that amazing woman I met on the shuttle bus – and the love of my life. Despite my career restlessness, I still got a good government job. I wonder where I will be in 30…