It was 1974. We were young and vacationing with my parents, our first vacation since Tip returned from Vietnam, and probably the last vacation my family would take together. My parents were shop owners, and like most small business owners, vacations were not easy to come by. Our hearts were set, and we all piled into the family station wagon and drove 1300 miles to our nation’s capitol.
We arrived late in the day, hungry and not well oriented. Dinner was a priority, though we had been warned not to wander too far after dark. There was a McDonalds nearby, and Chinese next door. That would do. Chinese for mom and dad. My brothers, Tip and I opted for McDonalds.
As we were eating our burgers a group of teens approached and demanded our cash. It wasn’t going to happen. There were long tense moments following our refusal. The group of teens marched throughout the restaurant ranting about our refusal to give them our cash. Saying they would wait for us outside, they left and a set a blockade at the front door. Finally, it was time, our plan was made (wish we had cellphones back then). Tip announced that we don’t play these games in Oklahoma, then we assembled in our planned positions and headed outside. As we walked through the door, the group separated and let us pass. No one touched us. We sighed relief. I decided that day I would never return to Washington DC. It also left me with judgments that would take years to release.
Never is a long time, and I have learned to set aside judgments. This weekend we returned to Washington DC. No longer the dirty, crime-ridden city, today’s Capitol made me proud. We stayed across from the new Nationals baseball stadium in an area called the Navy Yards. According to our cabbie, at one time, The area was so crime infested that he refused to drive through it. Today the area is beautiful, clean and filled with the sound of construction, mostly high rises that will house apartments and provide storefronts along the sidewalks.
The Metro, as DC’s subway system is called, is new, efficient and clean. We took it from Union train station to the Navy Yard and from there to the National Mall. The public areas around the Mall and through the business district were clean and well lit. Again, there was much construction. We only had a few hours for sightseeing, but for me, I was glad to see the gentrification of our Capitol. It was as I wished it had been in 1974. Safe, clean, and representative of American pride.
Loved your story and the honesty about learning through time first impression need not define a person or an ethnic group. Love you guys and enjoying your travels.
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