Driving On 16th Street

I love 16th Street, NW in Washington.  A drive today reminded me why.

Most of my commutes between work and home take place on the Metro.  But since we moved to Silver Spring in 2000 – just a couple of blocks over the DC line and two streets over from 16th – I’ve driven up and down this main north/south thoroughfare countless times to get to and from my office on Dupont Circle or to drive the children to or from school.

Today is Labor Day, and I needed to run into the office early this morning for a short errand.  So I took 16th Street with the luxury of driving slowly so I could soak up the character of this special place.

Wikipedia will give you the basics of the street’s history.  Part of the original plan of Washington, it was an early location for both embassies and churches.  Most of the embassies have left, but one of the charms of the street is the beautiful church and institutional architecture that’s interspersed throughout the neighborhoods.  While 16th begins at Lafayette Square across from the White House, the section I know best runs from P Street up to the circle at Eastern Avenue in Silver Spring.

On a beautiful, sunny Labor Day, Kris Kristofferson’s This Old Road  came on my iPod as I was driving home.  It focused my thinking on the beauty of the architecture mixed with the landscaping of Meridian Hill Park and Rock Creek.  I admired the trim Tudor mansions of the Gold Coast – home for decades to many of Washington’s most affluent and accomplished African Americans.  I enjoyed the life and diversity of the street, and thought of our various friends who live just off 16th and the joy they bring to our lives.  I reflected on the ups and downs of this street – and its residents – both in the past and still today.

Kristofferson’s lyrics mix love and regret at the thought of growing old, but this album comes to the conclusion that life has been a rich mix worth living.  As I looked at 16th Street today through the unhurried eyes of a holiday drive, I imagine that there’s love and regret here as well – but that this beautiful street has much more for all of us in its future.

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you
Smiling like a baby full of dreams

Smiling ain’t so easy now
Some are coming true
Nothing’s simple as it seems

But I guess you count your blessings with the problems
That you’re dealing with today
Like the changing of the seasons

Chorus:
Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

More to come…

DJB

2 Responses

  1. I too love 16th Street. My original love affair started when I lived in Adams Morgan and I would walk over and enjoy Malcolm X/Meridian Hill Park. A good friend of Jamie’s and mine — Steve Coleman — was instrumental in starting the citizen’s group that brought people from ALL sides of the park together to bring that really special place back and I remember being so proud of him when President Clinton spoke there on Earth Day some years back. When my sister was sick with breast cancer, I would go there after acupuncture appointments in the Dorchester apartment building and sit quietly and the beauty there almost always healed a troubled mind, if only for a while. I always wanted to get married in that park, but Jamie was afraid to ask his family to park their cars in the neighborhood 😉

    I also remember great (well “great” may be a strong word, how about fun?) Italian dinners @ Fio’s — a basement restaurant in another huge apartment building just before the buffalo bridge with my college friend and native Washingtonian who grew up just off 16th Street (Tom Hier). Perhaps my favorite building is the beautiful Church on the East side of the street near the Tennis Center with the wonderful celtic details and the tall, graceful figures “holding up” the top of the tower.

    One of my strongest memories of 16th Street, is of September 11th. Since the subway was non operational and the roads pretty much impassable, Jamie met me @ the office and, along with a small sea of humanity, we walked up 16th Street to get home. I remember how surreal it all was — such a beautiful clear day and so much sadness.

    Thanks for the write up DJB — and the link to wikipedia. I didn’t know that factoid about how we almost ended up with Reagan Street (Reagan Airport is QUITE enough, thank you very much). I’ve pledged to walk home up 16th Street to get in shape for my 60 mile breast cancer 3-Day fundraising walk so you’ve reminded me to take my time and enjoy “This Old Road.”

  2. That part about Ronad Reagan Boulevard was news to me as well.

    I may join you on one of your training hikes, so I can get a pedestrian-level view as well.

    DJB

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