When I was in college I had big dreams of starting my career in a major city. I was living in Atlanta at the time, which -- believe it or not, East Coasters! -- is quite cosmopolitan. I would drink cocktails in the Atlanta Botanical Garden, watch old movies on the lawn at Piedmont Park, attend fashion shows at 1150, and listen to music under the stars at Chastain Park Amphitheater.
So you'd think that now that I have a bank account worth mentioning and live in the nation's capital I'd be doing all kinds of cultural things, thus fulfilling the dreams of my youth. Except sometime after college I became lame and decided watching reruns of "CSI: Miami" was more fulfilling than getting out.
However, my recent change of jobs has given my a new outlook on my life, and I'm now making concerted efforts to get out and make DC my DC.
First on my list: Jazz in the Sculpture Garden. This is a weekly summertime event that invites Washingtonians to lay a blanket in the grass, bring some cheese, crackers, and wine, and listen to jazz musicians play by the fountain at the Sculpture Garden. So a couple of Fridays ago my roomie, Margaret, and I met at the Metro after work and rode it into the city. We arrived late, so there wasn't much space, but we found a little spot under a tree and beside an ant hotel. It was sufficient for some time, and we even made it out without being bitten! But once the jazz was over and people began to clear out, we packed up our blanket and food and found a spot around the fountain to sit. Although the band had left, recorded jazz was still playing, and it was quite rotic (romantic without the man), listening to jazz as the sun set, dangling our feet in the cool water, and taking in the scenery of the grand, historic buildings on the National Mall. And then Margaret proceeded to ruin it.
"I wonder how deep it gets," she said, staring across the fountain, which was a still pool at that point in the evening. "Wanna walk across it and find out?"
I slowly turned my head to look at her. It isn't unusual for Margaret to come up with wildly stupid ideas, and even worse, she bribes me with spa services.
"Margaret," I said, calmly. "We are not walking across the fountain. It's illegal."
"Ohhhhh, come on!" she chimed. "It's not illegal! No one's going to say anything to us."
"Okay, how about this. Let's just walk around the perimeter," she compromised.
She smiled her sweetest smile and shrugged her shoulders. "I'll pay for an entire day of spa services at an Aveda salon!"
Now we both know that neither of us can barely afford an hour of spa services at an Aveda salon, but regardless, this is her offer when she really, really wants me to do something I really, really don't want to do. It's totally a bluffing game, and I often wonder what would happen if I accepted. But there was no way I was giving in this time.
Margaret, of course, was scheming. "Okay listen, we'll just walk over to that lady in the purple," she pointed, and I saw it was about 20 yards away. "Please please please? It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we will remember this for the rest of our lives!"
She wasn't giving up, so I gave in to end the conversation, which was making me very nervous. We started walking, and it was really no big deal, but then someone started clapping...and then someone cheered...and then someone took a picture...and then someone said, "You're gonna get arrested"...and then I was leaping out of the water and sprinting back to our starting point on the dry ground.
A few moments later Margaret made her way back to me. "Wasn't that fun?!" she chirped.
"Thrilling," I said, shooting an evil look her way. "I hope you got that out of your system."
The sun disappeared behind the National History Museum, and a few lamps came on around the park, but the water looked black, reflecting the starless sky. As we swayed to the music, a guy nearby pulled a girl into the water. He led her to the middle, put his arms around her waist, and danced with her. At first she giggled nervously, but quickly she gave in to the romantic (romantic with a man) gesture.
"See?" Margaret nudged me. "Nothing's happening. How cute are they?! I want to dance in the middle too!"
"I'll dance with you," a male voice said. We looked over, and there was a -- er -- bigger guy grinning at Margaret.
Heh heh, that'll teach her! I thought. To my surprise, she engaged him in conversation, declining the dance but suggesting walking across. A few others around us said they'd like to try it, too. Chatter increased around us, and by the time the couple returned from their dance about eight people were getting up to fulfill Margaret's dream. She looked at me expectantly.
"No no no no no no no no no! We're going to get arrested!!!" But it was too late. People were on either side of me, linking their arms with mine and pulling me in. We started the trek across. Again, people began clapping, cheering, taking pictures...except this time it was dark and the flashes, coming at us from every direction, were blinding. Somehow, when we neared the middle, I was able to pick up motion from my right side. I glanced over and saw Margaret -- RUNNING BACK.
I tore free of whoever was holding on to me and ran as fast as I could through the knee-deep water. When I got to the edge I didn't stop. I kept running into the abandoned park until I felt I was a safe distance from whatever Margaret was running from, and I hid behind a tree. Once I caught my breath, I peeked around the tree. The rest of the group was nearing the other side, and there was a line of security officers waiting for them. O. M. GGGGGGGGGGG.
Ten minutes into my stakeout I saw some from our group wandering back to the starting point, and no one seemed particularly shaken. One girl, who had been with two guys, was looking around for her friends, and she did seem a little worried, so I cautiously walked over to her, hoping I wasn't falling into a trap set up by the police.
"What happened?" I whispered to her.
"Nothing, really. The fat guy fell right as the security guys were going to get us, and it created a diversion and we all scattered. They're questioning him now, but I can't find my friends."
I sat down, knees shaking. Margaret suddenly appeared beside me. "Hey dude! Wasn't that crazy?"
Before I could answer, Fat Guy walked up to us, swinging one arm, the other hanging limply beside him, like a big, dead fish dangling from his body. "Heeeeeeeeey...are you okay? We heard you fell," I said, cringing.
"No, no I'm not okay," he said angrily. "I broke my arm!"
The blood drained from Margaret's face, pulling her smile into a horrified frown. "Oh my gosh, I'm soooooooo sorry."
"Can we do something to help you?" I asked, wishing I'd stayed home and watched "CSI: Miami."
"Yes, you can call 911. I need an ambulance."
911? Seriously??? But the security officers had caught up with him and were questioning him more, so I just did it to get it over with.
"911, what's your emergency?" a bored voice on the other end asked.
"Broken arm in the Sculpture Garden," I answered, embarrassed. This was ridiculous. "Could you please send an ambulance?"
"What's the address?"
"Uhhh...Sculpture Garden. National Mall. DC."
"I need an address, ma'am."
No one around me was going to know an address...except for a security officer. I took a deep breath, walked toward the officers, and inwardly chanted Please don't recognize me! Please don't recognize me! Please don't recognize me!
"Sir, could you tell me the address here? I'm on with 911 for this man here who broke his arm."
"And what's your relation to this man?" the officer asked.
"NOTHING! NOTHING AT ALL! I'M JUST A PASSER-BY!" I squeaked, panicking.
The officer shot me a strange look and gave me the address. I told the dispatcher and they promised to send an ambulance.
I was ready to get OUT of there. I scurried back to the fountain where my purse and shoes were, and it's then that I noticed a big girl glaring at me and Margaret. "What's her problem?" I whispered to Margaret.
"Oh, turns out that was his date. We kinda ruined it."
With that, we gathered our things and hurried toward the Metro. As we made our way across the lawn between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, an ambulance drove by.
And I've officially had my fair share of Washington culture.