Just the name of the place is enough to make most people cringe — Washington.
It symbolizes inaction and corruption and scandal to many Americans, and probably brings up worse, unprintable terms overseas.
The city is synonymous with government — big government — and in that light, I’ve shared the same narrow view of the place that’s almost unavoidable for anyone who follows politics and hasn’t been living under a rock since 9/11. Throw in a career as a journalist and an unquenchable lust for freedom, and an even darker shadow is cast on the place in my eyes.
But after spending a few days in our nation’s capital last week, I’m starting to think that most of us don’t give the city a fair shake when the mere mention of its name is capable of causing a bellyache.
My wife was there for a work conference and, since she’s six-months pregnant with our second son and in a pretty delicate state, she asked me to tag along. That left me with a few days of an open schedule and time to sightsee with a different perspective from the school and family field trips I took as a child growing up in Baltimore.
I saw some of the best art in the world with my father’s sister and her husband, who live just outside the city. I saw more art and most of the big museums with my mother’s brother, who lives in western Maryland, the next day. And I spent the hours in between walking around the National Mall and enjoying the architecture of the buildings.
The last day, before our flight back to Charlotte left, I met with a friend of mine from high school who is a journalist in the city. I came out of the Metro Center subway station to the sounds of DuPont Brass, a group of musicians from Howard University, my friend told me, that pops up in different spots around town. I discovered there are only a few things that can beat starting a Friday morning with live jazz.
My friend and I had coffee on a bench in front of the White House and talked about the future of The Business.
The point of all this is that the city itself is a beautiful, vibrant place.
The world of partisan politics has colored our perception of it. I still believe that many of the ways government, at all levels, goes about its business are completely wrong and are counter to our society’s development, but the fact that the city has somehow managed to retain a fantastic character is a great testament to the people who make up this country.
Michael Gebelein is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.