When I moved to Washington, lo these many years ago, and needed a place to live, there weren't many options. I couldn't afford Georgetown, or even Capitol Hill. So Ann and I rented a place on Kalorama Road, NW (a two-bedroom apartment for $300 a month!) in a neighborhood called Adams Morgan. I could walk to my overnight shift with the Associated Press downtown. As I left the apartment, I often found myself humming Paul Simon's "The Boxer," the song about "seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go."
Adams Morgan (named for two old elementary schools, one for whites and one for blacks) was then one of the poorer quarters in a city full of poor quarters. The scars of the 1968 riots were still visible. On 18th Street, NW, then as now, there were a lot of bars. But in 1977, they tended to be the kind that store owners installed to protect themselves against looters. The neighborhood, I knew, was on the cusp of change. Its housing stock was solid and it was very close to prosperous DuPont Circle and downtown. The ragged people were not going to have it forever. But even though I knew change was coming, when a cafe called La Fourchette opened that year, it seemed as alien as a flying saucer.
La Fourchette was in fact a harbinger in Adams Morgan. Ann and I were not there for the transformation. We moved as soon as we could find a house we could afford, which even then wasn't in Adams Morgan, but further north in a neighborhood that is now called by real estate agents 16th Street Heights, but which was then just another Washington place for ragged people. Every time we drove down Columbia Road or 18th Street, though, it seemed as if Adams Morgan was changing, with La Fourchette getting a lot of company.
Now, after decades of change, Adams Morgan is no longer a poorer quarter. It's one of the most intriguing urban environments I know. I'm not saying it's a place I'd like to move back to. The 18th Street strip where La Fourchette homesteaded has become the go-to spot for binge drinking in the area. Every now and then you hear about some poor kid who wandered up onto a roof and fell down an airshaft. Or another poor kid who got stabbed by some thugs who wanted his Helly Hansen jacket. Those aren't, of course, everyday occurrences. But, alas, I'm a little too old to enjoy live music at 2 a.m.
In the sunlight, though, I can appreciate the abundant charms of today's Adams Morgan. They were on display Sunday afternoon at the annual Adams Morgan Day festival. 18th Street was closed to traffic and thronged with people. Adams Morgan today is known for its diversity--a mix of Latino immigrants, white gentrifiers and black people who have been living in Washington's inner city neighborhoods for generations. They were all well represented on 18th Street.
Sunday was a crisp, sunny, autumny afternoon, and that may have helped make everyone's mood buoyant. Folks sat on the curb to eat food dished up by the neighborhood eateries. Vendors set up tents and tables. One guy was selling porkpie hats that he guaranteed would spare you from the curse of being taken as a Bama. (A Bama, for those who don't know, is what you would call a hayseed if the hayseed were African-American.) D.C. politicians had tents and people handing out buttons and flyers. Music blared from an official bandstand at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Roads and from unofficial "indie" bandstands set up on stoops down the street. I met a couple of Austrian tourists (left), taking in the scene with a girl from Florida. There weren't many Austrian tourists around when I lived on Kalorama Road.
D.C. may yet make this diversity thing work.