History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
– Karl Marx
If the America First mantra of Donald Trump sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The slogan was used by American isolationists to keep America neutral in the face of Nazi tyranny. But the theme, with its small and fearful sentiment, comes from an earlier war.
Woodrow Wilson invented the mantra in 1916, covering the country with America First posters in one of the first modern propaganda campaigns. He kept us out of war, he claimed at the time.
But America couldn’t deny its global responsibilities forever. It had to pick a side in the European conflict. When it did, Wilson needed a whole new propaganda campaign. This time, with the aim to mobilize a reluctant American public to enlist and fight the Hun.
Mass media such as posters, songs and shows drew upon the 1776 spirit, the myths of the American Revolution, to join a total war against the Kaiser. “Lafayette, we are here!” the cry went up, as millions of American soldiers went to save a Continent.
Relive this momentous era in The Great Crusade: World War I and the Legacy of the American Revolution, now on display at Anderson House, the beautiful home of the Cincinnati House on Embassy Row in Washington, DC. It’s a small exhibit – just a room – but looking at the America First headlines and the debates about this country’s role in the world – it feels incredibly timely, as if we’re repeating history that was settled a hundred years ago.
And when you’re done, explore the rest of Anderson House, a Florentine mansion just a couple blocks from Dupont Circle. Built in 1905, this grand home belonged to Larz Anderson, a wealthy diplomat, and his wife, Isabel, an author and art collector. With its drawing rooms and galleries reminiscent of the salons of Europe, the house was designed to host inaugural balls and diplomatic receptions. Anderson House was to represent the USA to the rest of the world, standing as a confident expression of a country that repudiated the small and fearful philosophy of America First.
As Marx wrote, history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. We’re living through the farce. But remnants of other eras remind us that we’ve had these debates before – and won them. America is not the fearful, closed realm of Donald Trump but the confident, open and generous country represented by diplomat Larz Anderson, his art collector wife Isabel, and their glorious house on Massachusetts Avenue.
That’s me reading at Kramerbooks! The bookstore hosted a celebration for the City Paper’s Fiction Issue on Sunday, January 8th. I read my short story Victory Party, which won First Place in this annual competition.
It was a freezing Sunday night – and it was packed! Kramerbooks cleared out space in the middle of the store for the reading. Chairs were set up and drinks were served. The night was hosted by local author Mary Kay Zuravleff, who entertained the crowd with DC trivia between readings. I read first, then the finalists read and then we all mingled over beer and wine amid the stacks.
Kramerbooks is my local bookstore. One of the first places I ever visited in DC, this Dupont Circle bookstore/bar/cafe represents everything that’s great about living in a city. Giving a reading at Kramerbooks – it’s a dream come true!
I have a calf strain, a sharp twinge that occurred when I was playing soccer about a week ago. It’s prevented me from running. I can only go about a mile before the twinge forces me to stop and walk. The only remedy for this pain is time. Instead of running after work, I had to come up with a new activity.
I decided to do evening walkabouts, ambulatory strolls around downtown Washington. I started last night, just as the rain was tapering off.
My destination: the White House. There I discovered tulips, their petals closed up and sparkling with rain drops.
After taking some tulip pics, I headed for Farragut Square. The rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared in the west. Suddenly, the streets were suffused with a warm, golden light.
And then, in the sky over the office buildings, a rainbow appeared – a good luck sign, blessing the idea of evening walkabouts.
I continued my way up Connecticut Avenue to Dupont Circle. It’s a destination that I’m drawn to again and again. Not only is it a pretty spot, but it represents something to me – it’s where I first got a taste of urban life after coming to DC for college. It was where we went to eat Greek food at Zorba’s (still there) and drink in local bars (most of which are gone or changed names). The sun was just beginning to set as I arrived.
Listening to the Pixies, I headed east on Q St. There was one more destination I wanted to check out: the Barbie Pond Garden. This is a local institution that I have somehow missed. The owners of this house at 15th and Q decorate their garden with naked Barbies. This month’s theme was Easter.
It’s going to be a while before I can run again. The only remedy for pain is time. Instead of running, I’m going to walk in different directions – north, south, east, west – and write and take photos of what I discover in DC.
In most of the United States, there exists but a single transportation mode: driving. You use a car to get to where you want to go. Government has created a massive transportation infrastructure to accommodate that choice – roads of all sizes, gas stations on every corner, parking lots everywhere. Other transportation modes (biking, buses) are distinctly secondary, if they exist at all.
Only in the centers of the most urban of cities is life any different. In select urban areas, other kinds of modes exist. Haphazard government planning has resulted in the occasional protected bike lane. Lack of regulation allows companies like Uber to start. Streets designed in previous centuries accommodate pedestrians who walk to work.
In a multimodal environment, you pick the right tool for the job. You can’t just drive and park somewhere – parking might be expensive or not available or you might not have a car (like me). Instead, you select the transportation mode that works best for you, balancing a mix of a factors including time, hassle, expense and convenience.
While these choices may seem complex, after a while you learn what works best for you. And it won’t be just one mode. My day on July 2 is a good example of what it’s like to live in a multimodal world.
Destination: U Street Metro
Time: 8 AM
Distance: 1 mile
Every weekday, I trek from Logan Circle to Silver Spring for work. The first leg involves biking one mile to the U Street Metro. I bike because it’s easy, fun and quick. Most of the journey is along the 15th Street Cycletrack, a protected bike lane that makes it safe. I have two bikes – a Specialized Sirrus and a Breezer folding bike. I take the Breezer because it’s the cheaper of my two bikes so less likely to be stolen. Even so, I keep it locked up with a Kryptonite lock at the Metro. Safety is an important consideration in urban environments.
Destination: Silver Spring
Time: 8:10 AM
Distance: 6 miles
I’ve biked up to Silver Spring before but it’s nothing but hills and traffic so I take Metro instead. I take the Green Line to Fort Totten and switch to the Red Line. Most of the time, it’s a pleasant, uncrowded reverse commute that takes 20 minutes or so. My commute costs around $120 but actually it’s even less because I can take that money out of my paycheck pre-tax as a transportation benefit.
Destination: Whole Foods Silver Spring
Distance: 1.2 miles (round-trip)
There’s nothing good around the office so I typically walk up to Whole Foods in Silver Spring for lunch.
Destination: U Street Metro
Time: 4 PM
Distance: 6 miles
Weirdly, on the reverse-reverse commute, the Metro ride home typically takes 5-10 minutes longer than the morning.
Time: 4:30 PM
Distance: 1 mile
On the way home, I rocket down 13th Street and go around Logan Circle, which is always fun. However, it’s impossible to make a left on Rhode Island to my apartment building. Instead, I go to the next corner, stop, wait for the light to change, then turn around and come back. It’s one of those minor inconveniences that you get used to as a bike rider.
Destination: Aveda Salon
Time: 5 PM
Distance: .5 mile
I got a $40 haircut! It was quite pleasant actually. Part of the reason I chose the salon was that it was within walking distance.
Destination: Glen’s Garden Market/McClellan’s Retreat
Mode: Capital Bikeshare
Time: 5:30 PM
Distance: 1.5 miles
Cost: Free (normally $8 for 24 hours but I had a coupon)
If you’ve visited DC, then you’ve seen the red Capital Bikeshare bikes. They’re impossible to miss. I took one from Logan Circle to Dupont Circle to meet friends for drinks at McClellan’s Retreat. I knew it was the fastest way to get where I was going and I had a coupon. And I didn’t want to have to worry about my bike, or about drunk-biking home. And they’re just fun to ride every once in while.
Time: 7:00 PM
Distance: .5 miles
After a couple of bourbon-heavy drinks at McClellan’s Retreat, I had a hankering for fried chicken and biscuits. Thankfully, I could walk to GBD. I think I would’ve been a little wobbly on Bikeshare.
Time: 8 PM
Distance: 1 mile
Nice to be able to walk home without having to worry about a driving a car after a couple drinks.
Distance Covered: 18.7 miles
Total Transportation Costs: $6
Bikes, trains, walking – multimodal transportation can seem complicated. But if you look how I transited around a busy urban area, it’s a model of low-cost simplicity. If I had to drive to all the places listed above, I could’ve easily spent $50 on parking, as well as the aggravation of dealing with DC traffic. Plus, biking is quicker for virtually any trip in the city.
So, give multimodal living a try. Ride a bike. Walk to the corner store. Take a bus downtown. There’s probably more than one way to get to where you’re going.