“It’s the first time we’ve been out in a year,” a couple told me excitedly as we waited to get into happy hour at the Heurich House Garden.
I’ve been going to the garden since they opened in February. It’s a nice outdoor space within walking distance of my home. During the winter months, they served mulled wine (something I never thought I’d like) with enough alcohol content to keep me warm for a while. I’d meet friends there and we’d talk, until our extremities began to freeze.
The pandemic is coming to an end in Washington, DC. Vaccines are freely available and incentives (such as free beer) are now being offered to get them.
Hard to believe that just two months ago, I was talking with my friends in the garden about the difficulty of obtaining a vaccine. Now, we’ve all been vaccinated.
I am deeply thankful for this amazing development that was only possible due to big government and American ingenuity.
In these last days of the pandemic, I have a certain wistfulness about what we will lose with the return of “normal” life.
Last year, DC was so empty that I could run in the street. Now, the drivers are back and running in the street would be a death sentence. Literally – traffic deaths have risen dramatically, despite Mayor Bowser mouthing Vision Zero platitudes.
We learned how to eat outside in any weather. 14th St is lined with outdoor tables on the street, protected from traffic and sheltered from the weather. Some are quite elaborate, like the cozy little rooms at Le Diplomate.
Outdoor drinking in DC has become ubiquitous, even infamous. Logan Circle Park is known locally as Club Logan. On the weekends, the grass is packed with picnickers sipping to-go drinks from the bars on 14th St.
While the neighborhoods are rocking, not much is going on downtown. With the federal government teleworking, south of K Street is deserted. Most of the coffee shops and restaurants are closed. The city is trying to lure people back with things like the outdoor office in Farragut Square.
The General Services Administration, where I work, was already teleworking a majority of the time, pre-pandemic. No one had assigned desks; everyone had laptops. Hoteling, they called it. Nothing really changed for us when the pandemic hit.
GSA is not alone. Many organizations have discovered that they can work successfully online. Office space will be shed – what’s the point of leasing square footage downtown for people who aren’t there? Maybe you need a DC address or place for meetings but you don’t require a whole floor on K Street.
For many businesses, the question will be not when everyone goes back to the office but who actually needs to be there.
I thought that COVID-19 would end with a bang. A celebration as people discarded their masks and resumed life.
Instead, everyone is cautiously exploring the world once again, like the couple I met in the garden. They will discover an America that has changed utterly.