writer, photographer, web person from Washington, DC.
Author: Joe Flood
Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.
The first time I saw a QAnon demonstration in DC, I thought they were nuts. It was a small crowd on Freedom Plaza in 2018. Who would believe that?
Yet, within a couple of years, this fringe philosophy would be endorsed by Donald Trump and lead to the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
Despite the obvious harm the conspiracy theory brought to its adherents, the GOP wouldn’t denounce it, for too many of their voters believed in shadowy Q.
While there may be mainstream Republicans, the Qanon caucus steers the party. They selected the Speaker of the House and can vote him out at any time. The fringe now controls the GOP.
Another demonstration recently came to the nation’s capital. Rage Against the War Machine brought together MAGA cultists, libertarians, Communists and Code Pink to call for the elimination of NATO and the surrender of Ukraine. Speakers included Rand Paul and Tulsi Gabbard.
And lots of Russian and Soviet flags. Shocking to see at the Lincoln Memorial, the red banner of terror under which millions were murdered, blowing in the wind on a sunny day.
And in the crowd, men in the yellow colors of the Proud Boys and “patriots” with t-shirts calling for January 6th prisoners to be released. Mingling with them, crackpots of various ilks, from cryptocurrency fanatics to those that believe that government controls the weather.
I listened to a MAGA chud argue with a libertarian. “You’re a fucking lunatic!” he shouted.
You’re all lunatics, I wanted to say.
There were perhaps 2,000 people at the Rage Against the War Machine rally, which sounds like a lot, but is small for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on a nice, early spring day. The demonstration was swamped by tourists (there’s a huge teen volleyball tournament in town) who went around and through the event, looking confused as they saw the Soviet flags. “Is this a pro-Russia rally?”
After an interminable speech by Ron Paul, the rally marched to the White House, where they waved Russian and American flags while Biden was en route to Ukraine to show solidarity with an oppressed people.
A people who the Rage Against the War Machine crowd wants dead. If Ukraine was forced to surrender to Russia, it would mean genocide.
I have a Bulgarian friend who likes to remind me that what starts over there, comes over here. Dictators copy tactics. And aspiring fascist movements learn from each other.
The “blood and soil” Christian nationalism of Russia will be copied by Republicans. Putin is a natural ally in the struggle against democracy. Expect more than a few Republicans to endorse him.
If you want to know where the GOP is going in 2024, look at Rage Against the War Machine. It’s the next QAnon.
That was the case of the “The Media is the Virus” protest outside the Washington Post. Despite being promoted by veterans of the People’s Convoy and other Q-adjacent groups, this anti-vaxxer demonstration drew zero participants to the nation’s capital.
This was supposedly a worldwide event to draw attention to “media lies” about the covid pandemic. The Q folks believe that media outlets coerced the public into taking a vaccine that will allow “globalists” to control them.
Back in the real world, I walked down K Street and saw a couple of cops in vehicles monitoring the empty sidewalk. I left to get coffee and then visit my favorite local used book store.
Not even the local chuds could be bothered with “The Media is the Virus” demonstration, for they have a much better grift with the J6 prisoner movement. After a year of failure with the the People’s Convoy and the 1776 Restoration Movement (1776RM), the livestreamers that hung on discovered their cash cow: January 6th.
What’s worse than the insurrection? Profiting from it.
There’s a vast right-wing ecosystem making bank from the January 6 defendants held in the DC Jail.
At the top of the pyramid is, of course, Donald Trump who conned supporters out of $250 million while trying to overthrow the government. Following in his footsteps are operators like the Patriot Freedom Project, which recently tried to do a fundraiser in suburban Baltimore. J6 families have complained that they don’t know what these “patriots” are doing with the money they raise on behalf of their cause.
Scooping up the crumbs are the YouTube livesteamers broadcasting from the nightly prisoner vigil outside the DC Jail. They gather to say the pledge of allegiance, receive prisoner calls and chant the names of the J6 convicts with the liturgical response: “Hero!”
It’s a disgusting spectacle on a dead-end street next to a graveyard.
But evidently a profitable one, for they’ve been doing it for months, despite having fewer than a dozen participants.
For the livestreamers outside the DC Jail, it doesn’t matter if no one shows up. They’re interested in a different number. What counts to them are the online donations, which continue to roll in through YouTube and the Cash app, as Trump supporters pay to show their support for treason.
The grift goes on, grubby and eternal, a bottomless well of money from the deluded, available for anyone willing to mouth conspiracy theories and put their face on camera. There is no Republican Party. All that’s left is fleecing the rubes.
Unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris patronize restaurants in Washington, DC.
Recently, they got takeout from Ghostburger, a pop-up burger joint near the Convention Center.
If they went a few blocks west, they could’ve visited a real ghost: The Big Hunt.
This used to be a mainstay of the downtown bar scene, filled for happy hour during the week and for football on the weekends. It was a grungy, 90s-era place decked in a fake safari motif, with jungle murals painted on the walls and tiki torches.
Sprawling over multiple levels, it had a basement with a low ceiling where I once went to an epic Halloween party. Another time, I got dragged down there to see burlesque – one of those happy chaotic moments you’d find at the Big Hunt.
It was not slick, it was not polished, it was wonderful.
And unfortunately it closed during the Covid Shutdowns of 2020, giving up their lease in October of that year.
Yet, like a ghost, it lingers on Connecticut Avenue, their unlit sign facing the busy street. Peer in the window and it looks the same, though battered and neglected, almost as if you could wipe down the counters and start serving beer again.
Covid accelerated trends which were already in effect, sending DC’s nightlife east to 14th Street. And sending its white-collar workforce remote. The offices that went sent dozens of young staffers to the Big Hunt for birthday parties and going-away celebrations are empty most of the week.
Mayor Bowser aims to change that. She wants the feds back downtown. The new Republican Congress wants federal workers back at their desks, too. People in the rest of the country are probably puzzled why DC is still remote.
I recently started a new government contractor job. Everything was remote, including the orientation. Gone are the days where you dress up for your first day of work, meet your coworkers and go to lunch. Instead, you login to your computer and get to work.
Which was fine by me, a seasoned professional, but if I was just starting out, I would feel very disconnected. What’s the point of working in a city if you’re not in a city?
Human contact is important and new workers are being cheated out of the downtown experience, that close collision of people and ideas, often fueled by alcohol.
Not that I want to return. I’ve had my fun. But I wouldn’t begrudge others the chance to connect with peers, coworkers and friends, to build meaningful and engaging moments. That in-person exposure to new experiences is how growth occurs.
The Big Hunt is a ghost on Connecticut Avenue, a reminder what was lost and is still missing three years after covid struck Washington, DC.
“When was that?” is the most common question you hear in our post-pandemic era.
The years of 2020/2021 are a blur of memories, a kaleidoscope of boredom and panic with the first days of Covid Time crystal-clear (remember the empty grocery store shelves?) but later periods inaccessible, like a hard drive that has been wiped clean.
What was I doing in 2021? There was the intimate horror of January 6th in DC and then a long blank spell until a Sunday morning in March when I biked across the city to Rosedale Recreation Center to get my J&J vaccine.
I can picture the gymnasium with precision. A socially-distanced line of folks waiting to get shots. A check-in station with a pair of health workers. Nurses at desks. “Do you want the shot in your left or right arm?” And then a fifteen minute wait as I looked around the scene, a sense of relief settling over me: at last, life could get back to normal.
Of course, it never did, for the days lost to Covid Time were gone forever.
I recently went on a walking tour of Georgetown Glow, the outdoor public art exhibition featuring light installations alive in the darkness.
This isn’t the first year for Georgetown Glow. I’ve seen it in other years and I recalled one winter when they had pieces along the C&O Canal, reflecting off the still water.
“When was that?” I asked the curator, for I could not recall the year. We were standing outside an installation called the Butterfly Effect, which were big glowing butterflies placed in front of Grace Church.
Was it before the pandemic? During the pandemic? Did Georgetown Glow happen in 2020 or 2021?
The time just slid away, as if years had been stolen from me. Thank god for Flickr, where I keep my photos. I was able to check there. They had art along the canal much further back than I realized: 2015.
And looming over the present is the fear: what’s next? I certainly didn’t expect that Donald Trump be President, a pandemic would shut down the world or that fascists would attack the Capitol.
That’s a lot of Black Swan events. And all in year: 2020.
Last night, I met friends at Martin’s Tavern. It’s a Georgetown institution that’s been open since 1933. You can sit in the booth where JFK proposed to Jackie Bouvier.
Martin’s is a neighborhood spot, tourist destination and an old rich white people playground all in one. And it was absolutely packed on a Friday evening, with people on all sides of us as we squeezed into a non-JFK booth.
“There’s going to be a war in five years,” one of my friends said as an opener. He believes it will be with China. “So drink up!”
The most striking part of Georgetown Glow is All the Light You See by Alicia Eggert which lights up the darkness along the Potomac River. The web site describes it best:
Light takes a moment to travel from one point to another, and to reach our eyes. The travel time varies – from eight minutes for the light from the sun to reach the earth, to millions of years from a star at the edge of our universe. This means that the information that light brings us is always dated. This is the focus of All the Light You See; a poetic statement written in light that changes meaning with a small intervention. Part of the text in “All the Light You See is From the Past” occasionally switches off, simplifying the message to “All You See is Past.” The installation is a reflection on mortality, reminding us that in no time at all, we, too, will belong to the past.
Covid Time, like all time, is gone and cannot be recovered.
No one knows what is next. Black Swans may abound or we may have seen the last of them. All we can do is make the best use of the time we have.
At the start of 2022, DC was still under covid restrictions with mask and vax mandates still in place. I had masks stuffed in pockets and bags, to use when I wanted to go inside Whole Foods or elsewhere. And I had a photo of my vaccine card to show when I wanted to sit down with a cup of coffee.
I could avoid the mandates by crossing the river into Virginia. It was a short bike ride to place where I didn’t need to show my papers.
Restrictions like this carried on in Washington long after the rest of the country had abandoned them. It was the year that downtown was hollowed out.
Despite this, nightlife boomed. While the offices of K Street were empty, the bars and clubs of U Street were packed.
I wasn’t the only one eager to YOLO. People were willing to follow DC’s covid rules just to experience the oldest pleasure of all: having a drink with friends.
When the containment regime fell apart in the spring, with mask and vax mandates overturned by the courts, even DC relaxed the rules, though Mayor Bowser warned her wayward children that she would return them if we were bad (she didn’t).
After almost two years of relative isolation, I started to get back my busy urban life. I could write and drink coffee in coffee shops again. Sit at the bar at McClellan’s Retreat and talk to the bartender. Eat in restaurants. None of this was good for my waistline; that’s the price of the YOLO lifestyle.
My bike social life returned, too. Bike to Work Day came back though who was going to an office anymore? White collar DC was remote or, at best, hybrid. I was happily 100% remote. In May, I commuted to Bike to Work Day stops in Virginia and DC before rolling home to my laptop.
And then came Open Streets 7th St, a big beautiful chunk of the city going car-free on a sunny summer day. This was also the year that the Metropolitan Branch Trail boomed, a bike trail and a beer trail through the heart of DC.
Evidence of Trump continued to be erased from Washington, like a disgraced Pharaoh written out of history. We got the Old Post Office back, his name pried off the front of the building in the middle of the night lest a crowd gather and cheer.
The White House complex was no longer a fortress. The fence around Lafayette Park disappeared. The protest signs that once covered it were put on display at the MLK Library. Uniformed Secret Service officers who beat peaceful protesters in 2020 now posed for photos with tourists. All was forgiven, apparently.
Summer brought a new comedy sensation: The 1776 Restoration Movement. In the spring, the so-called People’s Convoy tried to shut down DC in protest of covid restrictions. They failed, defeated by the Capital Beltway, a 64-mile long ouroboros of never-ending traffic that broke up and scattered the convoy, leaving the truckers angry and soaked in their own urine.
But not everyone wanted to go home. The dregs formed a much smaller group, The 1776 Restoration Movement (1776RM).
You’re going to restore 1776, when we were British? It made no sense. Their incoherent anti-government ideas obscured the truth: these were Trumpkins trying to spark another January 6th. They hoped to be the vanguard of another coup attempt.
I wrote about them, because I delighted in mocking the follies of this tiny group of QAnon cultists. And I was not alone, there was a whole community of folks devoted to trolling 1776RM both online and in real-life.
When the group came to DC, to sit in lawnchairs on the National Mall, a Suicide Squad of left and right-wing trolls arrived to harass them, both sides of the insanity live-streaming on their phones and yelling at each other with bullhorns. You could watch it all on YouTube, a choose your own adventure where you got to see the perspective of the trolls and the trolled.
It was the most popular content I wrote all year. Readers loved stories about the ongoing incompetence of the bucket-pooping 1776RM and the entertaining counterprotestors (with names like Anarchy Princess and Defender of Ants) that aggravated them to distraction.
For you web nerds, these blog posts had the best SEO of anything I’ve ever done, regularly appearing in the top five search results for 1776 Restoration Movement. While I made sure to use the term in the page title and in the body, the SEO secret is that you can’t fool Mother Google. Write good, informative content.
Eventually, they left the Mall, after the Park Police threatened to tow away their cars (vehicles are the American weakness).
My work made fun of 1776RM. After they left, I wondered if I contributed to the problem. More conflict led to more YouTube views which meant more donations for their streamers. Without the drama provided by the trolls, they don’t have anything interesting to say.
Also, 1776RM is more violent and stupid than portrayed in my work. Putting down in words what they do and believe gives the group a coherence and logic that they lack. Since getting kicked out of DC, and without conflict from trolls to spur donations, 1776RM has scattered to the backwoods.
During the bad pandemic days of 2020/21, I doomscrolled, compulsively checking my phone for covid news and predictions. In 2022, I became obsessed with following #1776RM on Twitter, as the online world monitored and mocked the follies of the group.
American capitalism exists on an addiction model (we don’t make anything anymore). It captures some through vaping, gambling or opioids. It caught me through social media, a Palantir that confirmed my beliefs and provided me a world of endless information.
I needed a break.
Fortunately, the end of the fiscal year brought me one as my government contracting job ended and I was free to travel to Ireland.
My homeland! The green country that my ancestors left just a couple of generations ago.
There I fulfilled my second YOLO dream: riding a train in Europe. I spent two weeks taking trains around this friendly country and going to pubs in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork.
And I read, the rails being conducive to reading. A book on my lap as the green countryside rolled by the windows.
I got my focus back, which had been shattered by living in Washington during the madcap Trump and covid eras. Long days alone as I explored museums or walked through towns alive with music helped me be more present in the moment, pulling me back from the online world to the real one.
The Year of YOLO is over.
And with my focus back, I’ve started work on another novel. A story of the post-pandemic era in America. The title is of course:
drink 7 cups of coffee (or another fall-type beverage), and
document your coffeeneuring (either photos, Strava tracks, journal entries, control card, etc.).
I’ve been doing the Coffeeneuring Challenge for years. I wildly ambitious plans for Coffeeneuring 2022. I was going to take epic rides to new coffee places far outside of my home of Washington, DC. In the end, that didn’t happen.
But I still got to bike a lot and drink great coffee. I lived the Coffeeneuring Dream.
Date: October 21 Distance: 11 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Philz
A beautiful fall day with some disappointing and expensive coffee at Philz in Navy Yard. The great thing about biking in DC, however, is running into people you know. It’s much easier to stop and chat while you’re on a bike versus being in car. While I was by the Anacostia River, Ted and Jean rolled up and said hello. They were also busy coffeeneuring on a mild October day.
Date: October 23 Distance: 9 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Compass
One of the habits I picked up during the pandemic was crossing the river for coffee on Sunday mornings. For long stretches of 2020, you weren’t allowed to dine indoors in DC so I’d bike to Virginia so I could be inside with coffee. My route takes me over the Potomac River and close to Teddy Roosevelt Island, where I stopped and took a walk.
Date: October 30 Distance: 7 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Compass
I went back to Rosslyn the following Sunday, not realizing that I’d have to cross the path of the Marine Corps Marathon! It was a beautiful ride down streets closed to cars and the fog-draped Key Bridge. But then a river of people to cross, an endless stream of runners in Rosslyn. Fortunately, this Virginia city has skyways, relics of a 1970s-era scheme. I carried my bike up a set a steps, over a pedestrian bridge, and down the other side.
4. Logan Circle
Date: November 2 Distance: 3 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: The Coffee Bar
The problem with going out for coffee in DC is that sometimes there’s no place to sit. The Coffee Bar is a super-cute neighborhood coffee shop, an Instagram dream in fall with the changing leaves, but its photogenic nature means that it’s often full of people taking photos and drinking coffee when I want to take photos and drink coffee. I had to sit on a park bench.
5. Del Ray
Date: November 4 Distance: 15 miles Bike: Specialized Sirrus Coffee: St. Elmo’s
I have two bikes: a belt-driven, three-speed Brilliant Cooper (aka Belty) which I use for short trips and a Specialized Sirrus (the real bike) for longer ones. I took the Sirrus to the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, VA. I love this route for it takes me down the Mount Vernon Trail, which was absolutely peaking with fall color.
6. Rock Creek Park
Date: November 10 Distance: 26 miles Bike: Specialized Sirrus Coffee: Firehook
The Capital Crescent Trail – Rock Creek Park Loop is an incredibly popular one among DC-area cyclists. The Capital Crescent Trail is a rail trail that runs from Georgetown to Bethesda. From there, you take city streets down to Rock Creek Park, which winds its way back to DC. During the pandemic, the National Park Service closed Beach Drive in the park to cars. They recently announced that it would remain closed – a victory for the people!
7. Downtown DC
Date: November 19 Distance: 6 miles Bike: Brilliant Cooper Coffee: Puro Gusto
Free is the most beautiful word in the English language. Pure Gusto, an Italian cafe, sent me a coupon for a free drink. Perfect timing. On a frigid day, I biked by the Downtown Holiday Market and then got a cappuccino.
That’s a wrap for Coffeeneuring 2022! Here’s to another great year of biking and drinking coffee! It’s a great way to stay busy during these cold months and discover new coffee places.
Revisit the hope and despair of 2020 with the Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence Artifact Collection at the MLK Library in Washington, DC.
If, during the dark days of summer 2020, you had told me that the protest signs covering the fence around the Trump White House would one day be in a museum exhibit, I would’ve been surprised.
Surprised that we were still alive, that museums existed and dissent was permitted.
None of which seemed certain in June, 2020, after Trump had Black Lives Matter protesters beaten in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC.
Trump Builds a Fence
I had seen the fence go up. Trump felt afraid, even after flooding the city with thousands of paramilitaries, so a fence was built. Not just around the White House, but the whole complex, stretching from 15th to 17th St and from H Street down to Constitution Avenue, putting public spaces like Lafayette Square and the Ellipse behind chain-link.
As the fence was constructed, armed yahoos faced off against BLM protesters on 16th St.
Armed yahoos – I have no other way of describing them, for they were men in riot gear, but no identifying badges or IDs, clad in a mish-mash of khaki vests and jeans.
To this day, I have no idea who they were. The city was full of mysterious armed men in a variety of uniforms. Supposedly for security. Unlike January 6th, the National Guard protected the Capitol and the city’s monuments and memorials. Blackhawk helicopters thundered over my apartment building, making it feel like I lived in Baghdad.
On June 5, 2020, Mayor Bowser painted Black Lives Matter on 16th St in yellow letters so large that they were visible from space.
The Fence Becomes a Memorial
And the fence along H Street, built for Trump’s protection, became a platform for expressing opposition to the regime. Soon it became covered in signs, every BLM march adding more, until the signs were so thick that you could no longer see the White House.
It was known as the Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence. BLM protest groups gathered here before marching up 16th St, led by a go-go band on a truck. Victims of police violence came to memorialize their losses. Americans who grieved for what their country had become attached their hand-made messages to the fence.
Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence was a tourist destination, a place for solemn reflection, our version of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes, photographers would bring stepladders so that they could peer over the fence and get photos of the dictator trapped in a prison of his own creation.
As documented in the exhibit at the MLK Library, Trump mobs tore down the signs on several occasions. They were replaced. During the “stop the steal” rallies in November and December 2020, Proud Boys vowed to destroy the fence. When the police blocked off the streets, the thugs attacked random people and vandalized a church.
When Biden’s victory was announced on November 7th, it was where DC came to celebrate. I had been at the Wharf at the time and by the time I reached BLM Plaza, it was jammed with thousands of people. I watched people drinking champagne and taking gleeful selfies. On the spot where I had seen armed yahoos face off against demonstrators, a shirtless man stood on a bus platform, leading the crowd in chants. It was one of the greatest days of my life.
The Fence is History
After Biden’s inauguration, the fence came down. DC had Lafayette Park back, as I wrote in The Washington Post.
The signs that covered Black Lives Matter Memorial Fence were preserved and are now on display at the MLK Library in Washington, DC.
They look so neat and clean in the quiet, climate-controlled library. When viewing the exhibit, the outcome seems so certain, that Trump would lose, possessing the quality of inevitability, like other civil rights struggles.
But it was anything but certain, as anyone who lived through 2020 can tell you.
Early in the book, he describes the visit by President Kennedy to the country in 1963. The ultimate Irish emigrant who did well somewhere else, the Irish were bewitched by his glamor and sex appeal. Mad scenes were reported across the country as Irish nearly trampled the President. And the contrast between the youthful American leader and the elderly Irish leaders is striking.
During his visit, Kennedy says, “Most countries send out oil or iron, steel or gold or some other crop, but Ireland has had only one export and that is its people.”
But what if Ireland didn’t need to export its people? What if young Irish could find economic opportunity in Cork and Dublin rather than New York and London?
Deciding to Stay
O’Toole’s parents were part of the generation that decided to stay, rather than emigrate. This was despite the stultifying hold the Catholic Church had on the country, which ruled in matters large and small, from who could get divorced (no one) to what plays could be performed. Most Irish writers lived abroad, for they could find a freedom in England or Italy that they couldn’t find at home.
And underneath the traditional, thatched roof view of green Ireland hid an a archipelago of Catholic horror, from industrial schools for poor children to Magdalene Laundries for wayward women. This was institutionalized slavery and sexual exploitation. According to the Church, what went on in these prisons was not sinful; telling the truth about them was, for it undercut the faith among the believers. We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland uncover this habit of “compartmentalizing” these unspoken horrors in Irish society.
When I was in Ireland, I visited the Irish Workhouse Centre. Poor people turned themselves into the workhouse when they had no money. Families were separated. Men, women and children worked manual labor (like breaking rocks) for their daily gruel. And this wasn’t just some Dickensian-era cruelty; the workhouse was still operating in the 1920s.
This was around the time my Flood ancestors left the country. In America, we like to think that immigrants are in search of abstract causes like freedom. But, for my family, it was probably emigrate or starve.
What Would Ireland Be?
The Irish leaders of the 1960s – the “conservative revolutionaries” of the Easter Rising and the Catholic Church – realized that the country had to change before the population collapsed.
But if Ireland modernized, what kind of country would it be? West Britain? An American outpost? Part of Europe?
The answer: all of the above.
Ireland has inescapable trade links with the United Kingdom, a constant exchange of people and goods. In the 1980s, American investment arrived, with call centers and manufacturing plants blossoming around the country, during the short-lived Celtic Tiger days. (O’Toole has a very funny chapter on the excesses of the era, like the Riverdance phenomenon, when Irish-Americans shamelessly fused tradition with rock and roll into a global sensation.) And Ireland has worked hard to be accepted into the European Union, despite the skepticism of fiscally-prudent Germany.
We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland ends with a country that is very different from the one that my family fled. The power of the Catholic Church is no more. The veterans of 1916 are just memories. Brexit has flipped old animosities around, with the possibility that Northern Ireland opts out of the UK and returns to the EU through union with Ireland.
And a power shortage, too. Power cuts are expected this winter, as Europe struggles with the economic turmoil created by Putin’s war.
But it’s a place where you can cross the country in a modern train in three hours. And sit in a Cork bar with the band so close that you can reach out and touch them while you drink a five euro Guinness surrounded by French teens practicing their English.
Ireland doesn’t need to export its people anymore. Instead, the world is coming to Ireland.
What Europeans don’t understand about America is that we’re no longer the brash, confident Reagan-era country that they remember. Instead, we’ve become two nations – Red and Blue – with vastly different politics, cultures and outlooks.
A European friend described to me an American experience that puzzled her. She wore a mask to the Grand Ole Opry, not wanting to risk getting other people sick.
Virtually alone in her mask, she got dirty looks from the elderly folks in the audience.
Because wearing a mask is a signifier of Blue America. It means that you “follow the science” and believe that covid is real. You must certainly voted for Biden and are pro-abortion. Wearing a mask is a provocative act in the Red State of Tennessee.
Traveling around the country, you’d could determine how an area votes just by the presence of masks. Not just between states but within them as well. Washington, DC, where I live is very pro-mask and never votes Republican.
Yet, if I travel south across the Potomac, the masks disappear and they won’t reappear again until I get to a blue dot of a city like St. Petersburg, FL.
It’s like that with every issue in America now. There’s a red side and a blue side.
You see it news stories, like how a mural upset parents in Michigan. In an innocuous piece of art, some parents saw Satanic symbols and dangerous support for diversity. In a public forum, these parents harassed school officials and the young artist until the mural was changed.
“Local mob censors student artist,” would be the headline from NPR if this was any other country. It would be an example of how intolerant other countries are – but not us, the enlightened United States. It’s hard to admit when you’ve become the primitives.
How can this be America? Footnotes are needed explain this story to non-American audiences:
Rural areas in Michigan are heavily Republican (Red).
The Republican Party has been taken over by QAnon.
QAnon is a conspiracy theory that blood-drinking global elites are trying to impose a liberal world order through media manipulation, vaccines with tracking chips and other nefarious means.
QAnon is like a religion in which adherents see signs and symbols everywhere, from the currency to middle-school murals.
Parents with QAnon or conservative beliefs want to dictate what gets taught in schools, seeking to eliminate unpleasant facts like slavery from the curriculum.
And one more: The Cruelty is the Point.
What kind of person humiliates a kid in a public forum? Because that’s what parents did, as they stood up to condemn a teenager.
The Republican Party no longer has a platform. Cruelty is the only thing that remains. The cruelty is the point.
If you’re a Republican, you want to punish “enemies” like transgender kids, Biden voters and mask-wearers at the Grand Ole Opry, all in an attempt to roll back the clock to an America that never existed.
That’s what Europeans don’t understand about America. The brash, Reagan-era country that tore down walls and took on an evil empire is no more.
We’re two countries now. A Blue America that is tolerant and democratic. A Red America caught in conspiracy theories.
Washington, DC, has enjoyed Capitol Bikeshare (CaBi) for twelve years now.
It allows me to live downtown without a car. Surrounded by Cabi stations, I use the system constantly. It’s the easiest way to get around DC and it allows you to make more trips to do more things than you ever could do with a car.
Here’s how I’ve used Capital Bikeshare :
Multimodal Commuting: For years, I took the Metro to Silver Spring. But the first part of my trip was a half-mile ride on bikeshare to the U Street Metro. Twice a day, I would be on a CaBi.
Commuting Bail-Out: During my commutes, when the Metro would break-down, I’d bail out, exit the station and get on a CaBi to continue my journey home.
Recreation: With a bike always available on the corner, I’ll take CaBi down to the National Mall to see the sunrise or just to ride around the neighborhood.
Coffeeneuring: Bikes and coffee is a lifestyle and there’s a biking challenge that celebrates this: Coffeeneuring. It’s an annual, international affair where riders are challenged to ride to seven coffee shops over seven weeks.
Bike to Bar: Sometimes I’ll bike to a bar and then walk or Uber home. No worries about a DUI that way.
Bad Weather: While I do love CaBi, I have real bikes, too! But if the weather is rainy or nasty (like when the city coats the streets in salt before snowstorm), then I’ll let CaBi get dirty instead of my real bike.
Night: I also prefer to use CaBi at night because they’re so big and bright, even the highest driver can see them.
Safety: Drivers seem to notice me more when I’m on a Cabi and treat me better. I’m not a “cyclist”; I’m a person on a bike when I use a CaBi.
Theft Avoidance: I kept my bike once locked up overnight outside Union Station and someone slashed the tire trying to steal it. Now I take CaBi to the train station.
Airport: Biking to DCA is a dream! You make a left off the Mount Vernon Trail, go through a tunnel, and you’re at the airport, with a convenient CaBi station right there. And the ride home at night past the monuments is breathtakingly beautiful.
Rewards: The short-lived Bikeshare Angels program was perhaps a little too good, allowing riders to rack up too many rewards. The new rewards program is not as generous but you still get rewards like e-bike credits for taking bikes to places where they are needed.
These are just a few of the ways that I’ve used Capital Bikeshare. I genuinely like the bikes. Their wide tires and heavy frames seem ideal for the potholed streets of DC.
One downside of CaBi is availability. I’m fortunate to live in the flat part of the city. Those uphill see their bikes disappear downhill and then they don’t always come back. Capital Bikeshare trucks bikes back uphill to meet the demand but it’s a constant struggle.
Despite this, given the crowded roads and Metro mishaps, Capital Bikeshare is still the most reliable transportation system in the city and one that deserves increased investment from city leaders.