Looking East from the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon

The top half of the photo is a clear blue sky and a busy cityscape takes up the bottom half.

Sunday’s ride took me down the hill to meet L. and friends for her birthday brunch at our regular place–she’s fun and 41, as she says! I don’t personally celebrate Easter, but it looked like everyone else in the neighborhood did. There were lots of suits and ties, dresses and hats, kids squirming in clothes that looked cute and uncomfortable. I rolled up to the bike rack and had to ask a family of eight to make way so I could use it. We shared some words about the weather (it was amazing) and waited impatiently for the restaurant to open. When it did, they got themselves a big table at the back, and I grabbed the corner bar for us, ordered coffee, and stared at my phone until my friends showed up.

They did, we ordered breakfast burritos and omelettes and mimosas and bloody marys. We ate, I swayed to their music, which reminded me of my dad, and we talked about books, Love Island, our jobs, plants, groceries and how long we trust perishables outside of refrigeration (B. and I? Not long.), and all the other chit chattery of a lazy Sunday afternoon.

After we took our separate ways, I called a friend and walked my bike a bit toward home, and then I was in Mount Vernon Square. This is one of the prettiest places in the city, but I never hang out here because I don’t ride my bike on Charles. Where transportation systems shuttle me, that’s where I end up, so I’m mostly on Maryland or the Fallsway, missing this cobbly area that’s terrible for bikes anyway. I locked up my bike and grabbed an empty park bench to finish my phone call.

As I sat there I stared up at the blue sky, those brilliant spring greens making it pop, watching other people use the park. One woman sat on her suitcase, surrounded by bags and boxes. Is the park her home? Or is it only her park until police come to move her a few blocks over, where the green is replaced by the gray of cement and the prisons and services for people in poverty or experiencing homelessness? It always strikes me, how the organization of that side of the city materializes how so many of our carceral systems are about arresting ourselves out of the social disorders of capitalism. Poverty is a feature, not a bug, as they say.

Other people were just walking through the park, or taking pictures, or picking up after their tiny dogs. They were using the park the way it is meant to be used. Camping is for other parks. I just reserved a place to pitch my tent in Shenandoah for Labor Day weekend, for example–$30 a night.

After my phone call and my own round of pictures of blue sky through green trees, I walked over to the monument. It was open! I have lived here for nearly 12 years. I bike near this monument regularly–the view of it when I make my right turn onto Monument Street from Eutaw is always a pretty one. I tell the same story about this monument every time: Washington didn’t want a monument in his name, because in a democracy, we shall not celebrate heroes. He’s got at least two; this wasn’t the only thing he was wrong about. But I had never been up it! So I paid my $6 and walked the 225 steps up.

No matter how much I exercise, walking up stairs never gets easier. It took me some time to get up those 14 flights. I was counting off in 25s, taking breaks as needed, and I was breathless when I finally made it. Ok, maybe I wasn’t actually taking breaks when I needed it. I was alone up there, and I went to each window to see what I could see. Beautiful views in every direction, but this is the view that stopped me. There are the prisons and jails, Healthcare for the Homeless, Our Daily Bread Employment Center. Farther off is Johns Hopkins main medical campus. Cranes are in the sky, the have been in the sky over there for a long time.

Remember when FEMA Chief Michael “Brownie” Brown promised there would be cranes in the sky after the levees broke? I think of that every time I see cranes in the sky. There are cranes in the sky where people want there to be cranes in the sky, where those cranes are imagined to make somebody a whole lot of money, even if it requires pushing people who live in a neighborhood all the way out. That is what I saw when I looked out that windown.

I finished my turn around the top (you don’t get to go outside, fyi) and was about to head down when I heard the heavy breathing of someone almost-there. I waited, and a minute later a man huffed and puffed his way out of the stairwell. I think running up and down the monument was part of his workout routine? Only the two of us, and no hello or how you doin’ back to me. Sigh. He paused and I took the chance to get a head start on him so I could make it down without being in the way. God, I’m so polite, rushing myself so this man doesn’t have to slow down. Gender is a trip, even when you know better.

225 steps down and I was out and back on my bike, pedaling over to Cathedral and back home via the cycletrack, like I do most days. A perfect Sunday, a perfect spring, more please.

3 thoughts on “Looking East from the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon

  1. Enjoyed your Easter Sunday cycling experience. I once walked up all the steps at Waterloo, Belgium while Mary stood at the bottom wondering if I would make it. I just looked it up and it’s only 225 steps. I think I’m in better walking shape now than I was then. I can do 4 floors up the stairs here before folding. I can do more if needed. But don’t push it, Donna. I also don’t celebrate Easter. So bad for a pastor…lol.

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