Park Market. Corner store with guys wearing tank tops going in to by lotto tickets and 24 oz cans of beer. Beer. Ice. Lotto. Bars on the windows and a cashier behind bulletproof glass. An old one story, blue building with a white overhang with decorative blocks attached to the sides like legos. It’s squat and hard next to the new three-story condo building attached to it with a circle driveway and units with floor to ceiling windows so you can see the size of the tenant’s TVs.
Couples walking their dogs and trying to make conversation with each other while hoping passing strangers don’t notice their dog shitting in public. They talk about whether or not they can afford to leave Columbia Heights and move into the more baby-appropriate areas of Cleveland Park or Tenleytown. They hold plastic bags over their hands like gloves.
A balding man and his friend in a civic run the red light on 13th street. A young woman and her equally young friend pushing strollers stop in the street and yell at the car as it disappears up the hill and towards Maryland. One is white and one is black and both have their hair pinned down onto their scalps in tiny braids that flow down their necks onto their shoulders.
Women walking home from the metro who are still flush the excitement of being young, beautiful and nearly successful in the nation’s capitol. They still wear their heels on the walk home in tight, knee-length black skirts.
Teenagers who slow the sidewalk and shuffle shoulder-to-shoulder while each tries to look more disinterested in their friend’s company than the next one.
Across the corner from the grocery store is a three story orangish pink house with blue trim. The house has turrets and is ornate in a gingerbread house manner. Through the windows you can see a grand piano with a bust of someone facing where the player sits.
Old men who smoke and have deeply lined faces and eyes hiding behind squinty folds stand in front of the grocery store and offer people rides home. The same gypsy cabs everyday. Ma’am do you need transportation? They’re all tall and thick with stomachs that hang over their jeans that don’t fit them anymore. They only thing that changes is the color of their skin and the make of their cars. Old women wearing baggy purple pants and flower print blouses wheel their grocery carts over and call them by their first names while the men load their groceries.
Across the street kids play outside the laundromat while their parents fold clothes inside. There’s a payphone outside with a Bud Lite with Lime ad wrapped around it. A man wearing a Redskins hat, soaked through with sweat and a white t shirt with the logo of a local hospital holds the phone to his ear and talks to people on a different continent.
New baby trees have been planted every 20 feet down both sides of the sidewalks. The sidewalks are newer the closer you get to 14th street.
Four story 100 year old townhomes that have been torn down, rebuilt and broken into million dollar condos blend into the 200 unit 4 year old apartment building with high ceilings that stands on the corner of 14th street. Five years ago it was a vacant lot surrounded by a 12 foot chain link fence lined with plywood and topped with razorwire.
At the corner is a fountain built into a plaza that shoots jets of water straight up in the air. Kids run through it screaming and getting soaked. None of them wear bathing suits and their parents sit on the benches near the fountain and talk with other parents while their kids soak their clothes. Over the fountain are metal trees with solar panels on the top; the trees turn into florescent lights at night and make the plaza grey.
As I cut through the plaza to head to Target, I look to my right and see a Subway sandwich shop tucked in between a shuttered hair salon and a liquor store. Five years earlier, after my mom called me and told me my grandfather was dead, I walked to that Subway and ordered a footlong meatball sub with extra meat and extra cheese. It felt heavy in my stomach and flooded my body with just enough fat and cholesterol to make me feel better. When I made that walk five years before I didn’t feel safe and I knew there was a chance I’d get mugged. Now there’s a crossing guard at the intersection to make sure pedestrians don’t get hit, and a Ruby Tuesday’s across the street.