Watching Them Come and Go In DC

     Three of the four houses across the street from ours are for sale.  We live in a development that was built in 2004, so in less than three years these families have decided to move on to greener pastures. 

     When I moved to the DC area twelve years ago it seemed that most of the people I met were like me – transplants from somewhere else.  We were all lured here by what Washington has a lot to offer:  government jobs, excellent universities, high-tech industry, a good climate and beautiful sights to see. But while I came here to stay, it’s become clear over time that many people think of DC as a stepping stone to somewhere else, rather than a final destination.   

     I grew up in a town of 40,000 with one major employer.  That’s too big a town to have everyone know your name, but if you didn’t know someone yourself, you could count on some secondary connection; her dad coached your brother in little league or his wife cuts your hair.   That closeness and familiarity is nice, but over time you can form community wherever you are, even in a big place like DC.  What you can’t control and what I am starting to sorely miss is the stability that my hometown provided.   

     In part, this instability is created by the times that we live in.  People don’t work at the same company for forty years nowadays.  There are very few pensions and gold watches handed out anymore.  Instead, we are encouraged to keep our networks strong and our resumes updated so that we can jump ship as soon as a better opportunity arises.   

     Still, DC seems particularly transient.  Political elections cause major job turnovers.  High tech companies have regular layoffs and start-ups are notoriously unstable.  No one over the age of thirty can afford to work on an NGO salary.  People get tired of the sprawl and traffic and sweaty tourist-laden metro cars, especially if you have a child or two in tow.   

     This coming and going breeds a new expectation about friendship.  When I was in first grade I could be pretty sure that most of my classmates would be at my high school graduation.  I’ve known my best friend since I was a preschooler.  It makes me sad that my kids probably won’t enjoy that same stability.   

     On the bright side, we do benefit from knowing so many more people as they come in and out of our lives.  Different kinds of people with greatly varied life experiences that enriches our own.  Shades of the old quality versus quality tradeoff, I suppose.  And email, cell phones, VOIP, and blogs mean that you don’t need to live down the street nowadays to keep in touch.  It might mean more work to maintain friendships, but those are important muscles to keep in shape, and it’s worth the effort. 

     We love living here, and we still think of DC as our destination, not a layover.  Still, I miss our friends that were just passing through.


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