How To Live In Washington DC

Get accepted into a “competitive” fellowship or internship or entry level lobbying position – whatever. Think this is it: it’s only a matter of time before you are saving the world (or securing a “real” job). Look on Craigslist for an apartment… see that the price of a one bedroom condo by the Capitol is $2700.00. Silently squeal to yourself. Look farther way. Google Shaw-Howard. Look closer. Spend 2 weeks scouring Craigslist, emailing friends and distant cousins. Find a bedroom in a house in Maryland, or a couch with a friend in Columbia Heights. It doesn’t matter, you’re moving to DC.

Spend the first few nights getting to know your fellow fellows, classmates, or co-workers. Ride the metro for the first time in your life. Go the wrong direction. Have people from NYC scoff at you for being confused. Go to Adams Morgan and be surrounded by the exact same crowd as college. Take too many shots, eat at the McDonalds with a security guard and cab it back to safety. Look at your bank account and realize you’ve spent $200 that week on tennis shoes, a plastic drawer set, pad thai, metro fares, cabs, alcohol, brunch, an umbrella, Tylenol, toothpaste and a new suit. Silently kick yourself.

Learn to take the bus. Put yourself on a budget. Visit Safeway and realize that you can’t stuff your trunk with a month’s worth of Ramen noodles and Capri Suns. Buy a goofy cart, fill it with groceries, try to include something healthy. Realize you’ve lost 10 lbs from walking so much. It’s the end of summer and your shirt is sticking to your back and your feet are swollen. Think about how you would do terrible things to get access to a rooftop pool.

Visit the Holocaust Museum. Cry.

Make friends fast. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is from somewhere else. They are away from home for the first time like you, or coming from a 6 year grad/law school program where they helped with AIDS research. Whoa, people are smart in DC. Clutch your B.A. in Political Science, or Government, or History, or Women’s Studies for dear life. Drink with Republicans. Make out with Liberals. See more diversity than you ever have in your entire life living back home.

Have your first day on the “Hill.” Realize that people come here for very different reasons. There is someone on the other side, from the other “party” who exists solely to combat everything you believe in. Spend half your time answering phones, meeting people for coffee, getting recommendations from others about how you just have to talk to so and so. Email them for coffee. Realize you probably have an addiction. File paperwork, run errands, respond to letters, work late. Think how recess is the best thing ever. Give a tour. Bullshit your way through. Realize that your 8th grade history needs to be refreshed. Who put people like you in charge? Realize that the people “in charge” are in the committee room next to you. Walk past John Boehner. Realize you have absolutely nothing to say to John Boehner.

Go to a “networking” event. Drink too much wine and eat too many hors d’oeuvres. Listen to the person speaking incessantly about themselves and what they do. Want to punch them. Want to jump out the window. Leave feeling defeated. After meeting 100 new contacts and handing out dozens of cards, realize you have not had a substantial conversation in what feels like days. (Later, after your 37th reception, you have perfected it to a science. Drink 1 and half glasses of wine, skip the food, collect 5 cards, leave early and go to a bar.)

Have nights where you have absolutely nothing to do. Feel lonely. Call home. Skype with a friend. Wonder what the hell you ever came to DC for.

Pass by a homeless person on the way to the metro. Realize that for being the capitol of the country, there is a lot of disparity. Read about the poor education system. Notice that most of the Senate staffers are white. All of the service workers are not. Feel disconnected to the reason you came here. Get frustrated with D.C. traffic, slow metros, bad neighborhoods, expensive cost of living, and overall insanity. Wonder if going through a metal detector everyday is healthy for you. Feel guilty and powerless. You are not saving the world. You have not found a job.

Realize that you are among your peers. Even though you are surrounded by people of privilege, you still feel like you’re in the right place. Have your party lose the house and have you’re world flipped upside down. Life here is cyclical. Parties switch. Power shifts. Become jaded with politics. Wonder if you even matter, if anyone’s work even makes a difference. Read a bill that you helped draft. Think you just helped save a tiny piece of the world.

Work with different types of people. Feel pressured to get more education. Realize that people here are just the same as the ones back home, just better at hiding it. They creep slowly into debt, live in places like Rossyln or Silver Spring and try to live off $30 K a year whilst paying for $30 brunches. Meet lots of douchey law students or worse: pre-law students. Go to a rooftop party. Visit an apartment that costs more than your parents house. Go to the W and sneak onto the rooftop. Drink $20 jack and cokes. Hate yourself. Party with people from Chicago, LA, and Texas. Meet people who intern at the White House. Become annoyed with people who intern at the White House. Your 8 months here have made you more judgmental. Become less trusting.

Gain back the 10 lbs you lost and then some over winter. See snow for the first time or the 25th time. Get a winter boo. Lose the winter boo. Go on dates, meet people, hook-up. End your pseudo relationship back home. See couples on the street and stare at them like zoo animals. Everyone is too young for that here. Not really, just more self involved. Question your life path. Consider letting pseudo girlfriend/boyfriend visit. Discuss relationships and sex with your new girlfriends/guyfriends over Ben’s Chili Bowl at 3:00 am after a night of debauchery. Stop questioning your life path.

Get invited to a gala or staff your boss at an event. See people you only see on Huffington Post, New York times or CNN up close. Realize you are in the center of it all. Hear the President speak. See the crowd move. Shake his hand. Stare at hand. Call your parents.

Pause on a beautiful spring day. Smell the cherry blossoms. Think: Damn, I live in D.C. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Jordan

    Just stop, please!  This is no knock on you Clarissa (well, maybe), but this How To stuff has got to stop!

    • Kablaamee

      I swear to god I was just thinking the exact same thing.

  • Aja

    Wow.  This was a good read.  I live in the DC, my life is much different than the picture you paint but I still see it clearly.  Definitely.

  • Matt Stevenson

    I live in DC and I approve of this post.

    • chelseafagan

      Matt, noooooooooo. This is the privileged whining of a hill intern, who are you?!

  • disillusioned

    As a DC native, I take umbrage with this. Not to be the typical angry commenter, but the only people who think no one is from DC are the yuppies who shop at Madewell and don't interact with the community at large.

    I've worked at nonprofits, and these newbies are all the same. They seek to save the world by working for some benevolent organization that is trying to feed starving African children, but in actuality, they are scared of actual minorities in their own neighborhood. I once heard a guy at one of my urbanism-type nonprofits call a neighoring, Black community “fucking disgusting”, when the organization was devoted to helping these exact same beleagured communities.

    Eventually, you'll all leave. Young grads come to DC to take what they can get, and than they go back home to Texas or graduate to the big leagues, fleeing to New York or Chicago. Meanwhile, DC rots, with (until recently) a mayor that ignored the city at large, installing bike lanes for the few while our children are drowning in a failing school system and most can't even buy fresh vegetables in their own neighborhood. (Not that it's your responsibility to save the world or anything…)

    I know, I know. Seems bleak.

    • Fasdflkasd

      The homeless problem in DC is out of control. I always thought Philadelphia was as bad as it gets but damn.

      Gotta love seeing an Aston Martin Vantage rev its engine next to a small park packed with bums sleeping at 2PM.

    • Aja

      And sometimes, this is also the DC I see.  The one I am tempted to shout about to my idealist Hill working companions who talk about how awesome everything is.

    • Guest

      Leave Texas out of this!

  • Billy

    I'd say How To Live In Washington DC If You are A Holier Than Thou, Entitled, Idealist Hill Intern, yes.

    • Michael Koh

      This is so good.

  • dctransplant

    Having lived here for two years now (and having never worked on the Hill).. this is perfect.

  • DC Native

    How to be from Washington, DC

    Be born in Washington, DC.  Be a helpless infant.  Grow a bit older and
    start playing in the park across the street from your parents'
    townhouse in Capitol Hill.  Live an idyllic urban childhood until
    you're five years old and your parents have another kid.  Move to the
    inner suburbs in Maryland.  Visit your parents at work in downtown DC
    occasionally.  Experience a typical upper-middle-class suburban
    childhood and adolescence.  Attend private school in Tenleytown for
    high school, meet richer kids whose families never left the city, watch
    your parents get richer.  Venture into Georgetown and Dupont
    occasionally, spend a lot of time in Upper Northwest, do occasional
    community service projects in then-scarier places like Shaw and Adams
    Morgan and Meridian Hill Park.  See a concert or two at the 9:30 Club
    and find the neighborhood terrifying.  Go to museums and festivals and
    events and the National Zoo.  Spend a summer volunteering for the
    National Park Service on the mall.  Go to class with the offspring of
    senators and lobbyists and pundits.  Know an astonishing number of
    Jewish lawyers.  See Fugazi play at Fort Reno.  Witness four
    presidential inaugurations and 9/11 before you're 18.  Spend too much
    time at the Bethesda Barnes and Noble.  Root for the Orioles because
    there's no one else to root for.

    Go to college in New York.  Come back on breaks, do summer
    internships in downtown DC, watch your high school friends at Maryland
    and GW form coherent social scenes in the city.  Watch gentrification
    double the area you're willing to hang out in.  Watch white kids from
    Boston and New York and Chicago and California steadily flow into DC
    and take over everything while complaining about how it sucks.  Decide
    you hate it too, probably because George W. Bush has been reelected. 
    Vow to live in New York or abroad for the rest of your life.

    Live abroad.  Get into grad school in Chicago.  Spend two years in
    Chicago, realize the cold is miserable, realize you don't want to be an
    academic, realize that you think it's normal to discuss politics and
    global affairs at all times and that the only place this is even
    possible is in DC and maybe certain rarified enclaves of New York. 
    Realize that growing up in DC made you totally unfit for most other
    places.  Drop out of grad school, move back to DC, get dumped by your
    psychotic girlfriend, spend a few months living on your parents'
    couch.  Find a new internship.  Find new friends.  Risk fiscal
    catastrophe to move into Columbia Heights so you can finally give DC a
    proper try.

    Explore every last neighborhood with your new friends.  Read local
    blogs that get you engaged with the city.  Find a real job through
    online social networking.  Find an awesome girlfriend through online
    social networking.  See your parents a healthy once per week.  See your
    old friends now and again.  Run into people you went to high school
    with and realize they've been pulled back here as well.  Visit the
    suburbs because the food is better and DC doesn't seem as
    claustrophobic that way.  Decide DC actually suits you quite well. 
    Decide to be proud that you grew up here.  Decide that your nostalgia
    for childhood and your gut-level interest in politics make this feel
    less like an extended summer internship and more like a real hometown
    populated by real people.  Take an interest in the black and immigrant
    communities you were segregated from in your childhood and acknowledge
    that there actually is a middle class here after all.  Read yet another
    blog post explaining that only transient yuppies live here and sigh
    loudly.  Realize it's not that hard to render your own personal
    experiences in the imperative and present them as a “how to” guide on
    the internet.

    • Ens2116

      ugh, i'm a dc native and you lost me at maryland suburbs.

    • Jess

      Love this…especially the last paragraph.  Nice to get the perspective of someone else from the area.  It reminds people that some of us are actually born and raised around here…and stick around :)

    • Aja

      I only started to have DC pride recently.  It's still coming along and I do find people with an obnoxiously large amount of DC pride, fake (and usually transplants).  But yes, a few years ago I decided that the DC area suited me as well.  Probably not forever, but for now.  It will always be my hometown and it's certainly come a long way but it also still has ways to go.  Though living in NYC made me really appreciate DC in ways I never quite understood.

    • exitclov

      You grew up in DC and only went to a couple shows in northwest, then decided that was terrifying? Get the fuck out. How did you survive New York? And I'm from NoVA.

      • DC Native

        Fort Reno wasn't terrifying.  I went to my first show at the 9:30 Club in 1999 at age 15, and it was a very different neighborhood than it is today (I now live nearby).

        Also, New York is a MUCH safer city than DC and anyone who doesn't know that has no business posting about American cities.  New York is one of the safest big cities in America.  DC is not, and a decade ago it was one of the most dangerous.  Look up some stats.

    • guest

      You're an idiot…. and probably just pissed off because you can't get published on this blog.. heh

      • Kathleen Gambo

        hahahaha says the yuppie intern who shares a wall with Clarissa.

  • Steven Timberman

    I don't think I've ever seen a city with such a huge local/visitor divide than Washington DC. I fell in love with the city the first time I found a sushi/hookah/margarita bar, but it is a relentlessly stratified city. Pretty much the definition of “expense account city”.

    Like the article, but the editor in me wants to take a red pen to a few paragraphs. Still, this rang true and authentic. Which is all that really matters, I'd venture.

  • Joe Dougherty

    Read the above article. Experience all or most of the things it says. Then move away to reality and get a real job. You article is a fantasy world. The grind here is the same as any other city, big or small. Only twice as expensive.

  • WhiteWhine

    Get a real job. Live in the city. Get to know the neighborhoods. Surprise, you're living in a city! It's like many other cities. Just not the one you grew up in. Shocking, I know….
    Stop interning, or move back home with mom and dad.

  • Kathleen Gambo

    This is the problem with How-To-Live guides on TC.. they're written by transplants who've clocked 6-months or less. We hear the painfully stereotypical lifestyle of that city (see: the How To from an Aussie who moved to NYC). I'm all for personal experiences and polar opinions, but please be wary of the pieces title- you're just getting a rise out of the natives and Loozin' your $treet cred.

    • greg

      @KathleenGambo:disqus Great point…I would love to hear a how-to guide about a city from someone who grew up there and DIDN'T come from an upper middle class, white background…every single story is EXACTLY the same, different city

  • umm

    Any how-to guide on Washington DC without usage of the terms “bamma”, “mambo sauce”, and “go go” is incomplete.

    • Jackie Flores

      Don't forget “jont”. I once used this word and “bamma” in casual conversation after moving to LA and received nothing but puzzled looks. I then vowed to purge all DC slang from my brain.
      I have yet to meet anyone who can comprehend go-go music outside of the DC area.

      • Sam G.

        I “steel you” is another popular phrase when I lived nearby in shitty P.G. county.

  • jackieeee

    This article and all of it's comments make feel good about fleeing DC for LA.

  • PBG

    As a 4th generation DC native, I find this to be the most heaping and insulting pile of Yuppie/Gentrification bullshyt ever. Whoever wrote this knows nothing substantial of this city.

    • SUCKet

      Its reflecting her experience not yours.

      • PBG

        If that's the case then why didn't she title it “How I Live In DC” instead of presenting this as the end-all, be-all guide to living in the District? This isn't the life I've lived in DC. This isn't the life most of the people I know have lived in DC, whether they were born and raised here or came here as college students/working adults. So please miss me with that bull.

      • ell

        Really? GET OVER IT.  SO WHAT? she made a few grammatical errors and maybe should have changed the title.. but this is HER experience, not yours! and no one is forcing you to read or even COMMENT on this article.

  • guest

    loved this.

  • Evelyn

    this is the stupidest thing i have ever read….sorry clarissa

  • Bradley

    Clarissa: you're doing it wrong.
    DC Native: You're doing it right!

  • DC expat

    Damn, I live in D.C.

    You've got to be kidding me. Damn, I think I can write.

    Also, if you can manage to buy shoes, drawers, food, alcohol, metro and cab fare, and a NEW SUIT for 200 fucking dollars you're doing several things seriously wrong.

    • another transplant

      That's exactly what I was thinking. $200 for all that?! Damn.

  • Guest

    Seems to me being a D.C. native gives you the right to be an  ill-mannered SOB.  I enjoyed reading a post that came from a real life experience. Kudos Clarissa!

  • Columbia

    You need a subtitle like: If You're an Obnoxious Out-of-Town Hill Staffer. I'm sure this has been your genuine experience but it is the experience of a very small segment of the population. It's certainly not representative of people living in the area or even middle class 20 something transplants.

  • Natters

    And this is exactly why I hated DC interns when I lived there……..

  • nerac

    I think some of you may have read too literally into the author's title.  This is just one person's experience in DC and I think she found a way to paint a very clear picture of that experience.  I don't necessarily share all of her perspective, but that's not really the point, is it?

    DC Natives can't be so quick to complain about DC transplants that don't understand what DC is all about if you're going to maintain this elite group of those born and bred in the District that NO ONE can penetrate.  Instead of starting out defending “your city” and attacking people for having their perspective, why don't you just share your own.  We don't all have to have the same experience.  We just need to know that there are different experiences and respect them all the same.

    • DC Native

      I don't regard us as an elite group, and most of my friends are transplants.  What annoys me is the stereotype of DC as a city consisting entirely of transplants.   This isn't really true of any other city, except arguably New York.  If you grew up somewhere and then the downtown yuppie crowd consistently presented their experience as the typical one while denying that yours even exists, it would annoy you too.

      Anyway, as my last sentence ought to have made clear, I don't regard my experience as any more typical than Clarissa's.  I actually don't mind Clarissa's piece very much, I just wish it had a different title (like “How to Move to Washington, DC”).  It seems like a perfectly representative example of one DC experience, the one that gets written about most often.

      • Ptstwrt86

        well when she says everyone is from somewhere else she is most likely talking about ppl she met, otherwise how would she know? on that point, being a fellow working on capitol hill i would venture to say most of the ppl she met are from somewhere else. secondly how could you be annoyed by that statment then turn around and say New York city is arguably entirely transplant; which is not even close to true.

      • DC Native

        Believe me, I'm not saying New York is “arguably entirely transplant”.  I'm saying it's another city with a large number of transplants who often disregard people who've lived there their whole lives.  I have quite a lot of relatives who are lifelong New Yorkers, so no, that's not what I meant.  I meant New York natives can relate to this to some extent.  But no one who just moved to, say, Pittsburgh would say that “everyone is from somewhere else”.  It's not true of DC either, and in an article called “how to live in Washington, DC”, it's rather dismissive.

      • Carenbstreet

        Just to be clear, when I said DC Natives in my original post, I wasn't referring specifically to you.

        I reiterate the point that I don't think she intended the title to be taken literally.  I'm aware of several “How to” guides for DC, which, by the way, I often find quite annoying.  However, I don't think that applies here because I suspect the author was being facetious.

        I understand your point that stereotyical DC is often portrayed in the light of yuppie transplants and you're right, that would annoy me if I were a DC native.  It's quite possible I missed it, but I never got the impression that this particular author treats the perspectives and experiences of DC natives in a dismissive manner (unless, of course, you view the title in a literal sense).  It seems to me that you might be treating her experiences in the same dismissive manner with which you take issue. 

        I could see if a DC transplant opined the many flaws of this city, but that's not the case.  What difference does it make how long she's been in DC or what perspective she has?  In the end, you both love the same city.

  • Former White House staffer

    White House is two words, not one.  Go back to your pathetic public school.

    • Guest

      So glad we have a healthy dose of academic egalitarianism at the highest levels of federal government!

    • lala

      Get a reality check and stopping being such a prick!

  • Guest

    I'd say about 90-95% of this article is EXACTLY my experience and the experience of several people I know. And we are NOT yuppies or hipsters. I would venture to say it is the yuppies and hipsters who are hating on this awesome expose of real life in DC.

    • inflammatorywrit

      “Real life in DC” coming from someone who probably never crossed the Anacostia River.

      • Anonymous

        How many DC natives have crossed the Anacostia?  With the exception of people who missed the Navy Yard stop on the Green line going to a Nat’s game.

  • Miz

    I think that the condescending comments on this post do nothing but prove Clarissa's points. I grew up in DC but have spent the past 8 years in Florida and it is definitely a culture shock. I wouldn't trade living here for anything, but I do agree with many of the points addressed.

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