This month marks the ten-year anniversary of my moving to Northern Virginia. I remember unpacking my stuff with my family on what seemed like the hottest weekend in August, giving us our first full-force introduction to DC summer humidity. From that first apartment in Oakton with my roommate Josh, a ten-years-and-counting residency of mystery and excitement began.
A decade is certainly long enough to say that I’m a resident of this place and that Alexandria is my hometown, but even considering that I’ve started a family here, it still doesn’t quite feel that way. It’s hard to describe, but maybe it’s because compared to my small town childhood, I’ll always be a small cog in the giant DMV machine. I doubt I’ll ever affect the area in any significant way, and I’m okay with that.
I will say, though, that ten years is a long enough time to have some fascinating experiences and to learn a great deal. Let’s go to the highlight reel! I’m going to try to keep this list in the vein of things that could have only happened here – personal stuff aside, since I’ve got enough amazing highlights on that front to fill a dozen posts.
- Some wild weather: A few weeks after I moved here, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was forever changed. I remember watching the coverage on the Weather Channel with Josh on our little TV in the first apartment. Since then, I’ve experienced firsthand a derecho and the outskirts of a few hurricanes, including Superstorm Sandy. I shivered my way through Snowmaggeddon and some interesting ice storms. I’ve seen the Beltway closed down due to mudslides, fallen trees, and power outages. But the most memorable experience was being on one of the top floors of an Arlington office building when the Great Virginia Earthquake of 2011 hit. It’s one of those stories to tell my grandkids when I’m old and they won’t believe anything I say.
- Baseball: my third-ever major league game (behind the Pirates and Orioles, respectively) was at RFK Stadium in August 2005, watching the Nationals losing to the Padres 3-0. The team had moved to DC only that year, opening their first season as the Nats just a few months prior to me showing up. For my first couple of years of work, I got to see the brand-new stadium being built day by day. Since then, my interest in baseball has grown, I’ve been to many games including Bryce Harper’s home debut and the first playoff game at Nationals Park, and I’ve learned the ups and downs of watching a playoff-calibre team that doesn’t always play like one and can’t always string more than one win together (see their current mid-August collapse).
- Traffic: To work is to commute, and in a region that consistently ranks in the top three for “worst traffic in America,” I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in my car. The trusty Altima has braved many of the region’s worst chokepoints (the only one I haven’t had to use on a daily basis is I-95, thank God). I’ve also used four of the Metro lines to a lesser extent and endured the Orange Line crush. Through it all, I’ve learned that creativity and flexibility help keep you sane, and if you’re lucky they can usually buy you back a few minutes. Apps like Waze help discover alternate routes that may not save me much time, but at least they help me feel like I’m outsmarting someone. In the end, though, there are some days when I just have to resign myself to the fact that I’m going to be stuck in a standstill for an hour. Those are the days where I hope I’ve got a good playlist lined up on my phone.
- Politics: This is a double-edged sword for me, and I almost left it off my list, but you can’t live here without picking up at least some understanding of national politics, even if just by osmosis. And so I’ve lived through two presidential elections and two presidents so far, learning a little more about the function and dysfunction of the American political system all the while. This affected me most directly during the government shutdown in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, I basically loathe politics and try to avoid talking about it whenever possible, but at least I can say I’m more aware of the issues since I live here, and I can form my own opinions as a result. I suppose I respect the implications of politics from a distance, and I suppose that also makes me a better citizen. Or something.
- The beauty of the area: DC is a beautiful city for the most part, and the surrounding areas are equally amazing. All the lures of the urban jungle and historical sites are just a short ride away for me, but mountains and farms and orchards are within an hour or two’s drive as well. My love of the outdoors usually manifests itself in discovering new trails and parks in which to run, but I also took it upon myself early on to learn the lay of the land so I could play tour guide to out-of-town visitors. And so the Mall with its museums and monuments gradually became more familiar to me, and I slowly added outer-lying and lesser-known landmarks to my repertoire as all my family members grew tired of the same old stuff. Every year I try to go a few new places either by myself or with family or friends, whether in DC or nearby, but I could do that every day until I die and still not see it all. And that’s a cool thing.
And then of course there are the smaller, miscellaneous details. From witnessing a space shuttle flyover to picking apples in a Virginia orchard, from running the Marine Corps Marathon to enjoying the Cherry Blossom festival, from discovering the deliciousness of District Taco to shopping the Old Town farmer’s market, Gina and I have enjoyed this area’s less famous offerings all in our own way. Despite all of these wonderful and interesting things, I have still barely scratched the surface when it comes to experiencing all that this area has to offer. And although through the rest of 2015 I won’t have too much extra time to explore, I know it won’t be that way forever. So, here’s to the next ten years and all the promise they have to offer!