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April 10, 2008



I moved to the DC area when "Madam's Organ" was a place to stay away from after dark. When I left ten years later it was the hot spot in DC. Can't recall the name of the place, but I went to the first Ethiopian restaurant in Adams Morgan, which was, I think, also the first in the Balto-Wash area. Several other new restaurants opened along that same strip, most with sidewalk tables that the locals complained about. About a year after it opened, another opened in Balto, since the DC one had become so popular.


What I find fascinating are two sides of that story. On one side, travel groups almost always get a contact list, everyone vows to stay in touch, swap photos, etc., and it rarely hapens. On the flip side are those friendships we do make after a relatively short time together. That has happened twice with me, and both women I met on cycling trips remain close friends after a decade. Alice lives in Vermont, and Jill is in Arizona.


Washington has changed, and then changed again. It's incredible how many neighborhoods have risen from the ashes of the rioting 40 years ago. A lot just recently, when real estate boomed. The newest area is the H Street corridor in Northeast. There's also the 14th and U Street area and all the restaurants in and around Chinatown and the MCI Center - although a lot of them, sadly, are chains. Madam's Organ is still alive and well in Adams Morgan. So are the Ethiopian restaurants. The three main ones are Meskerem, Fasika and Red Sea. Any sound familiar as the one you went to?


Yup, most of the people you meet on trips are forgotten. And that's okay. Usually they're nice enough to spend a week with but that's enough. So I love it when the "magic" happens with a person or a couple or a family. What I often wish is that I would finally meet a really cool person who lives in my home town! That would make it SO much easier to stay in touch and nurture a friendship. In a future post: vacation romance. Stay tuned.


Red Sea! That's it. 14th Street was so bad when I was there that a single male stopped at a traffic light would suddenly have a passenger. Talk about bold. And the cops wouldn't do anything about the hookers, of course. Then they began cleaning that up finally. Chinatown was indistinguishable from the rest of the area, except for one Chinese restaurant who stuck it out through the worst of it. Sorry, memory is faded completely on that. Main drag, bus stop right in front of it, a small needle park across the street. I get back to the area occasionally to visit. One friend in Silver Spring, another in Dunkirk, down in Southern MD. I used to know DC very well, particularly the best driving routes to avoid traffic. I avoided the Beltway as much as possible, and never drove it on Friday or Sunday evenings. Friday, everybody evacuates, Sunday they're all coming back. I forgot on my last visit and hit the Beltway around three one Friday afternoon. And of course I didn't remember the streets so didn't want to risk getting off and getting lost. I was going from Dunkirk to SS that day. Got there eventually, but I'll remember next time.


You really must return to DC. If you were around for the nasty 14th St. shenanigans days, you won't even BELIEVE how much Washington has changed. All of Logan Circle, previously major hooker hangout, has turned into a place for million dollar town homes and trendy restaurants.
14th Street is now one of the trendiest corridors we have.
Most of the seediness along F Street has been cleaned up. The new Newseum, opening today, will bring pedestrians to an area close to the Capitol that used to be dead on weekends. It's truly incredible how much this city has changed.


I am truly amazed in the little I’ve seen on my short visits back. Actually, I get a good picture of a lot of the changes when I read George Pelecanos’s books. If you haven’t, do read him. Start with his first and work through. He’s got a good eye and a talented pen. Silver Spring boy. I happened to stop in a local Milwaukee bookshop one day when he was making an appearance. We talked for quite a while about the changes. Reason I included the Pelecanos reference, I was watching “The Wire” for the first time not long ago. [I know it’s been on for yonks, but TV isn’t in my vocabulary.] I saw his name as one of the writers.

I lived about halfway between DC & Balto, so I spent as much time in one as the other. I moved there in 1975, when Schaefer was mayor, kicking tail, making loads of enemies but doing a helluva job cleaning up and modernizing the city. The harbor area went from abandoned warehouses, needle parks, dive bars and slums to being the showpiece of the East Coast. Fells Point was a quaint place to drive through during the day, but not at night, Little Italy was another area that was very down at the heel. The Block was in its death throes. Within a couple of years that whole area had brightened so much. When I watched “The Wire,” I couldn’t believe some of the backdrop settings they’re using. There were always poor areas of Balto, but not like the scenery in the series. Looks like Southeast does now, or did when I moved away (the second time) in 1998.

I came || that close to buying one of those $1 rowhouses that sit within home run distance of the new Oreo stadium. Place in Fells Point that I think is still there, always had good music and food, called The Horse You Rode In On. Small, kinda dumpy/seedy but cool. If you ever go to “Ballmer,” be sure to get a bumper sticker from them and an “Eat Bertha’s Mussels” one, too. Both places are traditional stops. There was an Italian market right on the bay, in a decrepit long, narrow building that was a relic from Balto’s seafaring days, a half-block from the Horse that made the best Italian sandwiches, but they closed early then, 4-5 in the afternoon. Your arteries started clogging whenever you neared the place. Can’t recall the name of the street, but the building divided it.


Well, Lou,

You're going to have to get back to Ballmer too. I did not recognize Fells Point when I went a couple of years ago. Those places you mention are still there, but there's been a lot of "prettying up" of the place - or ruining it - depending on your viewpoint of gentrification. Where do you live now?


Mwoky ... er, I mean Milwaukee. At times, it's Mil-wacky.

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