Over the last several years, many friends have asked me what it’s like to live in Washington, DC. I think this is their nice way of inquiring, while scratching their heads, “What kind of crazy fucker moves from Middleburg, Virginia to the politically controversial necropolis of our nation’s capital? Willingly and on purpose, nonetheless?” (If you’re not familiar with Middleburg, google that shit. You won’t be sorry).
Well, first off, the only thing standing between the countryside and the city is suburbia which I affectionately refer to as “the dead zone.” I fully own my negative judgment of where a vast majority of Americans call home. I think suburbia makes total sense when you have a family that consists of human children, so it has never appealed to me. My own children always had four legs and a tail and required acreage, occurring in the multiples to thrive, hence the utilitarian purpose/value of the countryside. When there were no more horses, the attraction (the utilitarianism) waned for me.
Never one to do anything halfway, when I pulled up my equestrian stake in the ground, I pulled out completely. It was going to be hard for anything else “horsey” to compete with the last twenty years of challenging myself physically, intellectually, and quite frankly, spiritually. When you are lucky enough to do what riders do, it’s like existing on a completely different plane than most people. You’re sort of in a transcendental state all. of. the. time. The idea of “fitting in” elsewhere within the equine industry felt like a plastic bag waiting to slide over my head.
When God slings a giant (metaphorical) shit ball at you, what do you do, but make a giant shit sandwich? (Sometimes it’s shit and sometimes it’s lemons. What you do with it is just the same).
Full disclosure: I did make a short stop elsewhere in the equine industry, thanks to a good friend. I didn’t necessarily love the job, but I loved my boss and the other people who worked at the company. I had heard the Big Cheese of this company had a reputation on the street as being an asshole. You know what? This is why I rarely, if ever, form an opinion of someone until I meet them. At the risk of labeling this guy in a way that someone is sure to find offensive, he was a total New Yorker. If his accent didn’t give him away, he was always slightly disheveled and in a hurry, yet it was like he couldn’t remember why or what for. One of the first times we met in his office after I was hired, he spent hours walking me through all of the different facets of the business.
A. LOT. OF. HOURS.
What is it with dudes who don’t need to pee or eat for like fucking days? Anyone who knew me when I evented knew (and knows) that I always have food with me. As an equestrian nomad, I kept a few cans of soup with pop tops, and granola bars, stashed in my truck—anything with an expiration date that occurred the following year and could withstand several months of being locked up in a hot vehicle and survive. So I was packing on my first day of work at my new job. The Big Cheese might not need to eat, but I did, and I finally broke down and pulled out a granola bar. But my mother raised me to be polite, so I offered him one too. He thought about it for about a nanosecond, took the granola bar, and then, trying to peer into my bag on the other side of his desk, asked me what else I had in there. The next day I doubled down on provisions (wisely) and we got along like peas and carrots from that day forward. He wasn’t an asshole at all. He was just a little hungry.
As luck would have it, I was offered another job out of the blue shortly thereafter…writing. If I couldn’t make a living riding, writing was most definitely a close second. I couldn’t help but think, “Getting paid twice in my life to do what I love?! What are the chances of that?” As much as I loved the job, the honeymoon was short lived. The first issue (that I didn’t realize was going to be an issue) was I had two bosses. One liked to be the good cop while the other played bad cop flawlessly. The problem was that most of the time I felt like the only child of a couple in the middle of a divorce. There was a lot of “he said, she said” and I was the collateral damage. Some days they got along like lovebirds, but I still walked around on eggshells waiting for the inevitable fallout that was right around the corner. I was so torn about how to handle the situation that I contacted a professional career psychologist and asked the big, looming question: “What the hell do I do?” She listened patiently while I explained the situation with specific examples of the craziness I had both witnessed and endured. She was quiet for a second before she answered. Then she said, “You have two choices. This couple [clarification: they were only a “couple” professionally, aka business partners] have worked together for a long time and this ‘dysfunction’ is part of their system, and more importantly, it works for them. They like it this way. You need to understand this is never going to change. Ever. Your choices are to learn their dysfunction and how to work within those confines, or leave. That’s it.”
Best money I ever spent.
She also added that in the interim, in order to survive the experience before I could make a change, to keep a list of every infraction(s) for each day. That way, I might be able to establish a pattern to the dysfunction in an effort to either be prepared for it, or optimistically, to head it off. At the very least, she thought seeing it on paper might lend some humor to an otherwise humorless situation and she was right. It did.
The squeeze was too tight, and before I knew what was next career-wise, I quit. The immediate euphoria I felt was confirmation enough I had made the right decision. I was at the beach with my parents when that all went down. The look on their faces after I hung up the phone did not exactly convey the same euphoria, or maybe it was their weak smiles with the nervous little “Oh, ha ha ha….ummm, now what?
I applied and was accepted into Northwestern’s Masters of Counseling program. I absolutely loved it. All of it—the reading, the writing, the discussions/lectures. I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for it, but even in this “age of information,” where a lot of information you can find for free, some of it (a lot of it) comes at a (big) price, as we all know.
Around the same time, I got a text from someone I had met along my travels in my previous job. The text was a little suspicious and loose in its content/point as far as I was concerned. As innocuous as the words were, it crossed my mind that this older gentleman might be trying to hit on me, or at least establish some kind of rapport out of the blue. I had only met him once several months prior where I acted as his handler at an event (he was one of many I handled). I was slightly creeped out, but being (again) the polite daughter my mother raised me to be, I answered his text, just as innocuously, and didn’t give it another thought. But then he called. Turned out he wanted to offer me a job. Being his assistant. I scoffed at the notion (to myself, not to him, luckily). My first thought was “assistant” is just a nice word for “unlucky s.o.b. who cleans up someone else’s shit.”
The offer sounded terrible to me (see above), but one thing I do not scoff at is opportunity, even if it is cloaked in a shit sandwich at the time. Let us all not forget, shit is what makes the flowers grow. Sometimes you just have to kneel down and put your hand in it. So I did. He invited me to come interview, me them, as much as them me, and I accepted—the invitation and the job. I should add that this guy, my boss, doesn’t just think he’s “The Big Cheese,” nor do we ever jokingly refer to him as “The Big Cheese” because he is unquestionably, indeed “The Big Kahuna,” the “B.M.O.C,” or more professionally acceptable, he is the CEO and President of a company that was in the toilet when he first showed up to the scene (when the Great Recession hit), and now, this same company, which is small by the way, has billions of dollars of assets under management. No one can refute that this is a guy who kneeled down and put both of his hands in the shit. I respect anyone who can do that, and does, and he did. I would like to add as a complete aside, he took on this challenge after he had already retired from a 40-year career doing something else. In other words, he learned the business while he was resurrecting it from the ashes.
Total. Props. To. Him.
Besides working for an amazing person, the other driver was definitely money. The devil on my one shoulder, impatiently banging her trident, hopping from one foot to the other, sneered “Spend the money on school, you idiot! Then you’ll be less of an idiot! See how that works? It’s ok to go broke! Just do it! You’re gonna thank me later, sweet cheeks!”
However, on the other shoulder was the angel, legs crossed sitting in a comfortable wing chair, wearing her beautiful, white and shimmering dress with a matching halo, smoking a doobie. She exhaled slowly, blowing out a perfect ring of smoke. She was an angel, after all. “Jenn,” she said, “Seriously. Let’s not be stupid about this. It’s simple math, you reptilian ding-dong of a girl. Think money going into your account versus it hemorrhaging out. Know what I mean? You can like buy shit with it. Maybe a sandwich here and there, or possibly a roof over your head.” She rolled her eyes and sighed at the lousy card she had drawn. I’m sure she would have much rather been explaining to a five-year old where babies come from. Alas, her argument had a lot of merit and won out in the end.
So that’s how I ended up in DC. For a job. The same way I ended up in Middleburg. For a job. Because you either need to be all in, or don’t bother. I’ve always been a hard ass about this. So many people have regurgitated the quote, “Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.” When it comes to your career, however, I don’t think the chaff gets separated from the wheat just by showing up. Any idiot can show up for a job interview. (I know, I know! I just wrote a piece about the importance of showing up!).
However, it’s what you do with the last twenty percent of the equation that really counts. When you leave it on the table unaccounted for, you’ve already hit the glass ceiling, and as a result, blown your hand. You have changed the trajectory of your career, forever, from that day forward. That is, until you learn the value of that last twenty percent, which has the same worth as the gold you find at the bottom of a miner’s dish after all the dirt has been tediously sifted away. Moral of the story: always give 100% to the really important things. You only have two or three of those things in your life, so don’t hold back, or you’ll lose out and shortchange yourself.
So here I am, in DC, a far cry from Middleburg. I love this city, politics and all. I run past the Supreme Court of the United States almost every morning. It. Literally. Blows. My. Mind. The place where our country’s most important decisions are hammered out, where history is made every single time they convene, is in my backyard. On that same note, it’s an incredibly friendly city to pedestrians. It’s super easy to get around on your own two feet and the amount of green space that encompasses DC is mindboggling. When you need to get clear across town, it’s as easy as hopping the Metro Rail, which again, is super user-friendly, and it’s not expensive.
The food here is amazing because the competition is fierce to attract and retain customers. The bar is set very high, and as a result, consumers are delivered a great product in return. Here’s a free little nugget for anyone not familiar with the inner web of DC: it’s called the Landmark E Street Cinema. They have a great selection of documentaries and offbeat movies that are not available at the bigger theatres. Just as enticing, they offer a full bar, with an incredible wine and beer selection, as well as delicious snacks. Let me say it again: de-lic-ious snacks. Absolutely nothing tastes like cardboard (or like it was on the floor of my truck for two years). It is such a gem, and it is as its name implies, a great DC landmark. You’re welcome.
Every Friday night during the summer, there is a free jazz concert in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art. Just like the cinema, or any theatre, you can’t bring in alcohol with you, but you can bet your sweet ass that they have lots of stations set up outside so you can buy yourself some! DC is definitely known for its impressive collection of museums, and I never fail to be inspired when I visit them. All of them have a coffee bar or café, so even if you don’t necessarily want to look at art, you can have a latte in some of the most beautiful buildings in this country.
We are surrounded by education here, from college and university campuses, to satellite graduate programs, or certification programs, or any other kind of program that interests you. The icing on that cake are places like Politics and Prose that have tons of authors that come in to speak throughout the year.
I, of course, miss my horses. I loved all of them. Maybe some more than others, but they were all special in their own way. It also goes without saying that I miss Cracker. The move to DC was good for him, timing-wise. It sort of was like his assisted living with his advanced age. I found out very quickly that the quality of small animal care and expertise here in DC is impressive. I’m glad Cracker had access to all of that. DC is covered with dogs. There are dogs everywhere. In my building, I know a lot of them by name, and what makes (most) dogs as great as we all know, is they give their affection freely, unabashedly, and with no limits or expectations. I usually go to work with dog hair all over my pants and I’m ok with that. It’s completely worth it (and I keep a lint roller at work just for this reason).
I also love the variety of people. I love that a lot of people don’t look like me and have vastly different backgrounds than I do. Russ and I live on the cusp of China Town and as a result (as the name implies), there are a lot of people of Asian descent living around us. I see the same three older Asian ladies every day on their morning walk as I’m headed to work myself. They are easily recognizable because all three of them are tiny and always wear at least two more layers than anyone else. It’s 90 degrees here right now, and they all wear baseball caps to shield their faces from the sun and long sleeves and pants. When it hits 50 degrees this fall, they will all be sporting winter hats and puffy coats over sweaters.
They live in an old building in our neighborhood that is a dinosaur compared to all of the gentrification that has popped up around it. I can’t help but wonder how long it will survive before it too yields to the booming economic climate. In addition to these three ladies, there is also an older gentleman, who wears clothes more conducive to the weather (like everyone else), but he is noticeable in that he drags a large plastic bucket, nestled in a small, little shopping cart all over China Town. It looks like a used laundry detergent container from Costco that he’s decorated with stickers with pieces of string and ribbon tied to the cart. I call him “The Caddy of China Town.” Unlike my previous boss, “The Big Cheese,” this guy looks like he knows exactly what he’s looking for, always on a mission, has yet to find it, but has no intention of giving up until he does.
I was introduced to a girl not long ago, a friend of a friend, in her early thirties. She divorced a couple years ago and has two young kids. In short order, I discovered this girl bought a house in DC on her own after her divorce. She figured out that she qualified for a government program based on her level of income. It will amount to about an $80,000 windfall when it’s all said and done. This same girl bought a used Tesla in Mississippi from an ad on Craig’s List. She flew down, picked it up, and drove it back to DC. It’s old enough to escape the tax placed on electric cars and she has sussed out where she can recharge it for free. This girl, a young mother to boot, did all of this on her own. I found out her own mother died several years ago and she’s never mentioned her father, so I think it’s fair to say her support system is rather slim.
Best part of this chick? I’ve never heard her complain. Ever. She thinks she has it really good. And she does. Because she’s an awesome person, super smart, with the best attitude ever. I hardly know her and I’m so proud of her! Another awesome person I’ve gotten to know is a girl in her mid-twenties, with a similar background I would guess, who got herself into graduate school at Yale. She’s got one year left to go before graduation. She’s a good egg, too. She would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it, or at the very least, she’d bake you cupcakes to cheer you up. She’s studying religion, but doesn’t hold my foul mouth against me, and is always up for a cocktail or two at happy hour. When in her presence, she radiates so much goodness and love to everyone around her that you can’t help but smile.
For the last four years, whenever Russ and I would be planning a night out, he’d inevitably ask me, “So where do you want to go to dinner? What do you feel like eating?” My answer was/is always the same, “Wherever you want.” Sometimes this would frustrate him as he wanted a little help narrowing down our options. I finally said to him, “Listen, it doesn’t matter to me. I look at food as being on a giant wheel that I just keep circling around. I’m going to get to (all of) it eventually, as I keep going around the wheel, so it doesn’t really matter to me.”
I sort of view the transition from Middleburg to DC the same way. It’s all good. They’re two different places on the same wheel. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit many other spots on the wheel as well. Maybe Russ and I will land elsewhere at some point down the road. I have an idea of where I’d like that to be (Russ, too), but I’m not dead-set on anything. The wheel, our world, is a vast place. What’s more important to me than the kind of food we decide to eat, or where we decide to land eventually, is who I’m with going around this wheel. So far, DC has been great to Russ and me. We both retired from our first careers and have successfully navigated second careers here. We have joined forces, combined our lives together, now as a married couple. It’s like having the best date night ever, making googly eyes at each other across the table, and wanting to hold hands the whole time. And we can do that from anywhere.