Wednesday, January 31, 2024

February Frolic


The famous Folger Theatre above. See below.

     Best keep an open mind. February does not have to be the low point of a dismaying year in the world (wars and worry about wars, moral and political). Much else is conspiring to distract your attention,  with thoughtful' and  polished  in-person options.

    For instance, the DC History Center's 'Book Talk" on February 23 is titled 'The Rise of Uber in DC." How did authors of that book come up with such a seemingly innocuous title when they are, it appears, calling out Uber's success here  as 'a symptom of urban weakness and low expectations from local city politics.' The event drew an audience of nearly 100 representing (at a glance) varied ages and backgrounds. Katie Wells and Declan Cullen are the book's authors, taking a critical look at the power of corporate wealth to sway local government bodies (read here DC Council members of yore) for favorable legislation that ends up, in their words, as a 'disrupter' to the public's need for enlightened transportation policies. The team of two had spent years following 35 men and women and their experiences as partime drivers for Uber. The outcome wasn't satisfactory in most cases, even when workers such as the fulltime officer  making $53,000 for the DC Housing Authority who could not escape the need to work two jobs - as government employe and UBer driver - to maintain a family. "We do not take care of each other enough," as an urban entity, the authors noted.

.    A controversy of sorts but not one recognized by those who favor the ease and convenience of ride sharing/personal control ways of moving around without having to worry about finding a parking space.

    Ah, but this is deceptive because Uber/Lyft/others can be expensive, and the rider has only minimum control - though offered some choices  - of price.

     It' was certainly an unusual look at an unusual  city. To ease any disturbing revelations, the Center  recommended that attendees stick around for Apple's 'Friday evening DJ series, 6-7:30, taking place in the same building. (The former Carnegie Library is an historic building set in a welcoming park on one of Washington's most well trafficked areas. And note! The building is easily accessed on the Metro's green and yellow lines, Mt. Vernon Square, a few blocks away. Access for disabled patrons is provided  and broad sidewalks ensure easy circulation for pedestrians.)

    Another tack might be: Uber's existence also speaks as a mirror of diversity in a city whose population and traditions are often cited as  having a 'Southern' (read: white) cast. DC also is known as Chocolate City though statistics of late question the relevance as gentrification moves on. Drivers are often from so-called minority states and cultures. Their accents do not often lean 'South.' Would a recent ride going from Dupont Circle to the Navy Yard on a Thursday evening count as typical? 

     The passengers included a woman visitor from Puerto Rico on the last few days of her stay. Her speech was strongly accented - German - reflecting her original home. It was her first time using the Uber App that her host had strongly suggested she  experience for this and any other future trips to cosmopolitan areas where Uber has invariably made inroads. The driver was a friendly Virginia  native with a slight Spanish inflection in his voice. His family had come from a Latin American country before he was born and it turned out in a very few minutes of conversation that he was interested in possibly moving to San Juan - for the climate and for less expensive daily living. He  quizzed his customer on that last point, having heard her  volunteer that she had been in PR for 40 years, first as an employe of an international company and now as a retiree widow with a grown daughter. She chose to live in a small town on the southwest of PR so was well versed and happy to share information. He asked quickly about the availability of a university and the best modes of travel back and forth to and from the US.

    No names were exchanged but he noted the name of her town and the passenger in turn said she would welcome him if he came.

    Not quite a United Nations moment but perhaps revealing in its own way.  A true cross section of the greater Washington area that can offer much more in quiet ways than  politics in the headlines. Next week a chance to attend a National Archives event - hosted by the NA Foundation - free as many such are not to mention activities in perpetual motion at the fabled Smithsonian buildings on the Mall.  


        Enlightenment comes in various packages - and often deceptively as 'entertainment.' Thus, Folger Shakespeare Library's theater production of  "Where We Belong" a one-woman autobiographical show, that explores in 85 compelling minutes the many contradictions in both our celebration and dismissal of native (indigenous) cultures.  Indeed, our inability, as she notes, "to take care of each other." Alone on stage, the playwright and scholar Madeline Sayet, a member of the Mohegan tribe, shows physically and emphatically the importance of stories to the human condition.  She begins by reminding the audience that they occupy land once inhabited by a tribe that was led by female chiefs. As 'chief' the actor - portraying several characters, including her mother - assumes a contemporary storyteller stance wearing boots, jeans, a colorful patterned jacket and plain loose blouse. Much of what she describes in words and gestures are the limitations of borders, the hardships of colonialism,   the difficulties of overcoming prejudices and ignorance.To do so, she takes on the status of a blackbird - her name in the seldom spoken Mohegan language -who in flight, in the sky makes borders disappear. The  set is a combination of ever changing light and cloud formations, abstract shapes above and below the sky, as Ms. Sayet portrays the difficulties of coming to terms with lost  traditions and inheritance. Through March 10, in association with Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Prejudice and exploitation are  wars against The Other, the Different  the Stranger. Wars seldom make peace but only give rise to new grounds for battle. Both between people and nations.

    It's worth noting how many talented women have assumed executive/director roles currently in Washington DC arts across the board. In museums and theaters and institutions of renown, the  shift has been something of a revolution. And along with the 'trend,' is recognition of these women's  diverse careers and backgrounds. Salut!


   Also on the home front, where safety issues and crime are upbeat in many people's minds: Witness the increase in 'safety' personnel in and around Metro stations. Possibly, too, in changing attitudes of Metro personnel towards customers using the system.  I had rushed out of my house recently, hurrying  into the Eastern Market station  when I realized I had brought with me, instead of my 'senior pass' the DC Library card and several $20 bills. (Because I wasn't expecting to spend more than that on whatever plans I had that night. And because of scare stories about people and car jacking, holdups with guns by teenagers, not to mention paranoid homeless and crazy souls, I left ID and credit cards behind.)  Lo to my surprise I couldn't even buy a card/ticket for my roundtrip excursion because the automatic system only takes $10 or below. I had a deadline; I was stumped, until the employe in the cage rescued me by allowing me to go through the gate free and saying he would call ahead to the person in charge of my intended stop  where I could get help. Somehow this worked - that someone was really informed in time and could reconfigure somehow the machine that would return a $10 card with change in ten dollar coins. Yes, Sacajawea was going to be my travel mate that night. (See: The worth of certain such coins on the market.)

So polite they were, too. So non-threatening.  So goes the urban lover's high wire existence. I walk gingerly these days, given all the warnings to 'be careful,' 'stay safe.' Who could not when there are 'ghost' police cars parked in public places that are empty of a driver. Does this mean pedestrians are free to get into one of these in case of imminent danger? No sign is attached...

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