Tonight seems like a good time to share the story of my first trip to Washington, DC. I love Washington, and am there frequently lately with the project. It’s exciting to get to know a city — to find a favourite bookstore, a little hotel where you can get to know the desk staff, and even find an unpretentious clothes store that sells top notch shirts.
My first time to Washington was in 1996. It was August and I was in town on business with the Canadian Psychological Association, where I was Managing Editor of the journals division. I’d been sent to CPA’s American partner org, APA, to discuss the newfangled Internet’s impact on academic publishing. (Thank you for sticking with me his far).
August in DC is HOT. So humid that you’re constantly soaked. So I decided to go for an evening walk from my hotel to the Capitol Building. I was 28 at the time, and very green when it came to US travel. But since I’d just spent 3 months wandering around the Middle East without incident, I figured DC would be fine for a casual after-dark stroll.
I was wrong.
At one point within a few hundred yards of the steps of the Capitol Building I noticed that I was being followed by a large man in basketball shorts and sleeveless top. I crossed the street but could not shake him. Everything was closed by that time, my hotel was at least four blocks away and, despite my rising panic, I didn’t run because a ridiculous Sting song popped into my head, “I’m an alien … illegal alien … A gentleman will walk but never run …” Then it occurred to me that there could be fewer things worse than dying with that song in your head.
Finally, I was outpaced and cornered. And then he leaned in close and spoke.
“I could kill you right now. Cut you.”
A turned and looked right at him. Then at the gleaming dome of the Capitol. In that fraction of a second I also noticed how pretty the sky was, how it suddenly felt cooler, and then the blood red light at the sharp point of the Washington Monument, winking at me.
“Why would you do that?” was all I could think of as a reply.
“Got any money?” he asked.
I seized on his interest in a conversation like a life raft on the Potomac.
“I’m from Canada. I just got here and it’s really hot. You know, I don’t know how you guys handle this humidity. It would make me crazy … We get summer you know, but not like this … yeah, I have some cash .. just a sec …”
I pulled out my wallet and found I only had a blue Canadian five dollar bill. I handed it to him, making sure the side with the kids playing shinny and the quote from Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater” was facing up. As he took it, I added, “That’s worth about $3.50 US.”
He handed it back, turned and crossed the street.
I shoulda framed that fiver. It has increased in value since.