After living for almost five years in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, my family has moved from the heart of Washington, DC across the river to Arlington, Virginia. Many DC lovers have asked: “How could you ever move to Virginia? How could you ever cross the river? Why would you ever leave DC?
I have myriad answers to that question, and I’ve listed out all 17 reasons.
- The violence. In 2015, there were some shootings, but they happened at night at 3 a.m. in the morning between rival drug lords. In recent years, more and more shootings keep happening, and they are closer and closer to my home, at more and more regular hours of the day. Just last week, I missed being in sight of a double shooting in the middle of 14th Street at 5 p.m. … on a Monday! Two weeks before that, a man was shot and killed across the street from my building. Unfortunately, my friend and neighbor witnessed it (he and his family also just moved to a quieter neighborhood of DC). Then there was the time the dogwalker stabbed and killed two blocks away. And then there was the time, about two years ago, when a shootout between a drug dealer and a police officer happened across the street. “Are those fireworks?” my wife asked. “No, dear. Those are gunshots.”
- The crackhead. Since I moved in, a 60-something year old man named Earl has stood on the corner of Harvard St. and Georgia Ave. panhandling for money. I don’t have a problem with him doing that, but I do have a problem with him blocking traffic, using sexually profane language toward people (including my wife), and most recently threatening violence against me, at which point I called the police. He was arrested, but the case has dragged on because he has failed to appear for his court dates. Before you rush to judgment and say “why are you calling a panhandler a crackhead?” It’s because I witnessed him smoking crack on my property and confronted him. His response: “So what if I smoke crack?”
- The theft. This year, my building has experienced more package theft than any year since we’ve lived year, and it’s not even the holiday season yet. I don’t know how thieves are getting in the building because only one of our building’s security cameras is working. All we can tell is that people are taking our packages and leaving and that we’ve had thousands of dollars worth of goods stolen this year alone. I thought the worst of it was over when two months after I moved in, my $600 bicycle was stolen from my garage because I used a lock that could be easily cut. Shame on me, I suppose… but this goes along with the smash-and-grabs. Our living room window looks down upon a street with lots of parallel parking. Despite the cars being in view of two multi-story condo buildings, thieves find it a prime target for smashing car windows and stealing items. When I witnessed one of my first experiences, I called the police, who failed to catch the perpetrator. “He looked suspicious peeking into all those car windows,” I told the police officer. “But it didn’t make sense because I saw him pull up in a Lexus SUV. Why would someone with such a nice car need to steal?” The officer looked at me blankly and said, “He probably stole the car, too.” I felt like an idiot. This summer, I witnessed another smash-and-grab and called the police. The officers who responded to the scene said that they found persons of interest at a local McDonald’s. They brought me down in the back of an unmarked police car, in which I identified the persons of interests as the people I witnessed commit the crime. “Positive identification,” the officer said in the radio to his partner, “place him under arrest.” As he was searched, the officer found a State Department ID card belonging to the woman who owned the car. I’d prefer not to have to do these types of things if I can help it.
- The verbal assaults. Both my wife and I have had some pretty horrendous things yelled to us. We have both been told to perform various sexual acts, which are disturbing but things we can brush off. What bothers us the most is when people yell at us to “get out of my city” because “you don’t belong here.” You can yell things at me, and I can deal with it, but I draw the line when you yell at my wife when she’s holding my four-month-old daughter.
- The noise. Whether it is a car blasting a subwoofer, people screaming for whatever reason, police sirens, or the sirens of ambulances heading to one of the three emergency rooms within a half mile of our home, it seems to never end.
- The trash. Do people not learn to use trash cans? Our building is next to a restaurant. I’ve checked, and yes, they have trash cans inside. And there’s one outside because I had the city put it there. Yet seemingly every other day, someone feels it is necessary to leave their trash in the flower bed in front of my building, or on the ground, or in the street, or anywhere that isn’t a trash can.
- The bulletproof glass at the post office. Is my neighborhood so terrible that postal workers need to hide behind bulletproof glass? Why can’t I have a normal post office where I can simply hand a package to a postal worker, rather than transfer it through an enclosed window, of which only one side can be opened at a time?
- The weed. I understand DC decriminalized marijuana use, but it is everywhere, and the smell is horrendous. It permeates everything and you an’t get away from it. I have an infant and would prefer her not to get a contact high.
- The safety. Since my wife moved in with me more than three years ago, she has never felt entirely comfortable walking around, and never walks alone at night. She willingly takes longer routes to get where she wants to go because she seeks to avoid houses and complexes that she knows are more prone to violence or other issues.
- The commute. My wife and I both work in Virginia, with no reasonable chance of that changing to DC any time soon. Why should we add 20 or 30 minutes extra on our commutes everyday, when we could live in Virginia and have an entire hour more to ourselves? Getting from the Columbia Heights neighborhood to a bridge to cross into Virginia is a hassle, no matter the time of day.
- The taxes. Income tax withholdings are the highest in the area, as well as sales tax and restaurant tax. I’m done paying $12 for a bagel sandwich.
- The sights of bad parenting. I’ll never forget when I was at Target and witnessed a woman with her child because she seemed more interested in getting the Target associate to handle her problem than watching her kid. At one point, she let go of her child’s hand, and the young boy, who was probably less than two years old, ran away from her toward the escalators. I witnessed this, so I followed the child to ensure that he didn’t fall down the escalator. Shortly after leaving the store’s entrance, he realized he didn’t see his mother and he start to cry. I asked him if he wanted me to take him back to his mommy, and he nodded. As we were walking back, the mother yelled “Don’t run away from me like that. If you do that again, I’ll whip you.” Hearing that a mother was going to physically abuse an infant who doesn’t know any better because she chose to let go of his hand is disturbing.
- The dirt bike and ATV rallies. You’ve probably seen or heard this yourself. It’s a Sunday afternoon, perhaps early evening, and you start to hear the sound of dirt bikes coming up Georgia Avenue. And it’s not just a few, it’s 50. Or it’s 100. Or it’s 200. Or its 300 of them. Disobeying traffic lights. Weaving into opposing traffic. Just recently, one of them ran over a poor girl on U Street with seemingly no remorse. Despite being illegal on DC city streets, these rallies/rides/whatever you want to call them persist. If they rode their vehicles like I ride my motorcycle, with caution and consideration, I wouldn’t have a problem. They ride like assholes and put people’s lives in danger.
- People using bike lanes as parking spots. I know this can happen anywhere, but it is more prevalent in DC than elsewhere. Uber drivers. Lyft Drivers. Cabs. Doordash. UPS trucks. USPS trucks. FedEx. Stop parking your vehicles in the goddamn bike lanes. They are not parking spots. Oh, you need to pick someone up or drop something off? Sounds good. Find a parking space.
- Street sweeping. My wife and I both owned cars before we got married, and now we still have two. One is in our parking spot in our garage, but the other sits on the street, which means that, each week from 1 March to 31 October, we have to move the car to avoid being ticketed and towed.
- The lack of lane markings. This one is strange, but true. The two streets that allow for heavy east-west traffic through mid-DC are Harvard Street and Columbia Road. In non-rush hour, there is one thru-lane and two lanes of parallel parked cars. In rush hour, one of those parking lanes opens up for thru-traffic. The problem is that the roads aren’t marked with lane markings, so half the people don’t know there is a second lane. I’ve logged my complaints about this, but nothing has been done for years and the problem persists.
- The street condition. The roads around Columbia Heights are like a goddamn warzone. How do I know that? I’ve been to two warzones, and yes, there were roads in Iraq and Afghanistan that were better than roads here in DC. I’ll admit, some of them have gotten better, but at the same time, some have gotten worse. There is a reason that my wife and I paid for the tire protection plan when we got new tires put on our car.
So those are the 17 reasons we’ve left DC. Are there good things about living in DC? Of course, we will miss our neighborhood, in some ways, at least. We’ll miss getting incredible soul food from Sweetpea’s, delicious Indian food from Salt and Pepper Grill, overpriced yet delicious pizza from Sonny’s, Monday happy hour at El Chucho, breakfast at The Coupe, and the largest pieces of sushi I’ve ever had from Shanghai Tokyo. We’ll miss Yoga Heights and how it helped heal my broken body and got my wife into yoga. We’ll miss our quick trip over to Cyclebar Noma. We’ll miss the Target, the Marshalls, the Chipotle, and the CAVA where we joined the $1,000 tier in its membership program, yet never received any benefits. We’ll miss the Giant, where we bought probably too many scratch-off lottery tickets. We’ll miss a lot of things. But these aren’t enough to outweight the 17 things mentioned above. My family’s safety and our sanity are too important. When I told the owner of Sweetpea’s (who said he is from a really rough neighborhood in The Bronx) about our move, his response was simple: “I don’t blame you.”
So we moved to a place that doesn’t have people yelling at us, there is no lingering smell of weed in the air, there are no crackheads (at least that I’ve seen), no dirt bike rallies, no sirens, no car thieves, no bulletproof glass at the post office, no street sweeping, and the lanes are marked.
The streets are smooth, the trash is in trash cans, the taxes and cost of living are lower, our commute is a breeze, and we feel safe.
Goodbye DC, we had a good thing going, but it has come to an end. To the violence, theft, and drugs: you win.