Monday, September 24, 2012

Washington Social Diary

Always nimble, always quick, the Washington Redskins sensation, quarterback Robert Griffin III.
by Carol Joynt

This is a good moment to pay attention to Washington, and not for the reasons you may think. Yes, we have a presidential election underway and the outcome will have an impact here, though less and less with each new administration. The President of the United States — any president — has become much like a visiting VIP professor, with deluxe accommodations, in this instance the White House, in a remote part of campus, and cordoned off in a gated community. One can stand at the gates and stare, but not catch a glimpse of anything except security guards. 

Thankfully, this president and his family get out from behind the gates, move around among us, with visits to trendy restaurants and sports events at the daughters’ elite private school. This is good, but it doesn’t really affect the city the way it did decades ago, when the White House was the town’s focal point and social hub. Washington as a community has outgrown the White House and, just as much, Congress, now virtually a state legislature with a Tuesday through Thursday workweek. We don’t need them to define us. If anything they need us, especially our often easily-manipulated media machine, to provide the glow of credibility. On that level, everything is humming along. (Anyone who lives here year round will tell you the dysfunction within Congress has become a tedious distraction and no one wants to hear about it.)

Washington is at an interesting stage of its social history, where major league credibility is at hand. I choose those words specifically because DC is becoming a private sector force beyond the government and — and this is the biggest news — it’s also getting what has long been craved: credibility as a sports town. Our baseball team, the Washington Nationals, is on its way to the playoffs with the winningest record in the National League. We also have some of the most happening players in the MLB: pitcher Stephen Strasburg (though now sidelined), Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, and batters Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Adam Laroche and Michael Morse. I swear, steam rises off these guys.
A good view of a good game at Nats Park.
Washington Nationals ballpark on Thursday, September 20, the night the team beat the L.A. Dodgers and clinched a spot in the National League playoffs.
The football team, the Washington Redskins, feels resurgent, thanks to the hottest rookie quarterback in the biz, Robert Griffin III. (Yes, they have won one and lost two, but the losses had some meat and he was exciting regardless). Lockout notwithstanding, the hockey team, the Washington Capitals, is promising. Mark Ein's World Team Tennis contender, the champion Washington Kastles, are undefeated for a second year. The only laggard is the basketball team, the Washington Wizards. They have been dismal and a turnaround is essential. But the big news here is what everyone is feeling: we're at the threshold of being a sports town, which is the only way a city can stand shoulder to shoulder with the big boys on the national map. It's the only way to join the club.
Washington Nationals stadium, in the distance, is an urban gem. This view is from the Yards Park, which graces the banks of the Anacostia River by the Navy Yard.
The Yards Park, a well-landscaped waterside pleasure.
On the local government level, as with some emerging nations, Washington is up against the usual growing pangs, and for the same reason as always: statehood. Because Congress won't allow the city to wear long pants it behaves the way any grownup would who still has to wear shorts to school: rebellious bad behavior, acting out, refusing to mature because it’s denied the tools of maturity. Two city council members, including the council chairman, have been indicted, and one already is off to jail, for a slew of campaign and other fraud issues. Mayor Vincent Gray is popular and quite likable but he, too, is under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office for campaign irregularities. City residents wait to find out whether the federal prosecutor, Ronald Machen will indict Gray and possibly some others in his administration. 

Here's the interesting caveat. Scandal in DC politics is nothing new. (Just google "mayor for life" Marion Barry, Jr.) but in the past scandal was usually the only story, along with a seriously bad crime rate. Today, there's another story, and it's optimistic and positive and goes hand in hand with the sports success. (For one thing, crime is down.) In the private sector, according to the Mayor and business leaders, the city is booming. There's so much new construction and other development it clogs the streets and makes a crosstown drive maddening.
One example of new development in Washington is this former Georgetown office building, which is being made over into the luxury Capella Hotel, complete with roof top pool, and due to open in the New Year. It sits on the banks of the C&O Canal.
Look in one direction and a huge new Marriott is going up. Look in another direction and it’s the three-blocks-long CityCenterDC, which when it is completed, and has found tenants, may live up to its own hype as one of “the greatest urban centers.” Unless his deal with the GSA falls through, it looks like Donald Trump will be coming to town, too, with an eponymous hotel on, of course, Pennsylvania Avenue. 

New residential and commercial communities are springing up and taking hold where once the streets were nearly ruins. Their names are Logan Circle, NoMa, H Street Corridor, Petworth, Brookland and even the once bereft Anacostia. The Millenials have spread their wings to land on these new perches, embracing and enhancing their vitality. There’s still Georgetown and Adams Morgan and Capitol Hill and Cleveland Park, too, but the old co-exist well with the new, making for an altogether robust urban living experience. We have new restaurants and new theaters. We have beautiful new parks with The Yards, adjoining the Nats stadium, and the completed Georgetown Waterfront Park, which makes it possible to walk along the Potomac River from Key Bridge in Georgetown to the Jefferson Memorial. 
At the edge of the Georgetown Waterfront Park is Jack's Boathouse, a popular place to rent canoes and stand-up paddle boards or to simply grab an Adirondack chair and hang out by the Potomac River.
The Georgetown Waterfront Park is popular with everyone, especially children.
It was amusing this week when Forbes magazine declared the H Street Corridor No. 6 among America’s “hipster” neighborhoods. Funny because they may know billionaires, but is it hip to be called hip by Forbes? Authentic hip still comes from California and New York (at the top of the Forbes list), and people in their 20s should try to do at least a five years in LA or NYC.

Washington, however, is catching up in ways that transcend so-called “hipness.” It’s probably one of the best cities in the world for ages 35 and up, for setting down roots, being married, raising a family, having culture and relatable nightlife, building a career and proximity to government, which equals power in a number of fields, but chiefly lobbying, law and communications.  Our three airports are good. The closest, Reagan, is adding key new nonstops by the month. The efficient Acela train zips back and forth between DC and NY all day, every day. There is social life — something for every age, taste and bank balance.

John Riggins and Joe Theismann.
But the sports part can't be ignored. The Nats making the playoffs put a bounce in everyone's step. The bolt of lightning that hit the Redskins is especially important. Fans who are old enough to remember the Super Bowl years, the Joe Gibbs era, the Jack Kent Cooke era, and especially the John Riggins and Joe Theismann era, and Doug Williams, crave having that cock-of-the-walk feeling again. It might even redeem team owner Dan Snyder, who the fan base view as a descendent of the sourpuss Henry F. Potter character in "It's A Wonderful Life." It's remarkable how he's disliked, and by people who only think they know him, though that could change if he moved the team back into DC.

Winning forgives everything and provides a clean slate. RGIII opened the season with a big win and walked away with enough accolades to float him for a whole week, until he faced the Rams and a 31-28 loss. But even the loss yesterday to the Bengals was interesting. We're getting him at the beginning of what could be a glorious arc. As Bengals defensemen rolled him and pummeled him in the first half, Redskins legend Sonny Jurgensen said, "welcome to the NFL." Nonetheless, the 'Skins were in the game. That's the difference. Skeptics say "wait and see," while optimists are seizing the moment.

Sportswriter and radio host Tony Kornheiser totally gets the picture. “This is a football town. It’s a Redskins town, and everybody who has been here for longer than an hour understands that. When the Redskins draft a quarterback who plays like this for one game, nothing else in the city counts.” Here here. He scolded those who couldn’t enjoy the “unbridled optimism” that came with the win over the New Orleans Saints, particularly fellow sports know-it-all Sally Jenkins, who chided the “overpraise” and “extravagant raving” about Griffin. “She’s writing from her New York apartment or her Sag Harbor cottage with a New Yorker’s superiority about a great Washington player,” Kornheiser complained. “Intellectually we understand that one game is nothing. We don’t need to be reminded of this. We don’t need to be scolded for having a great feeling of excitement.” 

And that’s what a winning season does for Washington. It gives us the chutzpah to bite back. A very welcome feeling.
Standing: Chris Bohjalian, Elissa Schappell, Ben Fountain, Major Jackson, Louis Bayard, Calvin Trillin, and Luis Alberto Urrea. Seated: Hilma Wolitzer, Susan Richards Shreve, Vaddey Ratner, and Carol Anshaw. Photos: James R. Brantley

Last week’s Sunday Redskins win was still quite fresh when the PEN/Faulkner Foundation held their Monday night awards dinner at the Folger Shakespeare Library. “Resilience” was the theme and guests applied that word to the Redskins and to the nation, which was about to observe the 11th anniversary of the 9.11 terrorist attacks. Calvin Trillin was the host and the noted authors who were honored, and who did readings from the stage, were Chris Bohjalian, Elissa Schappell, Ben Fountain, Major Jackson, Louis Bayard, Luis Alberto Urrea, Hilma Wolitzer, Susan Richards Shreve, Vaddey Ratner, and Carol Anshaw.

After an hour of cocktails and canapes and then relocating to the Folger theater, guests were welcomed by the Foundation’s president, Frazier O’Leary, who said, “Tonight we celebrate writing. You remember writing? It’s in books. You remember books?” At the end of the program, Hilma Wolitzer echoed a similar sentiment. She talked about the feeling that “books seem to be on their way out,” along with the “slap of the newspaper” landing on the front porch. “It’s comforting to know I cannot be electrocuted reading a regular book in the bathtub.” Wolitzer insisted she’s not a Luddite, she regularly surfs the web, but wrapped up with the line: “Let there be light and real books to read by.”
Major Jackson, Vaddey Ratner, Ben Fountain, Elissa Schappell, Hilma Wolitzer, Susan Richards Shreve, and Louis Bayard.
Authors Vaddey Ratner and Elissa Schappell,
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Kay Webber.
Dinner, prepared by Design Cuisine, was served by candlelight in the library. 
Guests included Gina and Eugene Adams, Deborah Ashford, Lisa Barry and James Gale, Grace Bender, David and Katherine Bradley, Conrad and Ludmilla Cafritz, Sen. Thad Cochran, Kay Kendall and Jack Davies, Michael and Cleo Gewirz, Ellen Haas, Robert and Mary Haft, Lt. Col. Michael Haft, Shane Harris, Robert and Aimee Lehrman, Alison and Bill Paley, Susan and Mike Pillsbury, George Pellecanos, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Marcelle Leahy, Franklin Raines and Denise Grant, Douglas Smith, Bobby Dean, Nora Maccoby Hathaway, Connie Carter, Mary Challinor, Richard Rymland, Patricia Griffith, Eugene and Carol Ludwig, Michael and Kelly Witmore, Lisa and Clarence Page, Tracy and Greg McGillivary, Christopher Addison and Sylvia Ripley. 
Benefit Committee member Alison Paley, Co-Chair Mary Haft, William Paley, George Pelecanos, and Board president Frazier O'Leary.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), author and evening's MC Calvin Trillin.
Heather and Chris Reams.
Conrad Cafritz and Shalom Baranes.
Lt. Michael Haft (USMC), Co-Chair and Board member Mary Haft. Katherine Bradley and Robert Lehrman.
Robert Haft and Dani Levinas.
Artist Lou Stovall and PEN/Faulkner author Vaddey Ratner.
The Honorable Franklin Raines and Denise Grant. Clarence Page.
David Bradley, Robert Lehrman, and Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre.
PEN/Faulkner author and Board member Susan Richards Shreve and PEN/Faulkner author Elissa Schappell.
Christopher Addison and Robert Haft.
Aimee Lehrman, Sharon Bradley, and Mirella Levinas.
Marguerite Thompson and Christopher Griffin.
Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre and Darryl Carter.
Randy Cone, Robert Haft, and Terryl Givens.
Susan Pillsbury and Kevin Chaffee.
Carol Joynt's memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.