Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Road: The Shaw Shuffle

As has been our tradition of late, we made the train trip down to DC for a few days after Christmas. Miraculously, we managed to avoid the huge snowstorm in New Jersey on the 26th to make it through virtually without incident.

As noted in an earlier post, I find myself at a point where I want to redefine my relationship with the city I grew up near. Our Girl is suddenly no longer interested in sightseeing, preferring to find adventures with Grandma around the Kalorama neighborhood. But Washington is a fascinating city and despite having grown up nearby, I don't feel I know the town as well as I should. And so, I intend to plan more purposeful explorations for future visits.

No matter what cable news would have you believe about the political scene, African-America is far and away the predominant cultural force in the nation's capital. And yet, just as in many other cities in the United States, Euro-Americans and Afro-Americans live, for the most part, in entirely separate communities. However, Shaw, the heart of DC's Afro-American community, is only a few blocks away from my parents' neighborhood. Duke Ellington was Shaw's most famous native son, born on T Street. On Wednesday, our last full day in Washington, I planned a "city hike" to Shaw, following the "Shaw Shuffle" walking tour set out in the Lonely Planet (3rd edition) guide to Washington. Despite their proximity, my parents had never explored Shaw either so it was a good opportunity for all of us to know the city better.

First stop was lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl, a DC institution. My father was the only one among us who had ever been before. I had the chili burger and a strawberry shake - both excellent. The walls are covered with photos of celebrities on site, ranging from Hillary Clinton to Bill Cosby. In all, we managed a hearty meal for five for just over $30 - not bad at all. We arrived before noon - a good choice. On the walk home, we tried to stop for a shake for Our Girl but the line already went out to the curb. (Don't feel too sad for her. She was perfectly happy with the ice cream and chocolate sauce she got back at my parents' place.) Ben's proved to be the highlight of the tour for me.

Unfortunately, we did not make it all the way through the tour. People, mainly Our Girl, had run out of steam by the time we got to Dunbar Theatre, stop #11 out of 15 on the Lonely Planet tour. We'll have to tackle the rest another time. We never were able to find the African American Civil War Museum which seems to have moved locations a couple of times. We'll make a separate trip for that one at some point, too.

The walk back to Kalorama proved fruitful as we discovered Hana Japanese Market at 17th and U Streets. I love Japanese grocery stores, as they tend to be the only places in the US which carry the sorts of products one can find at any corner convenience store in Japan: Pocky sticks and green tea ice cream as well as a much wider than normal range of sembe crackers and noodle products.

As long as I'm plugging restaurants and other local businesses, my parents took us to the wonderful Himalayan Heritage Restaurant for dinner our last night in town. It is one of their favorites, serving authentic Nepalese and Indian cuisine.

As for future city tours, I hope we'll do the rest of the Shaw tour sometime. Also, my father has offered to show me where the Spanish Steps are down near Embassy Row. They're definitely not where Lonely Planet says they are! Beyond that, I think further exploration of the area around Kalorama would be great. I'll see how much of the city I can explore without getting on the subway.

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