Sunday, March 29, 2009

City living: riding the bus and growing some goodies

Lately I've been relishing the characters on the bus, a sort of in-your-face to those who think the bus is for the proletariat. Last week, a little old woman was standing in the middle of the bus preaching in Spanish. I don't know much Spanish, but I assume it was preaching because I heard the words "padre" and "santos" a number of times. Yet she was so confident and happy that I felt strangely comforted by her. I was actually sad when she got off the bus. Until yesterday, the crazies were mostly like that - unobtrusive and occasionally amusing. But yesterday, an older man with a neck brace in a wheelchair got on the bus. The driver had to help him onto the lift and push him into the wheelchair spot, and when she turned him around I could see patches sewn on his shirt about the Vietnam war and a particularly lovely one that said something to the effect of Jane Fonda being a "traitor bitch". Yeah, it was that kind of morning.

The man was obviously drunk or otherwise under the influence and spent most of the bus ride shouting obscenities, the only coherent words from his mouth. Until he looked over a guy sitting in a seat nearby, listening to his iPod. The bus driver had already threatened to kick the drunk veteran off the bus for his language, but she stopped the bus and made him get off immediately after he started shouting at the iPod guy and ramming his wheelchair into him. Wow.

At first I felt shaken up. I was already kind of tired and not in the mood for some crazy guy to ruin my morning. But then I thought about all the sad people featured in that show "Intervention" who deal with addictions, and I pictured this drunken vet as he probably used to be: a young man who was just living his life until he got drafted into the army, sent to some strange country, injured, sewn up, and sent home. Left to his own devices, perhaps ignored by the overwhelmed and underequipped VA, to deal with his pain the only ways he knew how. And I felt sad. Because 40 years ago, this man surely did not think he would end up this way, shouting at strangers and complaining about his war wounds. I hope he has someone to take care of him. I hope he at least has someplace to call home. After he got off the bus, a woman on the sidewalk started talking to him, and it left me with some hope that she would at least get him to a safe place where he could sleep off his buzz, get some food, perhaps move on, forgetting the stir he caused that morning.

He didn't ruin my day after all. Upon returning home, I inspected the container garden I had planted last week. Plastic and ceramic pots resting on wide windowsills, taking up the cat's sunny spot, filled with Organic Mechanic potting soil and some courageous little seeds. In the living room, mesclun greens, zucchini, and peppers bask in the sun, while rye grass rests in the bathroom and dwarf peas greet the day in my bedroom. The rye grass was first, its pointy blades poking straight up through the soil. In another week, it will be ready for attack by the cat, giving my spider plants a welcome respite from dear kitty's munch. The mesclun greens were next, although different varieties germinate at different times, so although it looks like clover right now, someday it will be a salad. And now, the timid pea shoots are pushing the soil aside, emerging in the afternoon sun. I've been putting frozen peas in many of my dishes, so the idea of plucking those fresh little globes from my bedroom window for a breakfast delight of scrambled eggs with mushrooms, peas, and cheddar cheese, topped with roasted red pepper and artichoke dip and scooped up with toast, is almost too much to bear. I can hardly wait.

The squash and the peppers take a little longer to germinate. I've been hoping to plant carrots, beets, and tomatoes as well, so once I know my current plots are alive and well, I'll tackle the root veggies and needy tomatoes next. I was so worried that nothing would grow, and instead the bounty is just beginning. Photos to come soon.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A loss of public art

Last month, a dear friend and I trekked out to Hain's Point, which is in East Potomac Park. It's a peninsula of sorts, with the Washington Channel on one side and the Potomac on the other. The east side provides lovely views of some large houses and Fort McNair; the west side is a great place to watch the planes land at Reagan National Airport. At the end, in the middle of a big field, is the reason we trekked out there, carrying bags of goodies from the Whole Foods salad bar at 5:30 on a Saturday evening: The Awakening, one of the few things my dear friend missed after moving away from DC. It's a giant sculpture that rises out of the ground, providing endless opportunities for climbing and admiring.

Except that it was gone. No scar in the earth from where it was dug up, no plaque commemorating the work of art, and nothing except some old wintered grass left in its place. We were saddened. Apparently the National Park Service had long ago lost its permit to keep the sculpture there, and perhaps the artist found himself so strapped for cash that he decided to sell it to a developer in February 2008. So now, The Awakening emerges from blocks of pavement in a new mixed-use development on the southwest shore of Maryland's peninsula, another tourist trap.

Why didn't the National Park Service fight for the sculpture? Why haven't they replaced it with other artwork, something else for people to admire on a sunny day? We suspect it's because Hain's Point is not a tourist trap. It's not easily accessible by metro train or bus. There are no fancy restaurants or hotels nearby, just a scrubby golf course and some nice playground equipment. On that chilly Saturday afternoon, we were a couple of white faces among a diverse crowd of latino and black residents of DC and nearby neighborhoods who were picnicking, fishing, and flying kites. If anyone deserves public artwork to admire, it's the people whose income taxes (exorbitant in the District) keep the metropolitan area afloat during times when fewer tourists can afford to flock to the better-known memorials and museums. DC doesn't need more concrete playgrounds like National Harbor, it needs more community involvement. And it needs to support more artists, without whose creativity and hard work the city would be just another slab of asphalt. Please, National Park Service, bring public artwork back to East Potomac Park.