Rediscovering what Washington has to offer

Sometime between May and June, it hit me that my brief walk from couch to freezer for another bowl of chocolate-chocolate chip frozen yogurt hardly qualified as a summer exercise routine. This was unfortunate, as I am not one inclined to motion by nature. In general, and particularly in the summer, I enjoy lying inert as much as possible, and letting giggly Golden Girls re-runs amuse me until dinner.

But my kitchen is a dangerous place. Coconut bars and crullers come in, but never seem to find their way out. By my second week of work, my lovely, new crop of Express suits were feeling snug around the tummy. Something had to be done.

Luckily, my favorite high school buddy was at home, two miles away, having a similar epiphany. Never ones for organized fitness (we were both old pros at evading hawk-eyed gym teachers), we eschewed the sweat-soaked machinery at the JCC, our local workout mecca. Instead, we opted for the simplicity of our old high school track. Every night at six o’clock sharp, we sauntered down the blacktop lanes, huffing our way through the hypnotic loop. It might not seem like much, but the first day we went two miles without stopping – we felt like stars.

The summer ended, as summers do. My friend and I both headed back to school and I woke up Labor Day morning missing that dull ache in my calves. With not much to do, I fumbled around for my silly workout uniform: old T-shirt, bootie socks and refuse-to-stay-up navy shorts. Practically on its own, my hair yanked itself into a tight ponytail, understandably fearful of going au natural in D.C.’s sticky heat.

I wandered down G Street, GWorld card buried in my shoe, following vaguely the curve of the street. Three blocks down I hit the main drag – tourist central at the top of the Ellipse.

For all the hoopla over the Ellipse and its usefulness as graduation site, I’m sure it’s not something the average Washingtonian would gush over. It’s a nice plot of grass – the Frisbee players looked happy enough – and I could tell it would be a fine place for me to break out my unique brand of slo-mo jogging.

But the tourists added a whole other dimension.

My first inclination was to ignore them and their furious flashbulbs. In fact, I’m sure that when they return from MotoFoto next week, any number of families will find themselves including unintentional shots of me in their vacation albums. But the more I really watched them, the more fascinated I was.

After all, here they were thousands of miles from home – I assume since English appeared to be the least spoken language in the park that afternoon. All of them gazing deeply at the same buildings and grass that I could pass every day until June and not really see. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

The whole scene reminded me of those cheesy GW brochures, but in a way I kind of liked it. Little kids seemed just as excited about the vendor stands as the Washington Monument — a perspective I certainly understood. But the real clamor was at the far end of the White House lawn. There, I fought my way through a particularly starry-eyed throng to come nearly nose to nose with Buddy, the president’s dog.

I jogged some more and kept getting stopped. Where are the bathrooms? Where is the Lincoln memorial? I guess the only people who looked qualified enough to answer pearls like these, were the ones like me – using the green space not to reflect on vast promise of democracy, but to work off last night’s cheesecake. Go figure. The first time I forgot how special this place is, was the first time I really felt a part of it.

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