At Large in Ballard: News from abroad
Last week I stood on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the other Washington, and read the front pages of a newspaper from every state, plus ten from abroad. Washington, D.C. streets are on a grid, like in Ballard, with the exception of diagonal streets that are named for states. Between the United State’s Capitol and the White House, reading those front pages in a rather Pacific Northwest blustery cold, I felt at a diagonal, somehow cut off from both my east coast and west coast worlds.
All those incredible free museums that line the mall, the Smithsonian and visitor centers at the Library of Congress and the Capitol Building, well, they all close at 5 p.m. Which is why Emily and I were shivering on the sidewalk, killing time by reading the front pages on the outside of the locked Newseum. The I-5 bridge collapse over the Skagit River was prominent, not just in nearby states but mentioned in at least ten out of the fifty. The Boy Scouts of America decision to allow gay members was on every front page; I would have had to review the entire gamut to determine if there was one paper without it.
It’s obvious that every city and state has its problems and triumphs; from murders to graft, from the wake of the Oklahoma tornado to the Boston Globe’s daily feature on a survivor from the bombings. There are concerns about drinking water safety, gun violence, and given the timing, many a feature on a graduate overcoming adversity. Emily and I also noticed a crossover theme involving graduating twins.
These were the city papers, not those of the neighborhoods. In the excitement of visiting Washington, D.C. for the first time in 40 years I was caught up in the sense of importance that the monuments and the capitol exude at every corner with its special police, guard houses, swooping helicopters and hoards of visitors in matching T-shirts. “I need to leave Ballard more,” I told Emily. “There’s a lot of world out there.” In her usual laconic way, now validated by an undergraduate degree, Emily reminded me that what I value is making smaller connections.
Those headlines were shouting news about communities and cities, but it’s true they weren’t pulling at me in the same way as any news that might be considered “smaller” from Ballard. I started to receive emails from friends asking if I knew anything about Store Manager Steve William’s retirement from Ballard Market, effective May 31; a retirement that did not appear voluntary based on the number of cashiers who were crying, although not able to comment. I could write a column a week about my appreciation for Ballard Market’s support of the community and my appreciation for William’s role in this. I once called to follow up on a “Rave” in The Seattle Times and he was cashiering because it was busy.
Then I saw a desperate post from Jennifer D. Munro, who, by the way, will be writing guest columns in this space for the next two weeks. She had just learned that the summer camp she had been counting on for her son at Ballard Community Center had been cancelled. What is going on in Ballard?
Between jumping on and off of bicycles available at 150 bike stations throughout the District of Columbia I would alternate between wonderment at the Library of Congress reading room and worry about changes at Ballard Market. Does it have to do with a plan at the corporate level to carry hard liquor? Steve Williams had spent his entire career at Ballard Market, as consciously dedicated to the community needs as his mother was to her patients as a nurse.
We circled the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument and bicycled to the Jefferson. We posed our bikes by the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. At the Vietnam Memorial an older African-American man in another one of those matching T-shirts simply reached his hand to me as we crossed paths; the fleeting palm to palm connection caused tears to blur all those names.
It was too hot and then it was chilly. It was touristy and it was sacred. Those who work in Washington had a certain very self-important look, in either suits or dresses, their badges always visible. Food trucks lined the parks; those on their lunch hours sat on separate benches from those carrying all their possessions with them in shopping carts.
I dreamed that I was suddenly on a raft crossing a body of water instead of driving my father’s beat-up Chevrolet Cavalier across an Interstate Bridge. Even upon waking I feel like I am on a diagonal street that will deposit me someplace unexpected, outside of the grid. I don’t like feeling powerless; in the dream I was afraid I was going to drown, the shore was so far away. If I can choose to fixate on just one problem, even when facing an entire city block of them in typeset … what is going on at Ballard Market and what can I do to help? Sometimes it takes a community to rescue a community.
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