From time to time, someone asks Amy or I if we miss life in the nation’s Capital, our home for 23 years from 1981 until 2004.
Yes, sometimes we do. On a Sunday like today, we might be having brunch at the restaurant on top of the Sheraton hotel, overlooking the Pentagon, the Potomac River and the view of the Jefferson Memorial and the National Mall that looks beyond.
Spring in Washington is often a special time: Cherry blossoms, Dogwoods and walks along the Potomac or time in the museums along the mall. Instead of brunch at the Sheraton, we might be having breakfast at Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike and might see a Washington Redskin and his family or a Congressman in a nearby booth.
Good food is a pleasant memory of life in Washington: Fantastic Texas chilli at Hard Times Cafe, incredible steaks at The Palm and Lebanese delights at Lebanese Taverna — Amy’s favorite to satisfy her Lebanon ancestry.
We visited the original Five Guys hamburger location on Columbia Pike shortly after it opened and became instant fans of the juicy burgers and great fries. The family that started the restaurant talked about the days when it would be a nationwide chain. It did, which is why we can get Five Guys burgers in Christiansburg, Roanoke and other nearby locations.
If we wanted to stay home, several good oriental restaurants offered delivery at just about any hour. We had a delicious Greek Bakery just up the street from our condo in Arlington, a Pekin Duck restaurant in the neighborhood too and a buffet sushi bar.
Of course, we also had traffic, which was bad enough when we arrived in 1981 and got even worse during our two plus decades there. The subway would be a better alternative. I could take the Orange line of the Metro from the stop a block from our home to right across the street from the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill and then a short walk in the tunnels that connect all buildings of Congress to my first office in the Rayburn Building.
We took the subway to attend the inauguration of President George H. W. Bush in 1989 and again that evening used it to get to dinner before taking a cab to the Inaugural Ball at Union Station.
The Metro ran pretty much on time in those days is hampered in recent years by long-delayed infrastructure repair needs and sloppy maintenance. After we left DC and moved to Floyd County in 2004, I returned each year to speak to the Washington Center for Journalism and Politics and normally parked my car or motorcycle at the Vienna Metro Station and took the subway into the district.
Washington is a beautiful city to walk in when the weather is nice. Several times, after taking the subway to work on Capitol Hill, I would walk home, sometimes through the National Mall or along M Street to Georgetown to hoof across the Key Bridge before walking along Wilson Boulevard for about three miles before cutting over to Fairfax Drive to our condo.
We would walk the Mall during snow, including a blizzard in 2003.
Doubt I could do that now. My legs were in better shape then.
On Spring or Fall weekends, we would put the top down on Amy’s TR-6 or our Porsche 911 Targa and cruise the horse country of Northern Virginia, visiting places like The Plains or The Red Fox Inn or the ice cream parlor that actor Robert Duvall owned for a while and scooped cones to those who thought he looked like someone famous but weren’t quite sure.
Duvall owned a horse farm nearby and if anyone asked if he was who he was he would say “no ma’am, I understand he’s taller.” Local Residents of played along.
Sometimes, we drove over to Winchester for lunch at The Triangle Diner, where we could have entrees and coffee or tea for well under $10. Other trips included visits to Harper’s Ferry, also a spot for good meals, or Charlestown, which has a horse track and a casino where Amy liked to play the slots.
We started talking about leaving Washington after 9/11. I had returned to journalism in 1994 and spent more than 30 hours straight photographing the attack on the Pentagon for a wire service , the Washington Post and Internet news sites. Washington had changed. After I returned from an overseas assignment in Afghanistan in 2003, we made the decision to leave.
During our 23 years in Washington, we had a lot of fun, ate great food at fantastic restaurants, recalled history at the city’s many museums, watched fireworks on the Potomac many times on the Fourth of July and saw current history unfold around us.
We had talked about retiring to New Mexico, a state we visited many times and had good friends there, but my mother’s deteriorating health detoured those plans to Floyd in 2004. Mom died in 2012 and I crashed my motorcycle in an encounter with a black cow on U.S. 221 near the bottom of Bent Mountain while returning from shooting photos of a football playoff game near Staunton and came close to dying.
My recovery took several months and gave us time to think about staying in Floyd County, we decided this was home. Although I was born in Florida, not Virginia, Willis was my home during my high school years and our time tells us the county will be home for our remaining years.
When I left the area after graduating from the then-new Floyd County High School in 1965, I said I would never return. I wanted to be a newspaperman and wanted to see the world. I did what I wanted — with a questionable sabbatical to the political side of life — and my wife was with me in Ireland, London, Rome, Israel and other locations during most of the past 55 years. As for returning, we all eventually learn to never say “never.”
Yes, we sometimes miss life in DC, but primarily because of the food, the museums and friends. But have good friends and good food in Floyd. We consume tasty breakfasts at Blue Ridge Cafe, where Whittney Petersen has turned the restaurant into a great country eatery that also, we feel, has the best hamburgers in the area. Micky G’s has fantastic Italian food, Pine Tavern produced good homestyle meals and we have Mexican meals, pizza, gyros and other Greek specialties and more at other restaurants in the county.
We understand that sushi is coming as part of the remodeling of Winter Sun.
We’ve got time. We’re not going anywhere. This is home.