WASHINGTON D.C.—The Washington Monument stands in the far-off distance. There are important people buzzing around town, wearing designer-brand facemasks, texting on phones, in a perpetual hurry.
It’s morning in D.C. A little chilly. And this feels like the most important place on planet Earth. You can feel anxiety hanging in the air. It’s got me feeling jumpy.
I’ve been living on a trail for many days. This is a shock to the system.
Besides, I’m not used to a high-powered atmosphere. I am a small-town guy. In my hometown, for example, if you visit our supermarket, it will take hours to finish your shopping because everyone will ask about your mama.
But here, things feel urgent. Young people are ambitious, career oriented, fast paced, and severely constipated. Even my breakfast-joint waitress has an edge to her voice.
“I’m not really a waitress,” she says, topping off my coffee. “I’m a civics education major with a minor in criminal psychology.”
After she tells me this, I’m too embarrassed to ask her for the ketchup. It would be too far beneath her dignity. So I choke down my home fries dry.
To get a sense of how this town feels, think about how the last year has gone.
Think of all the heated arguments on the world stage. The disagreements, the anger, the bitterness, the unhappiness, the joyless faces of ordinary folks standing in line for toilet paper. The irate TV newspersons who look like they’re about to suffer hemorrhagic strokes on the air.
Welcome to D.C.
After breakfast, I’m riding the outskirts of this metropolis, into the suburbs. On my drive I see attractive neighborhoods filled with two-story homes and SUVs in driveways. In one yard, I notice the kids selling lemonade.
I pull over. If for no other reason than because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a lemonade stand.
In a few seconds I am on the sidewalk meeting a boy and a girl who wear surgical masks. Their mother is nearby, in a lawn chair, keeping an eye out.
The kids greet me with happy voices.
And immediately, these two have just become my most favorite people in the world. I’ll tell you why:
Remember Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip? Remember Lucy’s Psychiatric Help booth? Their lemonade stand looks just like that. Only instead of a sign reading: “The doctor is in.” It reads: “Lemonade $2.”
Two dollars is highway robbery of course. You can buy a two-pound sack of lemons for $3.28. But these kids aren’t selling homemade lemonade. This is a worldwide pandemic. They’re selling store bought lemonade in sealed plastic bottles.
I ask my new friends how business has been. They don’t seem too excited. They tell me they’ve been giving away lots of lemonade today.
“Giving it away?” I say.
“Yeah. Nobody ever has any cash.”
“And we can’t take cards,” adds the other. “Not unless we use my mom’s cellphone card-reader, and she won’t let us.”
The kid nudges a bottle toward me. “So you can just have a bottle free.”
I hardly believe what I’m hearing. The last thing I expected in this hyper-individualistic, dog-eat-dog, power hungry world of Washington D.C. was to see little kids giving away lemonade.
I ask these two self-starters how much money they’ve earned with this unique business plan.
They glance at their almost empty Maxwell House canister.
The boy says, “Three dollars and…” He’s still counting. “That’s it. Three dollars.”
“And how many lemonades have you given away?”
They laugh. “Pretty much every bottle.”
So I end up buying one of their last bottles because, let it be known, I support small businesses. Then I tuck a five-dollar bill into their jar. Not because I’m a swell guy, but because this is all I have in my wallet.
The two children react as though I’ve given them the keys to a new Porsche Boxster.
“Thanks!” they say.
After I leave, I am back to exploring again. Only this time I’m sipping lemonade. And it’s shocking how the air in D.C. has changed.
I drive through a sprawling downtown, and this doesn’t feel like the same place it was a few hours ago. It’s sunnier. Maybe it’s the sugar in my blood. Or maybe it’s my two new friends. Either way, I’m feeling better.
I’m driving side streets, gawking at parts of town that date back to a time when George Washington still had acne. And I’m truly enjoying myself in this American Rome.
The historic storefronts are perfect. The architecture is astounding. The avenues are decorated to the nines, juiced with fresh flowers, shrubs, ornate lamp posts, patriotic bunting, and purple mid-morning shadows.
I see the Lincoln Memorial, on the west end of the National Mall. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, in West Potomac Park, pretty enough to steal your breath. And Nationals Ballpark, standing proud in the Navy Yard along the Anacostia River.
The sun is shining. Aromas of garlic and stale beer drift from eateries lining the commercial districts. And even the local cab drivers seem happy, cheerfully driving 138 miles per hour on residential sidewalks.
Everything here is top notch. And I can’t figure out how my gloomy attitude changed so quickly. How did this place go from a depressing town to downright beautiful?
Well, I’m not a smart man. But in this sour age of unrest and turmoil; of intense disagreement, unrelenting anger, and hatred; of diseases, deadly viruses, riots, deaths, and pop country; perhaps there is a balm for the heart of humankind.
Maybe what we need is more lemonade.