After the brawl: 'Do I look straight to you?'
This is one in a series of pieces that will appear on Story Lab Wednesday based on reporting by seven Washington Post staff writers who spent Tuesday night in Washington's East End, taking in the scene in the aftermath of last Friday's brawl in the Metro system, talking to the teens who have taken to hanging out in the city's new tourism and entertainment district, as well as to police, residents, tourists, and business owners. Reporter Annys Shin spent the evening with kids who hang out on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery:
Tracey McBride, 16, of Temple Hills is getting tired of holding up the conversation. It’s around 8:30 on Tuesday evening and she is sitting with five other girls on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. She turns to one of them, a petite girl with long straight hair and starts nagging her.
“You haven’t said anything in like an hour,” McBride complains. “You’re going to text me on the train afterward, ‘What are you doing?’”
The girl with the straight hair only smiles back.
McBride turns back to face Seventh Street NW. “I’m bored,” she announces.
She should really be chastising the street, which has not provided much in the way of entertainment this evening. The people-watching options are meager: parents herding small children, white-sneaker tourists, office workers on extended happy hour.
McBride and her friends make do with what little material they have to work with, starting with a couple walking down the street.
“Is that her father?” says Lucy, a girl in a striped shirt and big curly hair. “He’s old as [dirt].”
Later, the girls look disapprovingly at a woman who leaves her pit bull alone in her car for an hour with just the window cracked.
“There’s the dog abuser,” McBride says, upon her return. “If I were her dog, I’d maul her.”
And when a female passerby reaches around to tug on a pair of bunched-up panties, the girls on the steps let out a collective cry of “We saw that!”
McBride, who is around six-feet tall with short straight hair and a nose piercing, went to high school with a couple of the other girls. The rest, she says, she only just met. She says she used to hang out at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre, then Union Station, and started coming to Gallery Place a couple years ago, especially on Friday nights, when the Portrait Gallery steps fill up and fights are a regular event.
They come so frequently they recognize other regulars well enough to say hi to them, and to roughhouse a little. On Tuesday night, they share the Portrait Gallery steps with a posse made up largely of boys. One of them comes down and starts trash-talking Lucy.
“I’ll pull that [weave] out of your hair,” he says.
Lucy starts talking back and before she can do anything, he reaches over and tugs a few strands. She squeals loudly and he takes off down the steps. She chases after him, stopping briefly to abandon her four-inch wedge heels on the sidewalk. But he’s faster and is able to fake her out until she gives up, picks up her shoes, and returns to the steps.
Many of the kids on the Portrait Gallery steps are openly gay. In McBride’s group, some say they are into girls, one says she’s bisexual, and McBride is straight. She says sexual preference is not a big deal among her peers. “It used to be like, ‘That person is gay?!’” she says, feigning surprise. “And now it’s like, “Oh, that person is gay. Okay. And so is that person and that person.’”
“Do I look straight to you?” she asks Asia Houser at one point.
“No. I thought you was gay,” replies Houser, who is 19.
McBride rolls her eyes.
“You bore me,” she says.
At another point in the evening, the girls debate whether they would rather suck on someone’s toes or perform oral sex on a woman.
McBride answers feet.
As the street grows more deserted, McBride gets up, straps on her backpack, and reaches into the dregs of her McDonald’s Sweet Tea. She starts lobbing ice cubes onto the pavement, nearly grazing the ankles of a tourist. When another tourist looks back, she tucks the cup behind her back and looks innocently off into the distance.
She sits down. “Let’s go start a fight,” she says. “Just joking.”
Around 9 o’clock, the steps start to clear out. The girls head toward the Metro station. Houser is going to college in a couple of weeks. McBride is about to enter her senior year. Johnson, who is trying to graduate this coming school year, is starting night school.
They’ll be back. Even in the winter, says Danyell Johnson of Southeast. “We’ll be down here in our pea coats.”
| August 11, 2010; 1:38 PM ET
Categories: Build-A-Story, Local Life, coffee house newsroom
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