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After the brawl: The view from the steps

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 Michael Rosenwald spent the evening listening to the chatter on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery on Seventh Street NW:

It is quiet, but there are sounds. There are always sounds, even on a slow Tuesday night. Screeches. Honks. Sirens. Up on the steep, hard steps of the National Portrait Gallery, facing the Gallery Place Metro station, you can hear everything -- including, very much, small cliques of teens hanging out for hours, with seemingly no place else to go.

"Who on the phone?"

"Nick."

"Who?"

"Nick."

The talkers are separated by less than 10 feet. Their volume is concert level.

"Who Nick?"

This goes on.

There are smells too, but not, in Chinatown, the smell of Chinese food. There is the smell of McDonald’s, that stale stench wafting from the fry pit to the greasy bags -- the dozens of bags that get carried back and forth along streets, back and forth, by teens with seemingly no place else to go. They walk a lot, and they talk loudly. They can be heard over the wonks jibbering on their Blackberries, walking to their trains to the suburbs; over the music that seeps out of Urban Outfitters; even, at times, over the Bible dude and his megaphone.

There is excitement too. Never mind the Mystics beating up on Connecticut inside the Verizon Center. "Pringles. Get your free Pringles." Pringles everywhere. New flavors, apparently. A teen with seemingly no place else to go says to his canister, upon acquiring it, “I”m gonna take you home and chill with you.” Certainly, he does not hang out here for free Pringles. But if he has no other place to go, why here?

Every big city has a spot like this, where different races and walks of life form interesting but sometimes chaotic stews of behavioral expectations. Times Square is the classic example, but tough Mayor Rudy broke that up and Disney moved in. Harvard Square near Boston has the pit, where down-and-out punkers flip skateboards and bang on plastic bottles as Henry Louis Gates Jr. slips by. The District has Gallery Place. In common: mass transportation, tourists, theaters, pockets of wealth, teens.

Sometimes, there is talk of the future: “When I get my GED, I gotta finish it, but I’d like to teach,” a young man says on the steps. And sometimes there are two friends arguing: “Why you being such a bitch?” To which the reply is: “Why are *you* being such a bitch?”

This too goes on.

By Michael S. Rosenwald  | August 11, 2010; 3:17 PM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story, Local Life, coffee house newsroom  
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Next: After the brawl: Verbal assault on the train

Comments

...and what was the purpose of this???

Posted by: Concerned_Citizen2 | August 11, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Maybe they're there because DC cops aren't enforcing loitering laws?

Posted by: jameskim99 | August 11, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

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