My new favorite Washinton Post writer, Monica Hesse, writes about the havoc the arrival of a Target department store has had on the Columbia Heights community, which long has been an inexpensive, gritty refuge from some of the increasingly monied and urbane corners District of Columbia. (Probably also a refuge from the ruined, impoverished and ignored corners, as well.)
The story of Columbia Heights is a familiar one to a number of Richmond neighborhoods (minus the Target):
Columbia Heights is still edgy. A few blocks from the Target, semi-permanent police cars monitor the muggings and shootings that still happen, in broad daylight, even -- as happened a few weeks ago -- at the Metro. This is an area being either positively revitalized or negatively gentrified, depending on how you view the development. It was a thriving, predominantly black neighborhood before it was ravaged by the 1968 riots, and now everyone is trying to either restore it to its former glory (save the Tivoli!) or make it into something new...
...The sordid secret is that everyone, even hipsters, has always shopped at Target. Here is how it used to happen: Once every four months, you rented a Zipcar with some trunk space, and then you zipped out of D.C. and down to Jefferson Davis Highway, land of the big-box stores. Along the way, you talked about how glad you were that you didn't live down there, and how ironic it was for you to be going there at all, as you normally just bartered on Freecycle, and how your dad still tried to be cool by pronouncing it in French, Tar-zhay. You got to the Target, and you bought a microsuede storage bench, a duvet and a doormat, and on the way home you stopped at Outback Steakhouse (which was totally hilarious), and in polite company you never spoke of these suburban adventures again.
Target was amusing, when it was located in the suburbs. NIMBY, Target.
You know the experiment: You put a frog in boiling water, it will try to jump out, but if you put it in cold water and slowly turn up the heat it will just sit there and die. Residents of Columbia Heights: They are the frogs. Columbia Heights is Jefferson Davis Highway. Columbia Heights is Tenleytown. Target has made us into suburbanites, right in the middle of the Green Line.
Go finish the piece now. I'll wait here. It will be the best thing you do all evening.
She's a bit of a genius writer, Hesse is. I was surprised to discover she was an intern. Not actually just an intern, but a holdover intern -- with a two-year contract -- as Washingtonian reports:
Can a slight, self-effacing, 26-year-old writer from Normal, Illinois, help revive a Washington Post Style section suffering from shortened stories and shrinking staff? If readers come for witty prose on sometimes weird subjects, Monica Hesse could help bring Style back.
You want quirky? She’s written about a woman who wrestles alligators, the death of facts, overpriced enviro-gadgets, and a polyamory convention—that’s for couples who believe multiple partners is the way to go.
“I had to have her,” says Style features editor Ann Gerhart, who picked Hesse as a summer intern last year. Now she’s hired on as a two-year intern.
Getting a job at a big daily in these days of buyouts and layoffs is hard; landing a job at Style is like forcing a typewriter through a pinhole.
Hey, Roop, start recruiting now for 2011.