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Carrying on: Radiohead through the rolling fog
After finishing my last paper of freshman year, I decided to go for a walk at night to celebrate my new freedom. It was a simple walk through Georgetown, a route I often took to go see movies on K Street, but that night the pedestrian became glorious, the uncomfortable became terrifying and the everyday neighborhood looked like something out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was listening to Radiohead in the fog.
I started from the Car Barn patio, among the brick gargoyles that look over the gateway Key Bridge. That night there was a thick fog rolling in from Virginia, billowing under the arches of the bridge. I pulled out my iPod and started a Radiohead mix that I had made, beginning with “Pakt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box”, and began to walk down the cobblestones of 34th street. My stride coincided perfectly with the beat of the music.
At the bottom of the hill most people turn left down M Street, but the tone of the music was dark, so I walked straight into the shadows of Francis Scott Key Park. As I set foot on the small iron footbridge across the canal, “Kid A” began. At the same time, I saw the solid bank of fog ooze across the boathouse to my right and spill into the canal. The canal must have been colder than the air, because the fog hugged the surface of the water as it floated toward the footbridge. I stood in wonder as it enveloped and distorted the light from the streetlights behind the park, and when I couldn’t see ten feet ahead I went down the steps to K Street.
In the course of a few feet the tranquil night scene became an industrial wasteland, with a forest of riveted steel columns, rusted industrial tractors and piles of scrap metal. The track switched to the gritty, pounding bass of “National Anthem,” and I began to swagger in time with the music through the oppressive fog that had gone from being beautiful to sinister. The violent horns and the pounding bass made me feel powerful. I picked up a piece of scrap iron to defend myself from the would-be attackers I hoped would spring from the dark corners all around me.
Just as suddenly as I had entered that hellish industrial desert, I was through it, standing on the dewy grass of the park. Above the flowing waters of the Potomac, the fog was now a peaceful cloud. I felt the river breeze flow over me. The gentle chords of “Airbag” resonated in my ears, blurring the distinction between me and the calm, friendly whiteness that inundated everything around me. Dazed, I wandered along the river as the song shifted to Paranoid Android.
In the distance I saw a bobbing shape through the haze. I squinted to see it until my peripheral vision faded to almost nothing. When the pleasant strumming erupted into jagged distortion and the peace of the white curtain of fog fell away, exposing me to the raw sensory overload of Nick’s Riverside Grill, I felt like I had just been clubbed over the head.
As if I were leaning against a door that was just opened from the other side, I nearly fell into a group of stylishly dressed young professionals. The music was painful in my ears; I heard no conversation but was overwhelmed by the bright red lips of the women around me, the hungry eyes of the men around them and the giant fountain shooting spray into the air 30 feet above me, garishly lit with red, yellow and orange lights. The final garnish was a low-flying helicopter along the river, banking over the harbor towards Maryland. It was like the LSD bridge scene in Apocalypse Now come to life.
Then, it was done. The song ended, and I found myself standing in a crowd on the dock. I looked back the way I had come and saw the park and the river. The Whitehurst Freeway was perched above K Street, same as every day. There ever-present fog was still there, but it was just fog, without intention or motive. I walked back to campus in silence and contemplation.
I have tried to recreate that walk and re-live the emotions I experienced. I have walked the streets of D.C. in rain, wind and snow, but never sun. I have marched down dark alleyways oblivious to the people around me and all but the most blatant stimuli, absorbed in music and my thoughts. But I have never felt the same way again.