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Just mean

I’ve always thought that my dislike of Washington stemmed from the time I spent two days there, in July, wearing a suit and being nice to people.

Which was, apparently, one day beyond my capacity for politeness.

This weekend I started thinking about the one other time I went to Washington DC.

When our children were young, we spent a week staying with friends and seeing the sights. By and large it was a lot of fun. Good friends, amazing history - all that stuff.

It was not without a little tension. The first day we used the subway, there was a small hitch in understanding how it worked. After I did something that caused lights to flash and buzzers to buzz, a guy came out of a booth and explained, using small words, how to navigate. We quickly became pros, and on our last day, actually on the way to the airport, our children were racing through the turnstiles and somehow jammed them. Lights flashed and buzzers buzzed and the SAME GUY came out of his booth and RECOGNIZED us. He seemed impressed that we’d been there a week and hadn’t learned anything. I’ve blocked most of what he said, but the memory is still enough to turn my ears red.

A few days before that final episode, we had driven our rental van to the train station. The plan was to take the subway downtown to see the Smithsonian Museums, and our first task was to find a parking spot.

Couldn’t find one.

I’m not saying we couldn’t find a convenient spot or one close to the door. The lot was completely full. The station was mainly used by people commuting to government jobs, so most of those cars weren’t going to move for eight hours or so. Such a tiny problem, but liable to put a serious crimp in our plans. Luckily, I saw a guy come out of the train station door with a briefcase in his hand. He headed across the parking lot and I fell in behind him. He glanced back, I gave him a hopeful wave and he waved back. We made a tiny convoy across the parking lot. Then the guy looked back at me, grinned widely, and cut across a median where I couldn’t follow, climbed in his car, backed out, and someone else cruising the lot got the parking spot.

I snarled, but having three children in the back seat hindered my vocabulary quite a bit.

I’ve thought about him from time to time and what a mean thing that was to do. I admit I’ve led a sheltered life, but I don’t know many mean people. People are people and everyone, probably even Mother Theresa, do nasty things from time to time. When I got mugged in Buenos Aires I wasn’t thrilled, but the guy who stole my camera probably thought it was a profitable day. When a neighbor cut down all the trees that shaded the house my grandchildren live in, it was just a guy acting like a jackass because he could. He wasn’t trying to harm my family; he just didn’t care about them at all.

But to do something transparently mean, to a perfect stranger, simply for your own amusement, is a behavior that I don’t understand.

It was probably just a coincidence it happened in Washington. On the other hand, these days it does feel like we have a lot more “mean” in America, and a lot of it is coming out of Washington.

I think we should stop.

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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