Street Smarts

Yesterday I was walking down I Street in Washington, D.C. trying to find my way back to the Metro station. Being new to this town, and lacking street smarts in a literal fashion, I was studying my small google maps printout. It was around 7:30 p.m., the sidewalks were crowded with workers rushing home. At the crosswalk, I was surprised to hear a voice come alongside me, “Need help finding your way?”

I looked over to see a young woman with a kind smile, “Yes, I’m trying to find the Metro. Should I turn right on 18th?”

“Farragut North?” she replied.

“Yes, that’s it.”

“I’m going there myself. It’s straight ahead.”

As we walked along, we found out a few things about each other. We both had lived in Northern California. Mia had moved to D.C. several years ago for family reasons. I had moved here for family reasons as well. Her husband had smartly bought a home on Capitol Hill two years ago just in time to see the neighborhood go through significant improvements. I also live on Capitol Hill. At the Farragut North station, we parted ways, only to meet up again on the street outside Union Station. It seemed like fate was telling me that our conversation needed to continue.

I had mentioned to Mia while walking on I Street that I was returning from an event at the Arts Club of Washington, D.C. She continued our conversation by asking why I had been there.

“It was a birthday celebration for Walt Whitman. I thought it was going to be a poetry reading, but it turned out to be a poetry operetta of sorts. I don’t know much about opera, but it was enjoyable. It was my first visit to the Art Club. Beautiful place – used to be James Munroe’s house, and for a short time served as the Whitehouse while the first one was being rebuilt after it burned during the War of 1812. I love the history in this town.”

“What other events have you been going to?”

I told Mia about the lecture given by Todd Kilman, author of “The Wild Vine” at the Folger Shakespeare Library last Friday. It’s a true story of intrigue in the world of wine and about a grape that I had never heard of, the Norton grape. The author wove it well – from it’s wild beginnings in the early 1800s as an experiment on Dr. Norton’s farm in Virginia to its demise during prohibition. Thankfully, along the way, a couple of bootleggers, a hog farmer and a pilot interceded on behalf of this humble grape to keep the wild vine alive. In the ’70s, an interesting character by the name of Jenni McCloud took the Norton under her wing along with her six children and brought it back to fruition (pun intended). I learned how Missouri was positioned to become the Napa Valley of the Midwest until the temperance movement and prohibition brought that to an end. After the lecture, I enjoyed a small tasting. The wine is full of character – just like its story.

As we parted ways for the second time, I couldn’t help but smile as I finished my walk home. How unusual, I thought, for a stranger to reach out like Mia did – a woman willing to share her street smarts – but more importantly, a woman of social smarts as well.


About Kathleen Franks

Kathleen Franks is a writer, artist, storyteller, and community volunteer based in Berkeley, CA
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