During the last night in my condo in DC, I had to walk my dog an extra lap around the block because a crazy person was outside screaming obscenities. I wasn’t afraid. I just didn’t feel like getting into it with him or having to listen to his story—his “Let me just tell you something,” attempt to get money from me. It was 1 A.M., and I was tired from a night out—but more so, just tired in general. Tired of it all.
I’m a city kid, through and through. And not a recent one. Not some Nebraska transplant who moved to the city and immediately thinks of himself as a local. A woman tried that on me once. With her affected upspeak cadence, where declarations sound like interrogatories, she told me she was from “Brook-LAN?” “No, you’re not,” I retorted (obnoxiously, being the 6th generation New Yorker that I am). “You LIVE in Brooklyn. People who are really from there don’t pronounce it like that.”
My uncle Bob, the family historian (and former Congressman representing our neighborhood from Queens) traces our family in Manhattan since the 1840’s. Between my Irish dad, from the Irish part of Manhattan, and my Italian Mom, from the Italian part of Brooklyn, we have family or friends in practically every part of the city. New York is not just where we live; it’s like a family member, as loved as offspring, as revered as a grandparent, as formative as a mom and dad.
City-living in America, for decades, meant tolerating mild inconveniences so that you could be left alone, alongside millions of others.
I left that family member in 2003, when I moved to Washington, DC for work. It’s not New York, but it’s still the city, and, for the past 17 years, it’s been an exciting time to call it home. I’ve witnessed the birth of entire neighborhoods: Shaw, 14th Street, The Atlas District, Navy Yard, Ivy City, The Wharf. Parts of DC you couldn’t even drive through at one point now had Michelin Star dining and outdoor beer gardens. From abandoned streets with burnt-out buildings—many still bearing the scorched marks from the fires of the ‘68 riots—multi-million-dollar row houses were restored, new condos arose, and wine bars and gyms multiplied like Abraham’s offspring.
We put up with a lot in order to live in the city: lousy transportation, noise, traffic, pollution, and our fair share of homeless people. It’s all just a part of living in urban America. But I’ll gladly tolerate sirens and car horns in exchange for a new restaurant on the corner. For major league sports, performing arts, museums, and bars, I will put up with the occasional crazy guy on the street, metro derailment, or gridlocked traffic because an intersection is blocked by some group “raising awareness” about something or other. That’s just the price of the urban lifestyle, and as a life-long city dweller, I knew what I was paying for—and with what.
I did my part, too. My role in the fabric of urban society, overlooked but essential, was to spend my money. Eat, drink, shop, spend, tip, pay. And man, did I pay: taxes, rents, then a mortgage and HOA fees. I paid taxes on things the government deemed “bad” for me, like alcohol and cigarettes; taxes on services which organized labor deemed “bad” for them, like rideshare. I paid gas tax, cable tax, cell phone tax, and, of course, income tax. Lots of income tax.
All I asked in return was relative safety and to be left alone to enjoy the city. City-living in America, for decades, meant tolerating mild inconveniences so that you could be left alone, alongside millions of others. That was the tacit pact.
And DC broke it.
MAYOR BOWSER’S BETRAYAL
Remember the clip-board activists stopping you on the street, asking, “Hey, do you have a minute to talk about the environment?” You could easily walk right past, brush them off with a simple “no thank you,” or just ignore them completely.
Now, we are told that, “silence equals violence.” Indifference is no longer tolerated in Urban America. Protests on the National Mall like “Earth Day” or “The Women’s March,” the kind where activists gave speeches over megaphones and colorful signs demanding this or that were standard in DC—and, importantly, easily avoided. That style of protest is gone.
Now, we have riots, vandalism, and looting. “Protesters” set fire to an historic church and tear down statues. The protests, they say, must disrupt the status quo—and egging them on are media personalities like CNN’s Chris Cuomo, who said live, on the air, “please show me where it says protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful?”
Do the property taxes I’ve faithfully paid for years not protect the CVS I can see from my bedroom—a building which recently had every window smashed and was looted because of “justice”?
I used to go for afternoon tea at the St. Regis Hotel on 16th Street; it’s now been renamed to “Black Lives Matter Plaza.” Tea was expensive, excessive, and extremely elegant served impeccably in a magnificent room to properly attired patrons who politely spoke in hushed tones, a little taste of a bygone era when etiquette and formality were still appreciated.
The St. Regis is now girded with plywood barricades that have been spray painted with curse words. Outside, people routinely set fires and have fights with the police. If I went back, I’m sure some neo-liberal philosopher of the BLM cult will tell me that clotted cream is a microaggression. The tea just isn’t worth it anymore.
Nothing in DC is anymore. Not to me, at least.
The pact we made to live here has broken. What am I paying for? A defunded police force? More murder? More violence? Do the property taxes I’ve faithfully paid for years not protect the CVS I can see from my bedroom—a building which recently had every window smashed and was looted because of “justice”? When the metro was lousy, we turned to Uber. When the schools were failing, parents turned to charter schools. When one area turned bleak another neighborhood popped up. But when chaos and destruction permeate, and an exhausted people asking for relief are told their indifference–not violent looters—is the true culprit, then there is no alternative but to leave.
The protesters may think this is their moment, but there is a deep, dark secret that will crush every disaffected group now demanding “justice” or “awareness” is this: city people really don’t care. We have an amazing, almost unparalleled ability, to be indifferent.
Real city people have no bandwidth to lay down dead in the street or start fires as part of a “protest.” Look at our day: after our miserable commute to work, we have long days in the office, followed by happy hour, client dinners, drinks, maybe a fundraiser or two or having cigars at Shelly’s—and that doesn’t include going to the gym, picking up dry cleaning, seeing our actual friends or spouse, and that miserable commute back home. Quite honestly, we don’t have time for your cause—of which there are so many, so very many causes, so much so that even a city as liberal DC just does not care.
Gay? Black? Trans? No offense, but, so what? We are city people: we have seen it all—literally, all—our entire lives. You are our neighbors, our friends, the president of our HOAs, our coworkers. The great beauty of the city is that we come from all walks of life and we get along. We accomplish this by leaving each other alone.
That’s why, when DC’s Mayor Bowser spray painted “Black Lives Matter” in front of my tea spot, I knew I was done. Not because of the issue itself or the cause (remember I don’t really care) but because through her actions, Bowser effectively mandated empathy. This was government-sanctioned compassion. The mayor used taxpayer dollars—the one’s I’ve forked over for years—to force her beliefs on me. And, just like that, the pact was broken.
DC NEEDS ME, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND
Following Bowser’s grand gesture, the litany of grievances against the city which I had been unconsciously accumulating for years began to pour out. Why do I accept that it’s dangerous to ride public transportation after hours? Why do I accept that if I go to the ATM on Barrack’s Row, I will have a homeless guy pounding on the door waiting for me to come out? Why do I tolerate my car windows smashed, again and again, only to have both cops and friends say, “well, you must have left something on the seat”—as if it’s acceptable to commit a crime if the reward is valuable? Why do I tolerate streets full of urine and stinking of marijuana? Why do I put up with having to stick my fingers into my dog’s throat to unchoke chicken bones someone discarded on the sidewalk? Why do I have to wait until an hour after the local school is dismissed to avoid problems with teen gangs? And take note: I have yet to even talk about the big crime events like murder or rape.
A man can only tolerate a homeless guy defecating outside his window for so long. The shuttered restaurants, the burnt out stores, the mask-shaming and sloganeering calls for “diversity” or “justice” are all just exhausting, not to mention intellectually vapid and morally bankrupt. I’m going a step further: not only will I not be conscripted into your cause, but I will no longer even financially support it with the one thing I control—my wallet.
I am a buying, consuming, spending, law-abiding DC citizen, one who adds and adds to the city’s coffers and never takes.
The thing is, DC cannot afford to lose me. Not “me” as a person, but “me” as a citizen. Economically, I am extremely valuable to the city. I have no kids in their failing schools. I use no government welfare services for food, housing, or health. I pay them taxes and patronize their stores, businesses, and shops. I am a buying, consuming, spending, law-abiding DC citizen, one who adds and adds to the city’s coffers and never takes. DC needs me. Cities need me. Cities are now angry, dangerous, garbage dumps. I’ll take my money elsewhere.
Urban America is run by fools: Bowser in DC, DeBlasio in New York, Wheeler in Portland. If I included Lightfoot on this list of fools (as I write this 15 people were shot in a drive-by in Chicago) I’d need another month to expand on it. These cities are run by fools who think that even a modicum of destruction expands the space for the lungs of justice to breathe more deeply. Fools who think that a class of people, the neglected and unappreciated class, the giving class, the me class, will fund a negligent absentee government in the hopes of a new oyster bar. Fools who may yet destroy their great cities, but not with the silent citizenship of my taxes.
I’ve left—we are leaving.
I haven’t moved that far from DC geographically—only about 60 miles—but it might as well be another country. Deer at dawn and stars at twilight. My dog runs through the woods and plays in streams. Ample parking day or night, people shouting “howdy neighbor.” Grocery store cashiers are friendly. I can leave my car unlocked, my front door wide open, and protect myself with every gun I could ever want. No sirens, no protests, no civic social justice required.
I’ll miss the city, for sure. But I could no longer humiliate myself by paying a city government to force me into their belief system and political agenda, all while scoffing at my basic needs and demanding I give more. Out here, no one really cares what I think or compels me to their cause, shouts in my face or attempts to shame me into belief.
People: just leave me alone. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.