Washington in the Summer is a strange combination of the look of Europe with the weather of Asia. The dress code doesn’t change very much, and the pace of life stays more or less the same, but for three miserable months, the city is attacked horribly by a calculated and savage humidity that humiliates everyone equally – we sweat, and we do it like pigs in a sauna; we have not even a hint of shame as a glaze of sweat gathers on our brows and backs.
I worked at the Organization of American States this summer and during my time there I witnessed Latin American conflicts first hand. One morning I came across my Panamanian friend in a suit, running, briefcase in hand, toward a waiting Cadillac. Something was afoot. He turned to me and said, “Tell Barter I’ve been called to advise Panama over the incident.” What incident? Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez switched off some radio and TV channels and suddenly an 18-year-old was sprinting across Healy Lawn. The District bustles with this frantic yet professional energy in the summer.
Official D.C. – that boxy place across the Rock Creek Park – retains its composure despite the heat. Pinstriped politicians hurry by on phones – in pumps, perhaps. They never lose propriety no matter what it costs in laundry detergent per week. By my unscientific estimate, sampled across two months of walking from K Street to Constitution Avenue, it takes exactly one and a half blocks before the first bead of sweat hits. After that, the battle has been lost and no amount of walking from shaded patch to office doorway for an air-conditioned exhalation will save you. Drenched is a conservative verb for your limp clothes when you gently pull them off at midnight.
Back in Georgetown, the pace is slower. We briefly rest pathetic feet encased in oxfords and wingtips, then we’re off. The happy hours commence. The lounges rotate volume dials. Drinks begin to flow. Soon a knot is loosened on a tie, elsewhere a jacket is slung oh-so-casually on to a bar stool. A hand fits another and off they go to dance. It is nice to see these workaholics loosen up. Their prematurely dour expressions shift to sly grins – more befitting their willingly surrendered and fast disappearing youth.
Work hard, play hard, drink. Now it’s nine and tapas arrive; something zesty and quick. Steal a kiss, but by now the world is blurry. Stumble out, having lost your friends and hail a friendly taxi. By the time you’re home, it’s shower, scrub off, throw the damp clothes into a washing machine and hit the mattress. Hard.
But during the day there is much work, no play. Facebook keeps us connected and allows the interns to take a sip of our friends’ glamorous Greek holidays and improbably beautiful European flings. Back to the water cooler and then to the desk; more Excel – Powerpoint if you’re lucky. Word if you’re not.
Another day as an intern begins and you repeat. I suppose in that humidity one could even lather, rinse and repeat. It is a strange glimpse into the center of power. As plankton watching sharks and whales, we interns enjoyed a view of movers and shakers moving and shaking – not a privilege many enjoy. But beware, fellow plankton: Some of those whales and shark have a nasty bite. Come in sloppy or hung over and D.C.’s unblinking sunlight will go dark on you.