It’s been a full decade since we moved from Pittsburgh to Silver Spring, Maryland and the DC area, at least as of tomorrow. I guess that we should celebrate. Given how expensive it is to live here, it would be hard to celebrate without shelling out some serious cash. Still, it’s been a mostly good ten years for me and my wife (and my son, who’s only six) while living as Marylanders in the land of milk and honey. There are other places I’d strongly consider living, and not just in the US. But it’s a pretty short list — including Seattle, Chicago, Philly, North Carolina, the Bay Area, Canada (Toronto and Vancouver), the UK, and New Zealand. Overall, living in this area has reflected our change in socioeconomic status and income and life aspirations over the past decade.
This wasn’t the first time I’d spent a significant chunk of time living in the DC area. In ’95, as part of my doctoral thesis research on Black Washington, DC, I moved to DC. I lived in Shepherd Park, just two blocks from the DC/Maryland border, for nearly two months. I’d been to DC before, in ’92, ’93, and twice in ’94, but this was my first extended stay. Despite my shared house experience and constant research at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Charles Sumner School Museum (DC Public Schools’ archives), the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (Howard University), and the Columbia Historical Society (among others), I had a wonderful time down here meeting new folks and enjoying the sights.
Still, even that and my other seven trips to DC after that two-month extended stay didn’t fully prepare me for living here as a permanent resident. Unlike my previous trips and stay, I was coming down to the DC area as an engaged man. Two days before we moved out of my future wife’s apartment off North Negley Avenue in East Liberty, we were officially engaged. I made a point of picking out a ring a week before the move. I went to a jewelry store in suburban Pittsburgh, picked out an engagement ring that I could afford, and brought it back to our place. Angelia was there, sweaty and tired from packing up the bedroom, wearing her stain-prone yellow tee-shirt. That’s the moment I chose to bend my right knee and propose.
So, the move to DC was wrapped around both taking a new job and beginning a new life with a woman I fell in love with. So much so that I was willing to give up the remnants of my single-ness to marry her. It was also about trying to find a culture and social middle ground between the po-dunk-ness of the ‘Burgh and the overwhelming and nasty pace of the New York City area. For both Angelia and me, the DC area seemed to be the right fit. A diverse city — one far more diverse that Pittsburgh — and a powerful one as well, one where almost anyone could find a job paying at least $30,000 a year. This was the place for us, for me, for the next phase of our lives to unfold.
Even with all of the advantages that four combined degrees and good job experience brought, the DC area has proved to be a heck of a hard place to work and to maintain an income necessary to both pay off debt and have substantial savings. Even now, the place we pay over $1,800 a month for would likely go for $750 or $800 in Pittsburgh. (Of course, it would probably go for $3,500 in Harlem). Noah’s childcare would’ve paid off my student loans in total (with about $10,000 left over), would’ve been a great downpayment for a house, or would’ve bought us a good-sized Mercedes. The area’s just an expensive place for a family to make it good.
But if that were the only issue that we faced, it wouldn’t be that big a challenge. DC, however, does offer other kinds of challenges. Like around the kinds of jobs one can get in the area. For all of the ambiance of the area, it’s not New York. There are more kinds of nonprofit jobs in this area than there are in NYC, but fewer management-level positions. There are tons of government positions here, but most of them cluster around entry or slightly above entry-level. Corporate jobs are fewest in middling positions, and it helps to have a law degree for many of the upper-level jobs.
For me, it has been both a wonderful and frustrating experience as a nonprofit manager and administrator for most of the ten years that I’ve been here. Wonderful because I’ve worked with some good people on important initiatives. Frustrating because the money does eventually run out, the teams are broken up and dispersed, and the work does end.
Plus, this area’s becoming more and more like New York City used to be with each passing year. Crazy drivers, rude pedestrians, bizarre crimes, overpriced and undercooked food at restaurants. There’s a long lines for everything, and too much jostling for everything from Sade tickets to free pizza at the Taste of Bethesda event. The hustle and bustle of the city, of the Metro system, of downtown Silver Spring, reminds me more and more of Midtown Manhattan in the ’80s. It leaves me tired just watching it most of the time.
That doesn’t mean that I’m ready to move, at least not this second. Noah’s school district — Montgomery County Public Schools — is one of the best school districts in the country. The amount that comes out of our paychecks in taxes kind of shows how this could be so, and we don’t pay property tax. Angelia is more socially connected to the DC area that I am. And I want a situation that makes sense for all of us, not just me. So here we stay, at least for now. What the future holds, I’m not entirely sure. What I am sure of, though, is that if there’s another move, it’ll be to a place with the dynamism of the DC area without all of its expenses and toxicity.