Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Kind Of Town

I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, about one mile south of National Airport.  My family moved to the house in Alexandria in 1949.  We lived there until New Year’s Eve, 1970. These are some random memories of Washington, D. C, the city very near our house.

Washington was just a 15–minute bus ride from my house.  I rode the number 12 bus on the old AB&W (Alexandria, Barcroft, and Washington) line to 12th and Pennsylvania Avenue, where stood the Main Post Office (now the “Old” Post Office Pavilion).  The ride cost a dime. From 12th & Penn, I walked everywhere in DC: to museums (the Smithsonian museums were then and are now free), the National Gallery of Art (also free), to movies, to book stores, and to places like the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument.  My Mom worked most of the time from 1949 through 1969 at the General Services Administration (GSA) which was and is at 17th and F Streets, an easy walk.  When I was older, I often would meet her and we’d have lunch together.  I spent at least one day a week during the summers in DC from the time I was 12 until I started working myself in 1970.  I love Washington!  It is my favorite city in the world, followed closely by San Francisco.  Rome and Barcelona also are high on my list, but both are way below DC.

My mother’s mother was a Kennedy, but not one of the Kennedy's.  My Mom adored John F. Kennedy because he had that name, and because he was, she thought, very handsome.  In 1960, when John Kennedy was a candidate for President, my Mom, my brother, and I went to hear him speak at the old George Washington High School in Alexandria.  That was the high school I attended for my freshman year, and the High School from which my brother graduated (Class of ‘67).  When he was elected, my mother set about getting tickets to see Kennedy’s inaugural parade.  From somewhere, she got passes for her, my bother, and me to watch the parade from the balcony above the entrance to the Main Post Office building (see arrow in picture above).  It was a bitterly cold day, and the streets had just been cleared of about 20 inches of snow that had fallen the day before.  My Dad drove us into town, and we were in place above Pennsylvania Avenue in plenty of time.  We saw Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, along with future Presidents Johnson and Nixon, drive to the Capitol from the White House.  We listened to Kennedy’s famous speech on my brand–new (and still fairly rare) transistor radio.  Then we watched the parade and saw President and Mrs. Kennedy, President and Mrs. Eisenhower, President Truman, Vice President and Mrs. Nixon, Vice President and Mrs. Johnson, Sam Reyburn (then Speaker of the House), and many, many other officials whose names I can’t remember.  All of them passed by us in open limousines.  We got a very good look at President Kennedy, Jackie, and other members of the family.  We saw President Eisenhower and Mamie.  All the people who now are in history books right before our eyes!  It was an amazing day!

I saw my first Broadway musical, a road company production of The Sound of Music, in 1962 at the National Theater on E Street in DC.  My mother got tickets for her Aunt (my Great Aunt) Martha and me to see the play, and we took the bus into DC and saw it.  I’ll never forget the thrill of this first experience of live professional theater.  I had had the Broadway cast album of the show since 1959 and I knew every song by heart.  It was a magical experience that, to this day, makes me want to get in the car and go to Manhattan so I can feast on a week of Broadway shows.  Aunt Martha, in her 50's at the time, was blown away, too.  It was an incredible experience.

My brother was and is a huge baseball nut.  When we were little, our Mom somehow managed to get tickets to a game between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees at the old Griffith Stadium in DC.  I bitched and complained, little gay boy that I was, at having to go to the game.  But now I can say that I saw Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford (along with some other now–legendary ballplayers) play baseball.  In 1962, Mom got us tickets to go to the All Star Game in what is now RFK Stadium.  It had just opened a year or so earlier.  I don’t remember anything about that game except my total fear at being seated so high up in the stands.

When our four kids were little, I took them as often as their mother would let me into DC.  I especially enjoyed taking them in the wintertime when the tourists were mostly gone and we had the place to ourselves.  I dragged them to all my favorite childhood places, plus some new favorites, like the Kennedy Center, that had sprouted up after I was an adult.  They complained sometimes, but generally I think they enjoyed the city, and I’m pretty sure all four of them, like me, love DC.

A word about the song I chose to accompany this post:  I hate Cats!  But I love this song, Memory,  The musical was the favorite show of my favorite aunt and my godmother, Marie Jenkins Rizzoto.  And the song was her all-time favorite song.  I can't agree with her on the show, but I do agree that the song is well done.  I'm happy to include it in here in her memory.  She died at age 80 on April 15, 1997.  Rest in peace, Marie.  I love you!

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