Lost in Space

Lost in Space

Hello everyone! My name is Kwabena Boateng. I’m a senior International Affairs and Chemistry student from Western Kentucky University. This semester I’ll be interning at a non-profit civic agency group called Innovations in Civic Participation (ICP) and, when I’m not busy with work or participating in many activities with the Washington Center, I'll be traveling through D.C. and the surrounding area. Join me as I narrate my next three months in D.C., blemishes and all.

 

Serendipity

So, in the beginning, after the Washington, D.C. area was chosen as the site for the nation’s capital, Pierre L’Enfant, a French architect, laid out the city’s grid. He divided D.C. into quadrants, with the Capitol Building at the center. While this European-inspired lay out looks tidy on a map, it is confusing to navigate… well, at least for me.

 

Full disclosure: I get lost in Wal-Mart.

 

Unsurprisingly, I spent my first day in D.C. perfecting the “Art of Straying.” I was late for the photo-shoot for this blog because of a simple mistake—confusing “NW” for “NE”. Here is what happened:


I was trying to go from the Union Station Metro (A) to the Washington Center’s Residential and Academic Facility (RAF) at NOMA (F), located at 1005 3rd St NE. A friend had instructed me to turn left once I left Union Station. Short-term amnesia led me right, searching for 3rd St, and then following it up until I hit K St (red route). Once I arrived at this intersection (B), I grew irritated at the not finding the Washington Center (TWC) building. Then it hit me: 1005 3rd St. NW isn’t 1005 3rd St. NE. A savvy traveler would’ve just walked down K St. to the NE side. I, being an avid walker, went back toward Union Station, where I called a friend for directions. I arrived at the TWC building, after spending an hour wandering around. The photographer was understanding, and we took the photo a little later than planned.

What does it all mean?

For starters, a headless chicken has better directional sense than I do. I confirmed this when I couldn’t find the exit—yes, the EXIT—doors at the Washington Center, even though the exit and entrance doors are the same.


In addition, D.C. has a learning curve. The grid system looks orderly until you are on a straight street that instantly morphs into another road, only to reappear on the other side of the block (i.e. Massachusetts Ave). Being new to the city, I don’t have any landmarks to use as location references. I’ll be able to figure this out as I familiarize myself with the city.


Lastly, don’t be too afraid of getting lost—it’s actually a good way to have “serendipity moments.” Getting lost in D.C. can sometimes be like getting lost in a treasure chest, with many chance opportunities to bump into a hole-in-the wall restaurant, unexpected historical monuments, or hidden museums. On my second day here, I was supposed to meet with my TWC group for a tour at Capitol Hill. A couple wrong streets later, I arrived to find my group gone. However, I joined another tour—led by a lady from Kentucky—that examined the Brumidi Corridors, a series of murals in the Capitol Building. Our knowledgeable guide identified Senators who would pass by as she explained the artwork. It was a worthwhile trade-off for being late and missing my original tour. On Saturday, I got lost trying to find a bar to watch a soccer game, and ended up in the middle of a stand-off between pro-life and pro-choice groups at a Planned Parenthood center. I've even received a free copy of the New Republic just from being in the wrong place at the right time. 

Words of Wisdom

A few tips for other headless chickens!
•    Ask for help. D.C. residents are very, very helpful. Even the ones in uniform, carrying automatic rifles are approachable for directions.
•    For the rare Luddite (myself included), the Metro stations have paper route maps of the metrorail and metrobuses. Bus stops generally have maps or routes posted nearby.
•    Don’t! I mean DO NOT aimlessly travel at night. Go with someone. Nighttime prowlers have an appetite for headless chickens—I’m almost learned this three summers ago.
•    And lastly, just explore—you never know who or what you might bump into in this city.

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