The grass is impossibly green here. The thick, well-tended lawn in the communal courtyard between rows of townhouses is a sharper, bolder shade of green than I imagined existed. When the long summer abruptly ended and a brief colorful Fall arrived, leaves from trees arranged neatly around the courtyard floated down. The pretty bright, yellow leaves and the burnt, orange leaves scattered all about the red brick walkways. That wouldn’t do, of course. A team of six workers with leaf blowers arrived to tidy them up, bearing standard handheld leaf blowers resembling the particle guns used to trap ghosts in the movie Ghostbuster. Except for one worker who had something like a leaf cannon trailing along behind him. He deployed it in a strategic spot in one corner of the courtyard where it churned up a swirling cloud of colorful leaves in its blast, effective artillery against the Fall.
Sometimes the large townhouse with its view of a perfectly tended communal lawn scrubbed clean of Fall leaves felt like it had its own ecosystem with an incredible gravity equal to perhaps three times earth’s natural gravity. So, I pushed myself up from the couch one day. It was a bright Sunday morning when I first achieved escape velocity from the living room sofa. That couch had been trying to lull me to sleep. To keep me in a semi-comatose state for an entire day watching football. The deplorable Washington football team was on television as always. I’d left the deplorable Jets behind in New York City and somehow traded down for an equally deplorable Washington team with a most probably racist nickname. Almost definitely racist. About 99.87 percent racist. In any event, I was up from the couch.
I walked down the sidewalk about a mile and a half along the very gloomily named Gallows Road to the Old Dominion Trail. Fashioned out of what was once an old railroad track, the Old Dominion goes for many miles in either direction. Bikers, hikers and casual strollers share the narrow green 42 mile strip. I headed toward Vienna. It’s about another mile to Vienna from the point where you get on the trail. Vienna is small. It has a lot of annoying four-way intersections in which civility and rules of the road are well-tested. But there’s something about the town. It’s got a spunky civic optimism I admire.
We live in Vienna, technically. We have a Vienna address. The town is listed clearly on my new Virginia driver’s license underneath the worst photograph ever taken of me. Yes, we’re Viennese. Viennans. We’re Veinnites. Who could say we’re not, when so many substantial documents such as several utility bills and our lease declare our residency? Except we don’t actually live in the town of Vienna. We live about two miles from the town limits in Fairfax County close by a short soulless commercial strip called Tyson’s Corner, known mostly for a pair of exceptionally large shopping malls I try to avoid on general principle.
We moved in August from an apartment in Downtown Manhattan to live in a quiet town home in not-Vienna, Virginia. I’ve realized slowly what a radical move we made. It might have been wise to live for a few months or at least a season in a “half-way town” in the same way that prisoners released suddenly from an overcrowded prison are given time to acclimate to a new environment in a half-way house. But New York City wasn’t a prison. It was more like being in the deep end of the sea with a lot of strange, bewildering creatures. Divers who have been down in the depths of the ocean are told not to rise too quickly, or they will get the bends. I have a mild case of the “suburban bends.” It’s a first-world problem, I know, but there it is.
It’s possible to drive into Washington, D.C. from our home. It’s about a thirty-minute drive. Once you arrive in The District you will discover there is nowhere to park, or you will find parking roughly three miles from your destination. Or you can pay $15 to park in a deck for an hour, which seems criminal to me. And the traffic on the way to DC is notoriously horrible. Despite using my cell phone’s map, I always feel I deserve a small reward when I arrive or escape from D.C. because there are a thousand turns and the highway lanes are always disappearing for no good reason. So, I much prefer to take the Metro. But the Metro is expensive. And I can’t help comparing it to the subway system in New York City, which goes to nearly every corner of every borough and is dirt cheap by comparison. Yes, it’s dirtier and weirder than the Metro. But that’s part of its charm.
Since I haven’t been able to quite wean myself off my big-city addiction in nearby DC., I’ve tried hard to annex nearby Vienna as a residence. I walked past the small community center one day and sat in the grandstands while a girls softball team played. Moms sat in fold-out chairs with large coffee mugs in the chair cup pockets cheering loudly. The dads were quieter but equally attentive. Coaches and players encouraged one another. On another slow Sunday, I took my visiting mom into Vienna for the town’s annual Oktoberfest. The streets were lined with food vendors and merchants. A band played Oompah music. A local political official dressed in lederhosen and suspenders registered me to vote on the spot. I wondered if his mustache was real or part of his costume and then decided it didn’t matter. It was like living inside a Norman Rockwell painting.
Vienna is well-scrubbed, industrious and earnest where New York is dirty, creative and bustling with chaotic energy. I realize I’m looking through rose-colored glasses at Vienna just as I once did for New York City. Wanting and needing it to be more than it can possibly be. But as the cold winter days keep me indoors now, I get a nervous twitch thinking about Vienna. There is more to do in D.C, certainly. We’ve been to a Washington Wizards basketball game, visited several amazing museums and eaten at some nice restaurants. We’ve toured the grand and glorious monuments and seen our reflections in the reflecting pool. Taken pictures of the much-beloved, celebrity pandas in the zoo as they munched indolently on Eucalyptus leaves.
But at heart, I’m a confirmed Viennite. Waiting for Spring to come so I can walk down a long trail to my newly adopted home town again.