According to trusty Wikipedia, the geographical center of Washington DC is not the Capitol –from whence the streets get their East, South, North and Westerly denominations, and therefore a likely candidate. It is to be found at the messy intersection of New York Avenue NW, 4th street NW and L Street NW, a little over a mile off.
I’m not making that up, actually– that is a pretty messy intersection. I went through it a couple of days ago and since it’s essentially a six-way stop across a very large avenue (I was on 4th), you can’t really tell where exactly you’ll be turning and which is which street. Frankly, that is one of my least favorite parts of DC: figuring out which street is one-way and which one is one-way for just ONE block and then turns into a one-way the other way.
It makes me squirm, and not in the good way.
Wikipedia may have the geographical center of the city nice and crisp and correct. After all, it is run by total über geeks, and those weirdos are way hard up about getting their little facts straight.
Maybe I should get paid by Wikipedia for all the typos I’ve corrected on their pages, come to think of it.
But I digress: geographical center, shmeographical center. I ask you: where is the heart of DC, then? Does this infinitely transient, supremely self-absorbed and astonishingly materialistic, power-drunk city actually have a heart?
I believe I found it, blog friends: the heart of this city is slightly under two miles away from its true center, a little to the north and west– which makes it look slightly like DC has situs inversus but, really, who cares– in a small, delicious, happy place called Ben’s Chili Bowl.
I’m not the first nor the last to write an ode or a paean to Ben’s Chili Bowl: instead I realize that I’m joining the throng in praising a place that for the past forty-nine years has done something so right that it still stands in its unassuming location on U street, beckoning the hungry and serving amazingly delicious and flavorful food with a smile.
The walls of the place are lined with all manner of illustrious visitors, along with less-recognizable folks: friends and family and appreciative diners. But that is not the first thing you see, of course: this is not a boastful place by any means. However, there is Bill Cosby smiling from the walls –who courted his wife in that very place when he was a student at Howard– and Mayor-For-Life Marion Barry looking down at you rubbing frames with Bono and with Mayor Anthony Williams and with The Orioles and Hillary Clinton. In short, everyone who longs to be someone –and many someones who want to be reminded of it– have made the pilgrimage to this place.
But you ask, "What IS the first thing you see, then?"
Well, I will tell you: it’s either the menu, hovering above the open kitchen, or it’s the warm smiles and helpful attitude of the whole staff. It’s really that simple.
I am not sure what I wish to accomplish telling you how good Ben’s Chili Bowl is, really. I guess we had such a lovely time there –the people and the food are lovely, really. It was refreshing to see an establishment doing things the way they are supposed to be done, for a change: serving good food and treating people nicely. You feel loved and wanted and nurtured there. When you leave, people say a fond goodbye and without actually saying so, they beckon you to return.
And going on the 24th of December, well…. let’s just say that it felt like a Christmas Eve miracle.
I hope your Christmas felt as good as a chili half-smoke, Internets. Happy second day of Christmas, and may your true love give you two turtle doves –preferably made of bone china, instead of the real item.
Unless you’re into birds, that is.