“The National Harbor” – should be called “Poserville”
Last Saturday, we were in Washington D.C., getting ready to come home after some great museum visiting. We heard that some friends were going to be playing music at a place we had never been to before called the “National Harbor.” That all sounded pretty good and we went off in search of it anticipating some historically significant place frequented by ships and sailors for 200-300 years or so. After a tedious drive east over the Anacostia River, we eventually found I-295 and headed south, where we found a dedicated exit ramp just for the “National Harbor.” As we headed in, my interest was piqued by a modern sculpture by the highway that must be 70 feet tall. It wasn’t a particularly great sculpture, but any place that has a seventy foot tall sculpture may be OK.
But as we rounded the bend, we saw this place – a completely new built environment. A planned community planned only for the consumption of cash. It was all by itself on the river bank, not another house or building anywhere nearby, and plenty of space around, but we still had to pay to park. I thought paid parking developed in places where space was at such a premium that demand made it worthwhile to pay… but here they’ve got you by the short hairs in their planned money trap, and so you have to pay or go away. Well, we decided to try it out, since our friends were supposed to be in there somewhere playing a gig.
Once past the parking gate, we found ourselves awash in commercial spew. Our friend’s band had long since left the building, and now the whole “community” was throbbing to techno-beat hogwash blaring from loudspeakers planted all along the waterfront. Every ten yards or so there were banner stands displaying corporate logos, saving us from having any moment where we might wonder who was sponsoring our wonderful experience (“Red Bull” seemed to be the sponsor on this day. I’ve never tried it and probably never will).
Well, we were thirsty and hungry, and so we decided to try one of the several brandy new restaurants there by the waterfront. We entered one and were told there would be a 30 minute wait. We asked if we could sit at the bar and were granted entry. Once inside, we noticed that only about 30 percent of the tables were occupied, while crowds of 20 and 30 something people talking and texting on cell phones waited out their 30 minutes in the cue over by the entrance. This was a new level of commercialism… I imagine that some “producer” decided that the only good restaurant was one where you have to wait to be seated, so this place must have a mandatory 30 minute wait policy. Geez Louise! We quickly downed two draft beers which we paid $14 for, and left the building.
From there we wandered around a bit, hoping for a good place to eat, but just found more of the same over-produced, soul-less crapola. Everywhere I looked there were people with over-thought costumes and over-worked hair standing about texting. We saw several scenes of entire tables by the waterside where everyone at the table was looking at their cell phones and typing. What fun! Still wandering around, we hoped for something good in the architecture, but all we found were scenes that looked more like architectural renderings than real life. There were more sculptures… In the “town” center there were two metal birds on tall pillars that finally gave me the feeling that what I was seeing was the architecture that fascists would be building today if they had won World War II. …Hey, maybe they did win!
There was one sculpture by the waterside that was pretty good and unlike the rest of the crap there. I found out later that this sculpture had been made before the development and was purchased by the developers. The sculpture features a half buried figure reaching up from the beach as if to avoid the grave. With it’s groping hand reaching skyward it appeared to be clutching the sky in agony. The spastic looking hand kind of echoed the feeling I had in my gut. It gave some poetic irony to the place.
We never did bother to try and eat while we were there. After I shot some photos we got the hell out of there and went across the river to old town Alexandria, where we found some great Thai food and an even greater urban environment that had been mashed together over 300 years lacking much apparent planning. By comparison, it was wonderfully disorganized and random. I loved it!