When last we traveled with Gyra, Dansel Darrons and their Boatman Stinson, the three had just finished up a holiday at the biggest Red-And-Gold-Reserve any of them had ever seen. Their time at the Anacostia River resort and casino had also refreshed them—happily—and refunded them a bit of tangible fortune—finally—such that they could continue on their adventure through post-apocalyptic 2012 Washington, DC…
Stinson, though he’d left their boat behind (and it also did possess a gasoline engine), still went along using the lone wooden oar as his walking stick. As they hiked up out of the Columbia Heights subway station, he ignored the swell of echoing young-people’s argument, or love spat, or God knows what it could have been coming out of Dansel and Gyra:
“A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me.”
“’The soul that is within me no man can degrade.’ And so, He says to you that, yes, you are a man, and no, you can’t get on my last nerve today, Gyra…”
“No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck!’ Frederick Douglass said that, also.”
And Dansel Darrons was ready with another quote from the Father Abolitionist, but old Stinson blocked their way with his oar, “He may have said that, ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress’, but I swear to God almighty, that if the two of you don’t shut up, I’ll be strugglin’ to make progress going upside both yo’ heads with my oar.”
Stinson left them frustrated and standing far behind them, underneath the blackened glass awning that still covered the stagnated escalators down into the Columbia Heights metro (abandoned even in their legendary disrepair long, long ago!). The old gentleman was interested in seeing the Temple to Target and all the amazing sanctuary it was said to provide, still, to peoples from all around the city. He could hear the garrulous crowd, they all began to. Final mumblings of Gyra and Dansel’s ridiculous argument began to spurt and pass underneath the sound of actual shopping going on. Casual shopping. People buying things they didn’t need, people buying oils from vendors off of the streets, or t-shirts just because something nice was printed on the front. Just like the olden days, before the Near-Revolution. Gyra was finally able to stop baiting Dansel when another woman on the street complimented her dress.
Stinson read “I fought at Fort Stevens and all I got was this stupid t-shirt” printed on a blue shirt through a window. He cackled, screamed it, pumped the long oar over his head with both hands. “And there’s a guy dressed like it’s the Civil War all over again, smiling like a fool—and he’s got the highway wall raised up behind him, anyways. Do you see it?” He wiped at the edge of his mouth, yelled again, “Doesn’t anyone?!”
“I don’t like the way you get when there’s a chance that our buying things might happen…” Dansel had Gyra by the arm, and now he stopped fumbling with something inside his pocket and snatched hold of Stinson’s bony arm too. “Let us not all break our wallets again.”
People in jeans, carrying brand name purses, looking up from under shades turned and stared these three weirdos dressed much like the man in the t-shirt, squeezed their way down Irving Street.
They were also going downhill.
People will do that when they are tired, at least, that was Dansel’s excuse. “…Or, maybe I’m doing the second most responsible thing and trying to find us more free Smart Trip coupons at the next Red-And-Gold-Reserve. Are either of you paying attention? Are either of you going to help?”
Stinson dragged his boat’s oar along a silver fence, which disturbed young boys who were playing basketball in a schoolyard. It was an impressive structure still, much of the middle school had survived the near-revolution, and they had the District’s flag hoisted high ontop of the adjoining high school complex. Its flag pole was taller than the one for the American flag because, though they seemed to enjoy having both flags, they kept the District’s flag at half-mast.
Stinson stopped making noise when he saw it. “Mhrm, and they’re teaching those kids right, too.”
“Oh, my, how this neighborhood has changed…” Gyra fanned herself.
“But you’ve never set foot outside of Northeast. Not even to go away to school… you took the train from Union Station to Boston, I should wring you a neck to wring… can’t even see your neck the collar of your dress is so ridiculous.”
“But it’s what you say, when you’re in DC, and you don’t want to look like a tourist. Or, if you want to appear like somebody who did apply for and was awarded a fed-diss-pass for gettin’ beyond the highway walls—I suppose that’s also true.”
They walked into a large main street, not bothering with the traffic lights. Cars honked and swerved. People waiting for the light to change took audible breaths.
Stinson rapped something on the hood with his oar—it was almost going too fast to tell exactly what kind of vehicle. Dansel cussed and got them all to hasten safely to the other sidewalk.
“Oh, my, how proper and nice people are here, waiting for the light to cross…”
Stinson agreed, “Very few souls want to tangle with jay walking across the mighty Sixteenth Street. I mean, they still try for it, but it was too dangerous for most back even in my day.”
“Goodness–was that the real Sixteenth Street! Does it really go all the way to the White House? Can Obama see it from where he is? Should we wait for the green light when it’ll be safe, then carve up a piece of it, to take back home? Quick, go get it before Maryland decides to take its land back too…”
And these kinds of exclamations were why Stinson rarely said anything useful to the other people in his group. So then, when Gyra and Dansel began to follow a crowd further down the hill towards the next street, called Mount Pleasant, Stinson heard the drums, eyed the streamers, smelled the meat of who knows roasting, and said nothing.
This, another main street, was fenced off, and there were men sitting on horses waving people through. The loudest block party they had ever encountered was going on behind it.
“If ever I was going to sell my football tickets… it’s in there, Gyra. Or, that would also satisfy as a good place to get more subway passes for us.”
“Sir. I thought we were here to help me find a good job? That was the fortune the mystic lady told me, that’s what I thought we were all friends together doing… helping me get cured of this urban despair disease. It’s real, a family disease, and I’m going to whither and die before your eyes if you don’t start taking me more seriously.”
What of his eyes? Dansel rolled them.
One of the guards on horseback brought his horse over. The animal sort of side-stepped to the music. Or, his rider had asked it to, Gyra clearly couldn’t tell the difference, she was smiling too hard.
“Should I waste un piropo on someone like you? Maybe you’re too good for it in that dress, we don’t know. Pero… es un color brillante, y sabes otra cosa? El color más hermosa, que he visto en todo me vida, se mueve—viva—con cada respiración dulcita, sube el vestido.”
“That was disgusting.” scowled Stinson.
Dansel became uncomfortable. “Sir… she can understand you. Fair warning. Also, how much does this all cost? Is this a block party happening, along this Mount Pleasant street?”
“It’s twenty four hours, seven days a week. And, if you walk up and down the block, you will see how well this festival sustains the beautiful tenements and properties near the park… No longer the other way around.”
They couldn’t have understood, but this man, he said his name was Alfonso, tipped hat and couldn’t have been more proud.
“What are all those blue and white flags? Is Mount Pleasant ceded from the District?”
“No, we’re handing them out. Lots of people here are from El Salvador, como yo… and lots of other places. And not just Latin America. Ben, my partner over there, is Vietnamese, and then we have Haitian food down on that side, and burgers and all kinds of stuff, so whatever you want to remember about DC—or whatever you want to get away from, you’ll feel like you’re in a whole other place, definitely get your money’s worth. I recommend the coconut guy. He cuts it with a machete right in front of you, then puts a little umbrella in it. And I’m Alfonso. Y como se llama, dulcita? Quería tomar algo…”
Dansel made a face, and powered through more shifty eyes made at his friend, who happened to be a girl. “How much?”
“Three hundred, for all of you.”
“There’s no discount for Dulcy, whatever who you clearly want to chat up? Gyra, don’t offer him anything of yours until we get something knocked off the price.”
“What? But I wasn’t—”
“Tranquilla… It’s more like a hotel fee.” Alfonso swept off his hat, as his horse got bored, lashed tail and stepped backwards. He got the reigns and urged them both forward again. “It’s for the whole day and the evening, check-out is noon. But we are surviving by our cultures here, on the Pleasant Mountain. Not since a lot of the folks on that side of the street, got diss-passes and moved out beyond the highway.” he gestured vaguely, someplace even further down the hill, past the meat smoke and people in regalia gathering behind the chainlink fence. Some of them were almost nude, in what looked like Mardis Gras costumes. Far beyond all this, deep, deep, green and into the trees, were crumbling row houses covered over with vines.
Ben finished with his cigarette and looked up from where he was passing down tickets, “A lot of good people didn’t want to leave people after the near-revolution though, so they stayed and helped with this whole marketing plan…”
“Shh, Ben… you guys, this is the mystery… of an exotic urban enclave, a village in the city… the center of Latino culture in the district…it’s got nothing to do with money this time.”
“Cause all the natives here, even the angry white folks, got together after the highway walls went up in 2011, and decided we’d gentrify in the other direction…”
Alfonso swatted at his friend calling out.
Dansel showed the holographic sticker on the super bowl ticket he offered, he flipped through a book of them. “And… the Redskins are playing.”
“You’re shitting me…they made it? Out there, it’s a goddamned crazy world out there down town. Hija de—those pendejos Redskins really made it? Shit… I’m all crying and shit…”
That’s all that it took. Alfonso handed back a ticket to his friend, but before he could move, it was Alfonso, with the louder voice and larger smile, who offered Gyra a hand up first, and then he escorted the three of them personally through Mount Pleasant.
Alfonso and his horse hardly took a step before a whistle was blown—not that of a policeman, but of a drum major. All the people who had paid for the evening’s entertainment brought out cell phones, or cameras, pushed into a line against the street. Many of them had travelled far, many of them were not local at all. Many of them needed to remember, to re-connect, and there was a hungry feeling. This did not feel like folks eager to enjoy themselves. These were people waiting to gorge at a meal, desperate to have a piece of this urban joy. Some had real camera equipment set up, intending to capture it and re-sell it later. “Hey, look, those are real black people running that shop—they’re from Mount Pleasant too?!”
Ben almost inhaled his whole cigarette, in an effort to reach down from his horse and force Dansel’s pointing hand back down.
Gyra began to watch the people dance and march, heard the heartfelt songs going and said her stomach didn’t hurt so much anymore.
After hours of parade, Alfonso and Ben escorted Gyra, Dansel and Stinson to their lodging for the night. “El Hotel” was a white building with burn-marks that streaked black over white paint. When they got inside, the decor of a burned building continued, but it was accented with orange curtains gold accent above doors and at the edges of windows. This felt more like a shrine to them, it was so carefully done, than a place to keep tourists overnight. They asked what it meant, but Alfonso, nor Ben would say anything. Nobody working the bell desk or winding a vacuum cleaner chord back up in the hallway would say anything about it either.
When they arrived at the room–Dansel commented that they already had their keys and could count for themselves, Alfonso eventually asked Gyra how it was that she could understand Spanish?
“My father was a Cannoneer in the near-revolution. He made me learn it afterward. Up at Fort Stevens, there were all kinds of people working to defend the city against the National Guard and the highway walls.”
“Y porqué no me hablas?” He really leaned in, really looking at her.
She looked away, shy.
“You’re cute. But, you’d better learn it. Nobody survives in Mount Pleasant, not even DC, I think, not even in this nation–and I’m damned sure not in 2012, without it.” Then, Alfonso turned to Dansel and Stinson. “You said you want transportation down to where the National Mall is? You three are willing to pay for that sort of mirror-trick past the highway wall? Because that’s what I’m hearing you say to me.”
“Certainly. I’m going to see the superbowl, I have real tickets to get in that new stadium they have down there, and I’ll go over any man’s head who thinks he’s going to stop me.”
“Hey, calm down. I’m not going to the police, but I am saying… you do realize, you’re gonna have to swim for it.”
They were confused.
“…Unless, you want to pay my boy Jaime for a raft-ride down the Rock Creek. No pressure. Just think it over, check out is at twelve. Raft leaves at twelve-thirty… you can be soaking wet and smelly with whatever’s in that brown water these days… Or, you can stay dry, don’t mess up those suits.”
“…And, you can have Gyra back in the morning, when she’s fluent. Baby, ven.”
And then Alfonso took her, and Ben gave himself another cigarette, and Dansel’s nose touched the door when it slammed.
Stinson laughed at him.
“It’s a hideous dress. It’s still an ugly dress right? And, she’s got some serious mental problems too. Urban despair disease—the hell it is! She’s just moaning and groaning because I won’t pay attention to her, and what man would when she once threatened to kill me with her daddy’s shotgun. That Alfonso is an idiot. You’ll see. We’re gonna end up swimming down that Rock Creek without Jaime. He’s an idiot, right?”
Stinson lay down and carefully set his boat’s oar down beside him on the bed. “Es lo que viva, sube el vestido… or something. I should remember that line…”