Tag Archives: DC

Why we left DC

My husband and I packed up our Washington, DC apartment on December 20, 2014. We spent Christmas with my family in Florida, and then made the long drive from FL to Denver just after the start of the new year. I realize my blog name – Slightly North of Home – doesn’t really apply any more, but I figure it’s too late to switch it over to Slightly West of Home. I haven’t really discussed the factors that led to the cross-country move, so I’ll interrupt my series of posts on our Europe 2014 trip (to Iceland, London, Paris, and Normandy) to fill you in.

About 6 months ago, Adam and I started to get the sense that we’d had enough of DC. I’d been in the city for almost 3 years, and he’d lived there for a full 2. Don’t get me wrong, the things that I loved about DC when I first moved still applied. Almost limitless free museums, events, and concerts. A great and ever expanding food scene. Incredible memorials that tugged at my patriotic heartstrings. Located on the East Coast, close to my family in North Carolina and a short plane ride from my parents in Florida. We had decent jobs and great friends there. We knew our way around; it was easy to navigate (it’s a grid system, people). We had found a Crossfit gym liked, with trainers we adored; our apartment was well-located and not crazy expensive (as far as DC apartments go).

But then, there was the traffic. Rush hour that lasts from 4 – 8; construction or road closings or just people traveling that means highways are jammed even on weekends. Protests for this, that, or the other that shut down major arteries through the city and make getting home from work a general nightmare. Even the metro system isn’t a reliable answer; lines grind to a halt almost daily due to technical malfunctions, trains are late and jammed with people. There’s a never-ending list of escalator and elevator closures, making getting off the metro another exercise in frustration.

There was the cost. Even our not-crazy-expensive apartment was well over $2100 for 800 square feet of space. To ride the metro during “peak times” aka to get to and from work, basically the only time you’d want to ride the metro in the first place, was a minimum of $2.70. Add on more money if you transferred lines or left the boundaries of DC proper. Some mornings, it would cost me $5 one way just to get to work. I wouldn’t complain if the metro operated efficiently, but see the above paragraph. Paying $10 a day to be inconveniently transported to and from work seems a little ridiculous.

Adding to the high cost of living are various forms of taxation imposed on residents. In addition to sales tax (which is, surprisingly, a fairly reasonable 5.75%), DC collects 10% on “prepared food”, which encompasses any meal served from a restaurant (even if it’s to-go) as well as any alcohol sold for consumption on site. I know it’s primarily aimed at collecting tourist dollars, but it makes eating out way expensive for residents too. Then there’s the “state” income tax. DC uses marginal tax rates (just like the federal government), and anyone making above $40k is in the 8.5% tax bracket. ($40k does not get you far in DC, so most people paying taxes in the District are thrown into that bracket.) The top income tax bracket has a rate of 8.95% which is the highest on the East Coast by far.

There are several other frustrating aspects of paying income tax to the District of Columbia (such as the very obvious and blatant marriage tax penalty – that, by the way, is not imposed on same-sex couples, even if the couple is legally married in DC) that could possibly, probably be overlooked, under normal circumstances. Like if the DC government wasn’t rife with crooks and coke addicts. Or if those were the most ridiculous tax rules enforced.

But then, just when we thought DC couldn’t get any more ridiculous, an idiot named Phil Mendelson decided it would be a good idea to extend the DC sales tax to include all “wellness services” – specifically, gyms. You read that right –  the DC city council voted to tax fitness. In a state that saw insurance premiums rise by 11% from 2014 – 2015, you are now penalized for living a healthier lifestyle. (Don’t worry, though – hair cuts and spa services are still exempt!) As soon as that law passed, we knew we had to get out.

I understand that, on paper, it sounds pretty silly that we uprooted our lives to avoid spending a few extra dollars on a gym membership, but it’s not about the money for us – it’s about the principals involved. Since moving to Colorado, we’ve joined 3 separate fitness facilities – a Crossfit gym, a rock climbing gym, and a racquetball gym. I’ll probably also join a yoga studio. We’re going skiing next weekend, and hiking the weekend after that. None of those services are subject to sales tax. In a nation where two-thirds of adults are obese, I refuse to believe that gym tax is the right option, and I want nothing to do with a state that imposes one.

Backyard tourism

I don’t know how many of you suffer from the disease known as the “travel bug”.  More formally known as wanderlust, my symptoms first presented in high school when I traveled to Honduras for a church mission trip.  In addition to building houses and working with a local doctor to dispense vaccines, we were able to enjoy meals prepared by local women, play soccer with a group of teenagers waiting for their turn with the doctor, and travel across the country, where the lush scenery often contrasted with the stark poverty of most of its residents.

Traveling in another country was an experience both terrifying and thrilling.  Even mundane, ordinary tasks, like ordering a junior bacon cheeseburger in the Honduran Wendy’s became a novelty.  Traveling challenged me, broadened my perspectives on the world, and left me hungry for more.

As a senior in high school, I traveled to Italy as part of a spring break trip led my by AP European history teacher.  When that wasn’t enough, I vowed to study abroad in college.  I spent my spring semester sophomore year in Florence, Italy, and managed to explore most of that country, as well as Paris, Lucerne, Munich, Athens, and Cofu.  When that wasn’t enough, I did another study abroad, this time the summer before my senior year, in Maastricht, the Netherlands.  From there, I was able to see London, Brussels, Bruges, Baden Baden, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Delft, and the Hague. When that wasn’t enough, I convinced my fiance` to take a month while we were both between jobs and travel throughout Italy (hint – if you want to win my undying love and devotion, whisk me away to Italy).  We visited Rome, Orvieto, Assisi, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, Bolzano, and Milan.  And since that still isn’t enough, I’m already planning trips to Iceland, to Vietnam, to Thailand, and beyond.

Traveling is my drug of choice; it calms my nerves and makes me feel alive.  Nothing makes me as happy as reading a guidebook and highlighting all the places I want to visit.  I’m convinced that food ordered in another place automatically tastes better than anything I could get at home.  International travel gives me the greatest fix, but even visiting the next town can hold me over temporarily. When I go without travel, I go through withdrawal.

I can’t speak from experience, but I’m assuming that’s how some people feel about cocaine.

Obviously the difficulties associated with choosing travel as your favorite hobby are many. Traveling requires money, it requires time, it requires at least some amount of planning.  If I had the option, I’d trade $10k of my salary for 20 extra vacation days each year.  But I don’t have that option, and so I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not going to visit everywhere I want by the time I’m 30.  Which means I have to sate my wanderlust in other ways.

Enter: the idea of backyard tourism.  Backyard tourism, I believe, is a concept that grew out of the staycation movement.  To me, backyard tourism is what it sounds like. It’s being a tourist in your own city; in your own neighborhood.  It’s bringing a camera and pausing to take touristy pictures.  It’s visiting museums or landmarks you may have seen before, but with a fresh set of eyes.  It’s appreciating what makes your city special.  Best of all, it’s very cheap, or even free.

A few weekends ago, between polar vortexes, the temperatures climbed into the 40s (balmy bliss!) and Adam and I ventured out to do some touring.  I was surprised at how much our trip to the Jefferson Memorial (which I’ve seen about 15 times) and the National Art Gallery (which I’ve visited even more) temporarily cured my travel bug.  I saw things I’ve never noticed before, learned some fun facts about the 3rd President of the United States, and listened to a Civil War-era musical performance (there’s always something random like that going on in DC).  Below are a few pictures from our day of backyard tourism.

Looking out from the Jefferson Memorial

Looking out from the Jefferson Memorial

The man himself

The man himself

Flag football on the National Mall

Flag football on the National Mall

Playing around with the reflective triangle sculpture outside of the art gallery

Playing around with the reflective triangle sculpture outside of the art gallery.  Poor fiance` was so bored.

Trees in reflection

Trees in reflection

More reflections....

More reflections….

 

My favorite feature of any of the Smithsonians - the atrium in the National Art Gallery

My favorite feature of any of the Smithsonians – the atrium in the National Art Gallery

This statue, The Dying Gaul, is visiting all the way from Rome.  It was made in the 1st or 2nd century AD, and this is the first time it has voluntarily left Italy (Napoleon stole it in 1797 and took it to Paris, but France returned it after Napoleon was defeated).  Sorry for the poor picture quality, flash photography wasn't allowed.

This statue, The Dying Gaul, is visiting all the way from Rome. It was made in the 1st or 2nd century AD, and this is the first time it has voluntarily left Italy (Napoleon stole it in 1797 and took it to Paris, but France returned it after Napoleon was defeated). Sorry for the poor picture quality, flash photography wasn’t allowed.

Touristy shot of the Capitol building.

Touristy shot of the Capitol building.  It makes me happy.