Last week my best friend (since we were four years old) came to town. An intimate group of my friends originally had epic plans to go to the Inauguration and had detailed all the major points of our pending adventure. We scheduled our COVID tests, got the REAL N95s. I got the face shields and gloves. We know how this story ends, don’t we? Yeah, we turn the TV on that first week of January and see these heffas storming the Capitol. UGH. Even being across the country from each other, our small group all just knew this trip was off the books now.
Vanessa still ended up coming, which I’m very grateful for. It was her birthday week and me being alone in my apartment during this pandemic can be lonely sometimes. However, both of us have clocked that whenever something LIFE changing is about to go down, God hand delivers me to her or her to me. It’s really cool, but also a little…like… *deep breath* Dear God, what’s about to happen, that you know I’m going to need my best friend here to get through it?
Vanessa arrived safely to New York City and we had adventure after adventure. We decided to cancel the hotel in DC, but keep the rental car. So on Tuesday, the day before the Inauguration, we hopped in the car, the teeny tiniest little Ford Fiesta (which we thought hilarious to repeatedly call a Ford Fusion). Before we even got out of the parking garage, we had every alarm going off in that car, accidentally laying on the horn as we tried to find the Door Unlock button. We looked so dumb, but best believe we wiped that entire car down with Lysol wipes before sitting inside. We hit the road (driving in New York was a tragedy) and finally made it across the George Washington Bridge and were on our way!
“How close do you think we’re gonna get?” she asks.
“I packed two gowns in case we get invited to the Ball” was my response.
Blasting Beyonce’s ‘Freakum Dress’ we were on our way to DC and made an extremely necessary stop in Baltimore to hit up Faidley’s. (THEY HAVE THE BEST CRAB CAKES IN THE NATION.) We gobbled that thing up in the car and were back on the road. It was so soon when we had arrived in the DC area.
Her: “What should I type into the GPS?”
Me: “US Capitol.”
Her: Oh God Salisha. Really?
We burst into laughter at the audacity of it all, knowing ANYONE who loved us would be SO upset. We agreed we could not post about it until we are back safe and sound in New York. We arrive to DC. I can see the Washington Monument. But while we were still on the freeway, the GPS says, “You have arrived.”
Weird. We’re in the middle of a freeway.
She types it in again, using a different app. We get off the freeway and although my eyes could see the Washington Monument on the left, GPS told us to go right. I’m skeptically following the directions and it probably took me five minutes too long to realize GPS was leading us directly out of the City.
This is not a coincidence, I’m thinking. We try again, this time typing in the White House.
We pull over and look at the map. The pin labeled ‘1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’ was most definitely not hovering over the actual White House, but instead the Arlington Cemetery. (If that’s not poetic, I don’t know what is. I remember the day Trump won the presidency, Trump Tower at Columbus Circle in NYC had been renamed Dump Tower. And that’s what this was: Team Google trying to reroute anyone they could AWAY from everything. Quite honestly, I was impressed and glad about it.) Of course, that didn’t derail us though. I was like, “I don’t know why I’m over here acting brand new. I love DC. Turn it off. I know where it’s at.”
So we start driving, and we could see the Capitol directly in front of us. Both of us are so excited and a little scared, and know we can always just stay in the car and turn right back around. We go as far as we can go before cops had blocked the street off. Of course there's an available parking spot just a few feet away from the baracades. I get out and start asking all the questions. The next thing I knew, we got the green light to walk on foot. I go back to the car and ask Vanessa…’What do you think? We can go home. Or we can go on an adventure.’
She takes a moment to think. And then says, “Let’s do it. We still have some daylight left.”
We walk for a while until we see a large fence with LOTS of guards. I find a cop and ask if we can keep going. He’s like, “um, no. Not this way at least. But you can follow this large fence for a little while. You should be able to go right up to the Monuments.”
We were like, “Cool! Okay!”
We keep walking. And now…the air is changing. Up until this point, everything had felt like it was fun and games. It felt adventurous and rebellious. Now it’s feeling…tense and possibly dangerous. There are armed guards everywhere holding giant machine guns. We keep walking…there are more. There are now so many military men that it’s feeling like we’re walking through a movie except it’s def real life. We come up to another checkpoint.
Total sidebar, I HATE that I seem to always have some odd connection to…cops. In New York. Here in DC. It’s like some secret language happening between our eyes that I cannot explain. I’m like, SALISHA. You absolutely cannot date a cop right now. Avert your eyes mama.
I naturally gravitate toward one of the officers and ask him if we can keep going. He hesitantly says we can. But I could feel that things now just felt… off. I look him in the eyes and say, “Are we safe?”
He looks in my eyes and quietly and respectfully says, “You should go home.”
I felt so defeated, but like, we ain’t tryna die. Vanessa and I turn around and on our way back to wherever we parked, I felt like we were in a parade. Vanessa and I laughed later because she told me she was not trying to make eye contact with anyone, trying not to stick out, or draw attention. Meanwhile, I’m acknowledging EVERY soldier, waving and saying thank you for serving. Stay safe. And all the way down the line, they responded, “Thank you Miss. Be careful! Stay safe!”
I felt like the first lady or Princess Diana until I remembered, Salish, you’re not famous! Girl, follow Vanessa. Put your head down and get the heck out of here!
On our way back to the car, we passed a news reporter speaking into the camera. Vanessa and I were in full conversation, but both of our ears tuned into one key phrase from the reporter: Pipe Bombing.
Aaahhh!! We looked at each other like, WHAT?! Don’t know what he’s talking about but we ain’t sticking around to find out! We got to the car, grabbed a bite, and got our butts home safe and sound to New York within 4 hours.
A few days later, after the excitement of the Inauguration was beginning to settle, we got Citi Bikes. It was so fun and pretty easy to figure out. We noticed right away that our bikes were ZOOMING. I peddled once and my bike would shoot off. I was a little scared because…no one likes a biker. Not pedestrians and not cars, and I could barely restrain this thing! We found a path off the Hudson River and because we were covering a lot of ground quickly, we decided to trek down to Times Square. It was an easy 150 or so blocks. We got salads and walked around. I went live from the red steps. But on our way back, I was like, “Vanessa…my bike is kind of hard to peddle.” She was like, “Mine too!” We couldn’t figure out why until…we realized…these Citi Bikes didn’t have MOTORS ON THEM. And now we have to trek all the way back uptown using our own leg muscles!
My legs were burning. She was late getting to her Zoom meeting. We looked tore up. Haha. It was exhausting. And then, Vanessa brought up an interesting point. She said, “That must be what privilege is like.”
Riding so far felt so easy when we had the privilege of the built in motor. Neither of us had any idea it could be harder because it was the only Citi Bike we had ever had. But take away that mega advantage (that we weren’t aware of not many others having) and we got our butts kicked! We were huffing and puffing and suddenly, we were very aware of other bikes passing us with the motor! Even over something so dumb, I was thinking, “Man! Do they know how good they’ve got it! It sure would be nice to have a motor.”
It’s cringe worthy when I see rich, successful people, usually not black (but sometimes) look down on others for not succeeding in any given area. But if you grew up rich…there are so many opportunities and resources available to you that maybe wouldn’t be there if you were poor. People who are poor or not white can absolutely still achieve and succeed—just like we eventually ended up getting home. It was just a thousand times harder.
I’m grateful to have a week that felt something similar to “normal life.” I even sat in a private pod at a restaurant outside to celebrate my bestie’s birthday. (It felt safe and cozy and wonderful. Til we saw a mouse. Dear God.) I’m always up for an adventure though. As long as we live through it, we will at least have stories at the end of it.