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Beat the Heat, July 2019

For a brief, overcast moment, Farragut Square NW makes a strange scene. It feels empty, and people sit in odd places and at unusual angles. It looks like a bad architectural rendering of a public park. Then the cloud moves away from the sun and all becomes clear: These lunchers have found islands of shade in a sea of sunlight.

The heat re-draws the city. It creates new lines and patterns and habits. It’s Monday, around lunchtime, when people take to the streets in search of food, and the “feels like” temperature has cracked triple digits. Some people stay inside and hide—they won’t see the sun until they head home for the day, if they ever emerged from their homes at all. But those who do venture outside find themselves living a scorching reality.

Construction workers don hard hats with neck flaps and tourists block the sun with umbrellas. Traffic jams form on the protected sides of streets, while the sunny sides are nearly deserted. Pedestrians wait to cross the street feet from the curb, at the border of shade and sun.

Vendors who work the 15th Street NW corner by the White House hawk Gatorade and water—at the “cheapest price on the Mall”—from the safety of the shade. They watch as visitors stop and bake in the sun, realizing that they’ve traveled through the heat only to find Pennsylvania Avenue NW and Lafayette Square blocked off. On the north end of the park a protestor mops his sweating face with his flag as chanting and drum beats fill the humid air. A young family looks at the White House from a distance for a few moments. “Alright, back to the hotel,” the father says. 

Will Warren writes Scene and Heard. If you know of a location worthy of being seen or heard, email him at wwarren@washingtoncitypaper.com.

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