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A City Desk series chronicling the inaugural working class
The intersection at 18th Street and Florida Avenue NW is a classic L’Enfantian gaffe, a place that was not designed for a world of fast-moving automobiles. This is a modern infrastructural clusterfuck, and “18th and Florida” doesn’t adequately convey the confusion of the crossroads. U Street and Vernon Street also feed into the intersection, making it a tough place to navigate—-even when millions of people aren’t flooding into town.
Good thing someone thought to call in Chris Lowery, a private contractor who lives in Northern Virginia. He has a pretty stable clientele, but capitalizes on side gigs whenever he can. His job this week is just that, a temp position he landed through a friend. “I did a job for a buddy of mine a few months ago. It was directing traffic for an event at the WWII memorial. When inaugural week rolled around, he asked me if I’d be interested in directing traffic again. I said sure.”
Lowery, who put in over thirteen hours Saturday night, is responsible for directing buses at 18th and Florida. Most of the buses are part of a nationwide youth leadership organization that flooded D.C. to mark history. Suited up in a florescent yellow vest, a well-insulated ski jacket, and holding a small yellow flashlight, Lowery points to the congestion across the street in front of 18th and U diner. “See, right now we’re trying to coordinate this mess. This has got to be one of the most confusing intersections in the city, and with all these people and increased security it just further obstructing things. It’s almost an accident waiting to happen. But that’s why I’m here.”
Although his job is primarily to coordinate with the bus dispatchers and to prevent gridlock in Adams Morgan, he has become a go-to guy for lost out-of-towners. “I don’t mind helping people out. But coordinating all these buses and being a tourist guide is just exhausting,” says Lowery. “I’m hoping I can finish up Monday night because it’s just too grueling of work.”
Asked why he got stuck with one of the worst intersections in the city, Lowery said, “I guess they put me here because I’m taller and maybe a little more noticeable than most people. But I don’t always wear this vest. They gave it to me. I don’t usually walk around the streets in bright yellow.”
Photos by Charlotte Kesl