Sunday, October 08, 2006

My hometown: a trip

This is an essay I wrote for college admission:
When I received my driver’s license at the age of sixteen, my life changed dramatically. With the ability to travel on my own significantly farther than I could go by foot, I was given a new sense of freedom, but more importantly, I gained a deeper knowledge about the place where I live.

As I learned as a high school sophomore, the best way to see Arlington is by driving through it. So join me as we take a tour. We have our choice of several major roads to get us through the community, and we will take our journey via Washington Boulevard. To start our journey, we must begin in Arlington’s Western neighbor Falls Church. I have parked my car outside Brown’s Hardware Store and our tour bus will be an emerald green General Motors Saturn. Once inside, we’ll turn the station to 107.3 FM. Now, the ignition is on and we are ready to go. We will exit out on Park Avenue and take a left on US 29 North, or as the locals call it, Lee Highway.

We won’t be able to see Arlington yet. We will have to wait until we clear this hill to get a glimpse. However, before we get there I would like to give you some background. Although a County, Arlington can be described as a suburb of Washington, DC. Three Metro lines and five major roads intersect Arlington, giving commuters easy access to Washington. Additionally, four bridges run over the Potomac River connecting Arlington to the District of Columbia. Major sections of Washington are poor, as are the public schools. Therefore many people who work in the city live in the suburbs. However, Arlington is not just a suburb. Arlington is home to USA Today, Gannett, the Pentagon, the National Cemetery, Ronald Reagan National Airport, two major malls, and several hotels.

At the top of the hill, we see a fire station, a bank and a few other one-story edifices lining the street. That is the eastern edge of the county, and the commercial center is called East Falls Church. I used to remember it as the place where we took the dog to the veterinary clinic. As we move past the bank, a sign is approaching on our right. Look carefully. It has an arrow with a sign to Washington Boulevard. There is our ticket. We swing a right onto the narrow one-way road and here is where the excitement starts. The road turns into a bridge, and before we know we are riding over a spectacular interstate highway. This is not any highway, it is I-66. While it is not as famous as US-66, there are plenty of good kicks to be had on it.

As we come down on the other side of I-66, we hit a red light at Sycamore Street. To our right is the East Falls Church Metro, one of the many stops that the Washington Transit System takes us through Arlington. Not only that, but my alma mater, Williamsburg Middle School, takes Washington DC field trips using this station. To our delight, the light turns green and we are once again free to move. The next hill will take us into Westover, a residential area. Look on your right and you will see the streets “Roosevelt, Quantico, Potomac.” As we go west-to-east the streets will go from three-syllables to two-syllables to one-syllable names and each group streets is in alphabetical order. On our left is a lovely looking brick church situated in this nice residential area. A car is passing us. It is hard to believe, but I think this might be one of those people who are driving just to get to a destination, rather than to see Washington Boulevard.

Our next point of interest is Westover Shopping Center. The clock tower will tell us the time. As we pass Longfellow Street, we will be descending again to the Levine School of Music where one can take piano lessons. Arlington is largely residential. Its residents are Congressmen, their staffers, and mostly federal and state government employees, i.e. scientists, attorneys, consultants and bureaucrats. In addition, several residents are businessmen and their employees, managing the hotels, shops, and restaurants that fuel the commercial operations of the county. Ethnically, we have a large number of Hispanics, particularly from El Salvador and Bolivia. Overall, Arlington is fairly wealthy and most of the residents live in houses, but in some sections, there are also apartment buildings.

Up ahead, there is a red light and we will have to stop at George Mason Drive, where we will be able to see beautiful Lacey Woods Park on our right. Arlington has many parks like Lacey Woods and several “deciduous forests”, as my 7th grade biology teacher would call them. On special occasions, a deer can be spotted grazing or running through these parks.

Green light! The streets will now go from Evergreen to Dinwidde to Columbus and soon onto the two-syllable streets. A green light will set us at Glebe Road, one of the major north-south streets, where we can see the bustling traffic and feel the energy. We can spot some of the skyscrapers of Ballston between the older two-story buildings. On the left is Washington-Lee High School which serves the middle third of the County.

Brace yourself, because at the next traffic light is the highlight of the tour. Quincy Street is not only home to my house but to several homeless people. The Arlington Central Library, an architectural masterpiece, is where all the homeless people of Arlington gather, and where volunteer organizations often give them food and clothes. The baseball field, where I have been playing for the Babe Ruth League since I was ten, is on the right. On any given day, we can see people pitching on the mound or getting batting practice.

Moving along we get to one of my favorite sections. On the right, look for discount gas, the cheapest gas in town. At the intersection of Washington and Lincoln is the red-and-green tiled Giant where you can still get sodas for 35 cents. My favorite street in the entire county, Kirkwood Drive is next on our tour. It was here where I took tennis lessons at the YMCA and learned the values of patience and discipline. Following Kirkwood, we get to Clarendon, my favorite neighborhood in Arlingon, which also known as “Little Vietnam”. Clarendon is a heavily commercialized center where the sidewalks are cobblestones, the telephone lines disappear, and statues line the sidewalks. The best Vietnamese and Thai restaurants and shops line the streets along with heavy pedestrian traffic.

Unfortunately, we will only be traveling a few blocks in Clarendon, because the road will take us South. I know what you are thinking. “South? But Washington Boulevard is an east-west road?” No sir! In an unpredictable twist, Washington Boulevard starts bending through Clarendon to the south. After the traffic light at 7th Street, it is only a few blocks before we cross Route 50 (which divides North and South Arlington) and move into the mysterious and vast expanse of South Arlington.

As we move under the bridge of Route 50, Washington Boulevard becomes State Route 27, a limited access highway. Cars start speeding up as if they are in a Grand Prix race. The excitement of an interstate highway combined with the grace of an Arlington road elevates the level of our excitement. On the left is the exit for Columbia Pike, a fabulous road with movie theaters, a ski shop, restaurants, the Division of Motor Vehicles, and a Sheraton which will have the nicest birds-eye view of Washington. Moving along, the interchange for the Shirley Highway comes up and a plethora of cars starts pouring into the lines. Do not worry, though. In the subsequent exits to Route 1 and Crystal City cars will be getting off. The road twists and turns like a bobsled run. On the right, is the Pentagon, a site that everybody knows recognizes. The Pentagon is the place where my driving life was born. The Pentagon’s North Parking lot was my driving practice site. Without that parking lot, I would never be able to drive today. The building is enormous housing all sorts of military and civilian personnel including my mother. The Potomac River now approaches, and the beautiful blue sky is reflected in the water. We accelerate to keep up with the traffic only to be slowed down, for here is the noble end to our beloved journey.

Washington Boulevard intersects Route 50 at a traffic circle that takes us across the Memorial Bridge, or if you take the circle all the way around, to Arlington National Cemetery. The famous Arlington Cemetery serves as a monument to the men who died defending our nation. Across the bridge we can see the great city of Washington DC, possibly forgetting about the tiny little County of Arlington, like most visitors do. Hopefully, this trip down Washington Boulevard will reveal how unforgettable our community is. I know that it has that affect on me every time I drive down Washington Boulevard.

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