So you’re moving to Washington, D.C. from the hinterlands. Congratulations!
I’m writing this guide for you, young yokel. This is the guide I wish I’d had three years ago when I moved to this wretched hive of scum and villany. This is the thing I’m going to link to every time someone posts on Facebook: “I’m moving to D.C. in the fall for an internship/job/clerkship/apprenticeship. Any tips?’ Yes, I have tips. Boy, do I have tips.
I’m going to cover the three things you need to figure out ASAP:
- Housing and Transportation
The cost of living calculators are going to freak you the fuck out. Chillax. Yes, there are more 20-something assholes from Ivy Leagues having $40 brunches and living alone than you can shake a stick at in this town. But there are also 20-somethings making $10/hr as an intern or $30k/year working as an intern with barely legal health insurance than you could ever hope to meet. You will be poor, but you won’t be alone.
Yes, everything you buy will be slightly more expensive here. Buy less. Most of your money will be eaten up by socializing — drinks, Ubers and eating out.
Happy hours are your friend. Go to bars only early and only on weekdays. Evenings and weekends are house party time. Find a friend with a rowhouse who loves to party and always show up looking good with drugs to share and/or a case of beer.
Volunteering is one way to make friends and socialize that doesn’t cost a lot of money, if any. There are a zillion opportunities here.
Another way to and meet new like-minded people drink for free is to go to think tank talks and launch parties.
Don’t eat out. In D.C there are two levels of restaurant: yuppie fast food and per-diem. You’re either paying $10 for a damn sandwich or $50 for food far inferior to what you’d find in New York City, or even Richmond, Virginia because bankers with daily spending allowances don’t gaf. Find a friend in the city to show you the few places that are actually worth the money. You may get lucky and live near a McDonald’s or Popeye’s. But don’t count on it. Grocery shop and learn how to prepare simple meals for one.
All that said, let’s be real. Most of your calories are going to come from alcohol.
Housing and Transportation
And we’ve quickly arrived at what will eat up the vast majority of your income: rent.
You just need a room. Living alone is a luxury you haven’t earned yet. Don’t ruin the best part of D.C. by living hella far away because you can’t negotiate a cleaning schedule with another person.
Craigslist is your friend. A sketchy friend you have to be a little skeptical of, but until you get a network you can use for housing, it’s your best bet.
In D.C., don’t live near the metro unless you work in Maryland or Virginia. You’ll pay a lot more for an apartment near the metro. But for getting around the city, walking, taking the bus, or Ubering makes way more sense. D.C. is one of the most walkable cities in the world because it’s got plenty of crosswalks and sidewalks, but mostly because it’s geographically tiny. You can walk most places you’d want to go to in the city in under an hour.
Pretty much anywhere near a bus stop is going to be plenty safe. Except Anacostia. Do not live there. More info on neighborhoods.
Get rid of your car. By living in DC, you are paying for access to a convenient and effective mass transit system. You won’t need it and cars are extremely expensive, even when they’re paid off. You still need gas, insurance, maintenance, and very likely you’ll have to pay for parking.
Oh, and driving in D.C. is literally the worst experience in the world. The roads seem to have been designed by a sadist who loves car wrecks. The only reason more people don’t die in fiery crashes in this city is that the absolutely constant stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper traffic keeps anyone from going fast enough for anything but a fender-bender. Second to driving in D.C. in terms of pain and suffering is looking for parking. There isn’t any. Go home.
Also the bus goes more places and is cheaper. Buses in D.C. are great. They come often during rush hour, pretty regularly at other hours, and are clean. People don’t mess with you. The bus is great, trust me. Live near a bus stop.
But, you will need to use the metro sometimes. It runs from 8 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, and til 2 a.m. on weekends. You need to buy a metrocard. You can get them from any CVS pharmacy in the area. I have no clue why they don’t sell them at every metro stop, or why they’re at CVSes. But there it is. You swipe when you enter and when you exit. You’re charged based on the length of your trip, generally from $3-$6 per ride. The direction of the train is indicated by the last stop on the line. Sometimes it’s the last stop that particular train is making. They don’t all go to the end of the line.
This is the most important thing to know about the metro: Walk left, stand right. Or my friend Kai promises “SO HELP ME GOD I WILL DROPKICK YOU DOWN THIS ESCALATOR.” While we’re on the topic, keep moving in public transit. Don’t stand where people are trying to talk to gather your thoughts or get oriented. Find a corner and do your thinking there.
You may be tempted by the lower taxes and permissibility of gun ownership to live in Arlington. It is incredibly, almost creepily safe. If fat, white Republicans in a sterile, shiny, hipster Pleasantville are your jam, go in peace. But D.C. is denser, has cooler bars, cooler people, and legal weed. So…. the choice is clear.
Washington, D.C. is mostly populated by three subtypes of people: high school class presidents, valedictorians, and the girl whose hobby was raising money to find a cure for muscular dystrophy. They wear the most boring well-fitting suits in nice fabrics you could possibly imagine. They are young, idealistic, ambitious. You know that if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. That’s why you’re coming here. Trust, you’ll never be the smartest person in the room again.
These people are brilliant, driven, fascinating. This town has so much you cannot find anywhere else, like a comedy and burlesque show structured like a satirical evangelical church service. Whatever your interest or hobby, there are tons of people here who are into it too and want to meet up. You’re going to have the time of your life.