12 Oct 2010

Run for power

One of the first scenes, in the first episode of TV's polit-drama "The West Wing", shows the US President's spokeswoman, C.J. Cregg, exercising on a treadmill - at 4 o'clock in the morning. "The hour between 4 and 5 belongs to me alone", she pants while running. "This is when I can focus and be myself".

When I watched the show (highly recommended!) in the months before the last US presidential election, I found this particular scene way over the top. Yes, a president's spokewoman must be busy, but surely she would not be getting up an hour early simply to spend it on a treadmill?

Today, I know that I was wrong and the show's creators were right on the mark. While Canadians have cheerfully stuffed their turkeys, I have once again taken the opportunity to spend a 4 day weekend in the US capital, which positively glowed in the soft autumn sunlight and wonderful temperatures around 25C. Conditions, in other words, that prodded the local population to run.

From dawn till dusk, anywhere I went, people of all ages were running past me. Students in Georgetown, diplomats at Dupont Circle, power brokers on the Mall, dog owners on the path along the Potomac - everybody zipped about in a very respectable pace, and sporting gear that makes you believe that they were serious about running. An impression confirmed by a local friend, who's slender despite being from Berne and therefore going about things at a more leisurely speed.

Clearly, Washingtonians are serious about running. Much like they seem to be serious about most things they do. Despite this being a weekend, people of my generation always made a respectable, purposeful impression. Immaculately dressed (anywhere between preppy and business casual, think Banana Republic meets Club Monaco), tapping away on their smartphones and carrying files and folders instead of Wal-Mart bags. On average, they also appeared to be much healthier and more athletic than the typical American - which made them very easy to distinguish from the throngs of tourists queuing up for security screening at the countless attractions.

"Work hard, play hard" is the tune of the town. After it is done with their rigourous exercise routine and merciless work days, the D.C. crowd (especially the subset with corporate credit cards) likes to eat well and have a good time until the wee hours. After enjoying culinary delights around Dupont Circle, my friend took me to the nightlife areas of Adams Morgan and U Street, where I was treated to great live Jazz.

And when it's time to get away from it all, the capital's residents head out to pittoresque Annapolis in the Cheasapeake Bay, where the well-a-do keep their boats and yachts. My visit coincided with the US Boat Show, an excellent opportunity to transport that D.C. competitive spirit ("mine's bigger than yours") onto the waters - the craftsmanship going into these boats were as exquisit as their price tags.

So while the US economy runs up record deficits, the population of its capital seems to merrily run down the soles of their sneakers. As I head back to socialist, but more laid-back Montréal, I can't help but wonder: Are those people all training to eventually run for office?

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