An Afternoon

In The Art of Travel, 11. Second book, Washington DC by Matthew Chung1 Comment

Last weekend I had the privilege of not being entirely busy for once, so I decided to grab a book and read for an afternoon on the National Mall. I did not have any book in mind, so I decided to go ahead and read a book relevant to my study away site which was The Sweet Forever by George P. Pelecanos. When I read the first word of the book, little did I know that my peaceful Saturday afternoon on the crisp grass was about to turn into so much more.

By the end of that novel I was filled with so many new thoughts. The book itself was great. It was fictional thriller about a record store owner and his tale living in the drug-stricken city of Washington D.C. during the 1980s. Pelecanos has wonderful style in that he writes in a way where the speakers seem real and thus it almost seems as if you are in the story while reading it. Even though it was a fictional story, knowing that these kinds of events actually took place in the city I have been living in for months now was really eye-opening. When people look at Washington D.C., they often view it as a symbol of the political triumphs of the United States of America and they are not wrong, but often neglected are the hardships and struggles that its image was built upon. While issues like drugs may not be as evident as they were back in the 1980s, the problem is still prevalent and has yet to be fully resolved.

In regards to drug abuse, the issue is so deeply rooted in the history and culture of the United States and thus it is not something that can be easily resolved. A very interesting perspective on tackling substance abuse focuses on that of the youth and that factor is highlighted throughout Pelecanos’s novel. Children live at an age where they are still physically, mentally, and emotionally developing so it is important that they grow up in healthy living environments during that period. Despite that necessity, many children do not have that privilege and grow up in corrupt areas and neighborhoods where they are in constantly exposed to unhealthy situations and conditions and these lifestyles carry on to burden them in the future. In the book, one of the characters says to his friend, “Kids all ages deep into it now… Those boys, both of them, they had cocaine in their pockets, rolled up in foil” and “the evidence does suggest that the one [that] got the top of his head blown off… was carrying a gun” (Pelecanos 196). The words used in those lines were very surprising in that they weren’t phrases often said together. “Kids” and “Guns”, “Boys” and “Cocaine”, but as strange as this may seem, it is an undeniable truth that affects a large population of the U.S. demographic.

The United States of America has come a long way since it was first founded; even still, there is room for improvement. Drug abuse is just one of the many issues that still taint our nation and hinder its overall prosperity and success. I hope to become more aware of all these overarching problems as one should as a U.S. citizen.

It only takes an afternoon to get started.

(Image: Washington D.C. ; Source: 2018 O Scale National Convention)


  1. I appreciate your post so much because I, too, am often clouded by romantic notions of places before I visit them. There’s so much more to the places we are spending this semester than the typical sights that people tell us we “must see.” In reference to D.C., I mostly equate the sense of that place to the power it holds, to the history of the American government. Revolutionary War images swim in my head when I picture D.C., and not anything else (I only see white wigs and muskets, to be honest). And yet, there’s so much more to that land than we could ever understand. I have the same feelings about Paris, a place that is so much older than D.C. but whose history is also clouded by touristy notions of it (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc.). When we visit these places, is it possible to truly know them without understanding their history in their entirety?

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