Quite often, a taxi ride in DC can be scary and infuriating hell. (See: 4 AM post-blizzard Union Station group-van fiasco that ended in a shouting match and me fearing for my life on a completely desolate U Street). But, other times, a DC cab can be pure happiness. For instance, take last Friday. Late for dinner with Todd + stuck in Georgetown + graduation weekend was not the perfect equation for finding a taxi. But luckily a cute black cab with pink stripes stopped to pick me up.
Dupont Cab Association’s William Bolden in car #88 was the highlight of my afternoon, and he gave me an amazing perspective of the city and its/his history. A cabbie since 1965 (!), Mr. Bolden grew up in Georgetown on 33rd Street – and moved a few blocks over after his grandparents divorced in 1935 (!!)*. Turning up 29th to avoid rush hour traffic, Mr. Bolden pointed out the Mount Zion Methodist Church
, the first church he attended as a child. A Gothic revival structure with gorgeous stained glass windows, it houses the oldest African-American congregation in DC and is a National Historic Landmark. Much of the workmanship on the building was done by black artisans, and Mt. Zion
served as one of the stations on the Underground Railroad (runaway slaves were hidden at the nearby Old Methodist Burying Ground
). It is also an important reminder that Georgetown has a rich and layered history.
“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb
As Mr. Bolden nimbly maneuvered the cab through the back streets of Georgetown and over towards Dupont, he told me that he hadn’t always just been a taxi driver — he had also worked on the construction of many DC buildings. At some point during 1958 to 1962, he helped extend the east facade of the US Capitol. During that project, workers “pushed out” the East Front of the building 33 1/2 feet from its original location by reconstructing the sandstone exterior. (Side note: This build-out also denoted the end of a statute that had been displayed in front of the east facade since 1853. The Rescue depicted a “heroic hero” saving a woman and her child from a “savage” American-Indian – A crane accidentally dropped it in 1973 on its way to Smithsonian storage and it has been in pieces ever since).
As we edged close to my home, Mr. Bolden told me that he’s had many brushes with powerful DC figures (Elizabeth Dole once asked him for his card), and almost became one of them himself. When a key W. aide took a ride in Mr. Bolden’s taxi, the driver took the opportunity to tell him about his plan to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue south of the White House to vehicular traffic. That street was closed on May 20, 1995 mainly in response to the Oklahoma City bombing. Originally, the closure only applied closest to the White House from the eastern edge of Lafayette Park to 17th Street. Later, it was extended an additional block to east 15th Street and East Executive Avenue. Obviously, having a main thoroughfare closed to traffic is not fun for the car drivers of the city. Mr. Bolden’s well-thought out scheme to open the street would involve jersey barriers and designated secret service lanes. The W. aide liked the idea so much that he told Mr. Bolden he was going to present it to the President himself. Sadly for Mr. Bolden, 9/11 ended any chance to fix his traffic problem in the near future. (And although I can sympathize with his frustration, I love the pedestrian area behind the White House where you can really see the beautiful building from it’s north side).
With that, my history lesson and lovely cab ride was complete. And $5.50. And 10 minutes in total. What more could a girl ask for?
*I admit, I was scared for my safety for 1.2 seconds, but realized quickly that this guy was a navigational genius and more in control of the car than 99% of the cabbies I’ve experienced in my lifetime.