The Backstreets of DC


500 words   Travel Stories   ‘ABC Open’,  June 2013

New York City was dirty. Bags of garbage lined the footpaths and a homeless man offered to carry my luggage for 25p. I guess I did stand out like the proverbial, with a bright green backpack, hiking boots and the well displayed collection of Aussie badges on my Akubra.

Washington DC was different. I was not alone. I’d worked in a Summer Camp for several weeks and had made some friends, so on our days off we drove to DC to see all the usual tourist sites and then we got lost.

‘I don’t think you should have turned off there.’ Donna shouted from the back seat.

‘What do you think I was going to do then, I didn’t have much choice did I?’ said Ian. How far do you think that freeway would have gone for?’

‘I saw a sign saying Baltimore.’ Jackie piped up.

‘We have gone way too far already, I can’t believe you missed the exit.’ I said.

‘Look, I said sorry. You try driving in Washington; it’s confusing with so many signs.’

On the way back to our hotel Ian had missed the exit off the freeway; we were now out in the suburbs looking desperately for a spot to turn around.

‘This one will do.’ The road veered left, road works appeared and the point of entry to the other side of the freeway was under works.

‘Great.’ Continuing along we came upon a service station. We stopped and Ian ran inside to ask for directions. He reappeared looking more confused than before.

‘Are we still in America?’ he asked. ‘The guy behind the counter can’t speak a word of English. I still don’t know where to go.’ We drove a little further when the road turned to dirt. Timber and fibro lay to give a smoother effect in some areas.

Suddenly, a group of Negro men appeared with baseball bats in their hands, yelled abuse and then proceeded in hitting the car.  At first we thought, hey check this out. I even fumbled for my camera. Then Donna started screaming at me, ‘put it down you idiot. Don’t let them see that.’

Donna, Jackie and I hunched down in the back seat, ‘Get out of here.’ we yelled as the glass around us was hammered.

Ian threw the car into reverse and pushed the pedal to the floor. Dust and gravel spat from under the wheels at the angry crowd as we reversed away, motor whirring as it reversed at such speed.

‘Holy shit!’ we all said in unison when we thought we were safe.  Back tracking for a way out, we passed the service station again.

‘Check that out!’ said Ian.

The same service station we had been at only minutes earlier now had a man being held face down on the driveway with a rifle to his head and the place was surrounded by police cars.

‘This place is crazy, let’s get out of here.’