10 November 2007

Rin Con Cito Chapin

Breakfast at the Rin Con Cito Chapin is one of those things that makes you feel better about the rest of the day, or would be if it didn't provide more things to worry about.

I am not much of a breakfast person, which is not to say that I don't enjoy eating. The evidence of that is plain enough. It is more of a practical thing.

The garage under the building where I work is a hazard. Like Big Pink, it does not contain a place for each worker in the building, and some quirk of the construction placed the support pillars for the structure seemingly at random throughout the vast structure.

Accordingly, there are some sweet comfy places to put your car, so wide you can open the door and get right out. There are many others- the vast majority- so narrow that sliding is tighter than a Panamax container ship in the Canal locks. You are trapped in the driver's seat, unless you can climb out through the sunroof.

I have not worked there long, but I swear I have seen people working on wireless laptops in their cars, unable to escape.

Accordingly, an early meeting outside the building means that you are not going to have a shot at the decent sized place, and by the end of the year the side of your car is going to look like it got worked over with the business end of a ball peen hammer.

Big Pink has generally comfortable parking, though the garage does not extend fully under the footprint of the towers. Consequently, there are only seventy or eighty spots for the hundreds of units above. Parking inside is a paid premium, and awarded on a waiting list that moves with the glacial pace of The Reaper. I mean, you don't wish anyone ill, but come on.

I'm not sure this is what Dwight Eisenhower had in mind when he signed off on the Interstate Highway System, but it seems like this is the Age of Unintended Consequences.

A hundred dollars a barrel for oil is turning our little society on its head.

But I digress.

I was meeting the Buckingham Beat reporter at the Rin Con Cito to talk about what is happening in the neighborhood. It is a big change and profound, since it will affect every one of the 1800 units in the old neighborhood. It is the biggest change since Allie S. Freed broke ground on the original project. If you have a money stake in the place, it gets your attention.

Most of the folks who live here don't, of course, and that is the reason that stately Buckingham became a slum.

Even as the Spooks were vacating Arlington Hall, oil prices began to fall. The OPEC Boogieman had been accommodated and Stagflation fell away.

It was morning in America once more, or at least it was for the developers in Prince William and Fairfax Counties. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and got on with the business of America, which is business. More developments, further out, more cars and much more concrete.

Buckingham was left behind, a fly-over neighborhood between the Federal City and the suburbs, cut off to the north by the new Metro and the new interstate to the north, and a widened, high-speed Route 50 to the south.

The parts that went private in 1983 stayed in pretty good shape, though it was only a third of the total complex. The formal entrance at George Mason lost any significance, except for the gate-houses, and the traffic hurtling by could hardly be expected to look up at them anyway.

I walk along the boulevard in the evening, and the sidewalk is so close to the determined commuters that is makes you flinch as they roar by, only feet from the crumbling curb. A single distraction, cell phone or hiccup, could mean vehicular disaster.

The Beat Reporter is named Steve, and he is a pioneer in the new world of journalism. Bluff and hearty, he was listening to his iPod and scanning the brightly-colored menu of tasty Guatemalan favorites.

He a young man, or at least young to me, anyway, which is one of those good-news-bad news things. I recognized him instantly as I entered the restaurant, since he was the only other white guy in the place. He is an academic, when he is not pounding the pavement in his pro-bono search for the truth.

He represents one of the classic strata of Arlington society: white, well educated, optimistic, committed and progressive.


Like me, he has an investment in the future, and kids to show for his confidence. No one else was covering the increasingly strange activities in the neighborhood, the increase in street crime, the antics of the Zoning Board or the fascinating interplay between the ethnic segments of the new Buckingham demographic.

The Hispanic segment is the largest by far, and the Caucasians, second largest, had largely taken themselves out of the mix by segregating themselves in the condo areas that skirt the edges of central Buckingham.

The County had designated some of the early construction for subsidy, mostly north of the strip mall at Glebe and Pershing, where Thai, Pakistani, Salvadoran, Guatamalan and Chinese take-out restaurants set up camp.

The Rin Con Cito Chapin was one of them, under the second story annex where Frances Freed once had her office, it might have been a diner in the classic American style, back in the day, which is why I felt curiously as though I was in one of the places in the old Canal Zone.

It is the latest in a series of eateries on the location that attempts to cater to the needs of a collision of cultures.

The fried plantains, eggs and black beans are quite marvelous, by the way, and the coffee is strong enough to get the blood boiling, anticipating the adventures in the parking garages to come.

He and his new wife rented an apartment in Buckingham in the bad days, when the grass under the stately trees was being worn away by the feet of the men who cluster around the pupuseria truck that routinely blocks traffic near Buckingham I.

The buildings bulged with occupants who split the rent on the little apartments. They lived outside as much as they could, since the crowding was oppressive. They spoke their own language, and kept generally to themselves, even when very drunk.

Many of them had to, since any interaction with the Arlington cops could mean deportation. Even with that imperative, there were no public parks in Buckingham and no rest rooms, and the police would not permit soccer or drinking anyway. The neat brick buildings seemed to pulse with internal pressure, and the foundations cracked.

Since the once cohesive neighborhood was Balkanized, the components began to go their own ways. Steve bought one of the town-house conversions in the Oaks, holding his breath at the amount that it cost, even then. So close to the Barrio, it was an urban gamble between safety and commitment.

Unable to offload the aging blocks, the management cartels maximized profit as best they could. Some of them allowed the buildings to disintegrate and asked no questions about their tenants. Some tired to accommodate the needs of a population that had expanded far beyond anything that the Freeds had envisioned, and provided trash collection in extra ugly dumpsters.

Others did not, and the trash bags piled up next to the dumpsters and ripped, spilling the contents and attracting rats. With no votes and no influence, there was little impetus to stop the skid.

The Condos at The Oaks stayed neat and tidy. Hyde Park turned its back on the mother colony and looked north, to the Ballston Metro. Big Pink, cut off in its own park, turned inward and became an island of threadbare luxury, a grand dame whose image in the mirror was glamorous, if a little fuzzy.

The dream of the low-density garden apartments was dead, even as you could see the bones emerging from the corpse.

That is where I come in the story, which could be one of those Phoenix-like risings from the ashes. Of course, it could be more ashes of unintended consequences. Too soon to tell.

Steve and I finished our eggs. I was impressed by his civic spirit and reporter's eye for what is happening on the ground.

He is the single best-placed journalist source in this micro market. I glanced at my watch, making my apologies, wondering if I was going to have to lower the top on the convertible to clamber out and go to work.

Parking, I swear. Almost as bad as the damned commute.

Copyright 2007 Vic Socotra

Close Window