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Every city and town contains people of different classes: rich, poor, and somewhere in between. What’s it like where you live? If it’s difficult for you to discern and describe the different types of classes in your locale, describe what it was like where you grew up — was it swimming pools and movie stars, industrial and working class, somewhere in between or something completely different?

“Inside the Beltway” describes where we live in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. The ring of two roads in Maryland and Virginia going clockwise and counter-clockwise around the nation’s capital encloses some of the most sought after real estate in the region. It provides homes for  high-level government workers, members of Congress, the ubiquitous government contractors, lots of lawyers and other professional people. Because of government and lobbying, it must hold the greatest concentration of lawyers in the United States. Our doctors, hospitals, and other medical professionals are among the best. The schools are all good; in fact we have one of the best school systems in the United States in our county in Virginia, and the best public science and technology high school. What else could one ask for?

I’d like a little less opulence and exclusivity. Every time new houses are built they are grander than the group that preceded them. What we would have called starter homes in the naiveté of our twenties, are now being razed to make way for other million dollar plus homes, and we already have enough of those. In fact, it’s almost impossible to buy a new single family home in the inner circle (beltway) for less than a million in Virginia.

That doesn’t leave a lot of prospect for young families and those who have lesser incomes, and it probably means that we have a large proportion of two-income households. Many people move further out, even way out. We have lived in our house for about 30 years, and it’s relatively modest by Beltway standards. In fact when we moved here there was still a farm “across the way”, a number of people who had land enough for horses, and even a 30-acre orchard down the road. All of those places are now covered by houses. The county further west of ours used to be largely farm country — now it’s full of homes and people, new schools, shopping centers, and jobs, no doubt one of the fast growing counties in the state. And this expansion extends in all directions out from the hub of the Capitol.

This makes it very hard for people who are: starting their first job; teaching or working in schools; fighting fires; arresting bad guys; building the new houses; working as administrators, secretaries, and lower level government employees; collecting our trash and recycling; mowing our lawns; cleaning our homes; and many more. Lots of those people live further out, or find rentals in the few areas where there is affordable accommodation.

The area of the greatest diversity is national or ethnic origin. Our schools are filled with children who are learning English as their second language, and while many of these are native Spanish-speakers from several countries, others come from places far and wide on the globe. One sees on a daily basis people of a different color, ethnicity, or religion.

Visitors from other parts of the country tend to love D.C. even if they have to fight the traffic and find their way around busy streets. It is a beautiful city, one of the nicest anywhere. Of course the infusion of money from the federal government helps to keep it that way. But a lot of people from other states must also wonder at the sheer size of the government. There are big, expensive houses everywhere, but the number per capita of them here must be thought-provoking. It is impossible to estimate how many well-paid jobs there are in this area because the federal government is here.

I love to visit my daughter is Richmond, Virginia. It’s a city on a more manageable scale. You can walk a lot more places, there’s an interesting mix of people all around, and housing is diverse both in quality and age, and it’s more affordable to live there. Of course, the lobbyists in the state capital aren’t playing for as high stakes as those in the national capital, and the number of government contractors is far lower, yet there is still a good diversity of jobs, and a large state university, too. It’s a vibrant place and has an “on the way up” feel about it. People who live there love their city — even if not every square inch of it.

In many ways, where I live is just great — we have everything we need and more. It’s been a good place for raising kids, too. Yet I have this notion, especially when we have visited other places or passed through them, that we are not representative of the people who inhabit the greater portion of our country. I often wish life were simpler, less hectic, and more personal.

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