Tom Jennings is a rarity in Washington, D.C.

He’s a native.

“Yep. Born here. Went to school here. Lived here all my life.”

Until recently. Earlier this year, Jennings packed up wife, children, cars, boat and belongings and hightailed it to 15 acres and a farmhouse 24 miles south of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The family had t-shirts made at a shop at Potomac Mills. They said: “We survived Washington.”

Jennings sits in the Center Café in Washington’s Union Station on a Thursday afternoon and drinks a beer, waiting for the 6:40 Virginia Railway Express train that will take him south, away from Washington and its crime, its sorry government and its problems.

After the hour-long train ride to Fredericksburg, he will drive another 30 minutes to get home. That’s three hours a day that Tom Jennings spends getting to and from his law office near Capitol Hill.

It is, he says, worth every minute.

“Look, I spent 37 years in this city. My parents were both D.C. natives. They loved Washington. If they weren’t dead already, it would kill them to see what a shithole this place has become.”

Don’t get Jennings started about what’s wrong with Washington. After all, he’s got a train to catch.

“Bums on the street, cops on the take, homeboys walking around like they own the place and a convicted drug user as mayor. What’s wrong with this picture?”

Jennings blames Congress for what happened to his hometown.

“The slide started with District home rule. The city was turned over to people who had no idea what they were doing. Washington city government has managed to make Congress look smart. That’s a laugh.”

Should the federal government take over?

“Take over? Maybe they should send in the national guard. Declare martial law. Throw half the police force in jail. Reopen Alcatraz and send Marion Barry there. That might do for a start.”

Strong words for someone who still works in the city.

“Hey, we’re here until the lease runs out next year, then the entire office is outta here. We practice international law. I deal with real third world countries. I don’t have to live or work in one too.”

Moving to Northern Virginia or Mayland?

“Hell no. Maybe we’ll go to Fredericksburg or Richmond.”

Sounds like Tom Jennings is burned out on his home town.

“Damn right. I may go to hell when I die, but I don’t have to live in one while I’m alive.”

Jennings looks at his watch. It’s 6:30. Time to go. He picks up his coat and briefcase and heads for the train.

“Take my advice. Get the hell out while you still have a chance. This town’s going to explode one day and we don’t want to be around when it happens.”

Jennings strides away and the guy in the next bar stool shakes his head.

“You know, he’s right. But if I said all that, I’d be called a racist.”

Tom Jennings won’t be called a racist.

Tom Jennings is black.

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC