The sights and sounds of 14th St. NW

Living in one of the University's hubs

Last Friday, my street corner went up in flames and down in infamy.

Wallowing in basketball-induced despair, I was none too pleased when my roommate came bustling in and yanked open our blinds. Sure, I’d heard some noise outside, but that’s what you get for living on 14th Street. My emotions had just been thrown around like Coach K’s marker — what on earth had my blinds done to be manhandled in the same manner?

She pointed to the street. There, only 30 feet away, was a blazing couch and a growing crowd of excited onlookers.

We sat and watched the saga as the fire department showed up, sprayed the couch and crowd alike, and left a gaggle of inebriated Wahoos standing in line to take selfies with the couch’s burnt remains. Only when they left, however, did we realize how bizarre it was that our whole apartment had remained unaware of the fire until someone saw the flames on Twitter and recognized our apartment in the background. (Do you have fears about the inescapability of social media and our generation’s startling lack of human interaction? If so, consider them confirmed.)

In addition to fearing we all might become technology-controlled drones, you might wonder how my roommates and I could remain as oblivious and unfazed as we did. Hoards of laughing, yelling, shouting, fire hoses and the entirety of Boylan did little more than provide us with a brief stint of entertainment.

Well, here’s the thing: 14th Street is weird.

My living situations have always had their quirks. I spent my first year in Balz-Dobie, where construction was never quite complete and it was completely feasible for me to wake up in my sixth-floor room to see a man on a ladder working on my window. Lambeth had its own listservs, replete with requests for everything from printers to sponges to stinkbug-killers. But 14th Street is the first place I’ve ever lived where I could regularly close my eyes in the evening and appreciate what it would sound like to live in the heart of Gotham City.

To be fair, it took some getting used to. Drunken squeals, game-day fireworks and accidental car alarms sound alarmingly similar to shrieks of anguish, gunfire and robbery if you’re not adequately prepared. For a while, I was inclined to think the world was regularly in danger of ending on any given Thursday night.

Luckily, after the initial months of fear, you start to appreciate the humor. My woefully underutilized Twitter is a dumping ground for my shameless self-promotion of my articles and, more importantly, my commentary on the madness which surrounds me. Twice, I have heard loud a cappella renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the apartment across the street. Once, a broken lamp showed up on our second-story porch.

Sometimes the weekend soundtrack is subtle — a mixed tape of drunken chatter loud enough to be heard through the walls but not quite so aggressively articulate you can make out the words. Other times, it’s a drunken boy in the stairwell whose romantically slurred “I said you’re beautiful” statements are met with an underwhelming response — unsurprising, given the poorly chosen venue.

In addition to being a poor space for declarations of beauty, my building also doubles as an amplifier. Sounds resonate through the walls with the force of a great typhoon — I’d say the strength of a raging fire, but given Friday’s excitement, it might be too soon. At this point, I’m fairly certain I live beneath a troupe of elephants particularly skilled in the art of African rain dancing. Last time they had a party, my ceiling shook.

And yet, I’m accustomed to the absurdity. Just the other night, my roommate and I sat on the couch — she with her biology book, me with a life or death game of 2048 — when we heard something akin to cannon fire. Neither of us looked up, nor did we stir. Assuming a logical explanation — eh, it was probably the dumpster — I struggled to match my two 64s.

Dorothy once said, “There’s no place like home,” and no truer words have ever been spoken. 14th Street: I live it, and — finally — I love it. I also take it with a grain of salt, a shriek, a neighboring pet elephant and some cannons.

At least there’s never a dull moment.

Caroline’s column runs biweekly Thursdays. She can be reached at

Published April 2, 2014 in Life

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