Some things could only happen in Alexandria. For example, only here does the water company make the return slip in your bill upside down. Only here do we take a major commuter thoroughfare and get rid of a lane in favor of a couple of rarely used bike lanes. Only on Lee Street do residents have to spend thousands of dollars on Halloween candy – the chief beneficiary of this, other than the kids, are the “social Safeway” and area dentists. Only here do realtors outnumber all other professions combined – or, at least it seems that way. You get the idea.
Funny things happen in Alexandria that could only happen in Alexandria. Years ago, during George W. Bush’s administration, I attended the 8 a.m. service at Christ Church. I’ve since changed my affiliation, but that’s another only-in-Alexandria story. When I arrived, there were multiple EMS vans, police cars and black Escalades outside the church. I thought to myself, “This has got to be the President” who, I knew, by tradition, visited Christ Church at least once during a term. It is, after all, the church of George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
When I was allowed through the door, I saw that my suspicions were correct. There, across the way in the presidential pew, was W right on the aisle next to First Lady Laura Bush and what appeared to be several other family members. The church was abuzz as we all felt honored by the presidential visit.
When it came time for communion, the parishioners filed to the altar and exited stage left, which brought us down the aisle where the president sat. There developed a logjam as everyone in their turn greeted the president, shaking his hand and welcoming him. When it came to my turn, W looked up at me with a huge grin and boomed, “Hey Rob! How you doin’?”
Whoa, I almost fell down! I felt as though a big, unexpected gust of wind had knocked me back. The whole Bush family was laughing at my reaction. Then, looking down the pew, I spotted W’s brother Marvin and understood. Marvin was a friend and had put his brother up to the prank. All I could manage was, “Good one, Marvin.”
While we’re on the subject of Christ Church, I have another only-in-Alexandria story. My business partner Andy Williams and I purchased the building at 711 Princess St. as our agency headquarters, two hundred years after the first owner, Rev. David Griffith, built the original part of the house as the rectory for Christ Church. Griffith was the third rector of the church and presided during the time of Washington. Andy and I always said the building had good karma.
Shortly after we bought and renovated the place, we found ourselves as one of the stops on the Virginia Garden Tour. My mother came up for the event and, like everyone, received a pamphlet describing the provenance of the home. Later, my mother showed the writeup to great aunt Frances in Winchester. She immediately understood the significance of the building and proclaimed to my mom, “Does Rob know that the Reverend Griffith is his sixth great grandfather?”
Well, no I certainly did not know. What a coincidence. No member of my family is even from Alexandria. The great aunt provided me with silhouettes of Griffith’s daughters as keepsakes. I always said it was a typical Whittle real estate deal, paying good money for something that had already been in the family.
On a per-capita basis, Alexandria seems to lead the nation in:
•Road construction, speed bumps, overturned scooters, realtors as noted, street flooding, high-end grocery stores, lengthy letters to the editor, ice cream stores, association headquarters, Democrats, seemingly never-open wig stores on a single block.
But we love Alexandria, right? You transplants from California to the New York island, from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters, this town was made for you and me. Oh, and for that handful who are actually from here, you too.
Rob Whittle is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”