Come the rapture, may I have your credit cards?
The two-billion-dollar National Harbor Project received its final nod of funding back in August of 2004, and the big, glass-enclosed hive of marble, steel, and piped-in new-age saccharine hypnosis is nearly complete.
I had the opportunity to tour the mammoth Gaylord Resort with some co-workers as we plan an upcoming whoopie-doodle of a trade conference. And being the token Art Director in a group of editors gave me license to bring a camera and snap strange detail photos as we walked through the place.
NOTE: "Token Art Directors" will also be the most cynical, unkempt, quick to laughter, and the first to order scotch of any editorial group on field-trips like this.
Anyway: This "National Harbor" is a curious thing. It is, quite literally, in the middle of freaking nowhere. Technically it's in Maryland, across the Potomac from Alexandria, VA, and it's an easy drive from DC along 295, but it is eerily isolated. Certainly no public transit available.
As you approach it, the place begins to feel like a pre-fabricated, glossy Jonestown: It looks like the work of a cult of corporate/retail executives and paranoid survivalist lunatics who had this compound built to preserve their opulent, credit-card-waving lifestyle after the bombs drop and reduce the rest of us to carbon-stained cockroach kibble.
So why this location? What's the big idea? During the tour, I heard something about the developer having the site for some twenty years before launching the project. So perhaps "the big idea" was simply one of financial convenience, coupled with the ugly conceit of modern "place-making." Behold:
The approach from the 295 exit takes you along a new, crisp, flawless, manufactured "main street" of highbrow shopping and condos. Along the sidewalks you will see strolling families of fresh-faced Clean Laundry People, all of whom look suspiciously artificial--as if they'd been hired by the developer to wander outside eternally, providing the illusion that PEOPLE EXIST HERE. EVERYONE IS VERY HAPPY.
I know it's a matter of personal taste, but these suddenly-manufactured "town center" projects strike me as insanely creepy. The Kentlands in Montgomery County is like this: a nightmare of Stepford-Wives pleasantry, where it seems behind every smiling face is some boiling evil. Behind every WELCOME mat, some horrific violation is going on.
Can't trust it. Warning lights and sirens in the brain start going apeshit.
Despite its new-ness, the Gaylord hasn't had an easy run so far. Early on, it suffered a well-publicized plague of mice in the hotel, followed by a bit of norovirus contamination in the food, resulting in some rather unhappy guests and employees.
Oh, and on top of the mice and food poisoning was the slight problem of death. That can't be good for publicity.
But the place is definitely shiny, I'll give it that.