Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Kenneth Krafchek

"We have lived a short block and a half from Columbia Pike, near the Wendy’s, for thirty-one years. Before that we lived at Fairlington. My wife, Debbie, had lived in Arlington and worked in Washington DC. I was freelancing as an editorial illustrator and was happy to move to Arlington. Her sister lived nearby, just across I-395, so it was important to Debbie that we remain in Arlington. Thirty years ago as a young couple with two daughters and me a struggling artist, we could afford to live in Arlington.
My father had lived in Arlington during the 1950’s when he was a bachelor and worked at the National Security Agency, which was located where the National Guard complex is now located. He got married to my mom and I was born here and we lived in the Buckingham neighborhood. Mom went to get milkshakes at the drugstore when she was pregnant. But NSA moved to Maryland and so did we.
Living in Arlington has been great. But if we were young again we couldn’t afford to live here. Unfortunately, like so many other families, neither of my children can afford to purchase a house in Arlington, despite their good jobs and multiple undergraduate and graduate degrees. Between my daughters and son-in-law there are two undergrad and three graduate degrees at George Mason University. I worry about not just lower-income families, but also middle-income people and what this means for Arlington. Diversity has always been important to us, and there still seems to be the possibility for diversity across race, ethnicity and class, but for how long? 

One of our daughters attended Washington-Lee High School and later attended George Mason University. She eventually married at the Presbyterian church one block from our home. She is a schoolteacher and her husband is a police officer. My son-in-law grew up here as well. His mother attended the same church and his grandfather served as a substitute minister from time to time. The congregation remains, but the original church building is being transformed into an affordable housing, training and worship facility. I think that’s a positive change, as the church congregation was shrinking and they had a social justice bent to their work, so they thought this way their good work would continue. I am all for this.

Our younger daughter attended Wakefield High School and later attended George Mason University as well. She is a social worker and is engaged to a young man who works for a health insurance provider. They first met at Wakefield, after he emigrated from Ethiopia. He came here when he was about thirteen years old, moving to join his father and his uncle who had emigrated to Arlington before him. My daughter and her fiancé still live in Arlington, renting the same apartment that his uncle owns and had first lived in when emigrating here. But when they get married I don't know where they will live. They are getting married this summer in our backyard! Three years ago we traveled to Ethiopia to bring his mother back to live and work in Arlington. There was a surprise engagement party for them there. His mother now lives on Four Mile Run, often shopping at the small Ethiopian establishments on Columbia Pike. 
The changes along Columbia Pike have been slow but consistent. I thought the trolley car idea would just speed up the changes that would come, some for the better, others for the worse. I hope the changes don’t push out old friends and eradicate the old places. One change I did not like was when the Cowboy Cafe moved. They moved when they built the Giant grocery store and redeveloped that area. There is an Episcopal church across from Bob & Edith’s Diner where my dad attended as a bachelor. Did you know that 5 Guys started here at the shopping center where the Pike meets Glebe Road? Now their shops are everywhere. I think there were five guys! She also taught the son and grandson of the current owner of Bob & Edith’s, who is himself the son of the Bob and Edith. We still go there, to the original one, the tiny one. There is still the Goodwill, now that’s a great place to get knick-knacks and found objects to make collages, etc. We used to take our car to Alward’s Garage, a quintessential one-hundred-year-old garage and the man who owned it was very old, too. Looked like a Norman Rockwell garage. He was old-school Virginia. When we moved here there were open fields strewn about. There were fields across from Alward’s. Where the Chipotle is now there was nothing, just open fields. The McDonald’s has been here forever and I have bought many big breakfasts there—when the kids were little and even now. The veterinarian’s office across from the CVS still has some old photos displayed of what the Pike used to look like years ago.

Debbie is now retired from teaching middle-school. I am still working, and continue to commute over three hours a day to and from Baltimore, three to four days a week. I have been doing this for over thirty years to teach at the Maryland Institute College of Art because my children were thriving and happy here in Arlington. 
Given the age of our house and its “value” according to the County, I expect that when we do finally sell, buyers will tear it down and rebuild.  At this point our family story in Arlington will end. This thought makes me sad. My house is not an investment as much as a place to raise a family. I hear a lot within public policy venues about property values, traffic, buying and selling property, Amazon and more, but I don't hear much discussion about Arlington remaining a home."
Interview by Sushmita Mazumdar. Photography by Lloyd Wolf.

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