One time I saw David Brooks hail a cab in DC. I still feel bad about this. I mean, it’s embarrassing enough that I recognized him by his author photo, but my shame is geometrically increased by the fact that I live in a place where David Brooks is a pretty good celebrity sighting.
Washington’s lack of celebrities is baked into its existence: Many world capitals bring together their countries’ political, entertainment, and financial establishments as well as stars of local sports and business. Here, we usually have to wait around for famous people to visit the Capitol to lobby for an obscure endangered animal. So in the normal course of events, spotting John Michael Higgins at a Pret on L Street, which I am proud to say I did recently, is a brag you can absolutely go to town on.
But now DC has a genuine world celebrity in its midst. Wayne Rooney recently signed with D.C. United, and as the Washington Post has noted, he has more Twitter followers than all of DC’s sports teams and their biggest stars combined. In his native Britain, Rooney’s hairline is a matter of national importance. But in Washington, Guardian reporter Les Carpenter discovered, very few people know who he is.
This is probably a nice change for Wayne Rooney, who can’t even get away with a drunken VW ride back home. And while I’d be thrilled to cover his antics as an editor at a news outlet that recently wrote up Kristen Wiig buying some cards, my guess is Wayne Rooney will be able to lay a lot lower over here. This is an ever-more worldly place, but the planet’s most popular sport still commands a smaller percentage of the region’s mental real estate than hockey. So don’t forget to check out Clarendon, Wayne Rooney!
In fact, you could argue that Rooney will be the rare global celebrity who simultaneously will be what we call “Washington famous”—subject to wall-to-wall tabloid coverage back home, but engendering the sort of quiet, recognizing-Janet Napolitano-makes-me-part-of-the-cosmopolitan-tribe thrill here inside the Beltway. For many people here, intermittent fame is the ideal. It’s what lets you fill Politics and Prose during your book talk and then dine in peace across the street. (That unwritten compact used to cover most administration officials, too, but it’s now off.) It’s also one of the underappreciated reasons for living here: You can do work that touches a lot of people and still have plenty of elbow room at the farmers market. The fame Wayne Rooney enjoyed in Britain looks more like the type of fame young people expect–dumb nicknames, intrigue, sordid sex scandals. Here he’ll be able to go to work, come home, and maybe even go to dinner without making Playbook. He’ll of course need to avoid David Brooks if this is what he wants.