You will rarely read me discussing politics here. Not that I’m apolitical; it’s just that I enjoy social interaction without barriers, and there is little else besides religion that can create factions as quickly as politics.
My recent whirlwind trip to our nation’s Capitol caught me ill-prepared for tourism. I was attending the Newspaper Association of America’s technical exposition known as NEXPO at the Washington Convention Center. The boss man and I were looking for a few specific items and we had one day to do it – Tuesday. So we were to fly in Monday, do the show on Tuesday and head out on Wednesday.
Our arrival was early afternoon leaving a lot of daylight remaining, so I suggested a quick walk to the White House about a half-dozen blocks from our base of operations, the Grand Hyatt. After a brisk stroll we made it to the North Lawn and gaped through the fence to see nothing in particular except what one would find in a generic history book. I was looking for the kitschy photo-op cardboard cut-outs to pose with for a faux pic, but alas, there were none.
Hey, wonder what the other side looks like? Normally, walking around a house doesn’t involve breaking a sweat, but of course, one would be correct in thinking that the residence of the leader of the free world would be substantial enough to merit a wide perimeter. Twenty minutes later we were facing the South Lawn, home of the Annual Easter Egg Roll and other less important functions. There was a lot of activity with people and equipment moving about; I assumed that it was in preparation for the Pope’s arrival the following day. In fact, everywhere we looked there were bleachers or partitions arising from the lawns and sidewalks. The Pope is coming! The Pope is coming! There was a lot of construction on barricades, bleachers and Pope paraphenalia from street vendors. I regret not getting close enough to some of the parade hawkers to see what kind of merchandise they were offering for sale, but being used to what’s pitched on the sidelines at Mardi Gras parades I could imagine inflatable mitres and light-up crociers and big foam praying hands.
Hey, lookee there – there’s the Washington Monument and it’s right there! Let’s go! The Washington Monument is 555 feet and 5-1/8 inches tall, a fact that I did not posses at the time, otherwise I would have been able to more accurately judge what “right there” actually meant.
The first thing that struck me about the grounds was the grounds – there’s so much of them! Lots and lots and lots of open areas, and there were frisbee tossers, pick up baseball games and joggers. There were joggers? That’s a complete understatement. I was starting to feel completely overdressed not having sneakers and shorts, because it appeared that non-runners were in the minority.
Once at the monument there’s little else to do except read and look. And look! There’ the Capitol, but over there’s the Lincoln Memorial! “Which was is the Vietnam Wall?” asked the boss.
“That way,” I motioned having no idea why. Honestly, I hadn’t a clue as to which direction anything was in Washington, but something made me look West – truth be told, the Lincoln Memorial looked closer than the Capitol.
We first came across the brand new National World War II Memorial dedicated in May, 2004. I had four uncles who served in WWII. Two never returned, and one became a P.O.W. in the Bataan Death March. Uncle Pat chronicled his experiences in the Phillipines in A Soldier Story. My late father-in-law also served in the Pacific Theatre even venturing into the Japan Harbor.
This was not the last emotional moment I’d have in D.C.
Finally a map! I’m a map guy. I don’t do well flying by the seat of my pants. I have an uncanny sense of direction, but if I don’t know in which direction my goal lies that uncanny sense is trivial. The map saved me. Just ahead hidden behind a berm was the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Silent. Awe inspiring.
We looked up two names from our hometown and said a prayer before each.
Naturally, we walked the steps to the Lincoln Memorial. I assumed that many there made the same walking trip because they were chillin’ on the steps. As the crowd milled about outside there was a bit more reverence inside. The view across the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Memorial and the Nation’s Capitol was not one I expected, and I drank it in.
The walk back to the hotel took us again past the obelisk and toward the Capitol. But we turned North halfway across the National Mall. I didn’t remember the hotel being so far north, but H street was indeed eight blocks away. OK, eight blocks ain’t really much, but to two quintagenarians who had just logged over five miles, expecting eight more blocks is asking a bit much. We made it. I started to doubt us, but we dodged the cop-out cab ride – barely.
Dinner was close by the concierge promised. “Two blocks, I assure you.” We didn’t tip her because we didn’t believe her. It was indeed two blocks. I felt bad for doubting, but the steak made me feel better.
The next morning was the convention, remember? The reason we were there? We actually made all of our contacts and appointments by noon. The floor officially closed at 3:00 p.m. but after lunch the booths were almost deserted. We were satisfied with our meetings so decided another sight-seeing hike was in order. As much as we looked forward to the sights and sites, our mode of travel was reluctant. We walked some more.
The trip to the Capitol from Washington Convention Center is probably a little under a mile, but our poor soles were still reeling from yesterday’s workout. Still a walking tour yield many more memories than a cab ride would have – like the Ron Paul rally in front on the Capitol lawn.
Darrell asked if I wanted to peek in the Smithsonian just down the street. I told him the museums closed at 5 o’clock, just over a couple of hours from now. It would just piss me off to get inside for a glimpse and then have to leave. I’ll come back when I’ve got more than 48 hours in town.
“So what about Arlington?” he asked.
I told him that was across the river from the Lincoln Memorial. Neither of us were up to hoofing it that way again, so he approached a security guard for the best way to get to the National Cemetery. He advised the Metro stop a couple of blocks away. A subway? How novel!
Having navigated MARTA in Atlanta for years, I found the Metro quite easy. Before we knew it the Blue Line brought us across the Potomac.
We opted for the tram through the cemetery stopping first at the Eternal Flame. My mind raced back to Mrs. McGee’s 5th grade class. That’s where I was November 22, 1963.
My wife text messaged me to be sure to catch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. That was our next stop. There are few words that adequately describe the experience, and my vocabulary is insufficient, so I won’t even try.
When our tour ended we made our way back to the Metro station, but we had no idea how to get to where we were going. We asked a station attendant how to get back to the Grand Hyatt. He didn’t know but asked where it was. I told him H St NW at 11th NW.
“Oh, just get off at Metro Center. It’s right around there.”
That simple, huh? Very quickly we were at Metro Center, and upon disembarking the train I wondered aloud to Darrell where we head? He pointed out “that way, I suppose.” I was chagrined citing the door emblazoned with “Grand Hyatt” directly ahead. A few twists and turns of the hallway and we arrived directly in the lobby of our hotel. My feet has not forgiven me since.
We left D.C. the next morning. Took the Metro directly to Reagon International in fact. But I vowed to return. I swore I wasn’t going to let the Smithsonian piss me off.
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