Thursday, February 23, 2017

Notes from Our 3-day Trip to DC

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wanted to be fresh for the day, so instead of waking at 4 AM to run for 2.5 hours, I instead start my run at 11:15 PM, run for 2.5 hours, hit the sack at 2 AM, and wake at 6. Yes, that’s refreshing. Such is the life of a runner. I spend the time listening to Mitch Hedberg. Relevant to this discussion, as you’ll soon see.

We’re all out of the house at 9:09 AM. Fantastic timing.

Fog joins us along the way. Visibility zero.

So foggy, that I notice flocks of birds are flying much lower, staying beneath the clouds as they migrate. These are the things I notice. I know I’ve got your attention so far.

The buses we pass are all headed our way. Silver Spring and DC await!

The kids choose Ghost Dad from the 20+ CDs we freshly bought, and brought with us for the trip. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

I like taking pictures of state “welcome” signs. Beneath the Delaware sign, a cop has pulled over a speeder. Helluva way to be welcomed to a state.

We pull into a 7-11 at the midpoint and switch driving duties. I got the wheel.

The kids are now watching Cop and a Half. Hey, 80s movies is what we’re familiar with.

We pass Blue Ball Road. We’re not even *in* Pennsylvania, state of a million innuendoes.

The Eagle lands in Washington and we get a nice preview of The Mall – post-inauguration and women’s-protest – en route to lunch. We’re famished.

We pass the Washington Monument – I point out the change in color one-third of the way up – and the Watergate Hotel. We try to explain to our kids what exactly “scandal” means.

I notice immediately that traffic patterns are weird here. Hmmm.

Char bar is where we land, one of few kosher options in DC proper. Food is very, very good. Kids enjoy.

We cross the Potomac and head for Arlington National Cemetery. We’re basically following President Trump’s inauguration-weekend footsteps. A hard rain falls.

We observe the changing of the guard. Arresting and deathly serious. My wife opines that it’s emotionally cold.

We pay our respects to JFK. We didn’t know Jackie lost a child months before losing her husband. Gosh.

We drive past The Pentagon, the world’s largest office building. Did you know that because of its shape, no single point is more than seven minutes’ walk from any other point? That’s crazy.

Usually we spend a day or two in a vacation spot before witnessing road rage, but as we exit VA back into DC, we see our first traffic-induced middle finger. Feels like home.

We circle back around The Mall and slingshot all the way back up to Baltimore to have dinner with an old friend of my wife’s. Food and company is excellent.

We head back to DC. I have some monument-gazing in mind. Kids revolt, demand to get back to hotel, as they’re exhausted. Having filed a successful petition and protest, apropos to where we are, my wife and I comply. We arrive at the hotel in MD and collapse.

Now, to quote Mitch Hedberg: “I can't tell you what hotel I'm stayin' in, but there are two trees involved. They said "Let's call this hotel 'Something Tree'". So they had a meeting, it was... It was quite short. "How 'bout 'Tree'?" "No." "'Double Tree'?" "Hell, yeah! Meeting adjourned!" "I had my heart set on 'Quadruple Tree'" "Well, we were almost there!”

You’ll see the relevance shortly.

Monday, January 23, 2017

It’s cold and rainy in the deep, dark night, so I choose paradise by the treadmill light.

In other words, duh, because it’s sloppy outside, I do a 5k in the 24/7 hotel gym to start my day.

We’re out and about pretty quickly, and head to Goldberg’s New York Bagels for a filling breakfast.

Dude behind the counter is wearing the same Alf shirt my wife bought me ( I give him the appropriate compliment.

Food’s good. On to DC!

Kids watch Sgt. Bilko en route.

We try to get a peek at The White House as we head towards The Mall. That’s not so easy. The Treasury and Eisenhower building flank it to the east and west, a park with obscuring trees, statues, scaffolding, and cranes protect it from the north, and clearly, they drive pedestrians batty when attempting access from the south. Directional signs are also confusing. Hmmmmmm.

We’ve taken the car, as you can tell, as opposed to the train. Lots went into the calculus, but we made the right decision, especially because of the cold rain.

We use a two-hour parking option, and alight from there to visit the National Air and Space Museum.

Upon entering, and unzipping from the layers against the cold, I immediately get a compliment for my t-shirt, also a gift from my wife ( I guess it’s give a compliment, get a compliment.

My wife bumps into another old friend, two of ‘em actually (how come I never get to?)! They used the train and are soaked to the bone, validating our decision. Yay!

The place is Valhalla to me, but we can never predict what would interest or disinterest our children. It’s always a crapshoot, and we do our best guesswork. Well, this is what The Mall is for. Everything is free, and if the kids don’t like something, off we go (Philly, we hear, is like that too. We’re making plans).

The biggest mind-blower is the Wright Flyer. Why? Because this ain’t no copy, this thing is no facsimile, it isn’t a mock-up, it is the real deal, and it’s magic. My daughter wrote a book report on it for school and was proud to pose in front of it. The boys? Moving right along.

A rock from the moon does fascinate everyone, but everyone’s raring to go.

So be it, back into the rain. Feed the meter, and we trudge across to the National Gallery of Art, where  - to my wife’s and my utter surprise – we spend more time here than we do than at any other place we’ll visit during our stay.

Why? Simple: they have these audio guides you hang around your neck. They have kiddy versions and adult versions. Punch in the number of the painting and a narrator gives you background information, and details of the artistic elements. Wonderful! The kids soak it up!

Our favorites:

·         Daughter: almost anything by Giovanni Paolo Panini, but most especially “Interior of the Pantheon”:
·         Big boy: “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley:
·         Me:  “The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries” (because of the propaganda of all the little details:, “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” (just look at the tension in his every muscle):, “The Fall of Man” (NSFW –gosh so many beautiful details):, and “The Veiled Nun” (because look at it and tell me how you can sculpt marble to appear translucent):

Time’s up! Back into the rain. Feed the meter, and we trudge across to the National Museum of American History.

The day is waning, so we don’t get to see the whole place, but we are greeted at the entrance by a ye olde Yiddish ad selling mohel knives ( Now that’s interesting.

The girls are enamored with the First Lady dresses, the boys by recorded JFK speeches, and me by the Presidential Death section of the museum. They have the hat Lincoln wore when he was murdered. It mesmerizes me that it has been preserved.

I ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Back out in the rain and off to the car, where we witness the car in front of us get towed from its spot for overstaying its metered time, presumably. Whoa, they mean business here!

I do a calculation of how far we walked today on the grounds between the three museums: 4.5-5 miles. Yikes.

We head back to Maryland for dinner.

Kids watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on the way.

We land at Max’s and have a very good, very hardy meal.

Burp; off to our hotel, where we chill for a bit, then it’s time for the pool!

Not so fast, though.

We arrive at the pool, and the lifeguard on duty has an interesting story for us. See, a little girl was here and vomited into the pool. The lifeguard removed the stuff, poured in the chemicals, which need three hours to do their thing before the pool can be considered safe. How long ago was that? One hour. When does the pool close? Two hours. Easy math means we’re out of luck tonight.


This place of two trees is partnered with the place across the street. I can’t tell you what it’s called, but there’s a house and lumber involved. We can just tell them what happened, and they’ll let us use their pool. Okay, cool. Can we take some towels with us so we don’t freeze to death outside? Yes. Well isn’t that nice.

It’s 40 degrees and we’re in our swimmies and meager towels, and if we attempt to go to the corner to cross at the light, we’ll become human icicles, so we make an exception to our traffic-light rule and scurry across mid-street together, and survive.

Upon landing at the hotel across the street, a woman asks me, “Did you just come from an outdoor pool???” I say, “Ma’am, it’s a long story.”

We also survive the trip back across the street, in our wetter conditions.

Well, that was certainly a chavaya!

Showers, and I watch this new show “Hunted” with my big boy (interesting, but it’s rigged for the hunters), and we conk out. Lots of calories burned today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Still raining, and still cold, so I start my day the same way: with another 5k in the gym.

However, milk’s gotta be gotten because we wanna eat quickly, head immediately for DC, and have a fun, busy day.

I run to a local CVS, which is open 24/7, but is closed, which is interesting. Right across is a Whole Foods, which opens at 7:00 AM. It’s 7:01. Perfect.

We have breakfast in our room. I make me a good, strong coffee, and we’re on our way.

As we roll on into DC, we encounter four posts in the road, in a diamond pattern, with connecting lines drawn on the pavement. It’s hard to describe, and even harder to figure out what to do with the blasted thing when we encounter it. I’m telling you, this district is designed by either willful conspirators, or blithering idiots, or both, directed by either or both. Perhaps vehicular frustration is some sort of terrorist-aversion maneuver. Who knows. The city layout is confusing.

We find some more good two-hour parking and venture off to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to experience the fastest tour on Earth. The orientation film is longer than what the tour guide walks us through. It’s like the place really wants to show off what they do, but they don’t really want to give us too close a look. The place is cool, but a tease. They don’t let you handle the paper, or watch a design crew at work. This place can be organized better, and be a true experience, but I get it. Security concerns. Shoyn.

Interestingly, though, we spend better quality educational time in the gift shop, which houses neat toys and lots of fascinating information.

We then walk past the Washington Monument (closed for repairs until 2019) and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (I don’t like the exterior. Rusty like the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Rust is not attractive. Rust reminds me of rusting things), and walk towards The White House, and aim for the top of The Ellipse, which is the best public view.

Not so fast.

A Secret Service guy tells us the area is inaccessible for the next 20 minutes.

We do the only thing we can do: ask him if he can take a picture with the kids. He obliges. Neat!

(At this time, we later learn, someone had put up a sign that said “Resist” on a crane behind The White House, and Secret Service was likely dealing with this at the very moment we arrived)

We then have a quick snack, and walk through a severely squishy Ellipse field to get the second-best view of the White House possible, as we don’t have 20 minutes. Gotta get back to the car.

The pedestrian countdown lights in this city are not uniform. Some are 20 seconds, some 30, some 50, and many other variables. I suppose not knowing when pedestrians cross somehow confuses terrorist activities. Can’t ram that building if you can’t figure out when pedestrians will clear the way for you. Something like that, maybe? Who knows. Getting around this place is frustrating.

We get back to the car before the city has a chance to tow us, and we have some homemade sammitches for lunch.

Off to visit the two men I admire most: MLK, Jr., and Lincoln.

My wife parks ingeniously between a forklift and a smart car. Impressive work.

Now I always say that to truly experience something, you need to see it in person, and set your own eyes upon it.

Prior to arriving here, I didn’t quite get the MLK memorial. Carved out of stone? Half a sculpture? What’s he holding? Why’s he facing that way?

But then, immediately upon setting my eyes on everything at once, the entire grounds, that I understand how gorgeous, and relevant, and beautiful it is.

The thought behind everything, as fashioned, is to represent a salient sentence from his “I Have a Dream” speech. I suddenly realize what the note is that he’s holding, and why he’s facing exactly the direction he gazes upon. Now I understand. The execution is breathtaking (though slightly flawed: the likeness is far from perfect, and other quibbles). I won’t tell you what the sentence is, and how the sculpture represents it. You have to see it for yourself.

Fully inspired, we head back onto the mall, past the DC War Memorial (overly simplistic), the Korean War Veterans Memorial (My children don’t know about this, nor do I think this it’s generally taught in school. It truly is the Forgotten War.), the Reflecting Pool (I tell my daughter to remember this spot, for when she’ll see Forrest Gump), the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (I think this is almost too powerful for young children. There are people always present who are in lots of pain - as has been my experience), and finally reach the grand and awesome Lincoln Memorial (At the foot of the memorial is no marker to declare from where MLK made his famous speech. I think this is an oversight).

I take the time to admire the statue, read the speeches again, and truly take in the place. I encourage my kids to read the speeches too – at a bare minimum the last paragraph of the 2nd inaugural speech; a thing of beauty.

While there, my daughter’s Fitbit hits 10,000 steps for the day. She’s delighted, and shows me the little fireworks.

We depart, and bump into another wave of runners, who are all over this city in droves. I love it. It strikes me that this mall from end to end – that is, from the Potomac to the Capitol - is 3 miles wide, with green spaces north and south and over the bridge into Virginia, and all different kinds of distance permutations can be drawn up and enjoyed. Perhaps I’ll take partake one day.

We alight unto the National Building Museum, which is a place completely opposite what we thought it would be.

Thought: a building featuring architectural exhibits and accomplishments within, which sometimes stages grand events, like inaugural balls.

Is: farkert, as they say in Yiddish. It’s an event space, into which was retrofitted a museum.

The architecture: wow. The contents: meh.

We head off from there to the National Portrait Gallery, which we have high hopes for, but the kids are not enticed, and are quite antsy, and they don’t have the good audio thingies. We at least try to get a glimpse at the presidents’ portraits (Obama isn’t in yet! Much less Trump).

The real stunner is The Four Justices ( My daughter, who also wrote a book report on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, poses for a pic in the empty spot on the couch. You never know!

Time for dinner.

All the traffic peculiarities I’ve been warning about? They come to a head. As we slingshot around The Mall and towards MD for dinner, chaos ensues. Two lane highways suddenly become one; exits are suddenly closed; there is no signage explaining any of this, and cars are whipping all around us. If not for my wife’s astute handling of the wheel, we could have gotten in big trouble, but survive.

We pass the Watergate hotel again (Oh look! There’s Forrest Gump’s room!), and we explain to our daughter why everything ends in “-gate” these days.

And now for a little surprise for the kids.

They know we’re headed back to MD for dinner, but we don’t get very far before we pull over. Their Spidey Senses tingle, and they don’t stop asking what’s going on, until we arrive at:

Krispy Kreme.

We deserve it, what with our calorie-burning by walking all over the place (six miles for the day). We dig in and enjoy, and the kids are satisfied.

They watch Honey, I Blew Up the Kids on the ride.

Man this “I Can Make Your Hands Clap Song” is pretty catchy.

Besides for runners and awful traffic layouts, this city is filled with creative license plates. We spot STPTXTN. Heh.

We arrive at Siena’s for dinner, and eat hardily. Food is very good. My wife meets another old friend.

We chill back at the hotel and head to the pool again. Always an adventure.

A cockroach welcomes us upon entry. My wife points it out to the lifeguard.

He says, “Kill it.”

Stay classy, place that involves two trees.

Another roach is waiting for us in the pool.

Lovely. We have our fun anyway.

Back in our hotel room, I watch “Chopped” with my daughter, and we all crash.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The weather has warmed up a bit, so I finally venture out for my 5k. I meet all the nice homeless people and run over the MD/DC border and back (I make sure to take a picture under the sign. Neat).

CVS rejects my bathroom requests, Giant accepts. That’s where I’ll buy my milk, thank you very much.

We bid our hotel farewell. Before we exit, my wife heads to the front desk to complain about our roach companions. They comp our parking. I suppose that settles the roach problem the hotel has.

I’m telling you, the city planners are functionally insane.

Back in DC, we pass through the embassy area. I show off my flag recognition skills to the kids. Yay me.

We arrive at Ford’s Theater.

Now remember when I said that to truly experience something, you need to be there, to feel it with your own eyes?

This place is like that, on a whole ‘nother level.

The museum is on the small side, but filled with excellent information on Lincoln’s presidency, and everything that led up to the fateful day.

They have the actual weapon used, they have a pillow with the president’s bloodstains still visible upon it, they have details of the much larger conspiracy (of which I was ignorant), and they have something truly arresting: two timelines, side by side, of April 14, 1865; One of Abraham Lincoln’s day, and one of John Wilkes Booth’s day.

Then it gets real.

Ford’s still stages productions throughout the year, and the president’s balcony is preserved as it was, with most furnishings intact. That’s where the president got shot. Here is the stage onto which Booth jumped and broke his ankle. This is the place that history took a massive turn.

You’re also allowed access to the balcony. Your viewing point is right where Booth stood as he fired his shot. The president sat. Right. There. The experience is eerie. Do you smile with the scene in the background? Difficult to figure out the mood (which is slightly uplifted by a site employee asking me about my Everett Aquasox cap [I like the froggy] – man they’re friendly and inquisitive here!).

We’re then led across the street to Peterson House, where Lincoln died nine hours after his fatal wounding. The first room is where the First Lady sat, receiving updates of her husband’s condition. The second room is where Secretary Stanton directed the investigation. The third room is where Lincoln died. I gathered all this in, and, staring at the bed, I dare say, I became emotional, and after my family moved on to the next room, I remained for an extra beat, feeling the history as best as I could.

The rest of the museum walks you through the aftermath of the event: how the news was reported (some in big type, some in teeny-tiny), the arrangements of the many funerals (the first of which was on my birthday – that gave me a start), and the manhunt that ensued before Booth’s pathetic death.

Quite the immersive experience.

Stuffed with more knowledge of history, we head to the eastern part of The Mall.

First stop: The Supreme Court, swarming with more exterior cops than any other building we’ve seen so far.

Our arrival is perfectly timed with the next tour available of The Court Chamber. In we go!

For the half-hour talk, our kids are perfectly behaved, taking it all in – because truly, what happens here is fascinating, and important (duh!).

During the Q&A session, my wife asks why cameras are still not allowed in this setting, and why, in today’s day and age, sketches are necessary to convey the proceedings.

The answer is because the justices consider it invasive and distracting.

Mmhm, so why can’t we take pictures now?

Impressed – and impressed upon - by the experience, I tell my wife I just put it on my bucket list to attend a session here, because it would blow my mind. She advised in turn that she just did the same! We’ll be back!

We have sammitches again for lunch, as we ambulate towards The Capitol.

We take a looooooooong walk around the entire building (I notice runners circumventing too. The grounds are that big), snap some pictures of the Inauguration Aftermath (So nationally traumatic, I’m putting it in caps), take our official vacay selfie with the little flags my wife packed, and attempt to land ourselves a tour of The Capitol before leaving.

Not so fast, we need to contact our Senator or something. Okay fine, next time, so we go through security just so we can use the Capitol Bathrooms before leaving (I’m perfectly happy using any of the thousands of porta-potties, but my family is not quite used to the idea), and we head back towards the car, parked in a lot this time.

As we take our leave, I take a quick poll on everyone’s favorite part of the trip:

Wife: Supreme Court.
Daughter: The 1st art museum.
Big boy: Anything to do with MLK/Lincoln.
Little boy: The 1st art museum.
Me: Anything to do with MLK/Lincoln.

Some trends here.

We grab some pizza bagels from Goldberg’s New York Bagels before we go. My wife takes a business call, and with the kids stuffing their faces and watching King Ralph (This is a kids movie? The language!), there’s some peace and quiet. I take the wheel.

In Delaware, we make a rest area pit-stop, and surprise the kids with some Carvel. Wife at the wheel now.

State sweet state.

Home sweet home.

Upon arriving at my front steps, I find a package waiting for me. Nestled within is my medal for the - how fitting! - Virtual MLK, Jr. 5k, which is the first race victory of my career in my 21st year of running.

And that story needs an entirely different writeup to tell.

I write books. These: If I continue vacationing and reporting, I may just have to publish a travel book.


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