Yesterday made me cry


The title was supposed to read “Today made me cry”, but there are some peculiarities about Washington D.C. that you (or at least I) wouldn’t have guessed.

For example, would you believe that almost nothing opens up before 7 am?  Not the food stores, the drugstores, the parking garages, the eating places?

In the same line, almost everything closes by 9 pm.  The same drugstores, food stores, garages, etc.  This includes Starbucks, which means my access to the internet ends if I have a late night.  Thus, a post about yesterday that gets published today.  Sorry.

Day 5 of the Grand Road Trip started placidly enough.  The apartment I’m staying in is up for sale by my hosts.  With the superb location (3 blocks from the White House), you can imagine they have plenty of interest.  The general plan is for me to be out the door before 10 am and not return until around 5-ish.  Clearly not a problem for someone with all of Washington around him and never having visited before.

The other cool thing about this location is that just about anything you would want to visit in the city is within a two-mile radius, easily set up for walking, especially in the amazingly moderate temperatures that showed up this week (highs in the mid 70s).

My first goal was the Air and Space museum (‘natch, being a boy grown up on science fiction and comic books).  In accordance with so many friends’ insistence I join this century’s technology, I decided to eschew a paper map and guide myself via the iPhone.  I was even more surprised when the map provided a progression of the steps to take by pressing buttons, much better than scrolling a list.  Basically, it operates like a GPS, giving turn by turn advice.  I think I always knew it did this, but where was I ever walking that I needed it (already having a nav in the car).

We had some heavy (HEAVY!) rains late the night before and the morning before I set out.  I waited what I felt was an appropriate time, donned my rain coat and set out based on the iPhone directions.

Something about wandering through streets you’ve never seen before has a tendency to take you to places you might not go otherwise.  Streets steeped in history like D.C. only add to the pull away from straight point-to-point travel and, after all, it’s not like I had any imperative for speed.

About ten minutes into the walk, now somewhere off the path desginated for me (and thus now confused), the rains came down.  Huge, drenching, flooding rains.  Washingtoin streets, having already experienced days of similar weather, backed up almost immediately, creating a series of small lakes at nearly every intersection.

Somehow, I found myself wandering close to the Washington Monument.    Clearly no longer in the direction I should be, I was somewhat at a disadvantage.  It didn’t seem like a smart idea to pull out my iPhone to check my directions in the middle of the pouriong rain.  I took some consolation in the fact that a paper map would not survive the attempt to read it in that rain either.

While I couldn’t actually visit the place due to the recent earthquake, I could view it…if I could see.  Taking the glasses off didn’t materially affect my vision (actually clearing it up since raindrops don’t blot out eyeballs like lenses), but the rain running down my forehead into my eyes wasn’t particularly helpful.

Let me stop a moment to talk of my most excellent rain jacket.  This is something I picked up at the Toyota plant in Kentucky.  It’s set up for superb performance, even having plastic tips and hidden zippers so nothing can scratch the cars while the workers wear them.  Because Kentucky can get quite cold, the jacket comes with a zip in (removable) thermal lining (that I’m wearing this morning since we’re in the 50s).  It also has a hood to prevent rain from hitting your forehead and running into your eyes.

The problem with the hood is that is is strategically rolled up and hidden away in the back collar.  Very efficient.  Unless you need to get to it while you are walking in a downpour.  I struggled with it for a few minutes finally managing to get it free,,,by accidentally unzipping it from the entire jacket.  Yeah, smooth.  I ultimately gave up and made my way to a distant covered area where I took the whole jacket off and fixed the hood.  Of course the rain stopped about 15 minutes later.

Once the rain stopped, I used a new technique to get where I needed:  street signs.  Within minutes I made it to the Air and Space and, much to my surprise, found that admission was free!

It is an amzaing place, which I travelled for seven hours, seeing an IMAX movie (when theaters can show 3D movies like that, that’s when I’ll pay the extra money) and a Planetarium show.  When I was in the “space race” section, there was a clip of President Kennedy asking Congress for the approval to send men to the moon.  It was unbelievably compelling and tears formed in my eyes as I realized that mankind lost that fantastic thirst for space exploration as soon as the first Nintendo was built.

After I left the Air and Space, I travelled to the Washington Monument again and then to the War Memorial where I was able to say thank you to some veterans as I passed them (they were there for a ceremony commemorating their service to our country).

Finally, I made it to the Lincoln Memorial, a place I had been dreaming about standing in front of ever since my first viewing of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a young boy.  It was an incredibly moving experience, as I stood there in front of the great statue and then moved off to read aloud the stirring words.

As I left the memorial, I glanced back, tears once more filling my eyes, both as I realized I had accomplished a dream and from a similar realization that 150 years later we still fail to learn how to treat everyone equally.

There’s so much more to tell, but this blog is long enough (and this Starbuck’s has a water problem with their bathrooms and has to close up, so I’ll leave the next post for more.  I think I’ll do Museum of Natural History and Library of Congress today.

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