25 January 2010

A Bit of DC

The drive from Charlottesville VA, to Arlington was a breeze; that is until we took exit 71 off of I-66 on the way to the Best Western Pentagon. After such a delightful experience at their Springfield branch, I figured stick with what you know. Big mistake.

The AAA book had directions to the hotel from a different highway so I called the hotel and asked if it were possible to get there from I-66. No problem, just take exit 71 onto Glebe Road and you will see the hotel. Long story short; after 40 minutes of driving back and forth on Glebe, along with four phone calls to the less than accurate front desk, we arrived.

Just looking at the antiquated, old-style, two-story, exterior entrance hotel made me want to keep looking for another place. But it was dark, we were tired and this would have to do. The room was icky and stunk and my brother got huge welts all over his back when he lay down on the blanket. (which disappeared shortly after he extracted himself from said blanket.) It seemed all the other guests were young military types so I assumed this hotel had a deal with the government and didn’t really care about the quality of the rooms.

Our plan had been to get up early, take the Metro into DC for a few hours before returning and driving back to Baltimore. We both thought it might not be all that safe to leave our things at the hotel, but after checking the possibility of parking in DC we stuck with the original plan.

The next morning turned out to be another gorgeous, sunny day as we got on the shuttle that dropped us at the Metro station. Fortunately, we only had three stops to go, neither of us caring much for underground trains.

Originally, we had planned to go to a few Smithsonian Museums but time wasn’t going to permit that this trip. All I really needed to see was that iconic view from the Lincoln Memorial looking up over the pool and onto the Washington Monument. After seeing images of our nation’s capitol my entire life, it was hard to believe I was actually going to see it live.

We got to Mr. Lincoln’s dwelling at around 10am and it seemed no one else was there. We climbed the massive stairs and stopped at the landing to look out over the expanse in front of us. It was Jan 19th, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On the engraved stone that marked where he had given his speech, someone had laid a bouquet of flowers. We continued up the stairs and did a quick walk around Abe in his chair before going back out and sitting in the sun on the right side of the monument.

I would have been quite happy to walk all the way to the end of the mall, but we only had time to get as far as the WWII Memorial. It was a bit gaudy for my taste, but in deference to my father, a WWII vet, I walked around it and took pictures.

Looking back towards Lincoln, I realized we must have passed the Vietnam Memorial and couldn’t figure out how we had missed it. That whole area is much wider than I had envisioned, and if one walks straight up along the water pool, it’s not visible.

The Vietnam Memorial was much more meaningful to us; it was our generation. The war had started when I was very young and was in full swing during my adolescence and into college. I had grown up participating in stop-the-war rallies. I had seen what it had done to those who had gone there either willingly or otherwise. It was the reason that it was so important for me to go to Vietnam, nearly 30 years later, as a teacher.

As we walked along the wall my brother and I remembered the day that his third grade teacher received the news that her son had died in Vietnam. We reminisced about the time his junior high school was tear-gassed because it was a few blocks from UC Berkeley where protests were taking place. We talked about when I was in 10th grade at a peace rally with my school buddies. Someone took a picture of me singing and holding up the peace sign which made it into several newspapers and later a book or two. I wondered what type of memorial would eventually be erected for those who have been lost in our current wars.

We hadn’t seen what we had hoped to, but enough to make me want to come back. It wasn’t until we were back at the hotel, looking at a map, that we realized we could have walked by the White House on our way to the Metro station. Maybe next time.