Our Trip to Washington, D.C. (Day Five)

Our final full day in D.C. was the most somber of the week. We began with a subway ride to Arlington National Cemetery. The expanse of the acreage itself is amazing. It’s made up of neat rows of tombstones as far as the eye can see.


The tour guide on the tram ride told us that they average about twenty-five funerals a day. Just as soon as she said it, we saw a family leaving a graveside. It felt strange to watch this family mourning the loss of a loved one while we rode past them—like The Pirates of the Caribbean if Disney World built a cemetery (I’d call it Disney After-World.).

The tram stopped at the JFK Memorial where President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, their infant son, and stillborn daughter are buried—so sad. It made being the Kennedys seem not so glamorous after all.

Next we watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In a time when we aren’t respectful very often about much of anything, it was moving to be in a group of people that large who were completely silent. You could hear every click of the soldier’s footsteps.


There were about sixty firefighters in the first two rows of the crowd. The presiding soldier eventually announced that they were going to be laying a wreath to honor fallen firefighters. They were dressed in their fanciest uniforms. Some even had kilts and tall furry hats. The patches on their arms denoted their home states. A widow was there to represent the families of firefighters killed on duty.


We took a quick tour of the Lee mansion (Did you know that the original land for the cemetery was owned by the family of Robert E. Lee?) but there wasn’t much to see in the house itself. It’s being renovated. There is a great view from the back of the mansion.

We headed back to town to walk around the Washington Monument (We couldn’t go in it because of the earthquake a few years ago.).


Then we went to find lunch in a section with lots of food trucks…lots of food trucks and ravenous pigeons, that is. After lunch, we went to the starkly minimal Vietnam Memorial and the inspiring and impressive World War II Memorial.

 

That evening we ate supper at the home of one of my oldest and dearest friends. She and her husband and their three adorable sons live in Maryland not far from D.C. It was such a treat to hang out with her and her family. She was with me the first time I went to D.C. some twenty-three years ago. We went with our eighth grade class. I don’t remember a lot about the trip—or I don’t remember a lot about learning much American history on the trip.  One of the few things I do remember is watching my friend click her heels on the steps of the Capitol building. That’s what happens when you’ve been on a bus too long. I’m just hoping that my kids will retain a lot more meaningful history lessons than I did on my first trip. 

All in all the kids did a great. We kept the tantrums to a manageable low. We were able to see everything on our list but I’m sure we’ll be back in a few years.

Our Trip to Washington, D.C. (Day Four)

On our fourth day in D.C., we crossed two pretty important items from my bucket list: see the place where Lincoln was shot and go through spy training. Well, those shouldn’t be permanently erased from my list, maybe just lightly marked with a pencil. Let me explain:

We purchased tickets for Ford’s Theater online and arrived at the appointed time Wednesday morning. They gave us headsets that explained the events and details leading up to Lincoln’s assassination. We walked through the basement museum, looking at maps, photographs, clothing, furniture, and other various and sundry artifacts relating to what happened at 10:13 p.m. on April 14, 1865.

I love history so this was mind-blowing for me to be in the actual location of the assassination. I couldn’t wait for them to call us back upstairs to the auditorium part of the tour. A ranger (Ford’s Theater is under the protection and authority of the National Parks) retold the story as he stood on the stage and we sat in the audience. He was kind of an awkward fella but it was nonetheless riveting. That is, until he told us that after the assassination the theater was dismantled, studied as a crime scene, and eventually used by the military. What a let down! They tried to recreate the theater’s interiors and light fixtures but I was still a little disappointed.
 

It was pretty cool to look across the street and see the house where Lincoln actually died. The line was long to peek in the door so we didn’t look inside. I admit I was a little afraid that we’d see a leather sectional sofa and flat screen TV despite the ranger’s claims that it was more carefully preserved.


We went to the steps of an Episcopal church to eat our lunch instead.

After lunch we went to the Spy Museum. It was ridiculously expensive (We had become spoiled by the free Smithsonian Museums.) but it was a lot of fun. The first thing we did was to choose our new identity from a variety of “covers.” For some reason this made me nervous as if I were going to be grilled at the airport interrogation room of a hostile country. As it turned out, I just had to answer questions asked by a computer. No biggee. I was deemed “suspicious” by the computer but sometimes I like to live on the edge of danger. (In case you’re wondering, I was a 33-year old German woman named Helga or Olga—something like that. I was traveling to London on business. My profession was a librarian or an anthropologist. I can’t remember. Okay, now I see why I was considered a threat.)
We learned about microscopic bugging devices and breaking coded messages. There was a section about the Cold War that made me want to duck and cover. The museum was really interesting and interactive but it made me paranoid the rest of the day. Later when we were riding on the subway, I scanned the crowd looking for a possible spy in our midst. I focused in on the guy with the dark glasses and long stick. Maybe he only wants us to think that he’s blind. Hmmm…
Next we made a quick tour of the National Portrait Gallery. The paintings of the presidents were lifelike and fascinating, especially with the informative plaques mounted by each one. We avoided the modern art section. You never know what you might find there but there’s a better chance that it will be graphic illustrations that I intentionally left off of our “birds and the bees” talk and not a painting of a bowl of fruit.

On the way to the subway stop, we took another look at the White House.
 

We ended our day with an early supper at a little restaurant near our apartment and then a few episodes of Little House on the Prairie on the Hallmark Channel. We had one full day left in D.C. so we got in bed early.

Coming Soon…Day Five!

Our Trip to Washington D.C. (Day Three)

Our third day in Washington, D.C. was jam-packed with excursions. And what does a busy day walking around a busy city need to make it a memory? Rain. Luckily we had rain jackets and an umbrella so we were undeterred in our quest.

Our first destination was the office of Senator Lamar Alexander. Brent had contacted his office before we left Tennessee to set up a tour of the Capitol building. We had a confirmation number for our tour but we were able to get gallery passes from one of the Senator’s assistants.

Side Note: While chatting with his assistant, we asked her about her hometown. It turns out that she was from Knoxville and graduated from Brent’s alma mater, Farragut High School. He was a bit deflated when he found out that she graduated in 2008. I have condiment bottles in my refrigerator that expired in 2008.
The first part of the Capitol tour included a lobby area called Emancipation Hall. As we waited for our guided tour time to begin, we inspected the dozens of statues from the many decades of American history. Knox turned the waiting time into a Where’s Waldo game by looking for the statues in the room as he found them on his brochure.

Our tour guide did a great job pointing out interesting paintings and statues. She was full of names, dates, and numbers that I no longer remember. For example: “You can fill the rotunda room with ____ Statues of Liberty standing on each other’s shoulders.” I wish I had a better memory. I do remember her saying that the only woman to lie in state in the Capitol building was Rosa Parks.

After the Capitol building, we went to the Library of Congress.


We saw the Gutenberg Bible and the oldest remaining map that contains the name “America.” Our tour guide in the library showed us paintings arranged by theme–the Seasons, the Senses, the branches of learning, etc. He took us to the balcony of one of the reading rooms where you can check out books and do research. It was beautiful—all dark mahogany desks and green glass lampshades.

Our kids were excited to go in the Children’s reading area. Knox was convinced that my Linebaugh library card would work there. He had to be satisfied with just reading books and re-shelving them without checking anything out.

We ate lunch in the food court at Union Station. They were doing a lot of construction on the interior of the building but you can tell it was a grand place at one time. I can imagine the excitement of boarding a train there as business men with fedoras, overcoats, and briefcases pass us by while looking at their watches and rushing to their trains.
We were tired and a bit bedraggled by the weather but we wanted to see the Air and Space Museum. Since all of the Smithsonian museums are free, we felt okay just making a quick walk through it. We saw the section about the Wright Brothers and their European rivals. We saw a section about space travel. There was a very interesting board explaining all of the restrictions for flight attendants when airplane travel was just beginning to become more available to regular people. They had to be a certain height, weight, and age. Needless to say, I wouldn’t qualify.

On the way back to our apartment, we stopped by the Eastern Market to buy a few groceries for supper. On Tuesdays they have a larger than normal farmer’s market selection. We got fresh ravioli and marinara sauce, broccoli, and homemade sour dough bread. We whipped it up in our little kitchen and relaxed the rest of the evening.

Coming Soon…Day Four! (We went to the Spy Museum. If I tell you more I’ll have to kill you. Just kidding. I’ll tell you all about it in the next blog.)

Our Trip to Washington, D.C. (Day Two)

On our second day in Washington, D.C. we ventured into unknown territory for a mild-mannered family from Murfreesboro, Tennessee—the subway! (Buh-buh-bum) It took us a little bit to figure out the fare cards but once we got the hang of it, it was really convenient. On one occasion, we heard a subway musician playing somewhere in the bowels of the city. We never actually saw him but he was singing “Soon and Very Soon, We are Going to See the King.” During the song, we passed a man going up the escalator as we were coming down. He was singing along really loudly and shouting “Yes, Sweet Jesus.”  It was just one example of a moment when something borderline crazy happened in/near a subway but fifty people carried on with their business like it was just another Monday.
Rule Number One when Living in a Large Metropolitan Area: It may seem like there are other people in the subway or on the street but they are just holograms. As long as you don’t acknowledge their outbursts, wild ravings, or their very presence then they don’t actually exist. Keep your eyes on the ground and your facial expressions completely passive.
Speaking of the subway escalators, it was comical how excited our kids were about riding them. Our hometown mall is only one level so a set of stairs that move by magic or possibly gerbil-power is mind-blowing. One of my kids looked like Buddy from the movie Elf the first time she got on the escalator. In other words, she nearly did the splits with one leg stepping onto the first available moving step and the other, more reluctant leg staying behind on the non-moving platform. It was all fun and games until we started seeing more out-of-order escalators than running ones.
Our first post-subway adventure was the Museum of American History. It was our favorite of all of the Smithsonian Museums that we visited. We saw Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Kermit the Frog, a cool interactive section about transportation, and a gigantic American flag from the War of 1812 that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner.”

After a quick lunch outside, we checked out the Natural History Museum. Everyone should see an assembled dinosaur skeleton at least once in his life. It’s more amazing than riding an escalator. We also saw well-preserved animal specimen placed in realistic looking poses: Lions tearing apart a bloody antelope; Monkeys hanging from trees while picking bugs off each other; Giraffes stretching their trademark necks to reach the leaves at the top of a tree—purplish tongue and all. I liked it better than the zoo.
The high point for my husband was the moment when he showed our kids the family heirloom, the Rosser Reeves ruby (I hate to tell him that the guy’s first name who donated it to the Smithsonian was Rosser but since he’s expecting to pay for their college with it, I’ll let it go for now.).
The ruby was located near a lesser known trinket called the Hope Diamond. I was a little disappointed by the size of both of them. That’s what happens when you get your information about priceless gems from movies like The Great Muppet Caper.

The kids were nearly at the end of their ropes but we pushed on and walked over to the Archives. We stood in a line to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Then we went to a different part of the building to see collection of letters and photographs. There was a letter from a young boy in Cuba named Fidel Castro asking President Roosevelt for a $10 bill. 

Tired and hungry, we went to the old post office that has been turned into a food court. Knox and Ella got sweet and sour chicken, Lucy got sushi, and Brent and I got gyros. It was an international feast. For dessert, I bought the kids each an ice cream cone at Ben & Jerry’s. As I paid the cashier my $25 for the three one-scoop cones, I reflected on the events of the day. We had learned a lot about our country and our world, but the real epiphany was that I bet Castro was asking FDR for some cash so he could afford a scoop of Chunky Monkey. That’s all we really want, isn’t it?

Our Trip to Washington, D.C. (Day One)

 

Remember when you were in elementary school and upon returning from vacation you had to write an essay about how you spent your time away from school? In that spirit I give you: “Stop! My Brain Will Explode if You Tell Me One More Fact About Abraham Lincoln” or “My Trip to Washington, D.C.”
Last Saturday, my family and I traveled via Honda Odyssey to our nation’s capital. It was a long journey similar but opposite in direction from those Tennessee pioneers who left New England to settle and establish our slanted rectangle of a state (The early pioneers had those snack packs with the plastic knife to spread goopy cheese on club crackers and their kids drank juice boxes while they watched old episodes of The Brady Bunch in their covered wagons, right? Oh, yeah. The Brady Bunch probably wasn’t in reruns yet. Silly me.). We split the trip to D.C. in two by staying one night at a Comfort Inn in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

We woke up early on Sunday so that we could be standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before lunchtime.

After a brisk walk through the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial and the Korean War Memorial we headed to the house we rented for the week.

 

We changed our clothes and freshened up before meeting our good friend who is a Secret Service Agent. He took us on a private tour of the West Wing. Brent and I recently re-watched all of the episodes of the TV show The West Wing so everything we saw had to be changed into the TV version for me to fully understand it. For instance, our friend told us that he is assigned to Jacob Lew. Not impressive until he reminds me that he is the Chief of Staff…he’s Leo McGarry. Oh! Cool! We went in the Press Room. “That’s the door where Jay Carney walks out for press conferences.” Who? “C.J. Cregg.” Really? Amazing! 

The oval office looks much less majestic up-close and there weren’t a whole lot of roses in the Rose Garden. I mention this not to complain but to comment on the fact that this is a place meant for work. As the granddaughter of a woman who was raised in a Quaker family, I can appreciate the plain-looking black telephone by the simple, tan sofa in the office of the world’s most powerful man. I came away with the feeling that these offices were filled with people who—whether you agree with their bills and vetoes or not—understand that they won’t be in these roles forever and they want to get as much done during this time as possible.

At the end of our first day in D.C. (For supper we ate at our friend’s house with his sweet wife and two adorable daughters!), I went to bed with the reality of the role of the president looming in my thoughts. I thought about the FDR Memorial with the statues of downtrodden men in bread lines during the Depression, the barefooted farmer listening to his radio during a “Fireside Chat,” and President Roosevelt in his wheelchair. With all the obnoxious noise about the upcoming election, I’m reminded that one man can make a difference in the course of a nation but the nation itself is made up of many. Being responsible for the welfare of so many must be the source of daily headaches and heartaches but I can make a difference in the lives of those around me without a caucus or a supporting delegate. I can care about the person standing in line in front of me or sitting in the car next to me. I am the President of the United States of Abby-erica! So, let’s take a step back on some of the negativity. History can be a deadweight that holds us down with feelings of guilt and helplessness or it can be a set of directions in reverse. If our Tennessee pioneers could only see us now!
(Stay tuned for Day Two!)