Sunday, September 25, 2011

Adventures in DC - Day 3

As previously mentioned, the following excerpt was originally published as an email to friends shortly before 9/11. We now continue the Adventure in Washington, D. C., with...

Day 3

Tuesday, Julio dutifully deposited me at the Metro station again, and off I went to the Smithsonian art galleries (the ones surrounding the Smithsonian building). Then, it was the Natural History Museum (wow…all those gemstones…the Hope Diamond…Marie Antoinette's huge diamond earrings…blue diamonds…yellow diamonds…red diamonds…sigh). Oh, yes, and dinosaurs and stuff like that. Continuing my walking blitz of the museums, I then went to the Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. You know, I was a bit disappointed there; not in the paintings or sculptures mind you (Who could be disappointed in such great art?), but in the way they were displayed absolutely plainly on the walls without any obvious regard for placement or relative importance of individual pieces. The vastness of the collection was mind boggling. I’ve just never seen an entire roomful of Rembrandts before, you know? Or Van Dykes either, for that matter. Actually, I do wish I could have spent more time there enjoying the individual pieces. But it was getting late, and I hadn’t been to the Capitol yet…

So, I walked to the Capitol and arrived just in time for the last self-guided tour group (whew!). What a beautiful place, and on such a grand scale. And a simply stellar view up the Mall to the Washington Memorial and beyond. But would it be terribly chauvinistic of me to admit that I prefer our California State Capitol, though? Maybe the thing that sent me over the top here is that I was able to sit in on a session of the House. Granted, it wasn’t a particularly interesting or important piece of legislation (An additional $20,000,000 was needed to help fight TB worldwide). There were lots of people in the gallery observing, but there were maybe 20 people on the floor, including all the pages, the speaker, some legislators reading the newspaper, a group of others loudly discussing something or other. None of that would have been disturbing, except that there was a very earnest woman delivering a speech to absolutely no one except the person who was sponsoring it! That’s right, there was ONE PERSON (besides those in the gallery) paying the slightest bit of attention to what she was saying. Frankly, folks, it was late, I was tired and hot (the temperature and humidity both having risen considerably since Sunday), and this display disappointed me. I was expecting more from our elected officials. Am I wrong?

Possibly, it wasn’t the best time for me to go to Arlington, but I decided to try to see if I could make it for the last changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at 7 p.m. So, I hopped on the Metro (I was getting pretty good at that by this time!) and went over there, arriving at about 6:40. That’s when I found out it was a 20-minute walk over to where I wanted to be, and I also wanted to see JFK’s tomb. So, I needed to get truckin’, which I did, and I actually made it just in the nick of time, unfortunately. I apparently didn’t hear something I should have heard or something…you’ll see what I mean in a bit. 

Let me preface the following by saying:  Please believe me when I tell you that I have the highest regard for this site and for the sacrifice and heartache it represents. I would never in my worst nightmare knowingly do anything to dishonor it, minimize it, or otherwise bring offense.

Anyway, I watched the ceremony, which was very formal and stiff and all that, appropriately so. As I said earlier, it was hot. It was muggy. And I had been at a dead run for about 9 hours. The cemetery was closing, so I wanted to get a quick picture of the Tomb and, hopefully, the guard (a terribly serious young guy…just how serious, I didn’t yet know!), so I walked down to the bottom step to get a good shot and took my picture of the Tomb. There was a brass railing there, but it was open to the steps and there was nothing indicating a zero-tolerance-for-tourists-zone (no sign, no chain, etc.). The “exit” (I thought) was to my left. All of those steps were behind me. In my state of  exhaustion, I couldn’t fathom climbing back up there only to go back down on the other side when I could simply take one more step down, head left, and get out. Know what I mean? So, I took one step down and headed left. 

That’s when I heard CLICK, “HALT!” Oh, my! I halted! I turned around and meekly asked if he meant me. I stared in terror down the barrel of the rifle he was pointing at me. And then he barked at me. That nice young man BARKED at me, “REMAIN BEHIND THE RAIL AT ALL TIMES!” But the rail was right there, directly behind me. That wasn't close enough? He couldn’t have been nicer? He couldn’t have seen that I was a dumb tourist, a civilian, an old woman with a camera who had been walking ALL DAY AND WAS HOT AND EXHAUSTED AND NOT THINKING CLEARLY? Was it really necessary for him to point a rifle at me and yell at me? If I hadn’t been so scared and humiliated, I might have been angry. But I did as I was told, almost bursting into tears. I mean, he was just doing his job, but did he have to do it so well? What would he have done if I didn’t realize he was talking to me? Or if I had been deaf? Or even more stupid than I clearly was? I guess I would have been on the evening news, and Harry would have worried and wondered why I never came back that day. He doesn't watch the news  [In retrospect, given what happened just a few weeks later, I would like to thank the young man for being serious about his assignment. Who knew?]

After that, I did what any red-blooded American woman would do. I took the Metro to the Pentagon, went to the mall, found a nice restaurant, and had a drink before dinner! 

Juan, who drives the hotel shuttle at night, was relieved that I returned in time for him to pick me up at the Metro station just 10 minutes before the shuttle goes to sleep for the night. It was 10:50 p.m. What a day!

I should probably mention that I met lots of nice people (mostly other tourists) on the Metro. That particular night, it was a woman lawyer on her way home from work. She evidently puts in lots of late hours, and she told me about some restaurants and out-of-the-way sort of stuff that locals do. She even gave me her phone number in case I had any questions or wanted to get together for a drink in Georgetown or whatever. Wasn’t that friendly? I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful and friendly people were in the Washington area. I guess I just expected everyone to be in a huge hurry all the time and totally stressed out and rude. But, no!

Next up, news of my misadventure reaches my ears the very next day through a most unexpected source.

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