Thursday, June 09, 2005

Shirtless in Washington (Part I)

Part I: "These are the times to remember, for they will not last forever.." (Billy Joel)



The four of us pile in the car for the, 2+ hour trip from Williamsburg to Washington DC. I wasn't exactly sure how long it would take to get there, and I wasn't disappointed...we had to take about 3 Interstates to get to the first METRO stop where we parked and rode.


We're ready to ride the METRO, which is DC's subway-type thing. Now, I've only ridden a couple of subways in my life - DC's and New York's - and it seems like it would still be much more efficient just to use coins or something than require you to calculate where you're going and when you'll be coming back so you can "buy" enough cash onto your little magnetic card. But we estimated pretty well, I guess and got ready to get on.

One odd thing - the garage on site where we parked wouldn't let you out by just paying cash, you had to purchase something called a "SmartTrip" card. More on that later...


We climb up the steps from the Smithsonian METRO station up into the Mall. I had forgotten just how BIG the whole area is... we had our requisate OOH and AAH moments of looking to our left at the Washington Monument and w-a-a-a-y in the distance the Lincoln Memorial, behind us at the Smithsonian Castle building, and on into the middle of the mall area and to the right at the Capitol Building.

I just love the Capitol Building. Nothing says IMPORTANT to me like that building does... In fact, I have one of those 3-D Puzzles of it that BrainyBoy and I put together a couple of years ago on top of a bookcase near my computer at home. I remember being very nervous about its safety on 9/11 and the couple days after.. Sure, it's just a building and could be rebuilt, plus it's the lives inside that really matter - but as far as symbols go, it's almost irreplaceable.

As we got our bearings on the mall, we noticed there was a lot of work being done on the grassy area to prepare for a Folklife Festival this weekend. Lots of trucks, lots of banners and grandstands being constructed. This cut down visibility somewhat, but nothing major. Our first stop was the original Smithsonian Museum, the "Castle". I'd never been in there before - it was nice, but really all that was in there for the public was an information/orientation area. We decided to hit the nearby Air and Space Museum first.


I've visited this museum several times, but I always forget just how BIG the planes and rockets are that are on display. The Spirit of St Louis (and Laura and I had great fun trying to remember whether Lindbergh was the first to fly all the way around the world, or just the first to fly across the Atlantic by himself. So much for our great education experiment when the teachers don't remember the correct answers), the V2 Rocket, the Apollo 11 capsule... such power to be in the presence of history. They also had, which was possibly the coolest thing, the Wright Brothers' original 1903 flyer from Kitty Hawk. BrainyBoy and Tink both went crazy with their cameras, taking everything they could see. There was so little to do, and so much time to do it...

Wait. Strike that. Reverse it.

After a spin through the "How Things Fly" exhibit we had a quick lunch and saw the IMAX presentation of "SPACE STATION 3D"...shot by the Space Station astronauts in orbit, it was an amazing 3D presentation of what it's like to be in outer space and on the space station. After it was over, we walked from one end to the other on the second floor, went back down to the first and hit the middle again and moved back out onto the Mall. Tempus Fugit...


We take a great picture of the kids in front of the Capitol Building. Well, not right in front but it's directly behind him. I'll post it when I get the film back.


To me, nothing says "Smithsonian" like the big Bull Elephant in the middle of the Natural History Museum Rotunda. It's a monster, and was one of the things I most remember from my Safety Patrol trip here in 6th grade..

That reminds me. Did I mention this was apparently the week every single school system in the United States (and parts of Hawaii, and possibly Guam) sent their Safety Patrols to Washington? Everywhere you in matching colored shirts and their Safety Patrol belts on. Let's just say, while it's great American children are getting the opporunity to visit our Nation's Capital....did it have to be this week???


(Tell me - how many of you got to take a Safety Patrol trip to Washington when you were a kid? I'm curious...)

We saw the dinosaurs, the fossils, the mammals, the underwater life, the Life-in-Somalia exhibit, the minerals, the meteorites, the gems, the Hope Diamond (crap! I just remembered that I forgot to tell BB the story about the Curses. File that in my To Do list), the mummies, the animal skeletons, the bugs, and the half-finished South American room.


I love this museum ;) Can you tell?

ASIDE: You're probably wondering what all this has to do with the post title? Patience, young padawans. That part is coming....


Ok, did I mention it was really, really hot? I mean, not like July/August Washington DC hot, which I hear is legendary, but still quite warm. We left the Natural History Museum with the intent of heading down past the Washington Monument to see the Lincoln Memorial. But, the distance (especially with a 5 year old) was just too far and too hot, plus they were doing some kind of digging/construction at the base of the Monument and part of the street access was closed, so actually moving in that direction was difficult. So we settled for walking down Constitution Avenue to see the back (front?) of the White House. Very impressive. Course, I probably didn't contribute to the solemnity of the occasion by stating loudly enough for all to hear: pa-rrum pum pum parrrrum pum pum...."Previously, on THE WEST WING..."

We walked around the ellipse to get closer, and moved where Secret Service and Capital Police were clearing the area. As a matter of fact, they asked us all to move from eyeshot of the White House, and down to the corners of the street. We spotted snipers on the roof, and even took a picture (I'll post that too). Apparently someone important was leaving or arriving, and they wanted to make sure nobody had a clear shot at the building while the transfer was happening. Laura asked one guard, "Is it the President?", to which he immediately slammed her to the ground, cuffed her and led her away.

I'm sure gonna miss her..

(just kidding)

He actually said, "I can't say, ma'am", after which we all groveled appropriately and slowly backed away.

So, a little excitement there. When the all clear was given, we kept walking north around the site of the White House grounds next to the Treasury Dept Building. Eventually we came out on the other side, on Pennsylvania Avenue and got a good look at the other side of the building (the back? the front? Who can tell?). A few more blocks and we were at another subway stop. Time to head back to the car and make our way back to Williamsburg.

Or so we thought....

(To Be Continued)

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