After waking up earlier than birdsongs, Megs and I drove into, got lost within, and finally found a place to park in Washington, D.C. We had about six hours to tootle around and see the nation’s capitol before our D.C. date and in true Megan and me fashion, tootle we did not: whirly-derby race is a more accurate description of how we spent our time.
One of the best parts of traveling with Megan (besides her insight, ability to work a camera and enjoyment of singing along to the radio with me) is that our levels of efficiency are well matched. Rarely have I met someone who is capable of go-go-going for long periods of time and is able to keep up with me. This means packing in the most bang for our limited hours is actually possible. Plus, we both have the same priorities: learn something, explore, take photos. She even likes to take a moment to relax (it’s weird, I’m trying to get used to it). This leads to win/win situations all over the place.
Our D.C. adventures began with checking into the hotel and proceeding directly to the lobby for internet usage (because no day is complete without doing work, securing a date, working on finding a location for said date and all that jazz). From there we walked toward the Mall by way of a neighborhood made up of transient-seeming, curious characters who cat-called us, glared at us and seemed like they might take Megan’s camera until she stared one down and forcefully said nope! Within another block we were next to an official-looking building, men and women in business suits hustling about, and remnants of the Occupy movement lazily staring at us doe-eyed (perhaps it was still too early for them to be causing much ruckus).
As we hadn’t eaten since gosh knows when, we decided to stop for lunch. Megs talked me into what looked like a nook of an Indian restaurant, but turned out to be huge and one of the most bustlingly popular places in town (according to Yelp, anyway). We were underdressed and a little hesitant, so I took charge and walked up to two well-dressed men, who appeared to be of Eastern descent, near a credenza. They stared at me. I smiled weakly at them, worried I was about to be told about some dress code that didn’t include jeans and boots that were falling apart at the seams. I turned my head to the right and then took notice of a hostess booth tucked further inside, people gathered around as though the Dalai Lama himself was calling names. Hanging my now bright red face in the shame of succumbing to stereotypes, I went to speak with the actual hostess.
After one heck of a good meal (did someone say samosas from heaven? Someone did…) we went to the Mall.* Kids playing catch with their dads, boys playing a rough game of touch-football, a carousel in the background — it all seemed more all-American than any monument or museum we went to next. Short on time, we made the decision to see just one Smithsonian museum and gave ourselves forty-five minutes to look around. We debated between Air and Space, Postal, and American History museums while we wandered a sculpture garden, finally settling on the American History museum. From there, we spent longer than you’d expect at the World War II memorial, watching it be a place of peace and repose for those who came and visited.
It was hard for me to see the Washington Monument: I remember vividly visiting the structure when I was nine or ten with my family. We have pictures right in front of it, and I used my own camera to take photos out of each of the windows from the top. Now, no one can get near it. You can’t touch the stones or stand in the circle of flags, and of course you cannot go up to the top. Megan shrugged and said this had to do with 9/11 and retrofitting needs, too; she was not terribly unsettled by this. It was interesting, as it always is in these moments, to remember Megan and I are far enough apart in age that our memories and feelings about the world, especially in a pre/post 9/11 sense, are vastly different. In many ways, simply not being able to touch the monument is just how it is for her. A fact of life, almost how it has always been done. And for me, it’s a bizarre sign that things are different and I’m not sure why.
Onto the Lincoln Memorial, where there were more memories stirred of my parents letting me take their picture below Mr. Lincoln. I must have just gotten my camera, and I must have been as excited then as I am now to take photos. I’ve always remembered this monument fondly, be it simply because of how large it is and thus hard to forget, or perhaps because of being allowed to take the photo of my parents. Or maybe, if I may tangent here, it’s because of a story Mr. Sutcliffe, my twelfth grade history teacher told us, about loving to visit Mr. Lincoln late at night and how those moments made him feel. I once wrote a piece (way back in my days of creative writing) about a girl who had conversations with Lincoln because of Mr. Sutcliffe’s passion for sharing his memories. I think Mr. Sutcliffe passed away a few years back, and I hope he’s gotten to meet Mr. Lincoln in some way or form.
We went on to the Vietnam Memorial. By this point all I could think about was how many more people we will have to give thanks to; how many more moments will we have to memorialize; and how we decide precisely who gets remembered and who does not. Some people get domes and arches and pillars. Others get names on a wall. But most of us get little, if nothing, other than the fact we were here and the fact we will go. Contemplation is what the memorial walk seems to inspire.
On our way back toward our hotel, we stopped to see the White House — a tiny speck of a building (yes, here’s where I want to make a comment about how close you used to be able to get). The motorcade was just returning, and security was so thick you couldn’t look up without wondering which windows in the buildings above had agents ready to pull a trigger. I smiled, imagining the President closer than usual to me, and we went on, passing the imposing IRS and less-imposing judicial buildings.
It was time to clear my head from heavy thoughts and get ready to meet T.
There is nothing, nothing I tell you, like being on a road trip across the nation, spending a lot of time thinking about the inhabitants of the country, and then arriving in the place that truly seems to be the heart of America. It clinches everywhere we’ve been together, it highlights flaws in the system we’ve created, and it made me have hope that yes, things can get better.
*How come no one has made a game called Mall Madness that is about the Mall in Washington, D.C. instead of a mall that you shop at? I want to play that game.