Sunday, August 21, 2011

DC '11

I pulled up the online Rand McNally mileage calculator the other day and entered our address here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and an address on Rhode Island Ave. NW in Washington DC to see just how far it is between those points. The result: 732.2 miles or "12 hrs 08 min." Rand McNally doesn't explain its methodology that I can see, but I'll take the answer as close enough to correct.

That's a driving result, presumably the time if you don't made any wrong turns or hit a traffic jam or get distracted by a tourist trap. Maybe you also need to drive nonstop like a diapered astronaut mad with jealousy. We traveled from our house in metro Chicago to a hotel on Rhode Island Ave. in Washington on Friday, August 12, and made the return trip on Friday, August 19, but we didn't drive. Instead we flew, the first time we've all flown together as a family in about six years.

The trip had one focus: Washington DC. Since we didn't have a car, that focused things even more. We went everywhere either on foot or by Metro, the DC-area subway system. Given a week, a Metro pass and some good walking shoes, you can cover a fair amount of ground, even if it's hot and sticky, as it was -- there's a reason Congress always recesses in August.

The trip encompassed places so iconic that it's a little strange to be in their physical presence, such as the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. Everywhere you turn in DC, lesser memorials pop up too, and we chanced on some of these -- what's a memorial to Samuel Hahnemann, father of homeopathy, doing near Scott Circle in the company of Winfield Scott and Daniel Webster? -- while others remained intriguing spots on maps.

We also wandered through a number of the Smithsonian's enormous museums and one of its smaller ones. One day I persuaded the rest of my family to come with me to Arlington National Cemetery, despite their usual aversion to visiting graveyards, and they didn't regret it. But they declined to walk through the heat with me to the lonely grave of President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft, preferring to rest at the cemetery's air-conditioned visitors center.

Our hotel, a comfortable Holiday Inn at the intersection of Rhode Island Ave. and 15th St., was a little too far from the nearest Metro stations to be ideal for our kind of non-car tourism. Still, the place had a rooftop pool to jump into on warm afternoons after long walks. It also had proximity to a lively, gentrified neighborhood sporting shady sidewalks and restored row houses, and including a grocery store that provided us with the raw material for a number of meals around the small table that hotel rooms always provide. Not far away stood a restaurant that I re-discovered nearly three decades after my last visit there, and which provided us with two memorable breakfasts.

It wasn't my first visit to Washington by a long shot, but for everyone else in my family, it was. Still, the last time I came to town was so long ago that the tiff between President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich had shut down the federal government just before I arrived. After such a long span, any place as interesting as DC is a fresh destination again. I did my best to revisit the place by putting one foot in front of the other.



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