DAY ONE: Arrested Development, Deposed Premier, Budget Crisis, This Ain’t No Disco, Seeing Red, Grab A Vine, Bar Exam, Monumental Journey and No Go-Go
Wearily staring at my computer at 2:30 a.m (I don’t sleep well the night before flights) on this Saturday morning, the headline from the morning paper jolted me awake faster than a four-shot espresso. “Congressman Arrested,” the headline stated.
It was more than six hours before our plane was to depart heading to our nation’s capital, and already the Congressman who had arranged (and who was going to meet us) for our White House Tour less than a week from today had been arrested.
Amused and bemused, I, of course, had to go wake up Tracy to tell her the startling news.
“What the hell time is it?” she asked not so pleasantly.
“A little before 3 a.m.,” I replied. I don’t know what Hillary Clinton would do when awakened at 3 a.m., but I did get to see Tracy. Nuclear war might have been a better option for me.
In our long and storied history of traveling, this was absolutely the first time Tracy had ever given me “the look” before being fully awake before we had even left the premises. Yes, her "look" transcends darkness!
In any event, the damage had been done, and she was unable to go back to sleep. We had already packed, so I asked her what she wanted to do.
“Well, I could kill you.”
Knowing that the trip was already paid for, I did not feel in any eminent danger, although I did keep sharp objects from her before departing for the airport.
When booking the flight, I decided to spend an extra $68 on what United Airlines calls “Premier Line.” For this stipend, Tracy and I would go to the head of the line for check-in and security along with a Boarding Pass for Group One.
We would be like first class passengers, even though we would eventually be taken back to coach. I could even act like a Premier for a short time. Thinking of our fellow coach passengers, I thought, “Let them eat cake.” Instead, as it turned out, I would be eating crow.
Arriving at the nearly empty United Airlines terminal at 6:15 a.m., we checked in our luggage (we took more clothes for a week in DC than we do for a month in Europe), and then, like Leonard Nimoy, went In Search Of the Premier Line.
Shortly, there was the sign up ahead, and we followed the directions to what we thought surely would be “Traveler Nirvana.” Oh yeah baby, there were only three people in the Premier Line. “Tracy. You have a pretty smart husband, eh?” I said to my spouse who, for some reason, now had a wry smile on her face.
“Take a look over there,” she said.
I took a glance to the left of me, where the multitudes of people would have to wait to go through security hell. To my immediate dismay, there were only two people in the “I Didn’t Just Waste $68” line. Oh well, I surmised, we are in Group One to board, so at least we will get that benefit.
Soon it was time for boarding to begin and for us to get our 68 bucks’ worth. We were in Group One so we should be boarding quickly.
First up were the Premier Executive passengers, first class passengers, passengers who needed help boarding and passengers pretending to need help boarding. “OK, we’re next,” I said to Tracy.
Then they called for business class passengers. One by one, two by two, they boarded. “It’s like Noah’s Ark,” I said. The only things missing were the unicorns. The waiting area was becoming less and less crowded. “We must be next,” I said a little less confidently to Tracy.
I don’t remember for sure, but I think the order of boarding that followed was bald-headed men, people who had not yet showered and finally Group Number One. By now, more than half the people ticketed were on board. Needless to say, we did not purchase Premier Line service for our trip home.
Once in our seats, the flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. was perfect; meaning it took off, stayed in the air and landed with all of us in one piece.
Upon landing, the plan was to hook up with our traveling cohorts in crime, Kim and Mary. As we walked into the luggage area, there they were holding a sign with our name on it, and now the journey had officially begun.
Digression: The usual MO of our European vacations is that I do all the planning, and Kim, Mary and Tracy are pretty much at my mercy for the itinerary. They have had to endure Bataan-like death marches in Prague, Tuscany and other venues throughout the European continent, but this trip was different.
Kim and Mary have some knowledge on Washington D.C and offered to do the planning. My Type-A personality thought about that and said, “It might be fun to be a follower for a change.” So, for a few months leading up to our trip, the two of them would send me periodic e-mails updating us on everything we would see and do when we visited DC.
The Sunday before we left, we met them for breakfast and Kim whipped out a spread sheet that, well let me just say this; if the government had done such extensive planning over the course of the last eight years, we would not be in the mess we are today.
Monuments, museums, art galleries, transportation, restaurants, more museums, more art galleries, tours and presidential residences were laid out in an extensive day-by-day itinerary.
I told Kim that I was happy to see that there would be time for a bathroom break on Tuesday and a quick shower on Friday.
Back at the DC airport: Once we retrieved our luggage, Kim asked, “Which way to the cabs?”
Without hesitation Mary started off quickly in one direction, which happened to be the wrong direction. Kim laughed and said, “Seldom right, but never in doubt!” As a former travel platoon leader, I felt Mary’s pain, but it was Kim who received his first "look." I felt his pain, as well.
Kim stayed on a roll when Mary started talking about a woman on the plane that could not seem to keep quiet. “She sure was a Yappy woman,” Mary said.
Immediately Kim shot back, “Now I know how Tom felt on that six-hour drive from Krakow to Vienna.” Bada-Bing! The soft spoken Kim suddenly was Rodney Dangerfield reincarnated.
Armed with the Washington D.C. manifesto, we were picked up at the cabstand by a nice gentleman in a nice car. We casually chatted with our driver who provided us some interesting tidbits on Washington D.C. as we rode in the taxi lane on the way to our hotel.
“How long have you been doing this?” we asked.
“Well, I only do this on weekends. During the week I work for the Treasury Department.”
Man, this budget crisis is really in turmoil, I thought. I half expected Joe Biden to great us as the porter at the hotel.
“What hotel are you staying at?” our driver asked.
“Hotel Rouge,” I said.
“Hotel Rouge?” our driver inquired. “With those red leather doors, I always thought that was a disco.” Since the hotel was the only thing on this trip I had chosen, I immediately started feeling pressure and had the song "YMCA" in my head. I like the night life, but I hoped he was wrong.
Once at the Hotel Rouge, we realized the name was certainly apropos. Sure enough, one enters through a red leather door and red is most definitely the dominant color throughout. But it was only $149 a night, which for this location near DuPont Circle seemed pretty good, and we all made our way upstairs to view our respective rooms.
When I opened up our closet, I went “Whoa.” For a moment I thought Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler from Wild Kingdom might jump out. There on hangers, directly in front of me, were leopard camisoles, underwear and robes. I was surprised PETA wasn’t staging a protest right there in my room.
“Don’t touch them,” Tracy said. Obviously she has been watching those undercover exposé pieces on the local news before we left.
“But we could play Tarzan and Jane,” I retorted. That reply was met by complete silence. Let me tell you folks, it’s a jungle out there.
As it turned out, the leopard-wear must be a staple in each room, because Kim and Mary said they had the same attire hanging in their closet. Following our showers, the four us took out on foot, sans leopard gear, to check out the sights of Washington D.C.
We walked about 15 minutes to a spot outside the White House and took a few moments to get our bearings on where we would commence The White House Tour the following Friday.
I told Kim and Mary about the “arrest” of the Congressman who would be our “ticket” to the White House Tour. As it turned out, he was taken into custody during a planned protest rally in support of union workers, and he was not arrested but just detained, cited and released. The White House Tour was still on.
It was right about now that the hunger pangs caused by a day of fasting on the airplane hit us right in the digestive system. Fortunately, located very nearby was one of Washington D.C.’s most venerable spots, The Old Ebbitt Grill, and it was on the Kim/Mary spreadsheet.
There has been an Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington D.C. since 1856. It moved to its present location about 30 years ago and is a watering hole for politicos, professionals, journalists, celebrities and, of course, tourists.
Best of all, they have four bars, and since it was a tad after 5 o’clock (well, not that it really matters to us), it was also time for a libation. No, it did not matter to us that it was just a little after 2 p.m. California time. Hey, we adapt quickly.
Walking inside, there was an instant buzz. The place was packed and it was noisy in the dining area, not to mention at every standing room only bar we perambulated. Finally, we wound our way to the back of this establishment and, speaking of Unions, plunked ourselves down at the four remaining seats at Grant’s Bar. I wondered aloud if we would hear tales of brave Ulysses, but as do most of my lame jokes, it fell upon deaf ears.
With its Victorian influence, one could almost see those old presidents and senators sitting down here at the Old Ebbitt arguing politics over a snifter or two of Brandy. Those recollections, by the way, had nothing to do with the strength of the two excellent martinis that Rich the bartender served me.
The food, if a little nondescript, served its purpose. Mary had a lump crab cake with a side of coleslaw, while Tracy opted for the Calamari with spicy aioli along with a strawberry goat cheese salad with toasted walnuts and a balsamic dressing.
Kim tried the sausage pesto pizza while I was in the mood for the steak salad with a spicy horseradish dressing.
Mary asked Rich for a beer, and he recommended Yuengling Lager, which none of us had ever heard of before. According to Rich, the Yuengling Sisters Brewery in Pottsdale, Pennsylvania, is the oldest brewery in the United States.
It was now after 6 p.m., and the refreshed foursome with renewed vigor decided, since it was really still early for us, we needed some exercise after the Old Ebbitt Grill. Be careful what you wish for.
With a gleam in their eye, Mary and Kim then led us on the Washington D.C. Monument Death March. It looks like Tom's Prague Death March of the previous year will be looked back upon as a nice, little stroll in comparison.
We started walking, and nothing was going to deter this hearty group. No Hop-On, Hop-Off busses for us. Those are for wimps! Onward we marched.
Passing near the Washington Monument, we continued to walk until we came upon the National World War II Memorial. Large pillars represent each state and territory, and the views both toward the Lincoln Memorial and back the other way to The Washington Monument are truly something to behold.
We walked along The Reflecting Pool to our next stop, The Vietnam War Memorial, which was certainly the most moving of the memorials to me, since this controversial war happened during my lifetime.
As we walked by the nearly 60,000 names etched in that wall, you could not only help think about their sacrifice, but also how many young people never got to experience adulthood.
Making the visit even more powerful was a Veteran speaking to any of us who would listen (and there were many of us) about his personal recollections. It is an experience that will long be remembered.
Dusk had already settled upon the National Mall as we made our way up the steps to the magnificent Lincoln Memorial. What struck me was, that even with so many kids wandering about in the area, the mood here was surprisingly reflective.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address are inscribed on the walls for all to see. The imposing visage of Lincoln is hard to remove from your memory.
We had been fortunate with the weather, because although it was warm and humid, a brisk wind made it a comfortable evening. Next up on the agenda was the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
The statues of infantrymen were placed in a field, and you could almost place yourself in their shoes. I thought it was a very fitting memorial, and it became even more fitting as we now realized that we had been walking for nearly two hours.
But there was no stopping squadron leader Kim and his first in command, Mary. Next stop, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. FDR is one of Kim’s favorite people in history, but he thinks they might have gone a bit overboard with his memorial.
“They gave everyone else a building, but FDR gets his own condominium project.” Well, yes it does sprawl, and Kim, ever the avid historical book reader, said that he thought Roosevelt would have been embarrassed to have something this large dedicated in his name. That is true.
As we would see later in the week, there is a small memorial dedicated to FDR in front of the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. It was placed there because Roosevelt once stated, “If they put up any memorial to me, I should like it to be placed in the center of that green plot in front of The Archives Building.” He went on to say that the memorial should be about the size of a desk.
Well, after death you lose any veto power, so the FDR Condo Project was constructed. Tracy, Mary and I vetoed Kim and said we enjoyed the memorial. The waterfalls, lit up in the nighttime tableau, made for a serene setting. It was very relaxing, but only for a moment.
“Where to next?” I asked our platoon leaders.
“The Jefferson Memorial. It’s over there,” Kim said while pointing at a edifice that was awash in a bluish tint that looked like it was located 100 miles away. I believe it was at this minute I actually heard a groan from one of my feet.
But trudge along we did, and it was on to the Tidal Basin and the spectacular Jefferson Memorial, a memorial so beautiful that FDR had the trees cut down between the White House and the memorial so he could witness its beauty as he awoke each morning. At this moment I could have used his wheelchair, too.
By the time we reached this striking memorial, monument fatigue was starting to set in, but up the stairs we climbed (1,000 stairs a day whether you need them or not would be an easy goal this trip) to the Rotunda.
Designed in a similar fashion to the Pantheon in Rome, this classical architectural style was also used in the construction of Jefferson’s home at Monticello. With the distance we had traveled on this Monument Tour, it felt like we had already walked to Monticello.
We attempted to grab a cab once we hit the main road, but it seemed that the taxi drivers felt like avoiding us. I must have passed out, because the next thing I remember was sitting in the bar at The Old Ebbitt Grill; the bar located at the front left as you enter. OK, I didn’t really pass out, but you get the idea.
The front bar did not, in all our opinions, have the same panache of Grant’s bar, but fortunately the vodka tasted the same. We thought about taking a cab back to the hotel, but what the hell we thought, our feet were numb anyway, so we limped back to the Hotel Rouge for a nightcap in a “hip setting with barmaids in short skirts and go-go boots.” Well, at least that is what some online reviews stated.
We entered the hotel through the now-familiar red leather door and turned left to witness the bar scene. Far from being hip, the only couple we witnessed having a drink in the bar looked like they had a better chance of breaking a hip. There was a nice looking woman who was tending bar, but there were no go-go boots to be seen.
Alas, it was all for the best, because we had been go-going since the time we landed (which is the only way the four of us like it).
I believe that Tracy and I were literally asleep before our heads hit our respective pillows. Our dreams tonight would focus upon the Georgetown area, which is where we would spend the better part of the day and night tomorrow.
COMING UP: Sooner Or Waiter, By Georgetown We Like It, Obama Vino, Exercise and Exorcise, Home And Gardens, An Extraordinary Martini and Party Like It’s 1789!
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DAY ONE: Arrested Development, Deposed Premier, Budget Crisis, This Ain’t No Disco, Seeing Red, Grab A Vine, Bar Exam, Monumental Journey and No Go-Go