By Andy Amey
The FDR Memorial, the Museum of Natural History, the Holocaust Museum, the American Indian Museum, the Gallery of 20th-Century Art, the Bureau of Engraving, the National Archives, the U.S. Capitol, the White House and a touring company of Second City, our favorite comedy/improv group.
That’s a partial list of the things Jenny and I didn’t see on our vacation to Washington, D.C. — The District, for those of us with the inside info — a little over a week ago, even though we seemed to be constantly on the move.
Want further evidence of how much there is to do in our nation’s capital? I hope you’re sitting down.
Jenny didn’t have a chance to shop until we hit Reynoldsburg, Ohio, on the drive home. So much for that economic stimulus we were supposed to provide.
But we met a lot of incredibly diverse, friendly people and ate a lot of always good, occasionally exotic food — you know us — all because we wanted to share our enjoyment with you. We’re unselfish that way. So here goes:
• En route — One of the toughest parts of the two-day drive out was getting railroaded in Terre Haute (go figure) 10 minutes into our trip.
Had supper at Zanesville, Ohio, where we learned that “casual dining” can mean different things to different people (having filet mignon as a special isn’t very casual in my book) and that most of the trip follows U.S. 40. That’s not necessarily a good thing in Wheeling, W.Va., where the National Road went from highway to street and back several times before we found our hotel for the night.
Some of my new favorite towns are Washington, Pa., home of the Wild Things (the ballpark is right alongside I-70); Cumberland, Md. (western Maryland, by the way, is another place that doesn’t get enough credit for being gorgeous); and Leesburg, Va., which is such a historic community that instead of a building permit, contractors are issued a “Certificate of Appropriateness.”
Unfortunately we enjoyed the quaintness of Leesburg because we missed a turn (I blame our computerized directions) and were lost for about 90 minutes on what should have been the last 10 miles of the trip. Don’t tell the kids about this.
But we arrived safely, I was able to persuade Jenny to have some Indian food for supper (and she liked it! Taj Mahal, here we come) and we met a nice man from Nepal (he was our waiter) and some lovely Hispanic women who let us use their discount card to save some grocery money. Found some great sodas from the Caribbean, flavors including banana, tamarind, pineapple (but alas, no Jupina), guava, apple and something called Golden Kola which turned out to be cream soda.
• First day — We figured out the subway system pretty quickly (anybody headed to The District in the near future might want our SmartTrip cards that still have a couple of bucks on them), and it’s a pretty cool thing to be able to emerge from underground at the Smithsonian stop on the Orange Line to bright sunshine with the Capitol in front of you, the Department of Agriculture to your right, the Museum of Natural History to your left and the Washington Monument behind you.
Plenty of lump-in-the-throat moments as we saw the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Museum of American History. The downside was that our enthusiasm failed to take into account the amount of walking involved (at least 5 miles, I’m figuring) and it was hot, although at least there was a breeze. We went to the museum strictly for the air conditioning, although while there we saw the original Old Glory and an exhibit on the First Ladies, among other things.
I’ve heard Mary Todd Lincoln had some mental problems, which I think may have stemmed from being cinched into her inaugural gown (18-inch waist, max). Also impressed by the flapper dress worn at inauguration by Grace Coolidge (hopefully scandalous), and Lucy Hayes looked like nobody to mess with.
• Couple of gripes — I’m still curious about a couple of things: why you can turn left at an intersection and be on one street, or turn right and be on the same one but with a different name, or why the Herndon folks use the same name for more than one street. There were at least two Centreville Roads, for example, although the Centreville exit put you on neither one of them.
And did you know you can’t trust the internet? Our second-day dinner was planned with the help of the Washingtonian’s Cheap Eats list, yet we found ourselves in the Ralph Lauren Building (our first clue) in a stark silver and white room (our second clue) having sea bass and roasted zucchini (the final proof these weren’t cheap eats). But that was just the prelude to …
• The Nationals — First in war, first in peace and last in the American League is what folks used to say about the original Washington Senators, and the switch to the National League is the only difference in the city’s current major league (or almost) team.
My old friends Ed and Linda McKee share a season-ticket package and had two seats available for a makeup game with the Cardinals, so we were able to use those tickets since nobody wants to watch St. Louis (Actually that’s a lie. Nobody in the subway had Nationals gear, but every third person was wearing something Cardinal-related; pretty sure mine was the only Cubs hat).
Enjoyed the game for three innings and the visit (and Carrie McKee’s wedding pictures) even more, and then the rains came. We took advantage of the break in the action to visit the concession stands, which obviously weren’t used to a big demand and immediately ran out of hot dogs — which was fine, because they didn’t have any mustard. Need more evidence the team still has a little ways to go yet? There are virtually no parking lots at the ballpark (although subway convenience is great), and you can’t see their games on TV without a special package.
• Things we did see — The National Gallery of Art is very nice (Jenny likes the realists, but I’m still stuck on Monet and Renoir and the French Impressionists); Union Station is very nice and will make you want to take a train ride somewhere; Arlington Cemetary is everything you expect it to be (many more lumps in the throat), with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guarded 24-7 (including during hurricanes); and I loved the Newseum, the recently opened museum of the news media. No Tribune-Stars on display that day, but a Post-Tribune (now from Merrillville, not Gary) was the Indiana paper featured among the selection of daily front pages from around the world, to give me some alumnus cred. Still haven’t learned Portuguese, but I could tell the paper from Brazil was pretty upset about Felipe Massa.
It doesn’t cost much to get into the Newseum, by the way, but that’s not the best news. All the other attractions have been FREE (although for a couple you have to get up pretty early to get a free ticket).
• Things we learned — Finally got smart enough to get a Tourmobile pass the last two days (although a nice Scottish lady we met thought 20 pounds was pretty expensive). Not only did we get to ride instead of walking so much, but I think we are now honorary members of the P.A.W. Reunion (Peterson-Adams-Waters) after spending so much bus time with them.
• Things we ate — Best new fast-food chain we found was Fresh City, which is exactly as advertised (I’ll vouch for the salmon burritos and the salads). Also had our first experience with Vietnamese food (noodle bowls you can pretty much season yourself; they start out good and get better as you go). And although the two-streets-with-the-same-name thing turned my five-mile trip into an hour excursion, Five Guys is still a superior burger destination. As all Food Channel devotees know, Whole Foods is a nice grocery store too.
Saw a bunch of Salvadoran restaurants, but didn’t get a chance to try them, and the Brazilian cuisine was too expensive. Also didn’t eat the Afghan or Ethiopian food, although there was an Ethiopian church a block away and a Hispanic church across the street.
• To summarize — All the stuff you’ll read online will tell you to take an umbrella and expect to walk, and in this case the internet is correct. You’ll never run out of things to do. We were told if we spent one minute at every Smithsonian exhibit (I think there are 17 of their museums) and went every day, you could see all of their stuff in 100 years, for example. The kids want us to go back and take them with them, and we’re considering it — if somehow we can get in better shape.
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. for comments or news items at (812) 231-4277 or 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.