Laura Sees D.C.

October 6-9, 2000

For the fourth year in a row (and the third year we've been unchaperoned) Tigger and I visited the D.C. area over Columbus Day weekend to attend the annual RADP meet and visit friends and do some sightseeing. The weather was cooler this year than in previous years, but at least it didn't rain until the last day when we were inside and it didn't matter anyway.

The short form...

I flew into Washington National (or Reagan, or whatever they call it these days) on Friday, and stayed the same place I did last year - the Marriott Courtyard Convention Center. It's really a great location - only one block from a Metro station, and easy walking distance to the Mall and other places. Saturday I did some sightseeing with my friend Kathy and Sunday after the meet I went home with my IRC Reminder ( PartnIRC in Crime Debbie Koma and her family and spent the night there - they were terrific hosts. Monday afternoon Debbie took me to the airport and I headed home.

Friday, October 6

I used some of my Delta Frequent Flier miles for my plane trip, but by the time I made the reservation I didn't have a lot of choices for flights, so I ended up flying from San Diego to JFK, then on to National. The flight from San Diego was only 1/3 full at most which was nice - the not-nice part was the mother with the screaming 2 year old who was in the middle section a row in front of me. I felt badly for her, because she was trying to keep the kid quiet, but not much seemed to help. And of course the kid wouldn't fall asleep until there were only about 30 minutes left in the flight.

The flight arrived in New York about 35 minutes early, and I was able to get an earlier flight to D.C. - sure beat waiting around JFK for 2 hours! Thank goodness for carry-on luggage. This also meant I arrived at my hotel while it was still daylight outside, so I had a chance to go out and take a walk before dark - I went down to the Mall and saw a lovely sunset. I walked up towards the Capitol building (also lit by the sunset) and passed several things I'd never seen before - seems like anywhere you go in D.C. you find memorials or monuments or statues tucked away somewhere, and I find it interesting to stop and take a look. I found this memorial to someone, though I no longer remember who (Deb tells me that it is Taft, though) and this fountain, which was nicely lit in the evening, to the north of the Capitol building.

I walked over to Union Station and got some dinner, then took the Metro back to my hotel, watched some TV, made some phone calls, read, and went to bed. My room overlooked F street, and there was some kind of fancy night club across the street - they had searchlights in front and several limousines waiting outside. The searchlights were coming right in the window until I closed the curtains.

Saturday, October 7

My friend Kathy called me around 9:30 - she lives in Virginia, and we've known each other since we were 10 - that's a long time. :-) Since it was a pretty day outside we arranged to meet at the Metro station at Arlington National Cemetery, which is a place I hadn't visited before. And besides, it continued our tradition of doing "The Death Tour" of D.C. - the first year we saw Ford's Theater and "The House Where Lincoln Died", the next year was saw all the stuffed animals in the Natural History Museum, and last year we visited the Holocaust Museum. So Arlington Cemetery fit right in with our tradition. :-) (Kathy says we're doing the White House next year! :-) )

A cemetery is not exactly a cheery place, and I'm certainly no expert on cemeteries, but this one is very nice - it's a beautiful location. But getting around is a maze if you don't have a map, so you better make SURE you find the Visitor's Center before you do anything else! Kathy and I missed it on the way in and had to back track a little - we ended up eventually giving both our maps away to people who hadn't gotten them. There are signs pointing the way to the Tomb of the Unknowns and to the Kennedy graves but that's it - and there aren't any little stands where you can pick up a map in case you missed one.

The cemetery resides on property originally owned by George Washington Parke Custis - who was George Washington's adopted grandson. He passed it on to his daughter Mary Anna, who married Robert E. Lee. So contrary to popular belief, Lee did not OWN the property - but he lived there with his wife and family. After Lee took command of the Confederate forces the family feared repercussions and fled further south. Eventually the property was confiscated by the government for failure to pay property taxes. In 1864 it was established for use as a military cemetery, and among the first burials there was a mass grave containing the remains of 1800 casualties from the Battle of Bull Run. Gee, think there was just a *little* bit of "in-your-face-Robert-E.-Lee" associated with that?

Interestingly enough, after the war Lee's son successfully sued the government, claiming the property had been confiscated illegally. The property was returned to him, but he sold it back to the government.

Anyway...Arlington House, which was where the family lived, is perched on the top of the hill with a killer view of the Potomac, the monuments, and the Capitol. We walked up there, but there was quite a line, so we didn't actually go through the building.

Probably the thing Arlington Cemetery is best known for is the "Tomb of the Unknowns", which contains the remains of unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. There used to be a Vietnam solider there, also, but DNA testing identified him, and his family had him brought back home. So now there's a tablet commemorating MIA soldiers rather than a Vietnam soldier. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day by a "Tomb Guard Sentinel" who marches back and forth in a prescribed pattern and does some very precise rifle drills. Every hour (every half hour in the summer) there's a ceremony and the guard is changed. It's definitely NOT a job I would want, but evidently there are a lot of people who do, and it's considered quite prestigious.

Kathy and I watched the ceremony, and then wandered around the area for several minutes - only to happen upon another ceremony at the tomb, where they exchanged the wreath in front of the tomb for one that had been donated by a school group - the group was there to see it, and several of them participated. That was interesting, and they had a bugler play "Taps" during that ceremony.

We also saw the Kennedy gravesites, the Spanish-American War Memorial (the mast of the Maine - Remember the Maine? ;-) ), and the Challenger Memorial (pictured further up the page).

We walked out the side gate of Arlington because just outside and across Jefferson Davis Highway is the Marine Corps War Memorial (aka the famous Iwo Jima statue) and the Netherlands Carillon. The only carillon I'd ever seen is the "semi-portable" one they had at Epcot at Walt Disney World for a while, and I was interested in seeing a different one. This one was a gift from the Netherlands to the U.S. after World War II, and resides in a tower. Not exactly Notre Dame, though. :-) There are concerts on most weekends in the summer, but nothing scheduled when I was there, though it does automatically chime the hour, and we heard that while we were inside Arlington.

We took the Metro back to downtown D.C., where the "Taste of D.C." event was going on. "Taste of DC" is held every Columbus Day weekend - they close down about 6 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, and set up tents where local restaurants come in and you can sample some of their foods. Kathy and I have had lunch there the last several years, and after all the walking around Arlington we were pretty hungry, plus it was about 1:30 by then.

I had read in the freebie magazine in the hotel that there was going to be a free tour of Lafayette Square at 3:00 that afternoon, so that's where we went after lunch. Lafayette Square is right behind the White House, and used to be quite the elite address - you had to have lots of money to live around the square. The tour was given by a guy named Tony Pitch, who has written a number of books about Washington D.C. He took us around the square and talked about the buildings that still exist, and pointed out the locations of houses that are no longer there, and told us lots of interesting stories about the people who lived in them - many of whom came to rather bad ends. It was very interesting - I especially liked the one about a rather eccentric Congressman named Daniel Sickles who found out his wife was having an affair with a guy who lived across the square, so one day he marched across the square and shot and killed him. And then pleaded temporary insanity - the first person in the U.S. to do that - and got off! In the Civil War he was shot and his leg had to be amputated - he donated it to a medical school, and then every year on the anniversary of the amputation he went to the school to visit it. Kinda makes modern-day Congressmen seem downright normal...

But I think my favorite anecdote was one he told about this statue of Lafayette - he heard this one from a man who (when he was a kid) used to walk President Harding's dogs. He said that he always imagined that the lady was saying to Lafayette, "I'll give you your sword if you give me my clothes." :-)

Kathy headed back home and I went back to the hotel after that - I had to make an emergency trip to the bookstore in Union Station, though, or otherwise I knew I wouldn't have enough reading material to last until I got back home! :-) And that's one of the nice things about these trips - I get lots of time to read. I had a very nice surprise waiting for me in my room when I got back - Debbie Koma had arranged with the hotel to have a tray of fresh chocolate chip cookies delivered to my room - mmmmm. That was so sweet! (In more ways than one! :-) )

Sunday, October 8

Last day in D.C...and I hadn't done my annual Monument pilgrimage! :-) It was much cooler this morning, but still mostly clear and sunny, and I was comfortable in the jacket and sweater I'd brought. I lucked out at the Washington Monument - there was a line for tickets, but someone at the front of the line had some extra tickets for the 9:00 elevator (the first one of the day), and gave me one. So I got to go up in the first one. I actually went up in the monument last year for the first time, but it was still undergoing renovation and was all covered with scaffolding, so the view was obstructed. This time everything was open, AND it was a nice day with blue sky and puffy white clouds. There's really not that much to do up there, though, so I didn't stay long, and walked down to the Lincoln Memorial. It was early enough that there weren't very many people there, which was nice.

I backtracked a little to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial - I really like the way the soldiers reflect in the wall. Hmm...looks like other things reflect in the wall, too. :-) )

The FDR Memorial was next, but I didn't spend a great deal of time there - there was a large tour group just behind me. I saw this squirrel unabashedly snacking on part of a muffin that he had pulled out of the trash can. It was getting late enough that I didn't have time to go visit Mr. Jefferson this trip, so I just waved to him across the Tidal Basin and headed back. I found some other less known memorials along the edge of the Mall - one to the D.C. residents who had served in the "Great World War" - dedicated in the early 1930s BEFORE WWII broke out, and one to John Paul Jones (he of Bonhomme Richard, "I have not yet begun to fight" fame.)

It has been a pretty warm autumn in the D.C. area, so there isn't much fall foliage yet, but I found this one tree that was in full color and putting on quite a show. And there was this nice flower garden, too. I didn't see as many flowers this year, but I found this very nice flowering bush growing outside the IRS, of all places.

I made my way over to the front of the White House (maybe next year I'll actually manage to tour the White House - that's about the only major touristy thing that I haven't done), and then headed back to the hotel for a quick shower, packed, checked out, and took the Metro to the Pentagon City Mall.

There I met up with the other RADP people outside The Disney Store (where else? :-) ). I think there ended up being about 30 of us. There are a number of local people, but there were also quite a few of us who had travelled a ways to be there - Gail and Julian were there from Toronto, Wayne and Tracy from Iowa, and Cathy and Bryant from North Carolina. DebW was giving me a bad time saying that she no longer gives a prize for the person who has come the furthest because I always win it. :-)

We had a nice lunch at a place called Mozzarella's, though it's in the process of changing its name to "The American Cafe" or something like that. DebK and I sat with Tom and Gloria and Jason and Amy and had a nice time talking about our favorite Disney resorts and restaurants and the Disney Vacation Club.

After lunch we went downstairs to the food court where there were some empty tables and Denise and Connie and DebW and Mary and Judy did some massive pin-trading. :-) I had fun watching them and visiting with people I'd met in previous years, and a couple of people that I knew "on-line" but hadn't actually met in person before.

DebK's husband Brian and son Alex picked us up outside the mall - they'd visited the Zoo while we were at the Meet. It sounds like the animals were very active! We drove to their home in Vienna, where they had kindly invited me to spend the night. I had a great evening with them - Brian barbecued some fresh swordfish for dinner, which was really good, and we talked and drank wine and watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is my favorite Star Trek movie. I think Alex has decided that it's his favorite now, too - he has good taste. Debbie and I stayed up and yakked for another couple of hours after that - we never seem to run out of things to talk about - before going to bed.

Monday, October 9

After breakfast DebW came down to visit with DebK and me for a while. It was fun to hear what she's up to, and see some of the new things that the two of them have been doing with the WDWIG web site. And DebK and I also talked about ideas for future IRC reminders... ;-) DebK and Alex had set up one of the "Magic Kingdom" castle playsets, but hadn't gotten it working because they didn't have batteries. DebK had purchased batteries, and eventually we got almost everything to work, and we had fun playing with that and making the Dumbo ride go up and down. :-)

All too soon it was time for DebW to leave, and then I had to finish packing, and DebK drove me to the airport.

On the flight from National, we got out on the runway, moved from 12th in line for takeoff to about #5, and then suddenly turned and headed back to the gate. The flight attendants announced that there was a passenger who was ill, and they were going to take her back so that she could be attended to. That's never happened on a flight I've been on before...Fortunately I did NOT have a tight connection out of JFK, so the 50 minute delay was no big deal, but I don't think others were as fortunate. But it's not something you can do anything about.

The flight from JFK to San Diego was only about 1/3 full, and I had an empty seat beside me, which was nice. After we pushed back and got out on the runway, suddenly the flight attendants started running up and down the aisles, and then we got the announcement (again!) that there was a passenger feeling ill, and was there a doctor on board? Fortunately there was, and they eventually decided that the woman was fine to continue the flight (she was several rows behind me in the middle of the plane - from what I could tell it seemed like she was having a panic attack and her medication hadn't kicked in yet). After that the flight was mercifully uneventful, and despite the delay in departure, even landed a few minutes early. And I didn't run out of reading material. :-)

I had a few nice surprises waiting for me when I got home, too - Lee had installed a shelf and a light in my office, and had bought and installed my very own HP scanner, so that I don't have to be using HIS all the time. :-) And there was also this very nice plastic champagne bucket filled with a bottle of Martinelli's sparkling cider and a whole bunch of Ghirardelli chocolate...Hmmm...maybe I should go away more often! :-)

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Text and photographs copyright © 2000, by Laura Gilbreath. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

Laura Gilbreath,
Last updated 10/13/00