Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Family and Tourism
I left Pittsburgh at 11am last Wed for the 4 1/2 hour drive to Paul's house in Haymarket, VA, which is about a half hour outside of Washington D.C. First of all, let me say that I love road trips. I always have and so was looking forward to the drive over. It was a beautiful drive, too. I feel like I have been so starved for lushness and greenery over the last decade and a half that I had a hard time watching the road. There was just so much pretty scenery upon which to feast my eyes! I drove through an intriguing little town called Berkley Springs, West Virginia. The highway went right through the middle of town so the speed limit was drastically reduced which allowed me to rubberneck at a much less dangerous speed. I drove past small shops, ball fields and playgrounds. I hesitate to use the word quaint but I couldn't help wondering what it must be like to live in such a pretty little storybook town.
I met my cousin, Paul, just this last September but we connected right away. I think we would have had a lot of fun if we had grown up together. On the other hand, I am 8 years older than he is so I probably would have thought he was just a little pain in the ass and most likely would have locked him in a closet if given the chance! As it is, though, in adulthood the age difference feels negligible. So I was really looking forward to hanging out with him for a few days. I knew we would have fun. And that we did!
I got to meet his wife, Genelle, for the first time and their two boys. Zach is 18 and Austin is 15. I'm not sure how they turned out so great with such a demented father but somehow they did. Must be Genelle's influence. She is about as sweet as they come.
We hung out at the house that first evening and Paul showed me his recording studio in the basement, which I promptly renamed The Man Cave (but you have to put your hands on your hips and deepen your voice when you say it). Paul built it himself and soundproofed the whole thing! It's pretty cool. The next day Paul gave me a driving tour of Washington D.C. He's lived there off and on for most of his life and he was like a walking, talking guide book. We stopped at a place called Hard Times Cafe in Alexandria for lunch. They served some awesome chili. From there we went to a little park near Reagan National Airport to watch the flyover of 3 vintage war planes. After the flyover Paul showed me where we could stand so the commercial planes that were taking off from the airport would go right over our heads. I had to try to get that with the video camera!
Then Paul said he had an idea and we headed out of the city. I asked where we were going and he said it was a suprise. So I just enjoyed the beautiful drive. We ended up at Mt. Vernon! We didn't go into the house because the line was too long but we poked around the grounds and the gardens and then went into the museum. It was very cool!
We picked Zach up on our way home and stopped at the grocery store. By the time we got home Genelle had dinner well under way. She made chicken cordon bleu and it was delicious!
Friday morning Paul, Zach and I were out the door a little after 6am in order to beat the traffic into the city. After we dropped Zach off we had some time to kill so we went to breakfast in McLean. We then hit downtown Washington D.C. about 8am. Paul runs his own business having to do with construction permitting and, since he had taken the day before off to entertain me, he needed to get some things accomplished that day. That worked well for me because I wanted to go to a couple of museums and I always prefer to do museums alone. That way I can go at my own pace and not have to worry about anyone else. So he dropped me off. It would have been nice if he had slowed the car down a little more, though. I'm not as good at tuck and roll as I used to be!
I walked to the U.S. Capital building first. The very heart of our government! I got goosebumps. We can all be cynical about our country and our government but it's still pretty amazing to stand on the steps of the Capital and know what that building represents.
From there I walked down the National Mall to get back to the Archives. It didn't open until 10am but my personal guide told me I needed to be in line early because only so many people are allowed in at a time and the line really backs up. I waited my turn and was rewarded with the opportunity to see The Charters of Freedom. The Declaration of Independence, The United States Constitution and The Bill of Rights. Those precious documents that we all take so for granted. Those documents that set forth the ideals that our forefathers believed in strongly enough to fight and die for.
I've seen a lot of historical places and artifacts in Europe and, as everyone who knows me knows, I love British history. But this is OUR history. It is what makes us who we are as a collective people....Americans. If you see nothing else in Washington D.C. every American should visit the National Archives.
My next stop was The Smithsonian Natural History Museum. I picked up a brochure and map at the entrance and immediately felt overwhelmed! Where to start? Well, the first floor, I guess. I wandered through it all; the dinosaurs, the sea life, early man, western cultures, mammals, the ice ages. I had to smile when I saw The Tower of Time and thought of the 11 year old who was the only one to notice the inaccuracy that had stood for 32 years but because of him had been corrected by the time I got there.
From The Natural History Museum I returned to the Mall. I got an ice cream cone and just sat for a few minutes. Wow! The sun was shining; it was a beautiful day and I was sitting on a bench on the National Mall, eating ice cream. I could see the Capital to my left and the Washington Monument to my right. Life was good! As soon as I polished off my cone I set off to the right. I was hoping to get to go up to the top of that most famous monolith (or phallic symbol, depending on how you look at it!) but all of the tickets for the day had already been given out. So I just walked around it and craned my neck to see the top. I got a great shot of the Washington Monument the day before with a cherry tree in the foreground!
Just behind the Wash. Monument is the WWII Memorial. It's beautiful and very moving. I took lots of photos.
Unfortunately the battery in my camera died as I was approaching the Lincoln Memorial. I brought an extra battery but it did me little good tucked away in my suitcase as it was at that moment! So I put the digital away and used the video camera to record the rest of the afternoon which included the Lincoln Memorial, the White House and the Viet Nam Memorial. I stopped to read some of the letters that had been left at the Wall. One was from a man who had been a pen pal when he was 12 with a man whose name was written in the stone. Another was from a young woman whose father had asked her to leave flowers beneath the name of his friend. So sad. So many lives uselessly wasted. At least at the WWII memorial you had the feeling that those men and women died for a worthwhile cause. They and their families suffered no less but the difference in the mission of the two wars was so stark.
Paul picked me up at about 3:30 that afternoon and he humored me by driving past the U.S. Supreme Court building before we headed home. My feet and my back had given me about all they had to give by then and it was good to ride.
That evening Paul's friend Scott came over and the three of us ended up hanging out in (deep voice) The Man Cave until the wee hours of the night. A few beers, a few shots of tequila, some music. A good time was had by all...
Unfortunately, Genelle had to work on Saturday so Paul, Zach, Austin and I went to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles. There are some pretty cool planes and space stuff on display. We wandered through the whole museum and checked out everything, including the mini model that was shot as the Mother Ship in Close Encounters. The highlights of the afternoon, though, were the space shuttle Enterprise, the Concorde, and the Enola Gay! Somewhere along the way Zach came up with a new nickname for me. Being only 4' 11" tall, I thought I had heard them all but this was definitely a new one. Ahem...allow me to introduce myself. My name is Connie but you may call me Stubby. LOL! I'm still trying to think of a way to get him back.
Paul had agreed to run sound for his friend's band that night so Genelle and I went along. The music was a little (!) harder than I prefer but I had a good time.
Sunday morning Genelle made a huge breakfast before I headed back to Pittsburgh. I had a great weekend. I got to see our nation's capital and spend time with new found family. My first visit but not my last. Zach graduates high school in June so I'm going back in a couple of months. I've posted pics in The Colors of My World if you are interested.