Washington, DC

Sunday, 24 November 2013 15:30
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AbeA couple of days in and around the nation's capital. 


I got off the windy ferry ride over from Cape May and headed into southeastern Delaware. Unsurprisingly, it looked a lot like South Jersey, with lots of marshes and fields and generally wide open spaces. It was a nice fall drive, all things considered. My destination for the evening was Bowie, MD where I had a hotel lined up and a date at the local Nissan dealership in the morning. Paul, a fellow roadster owner, had dropped me an email earlier about stopping by Annapolis to visit, and had also been kind enough to mention my trip to Lee, the service manager at Nissan of Bowie. Lee had been with Nissan for over 30 years, and had serviced Roadsters back when they were practically new, so he in turn sent me another email and offered to let me bring it by the dealership and do whatever maintenance I wanted on it.

Getting a lift A little checkup

I went over in the morning and met Lee, and we pulled the car into one of the service bays and got it on the lift. We had to set the lift to its lowest and closest settings to get under the car and on the frame (cars are a bit bigger these days, even the ‘small’ cars), but we got it up in the air and had a look around. Everything was generally pretty good; no new damage or leaks or anything (just the one I already know about at the rear main seal and the coolant drip at the radiator petcock). The guys checked the oil (which I had just changed in NJ, so that was fine) and used their fancy four-tires-at-the-same-time-with-nitrogen tire inflation machine (which I think is for the GT-R, but I’m not sure) to get my tire pressures up to snuff. After that, we drove the car out back and parked it next to one of their new GT-Rs for sort of a “then and now” picture. It was a little surprising just how enormous the GT-R looked next to the Roadster; the tires alone were taller than my fenders. Still pretty cool, though.

Son of godzilla

After saying my goodbyes to the service crew there (and letting them take whatever pictures they wanted to; it was the first time seeing a Roadster in the flesh for almost all of them), I drove a little bit away to a local Starbucks and borrowed the WiFi for a bit to make the NJ blog post, after which I met up with Paul, who’d contacted me after reading about the trip on one of the Roadster message boards.

Paul pulled up in a nice red ’68 1600, and the cars looked sort of like twins, which turned a few heads. He led me on a nice little drive through some Maryland backroads and into Annapolis, where we cruised through the downtown area and then over to the pier near the Naval Academy. We got some pictures of the cars around that area, but as nightfall approached, Paul had to take off for some previous engagements, and I wandered around Annapolis a bit more and then headed toward DC. It’s been really great to be able to meet fellow Roadster owners along the way, and I’m constantly amazed at how generous they all with their time and their company.

Paul's car on the left. Hanging out at the Academy Paul & Me & Cars Crashing the Annapolis Yacht Club

By the time I got going toward DC it was dark, so there’s not much I remember about the trip other than the really crazy bad traffic through DC itself. I figured it’d be a little lighter than it was since it was already well after rush hour, but it was a crawl no matter what route I took. I finally found a relatively clear shortcut around the Naval Observatory and got up to my Airbnb stay for the night near Glover Park.

A quick aside on the Observatory: I got to see the “master clock” display outside the gate, as the USNO is the official keeper of time for the United States, and especially the Department of Defense. Why, you may ask, is the Navy keeping time for the US? Good question. Back in the days before GPS, it was really, really important to know what time it was in order to navigate the oceans accurately. Latitude was pretty easy to figure out, as you could just measure the angle of the sun above the horizon at its highest point, or the angle of the north star above the horizon at night, but that didn’t work for figuring out your longitude, and you needed to know both latitude and longitude to know where you were. An accurate timepiece was required to figure out longitude—if you knew what time it was at a known longitude (say, zero degrees longitude in Greenwich, UK) when it was noon where you were (i.e, when the sun was highest in the sky), you could figure out from that time difference what longitude you were at. However, if your clock ran fast or slow while you were out on your voyage, your longitude calculations would be off, and you wouldn’t end up where you thought you were going, hence it was in the Navy’s best interests to know very accurately and reliably what time it was. (If you want to know more about the whole saga of figuring this out, read “Longitude” by Dava Sobel.)

 The Navy knows what time it is. (I couldn’t find my pic of the clock, so I borrowed this one from another blog)

Back to DC--my hosts were a great couple named Jane and Max, and they had a cozy little townhouse in a nice neighborhood. The room was very comfortable and had an en suite bathroom, all of which made for a pretty comfy stay. I parked the car on the street and walked a couple blocks over to Wisconsin Avenue where I found a nice little Italian restaurant and had some dinner while making a few new friends (and acquiring a few new blog readers.) After that long day and good dinner, I walked back up to the townhouse and crashed for the evening.

The next morning, I planned to hit the classic DC tourism spots and museums, or at least as many as I could while not sprinting around town too wildly. Like NYC, my preferred mode of transportation here was the public bicycle system (called “Capital Bikeshare” here as opposed to “Citibike” in NY.) Other than the color, these were the same bikes I’d ridden there, so I walked up a couple blocks to the closest rack, got a three day pass, and grabbed a bike. I rode down Wisconsin to Rock Creek Park, then through the park to Pennsylvania Avenue, then from there down to the White House. I was supposed to shoot a game of HORSE back on the White House court with Barack, but his wife said he couldn’t come out to play, so instead I headed over to the Air & Space museum.

My mode of transportation in DC Back side of the White House The Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where the VP hangs out

On the way to Air & Space, I noticed that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) was having a farmers market in their back lot, and there seemed to be something proper about the USDA running a farmers market, so I stopped in. It was a little sparse since there wasn’t much in season, but I did get a couple of apples to munch on during the day. It seemed that most of the market items were local to the MD/VA/DC area which is not unusual, but I was kind of hoping that it would have been sort of a “farmers market of the US”, with stuff coming in from everywhere. That wouldn’t be all that hard; the airport is only a few minutes from downtown, and agricultural areas all around the country could just toss some examples of whatever was in season on a DC-bound plane for the market. I think that’d be a pretty cool thing for visitors to be able to see, since it’s the US Dept. of Agriculture, not the DC farmers union. But, I digress…

USDA Farmer's Market I verified this in a pie while in NJ

Air & Space was only a couple blocks from the market, so I put the bike back in a nearby rack and walked down there. It had been a long time since I’d been to DC as a tourist, and I always really enjoyed the Smithsonian when I did visit. Air & Space hadn’t changed too much, but it had a few new exhibits and items. There’s something really inspiring about seeing the original items rather than just models. Thinking about being crammed into a Mercury capsule at the top of a rocket or sitting in an X-15 and lighting that engine really gives you some respect for the people who designed and built those machines as well as the levels of trust required by the pilots and astronauts to say “yeah, I’ll fly in that.”

Inside Air & Space The V2 rocket and offspring The business end of a Saturn V engine. Go, baby, go...
The North American X-15, fastest plane ever Some WWII air force memorabilia Chuck Yeager's office, the Bell X-1, first to break the sound barrier

I headed over to Natural History after Air & Space, and went through all the classic exhibits—dinosaurs, evolution, mammals, gems and minerals (including the Hope Diamond, of course), and all the associated areas. It was kind of neat to see several of the things I’d seen “in the wild” earlier in the trip like basalt columns and some of the ancient schists set up here as museum displays. 

A few of our distant ancestors One of the stars of "Night at the Museum" I saw basalt columns like this for real all over the northwest
One of the many mineral displays The Hope Diamond Triceratops

While walking around Natural History, I also got in touch with my new friend Liz, who is Mary’s (my friend in Boston) sister. Liz lives in DC, and she provided me with some remote tourguiding via text message. Based on my location and tips from Liz, I went on to visit the National Archives, the Navy Memorial, the Old Post Office, and then at sunset up to the rooftop balcony bar at the W hotel, which is right next to the White House and the Treasury.

The National Archives, looking very official Scaffolding just starting to come off the Washington Monument The Capitol, where it's likely nothing is happening
Artsy black and white architectural shot More B&W architecture And OK, one more
The Navy memorial, with bronze scenes of Navy life Inside the Old Post Office building ...and outside the Old Post Office
A chrome tree from the National Museum sculpture garden Sunset from the W rooftop bar Flag on the US Treasury

I hung out at the W and watched a pretty decent sunset, and afterward decided that I should go visit some of the buildings and monuments via moonlight, so I grabbed another bicycle and headed off. I swung by the White House, then over to the Washington Monument (where they were just starting to disassemble the scaffolding that was put up after the earthquake damage). I then crossed over to the WWII memorial and the reflecting pool, and continued down to the Lincoln Memorial and hung out with Abe for a little while. I contemplated heading back to Glover Park from there, but instead pedaled down to the Martin Luther King Memorial, then farther along to the Jefferson Memorial, where I hung out in the rotunda for a while. It was a pretty long ride from there back to Glover Park, but DC has a great system of bike trails, which kept me off the streets. I took the Mount Vernon trail along the Potomac and through Georgetown, then up Wisconsin (which was quite literally “up”—that was a pretty serious uphill slog on one of those Bikeshare bikes), then back to my room.

Capitol at night Washington Monument The Reflecting Pool, reflecting
Lincoln Memorial Inside the Memorial The words of Thomas Jefferson from the Declaration of Independence
Martin Luther King   Thomas Jefferson

It was kind of interesting to reflect on DC a bit after this much travel around the country. Much like the national parks, there seems to be a deeper purpose to the place than may be immediately apparent. At first glance, the parks are just places where we’re preserving nature for future generations, but once you spend some time in a place like Yosemite or Yellowstone, you can see that they also provide a place for citizens to reconnect with a larger sense of being in a way that gives you more perspective on your role in the world and existence in general. (Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.—John Muir) When you’ve had a bad year and it seems like it’s the biggest thing in the world, you can walk up to an ancient tree and realize that your bad year is just another ring to that tree, stacked on top of three or four thousand other rings just like it. When you walk around Yellowstone and you can watch the world being made right in front of you, you get more of a realization that everything is transitory, even the things that may seem to be unchanging. Being in the parks gives you that long term, ‘everything-is-connected’ sort of spiritual experience, which is really good for the soul in general.

On the other hand, DC can seem like just a place where we keep our stuff and run our country from, kind of like the nation’s office. The country has always had a bit of a split personality problem, with goals and actions that are often somewhat (or directly) contradictory to our professed higher ideals. “All men are created equal”…except for slaves and women. “All treaties…shall be the supreme Law of the Land”…unless that’s economically inconvenient later. “E Pluribus Unum”…until it seems like a better idea to throw everybody under the pluribus to benefit your own unum.  A regulated capitalist economy doesn’t always work well with a federal republic form of government, so our better angels often find themselves fighting with our more self-serving angels. At various points in history, those self-serving angels have done a pretty good job beating up on our better angels and taking all their lunch money, but there are things to see and places to go in DC that provide reminders to the citizens of who we’re supposed to be and what we’re capable of doing when we are listening to those good angels. Inscribed around the inside of the Jefferson Memorial is the quotation “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form oftyranny over themindof man”, one of the best summations of vigilance in the support of freedom ever. The space capsules and the enormous Saturn V engine in the Air & Space museum are not there just because they’re really cool, but to remind us of what we’re capable of making and doing as a people—we walked on the surface of the moon. Where the national parks remind people of who they are, the exhibits and memorials in DC can remind people of who they should be trying to be. It’s ironic that some of the best examples of not being those kinds of people come out of some of the buildings right down the street from those reminders, but that’s a battle that’s probably going to go on forever. At least the reminders are there for those who are looking for them.

 Anyway, enough philosophizing. Once I got back to Glover Park, I hit another of the restaurants along Wisconsin Avenue for some dinner, then turned in for the evening. I had made plans to meet Liz in person the next day at Farmers Fishers Bakers at the Georgetown waterfront for some brunch, then on into DC to check out the National Gallery.

 FFB is a neat restaurant, featuring food from and/or inspired by American farmers. The brunch was buffet-style and pretty great, and it was nice to finally meet Liz, as I’d only heard tales from her sister before that. We got to know each other over some pretty large plates of goodness from the American farm country, then collectively decided that the weather was probably good enough to do a top-down trip into town, so we grabbed the Datsun, put the top down, and went for it.

 Although it was cloudy, it was fairly warm, and it’s always fun cruising through a city where you can easily look around at cool things from an open car. We drove around for a bit, then got some really good parking on the street in front of the National Gallery and went in.

There’s some amazing and iconic art at the National Gallery, both by US artists and by international masters. We saw some really amazing Dutch Mannerist etchings from the 16th century, a new exhibition of Byzantine art from the 1st millenium l, and of course all the impressionist art on display from Manet, Renoir, Monet, and others. It’s always amazing to see those iconic paintings up close and in person where the brush strokes and depth are clearly visible.

Liz checking out the flowers in the rotunda Portrait of Antony Valabrègue (Cezanne) "The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries"
Water Lilies (Monet) A Young Girl Reading (Fragonard). Reminds me of my niece. Caricature sculptures of French parliament by Daumier

We sort of got kicked out of the museum as they were closing for the day, but we jumped back in the car and headed back toward the center of town for some drinks and dinner at The Hamilton (near the White House) which was very good. After dinner, I took Liz back to her car, then drove back through Georgetown up to my room and retired for the evening.

My nice Airbnb hosts had been providing breakfast every morning that I was there, which isn’t required by the Airbnb agreement (despite the name, you’re not actually running a B&B when you’re renting a room in your house through that service), and the next morning was no exception. I was on my way out of town, and we had a very nice chat over bagels, after which I got packed up and back on the road. I had a pretty long drive into West Virginia ahead of me that day, and the weather wasn’t especially nice (cold, cloudy, and raining a bit), but there were still a few things I wanted to catch on the way out of the greater DC area.

The first stop was Alexandria, specifically Old Town. I’d heard from several people that it was really nice and quaint and well worth seeing, so I headed down there, found some parking, and went off on walkabout. I stopped in at the Torpedo Factory, which actually was an old torpedo factory before being re-purposed into artist spaces and galleries. I liked looking at a lot of the local art, including a number of photographers. It’s always good to see somebody else’s stuff when you’re trying to get better. I continued my explorations up the street a bit, and stopped in at a pub called “The Warehouse” to get my crab on before leaving the area. I had their “She-Crab Soup” which was probably one of the best crab soup/bisques I’ve ever had, plus a couple of crabcakes that were almost completely crabmeat (as opposed to some that are 90% breadcrumbs and 10% crab.) With my crab mission fulfilled, I continued up the street to Christ Church to see where George Washington and Robert E. Lee used to hang out on Sundays (not together, of course.) It started raining a bit after that, so I headed back to the car.


Next, I drove out toward Dulles Airport to complete my visit to the National Air & Space Museum. The Smithsonian keeps the stuff that’s too big to fit in the downtown DC museum (like, you know, the space shuttle) in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center out in Chantilly, VA. This is basically a giant hangar, and among a huge number of military and commercial aircraft and spacecraft, they’ve got a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the space shuttle “Discovery”, a Concorde, and the Enola Gay B-29. This was my second space shuttle of the trip so far (having seen the “Endeavor” in Los Angeles earlier) and my third Blackbird (having seen an A-12 in Palmdale and another SR-71 in LA), but it’s not like these were any less impressive. They do a great job of displaying both rare (sometimes one-of-a-kind) aircraft and more common stuff, and overall things lean a bit toward the military end with extensive displays of WWII and modern planes, as well as a number of German and Japanese jet and prop aircraft. It’s well worth the visit if you’re into that kind of stuff.

Inside the big hangar The SR-71 They had a bunch of WWII warbirds
A little mechanical porn for the engine geeks in the crowd. F35 STOVL More engine goodness. An old radial piston Wasp engine. OK, last of the engine closeups.
The Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress The Concorde Aerobatic planes
Overhead More overhead And another overhead
The space shuttle Discovery, first to be decomissioned Heading into the space hangar Side view, as last flown
More Blackbird Tail end of Discovery. Note re-entry burns. Univac. Old school computing.

It was dark by the time I got out of the museum, so I jumped back in the car and headed off for an exciting nighttime drive through the hills of West Virginia in the nighttime rain and wind…

Next stop: West Virginia and regular Virginia


#1 laceytrynn 2013-11-24 20:32
I was just saying to J that we needed to take the kids to DC sometime soon, I think they're getting to the right age now… great pics. And I like your philosophizing :)
#2 lectacave 2013-11-25 10:03
Another great post, excellent philosophizing! The Godzilla photo is hilarious! Chuck Yeager's office - heh. I agree, it really is mind-blowing to imagine willingly getting in to some tiny pod and saying, "Yep, fire this thing up and shoot me in to space where I'll spend several hours in this thing without losing my mind and freaking out completely." Unfathomable, and yet. I saw no references to NASSA in this post, however. I suppose the government is still covering that up, though the Saturn V engine looked suspiciously familiar...
#3 Mom 2013-11-25 16:07
After reading this particular blog, I am even more convinced you should consider approaching a publisher to publish this experience. Great reading and although, I have said this before this is awesome work and such a great reading !
+1 #4 1969SRL 2013-11-29 13:02
Definitely need to publish and I do believe I hear the Velocity Channel calling!!

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