Washington D.C.: Our Nation’s Capital

February 25, 2011
Washington Nationals
by DeusXFlorida

Washington DC is the capital of the United States of America. When in a new area, we find it beneficial to get the lay of the land. We knew were not going to attempt to drive into Washington, DC with Boss.(Remember that Boss is a one ton dually with an extended bed and wide hips. Finding a parking place is difficult. We have heard the horror stories of the Beltway, not to mention the traffic in DC proper. The beltway is an Interstate highway system, which encircles the city: well known for major traffic jams.

We found out that DC has a wonderful Metro, train/subway, system which will take the traveler almost anywhere in the general area. First we had to find the stations near us and check out the parking. The station at College Park is convenient, but has a postage stamp parking lot. Mostly students from the University of Maryland use this depot via their shuttle bus. The other station, the terminus of the Green line is Greenbelt, the planned city built after W.W.II. The parking lot there has its own shuttle bus to assist the patrons from the far reaches of the lot. Nearby is Greenbelt Park, a hidden gem in the National Park Service. Even though the park is officially closed at this time, dry camping is still allowed in one of the areas for only .00 per night (half for Seniors with the Golden Passport). A dump station is available for the necessary. The campground is less than a half mile from the College Park train station.

Our goal today was to scale the Washington Monument for the aerial view of the city and then visit the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. To enter the Washington Monument, you need to have a ticket, picked up for free at a nearby kiosk. To get a ticket you have to be there by 8:00 AM. We arrived about 11:00 and all were taken.

We headed to the Lincoln Memorial via the Vietnam Wall, a moving sight with the flowers, wreaths, and letters laid at the base of the monument.  At the South end are two books with the names of the dead in alphabetical order. The names on the memorial are chronological. Look up the name of the individual in the book and you will be directed to the panel on which his/her name appears. Across a small green are two more memorials dedicated to the survivors of the war: one of three soldiers, the other of the women who served.

What can be said about the Lincoln Memorial which has not been done before. These days barricades and fencing restrict the tourists’ movements. You cannot walk completely around the Memorial on the upper level. On the ground floor, however, is a museum which chronicles the construction of the Memorial and the events which have taken place at the site, such as the freedom marches, Marion Anderson’s concert, and Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a Dream” speech. Once again the NPS has scored with a wonderful movie relating the importance of Abe Lincoln’s life through his words and pictures and the impact throughout the history of our great country. The musical background is Aaron Copeland’s Lincoln Portrait.

Down from the Lincoln Memorial, opposite the Mall from the Viet Nam Memorial, is the Korean War Memorial. Make sure you have a ranger tour to derive the utmost from the experience. The purpose of the memorial is to involve everyone, the living and dead, into the experience. Originally there were to be thirty-eight(re: 38th Parallel) life-sized statues of soldiers climbing the rugged hill to freedom. The number was halved to nineteen.

Approaching from the road the one soldier is looking over his shoulder signaling to the troops massed in the woods behind to come out into the clearing, filled with juniper and rocks. As you climb the hill to the US flag, the symbol of freedom, you see at the end etched in stone that over 53,000 men lost their lives and more than 8,000 were MIA. At the top is a reflecting pool with a triangular wall jutting into it (the Korean Peninsula). Not to be overlooked is the dark wall on the other side of the hill. Into the wall are carved 2,500 photographic images of men and women who were ancillary to the combatants. You cannot see the faces from afar, only up close. Drawing near the wall the real faces can be seen staring out at you, and you yourself are also reflected in the wall along with the nineteen soldiers climbing the hill to freedom. You become part of the memorial and memorial becomes part of you. This is an eerily haunting feeling which lingers throughout the day.

Across the road to the tidal basin we walked. The thousands of Japanese Cherry Trees were in full bloom. In the distance stood the Jefferson and the Washington Memorials. Along the way lays the memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt. This consists of four outdoor rooms of writings, water and statuary, each one dedicated to a term in office. The monument is a lovely tribute to a great president who led us out of the despair of depression and the horrors of war. The tribute pales in comparison to what we had just experienced earlier.

The Jefferson Memorial is another on the must see list in Washington DC. Dedicated to reason and enlightenment, this makes a fitting end to an emotion filled day.

Some impressions of Washington and Washingtonians. The city looks like Illinois in the summer: construction everywhere you look; cranes, chain link fencing, barricades. Police presence where ever you look: on foot, in cars, on bicycles, motorcycles and horses. Joggers, I mean many joggers, not just a few pass by no matter where you are; in the park, on the tidal basin paths, on the street. People out in great numbers, either seeing the sights in small groups or large tours, or individually. A calliope of people, scents, sights, and sounds fill every pore of the body.

The early bird catches the worm, or breakfast with our Senators. Every Thursday morning at 8:30, while Congress is in session Senators Dick Durbin and Peter Fitzgerald hold a continental breakfast with their constituents in one of the subcommittee rooms in the Dirkson Building. We were also given passes to the Senate and House of Rep galleries. Check with your Senators, if they do the same.

A tour of the Capital is given only by Senate or House personnel. You have to know someone to visit your building. What has our country come to when you can’t even visit your capital building? Luckily we had gallery passes.

Our first stop was the Senate. What a marvelous place to see government in action.. We were disappointed by the paucity of gallery occupants. Less than ten percent of the gallery was full. The ones who came in were mostly school groups. Granted no earth shaking votes were being taken, but we heard Sen. Barbara Boxer of CA argue for an amendment to add antiterrorist devices to commercial airlines. This was supported by Sen. Evan Bayh from IN who also spoke. Sen. John McCain of AZ spoke in rebuttal. Sen. Kennedy came into the Chambers later. Every hour the President Pro Temp of the Senate changes. Every fifteen minutes, the court reporters rotate. What is missing is modern electronics. There are no tote boards, cell phones. The only computers we saw were one on the secretary’s desk and the ones operating the television cameras.

From the Senate to the House of Representatives. Whereas the Senators had individual desks and chairs, the Reps. sit in pew like seats with dividers between them. They have no desks. If they want to speak , they must go to one of the tables on either side of the center aisle and be recognized. One representative was giving a speech about bringing the troops home from Iraq. He finally withdrew his amendment, but got his anti-war point recorded in the Congressional Record.

Went to the Rayburn Building, where our Representative, Jesse Jackson, Jr. has his office. We still vote in Illinois and keep up with the local politics. He was out of the office, but his little daughter, Jessica, was in charge and had the staff running around looking for a lost soccer ball. His staff is in process of setting up a tour of the Capital for us.

To complete our day on “The Hill”, we visited the Supreme Court. They were not hearing any cases that afternoon. So we were able to visit the courtroom and receive a lecture (tour) of the building. When they are in session, you have to get into line very early to listen to each case. When all of the seats are taken the rest of those in line are allowed to sit on wooden chairs in the rear of the Chambers for three minute periods. The plaintiff and defendant lawyers have only one half hour to plead their case. Did you know that there is another court above the Supreme Courtroom? It is a basketball court. Both courts cannot be in session simultaneously.

We tried to see the Ford Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated. The line was very long for the guided lecture. We are not allowed to bring backpacks into the theater. But after 12:00 you can go for a look see inside for a few minutes.

On our way to the theater we passed the new International Spy Museum. The price of entry was slightly steep, .00 per senior. I was expecting to be disappointed and ripped off. Much to my surprise, I was neither. The museum is high tech and delves into the many aspects of espionage, from Biblical time to modern surveillance devices and techniques. The museum is divided into different sections with many hands on activities. We spent over two hours there and could spend more time watching all of the videos and programs. Yes, Agent Maxwell Smart, they had your telephone shoe too. There were many replicas from the cold war, even the poison injecting umbrella. Did you know that Julia Child was once a spy?  Maybe that’s how she got all of her recipes.

Off to the Ford theater we went (only a block away). Lincoln saw part of “My American Cousin”. Today “1776”

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