Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Observations from Washington, DC [Ryan]

I missed last week’s blog because I was in the midst of heading off for Washington, DC. It’s an amazing city, full of helpful people who will stop at nothing to help you in any way they can, whether it be helping you read a map* or selling you a souvenir T-shirt that disintegrates upon washing.

Here are some keen observations I gathered while in our nation’s capital:

OBSERVATION 1: ALTERNATE REALITIES. One of the first things you should know about our nation’s capital is that it may be the crux of several alternate realities. Though this theory has been largely refuted by scientists, we proved the existence of such realities when we tried to meet a friend at the Smithsonian Metro entrance. My aunt Jessica was on the phone, describing where we were (at the entrance, looking toward the massive Department of Agriculture sign on an arch), while the friend recounted her surroundings (at the entrance to the Metro, looking toward the Department of Agriculture sign). The trouble was, the friend was nowhere in sight. My agile scientific mind immediately leapt to the possibility of unseen alternate universes, a notion the others in my group were slow to accept. When we finally agreed to meet somewhere else, the others finally conceded that my explanation was the only plausible one.**

OBSERVATION 2: SMITHSONIANS ARE FREE. The Smithsonian museums, we were pleased to discover, were all free. Having already surveyed our finances and found that we would probably need to subsist on pretzels and water for the duration of the trip, we took this news with great jubilation.

(To say we lived on pretzels and water is to employ only mild hyperbole. At the beginning of the trip, I bought a box of 25 large microwaveable pretzels. I ate these for lunches nearly every day. Near the close of our excursion, one of my companions complained that we had nothing left to eat. I pointed out the giant supply of pretzels still left in the fridge — which, despite my eating them, never seemed to decrease in quantity — and, surprisingly enough, the others maintained that, yes, we had nothing to eat.)

OBSERVATION 3: FOGGY BOTTOM. There’s a district in DC called Foggy Bottom. (Isn’t that fun to say? Foggy Bottom.) Despite sounding like a symptom of something you’d catch if you drink impure water, this is not only a real place, but it’s the location of George Washington University. Foggy Bottom.***

OBSERVATION 4: THE METRO CAN BE HAZARDOUS. One of the great parts of DC is the Metro subway system. Within a few days, we learned how to work this complex network of underground trains, with only a few minor hitches. One such complication came at one of our stops, when a slow gentleman man with a gigantic pile of luggage lumbered out the door with the speed of a tectonic plate, blocking the entire doorway. My brother managed to get out before the man began his one-man congestion of the subway door, but as the man finally dragged himself and his luggage out of the surging crowd and into the terminal, the doors shut. My fourteen-year-old brother watched as the doors shut, dooming the rest of us on a journey to the next stop with out him. I’d like to continue this story and ad more danger and drama, but we found him quickly after taking an abrupt 180 at the next stop.

OBSERVATION 5: METRO MUMBLING. At every stop, the Metro conductor lets you know where you are. Sometimes, unfortunately, the guy’s accent makes it sound like he’s speaking through a dying transistor radio from Jupiter with a mouth full of cottage cheese. When he intends to say something like “This is the Blue Line train to Franconia-Springfield, Pentagon City, doors opening on left,” you hear something like “Blue laaahhn train to Frncnnnnaaah-Sprrinnfff, Peggnuuhhhctiuhhh, doors opening on left.”**** You’ve just got to listen.

* Within the first two days of being in DC, no fewer than four people stopped to help us with directions. We had some indefinable quality that branded us as tourists adrift from our moorings. It might have been the subtle way we hesitated before getting on the Metro. It might have been the bulges in our back pockets, betraying the presences of guidebooks. Or it might simply have been the way we peered at our maps with all the confidence of a squirrel reading the Rosetta Stone.

** Not long afterward, we discovered there were two entrances to the Smithsonian Metro station, both with a view of different parts of the Department of Agriculture building. I still cling to my theory.

*** Foggy Bottom. Foggy Bottom. Oh, it’s so much fun to say!

**** The part about the doors opening is always clear. Don’t ask me.


  1. I used to live on Foggy Bottom St. in Boise. Not joking. Google it. 6725 W. Foggy Bottom St. Boise, ID 83703. Yep, that's my childhood home.