While the tourist portion of my trip to DC was only about 4 hours long, it supplied me with basically all of the postable photos from the trip. The drive took 4 hours from NYC when we left Friday morning at the ungodly hour of 8 AM. Had a bite of lunch and then was delivered to a Metro station all alone (as George had other plans for the day and night). In general I like the DC Metro a lot. It's clean, fairly convenient, and has a nice open feeling which is a big contrast from the NY Subway. The major downfall I feel is the confusing (espeically for tourists) ticketing system. I took the easy way out and bought the day pass instead of trying to calculate in advance the exact stations I'd be using throughout the day and the various fare prices in between the stations based on the time of day. I already took the damn GRE.
I rolled out of L'Enfant Plaza Station about 2 PM and took a leisurely stroll towards the US Capitol. One lap around the reflecting pool and I was inquiring about a tour. Luckily both the House and Senate were "in session" Friday. There was no line at the security booth, so the older man in a red jacket who was security helped me locate Jim Leach's office on the big board and sent me towards the Longworth Building to grab visitor passes. Now, had I been thinking clearly when I realized I was in the wrong building, I would have pretended to be from any state and walked into the nearest door to get the tickets. Instead, I ran into a young intern who thought perhaps I should look in the next building over, Rayburn. How, exactly, do we do this you ask? Why, through the secret tunnel in Sub-Basement 3 of course! Straight out of the X-files with the eerie lighting and everything. All those federal office buildings must look the same.
Eventually I meander down the correct hallway and the young Iowan staffer at the desk is WAY too happy to see someone walk into the office. Tickets acquired, I return to the House of Representatives and do the security dance 3 times to even enter the building. I'm eager to see laws being made and my tax dollars at work so I head down the hall to the elevator bank to access the viewing area. I'm handed a small red ticket that says, "superflous" for unknown reasons. Oddly, there's no one else waiting for the elevator so I get join the two young staffers and head up. Ding! Second floor. A middle-aged plump man with no neck and a tacky comb-over gets on the elevator. Suddenly, both staffers become entranced with their own shoe-laces. As the doors close I start to feel really uneasy as this man obviously emanating pure evil. I think if he touched a flower it might instantly wilt. I held my breath until we all exited on the 3rd floor.
It's at this point that the security checkpoint actually takes all your battery operated devices and then sends you through yet another metal detector. Apparently some people are either idiots or they don't think the rules apply equally to everyone. Lucky for us, the security guard was an enforcer. The disgruntled woman with rediculous fingernails and cute hair was my favorite person in the building that day. This guy comes through with a leather jacket in his hand and sets off the detector 3 times, making everyone wait. He takes off his belt. Beep. Removes his wallet. Beep. Finally he hands the coat to the guard and they wand it. Yep, cell phone is inside the front pocket. The guard gives this guy the best eyeroll I've seen in my whole life [and I was a witness to the eyeroll, with a head-flip and a door slam that has gone down in roommate history], and loudly exclaims , "CELL PHONE! BAAAAAAAACK OF THE LINE!" without sympathy. I could have applauded her on the spot.
Finally, I'm through the detector and they hush me and I quietly enter the viewing gallery where we are being directed to seats all together in one section. I sit. I look around. What.The.Fuck? The viewing gallery is huge, but they're funneling everyone into this one tiny section with 40 seats max. Best of all, NO ONE is in the chamber. So much for being "in session" when they're all, "back in the office working with leadership". I'm outta there and sprint to the Senate side since someone is actually giving a speech (I notice on the C-SPAN feed nearby).
I repeat the same basic procedure on that side of the building. They take my electronic devices and I'm re-re-re-re metal detected. The difference is the Senate will not share their elevators. You take the stairs. Inside, Senator Byrd from West Virginia is giving a speech. I can clearly read the speech as he says it because the font is that huge on his podium. The senate floor is littered with Senate Pages, mostly young men, who are literally napping. I saw at most 2 of them get up do bring a piece of paper from one desk to another. Hope that pays off down the road for those kids. Senator Byrd is older than carbon dating, and at one point in his speech he reminisced of the good-old-days when he was 82. I should be so lucky.
Next stop on the tour was the Library of Congress. I had hoped to maybe come up with some idea of a way to get access to some cool old book to peruse for the afternoon, but that didn't happen. Instead I casually eavesdropped on a tour led by (I'm assuming) a volunteer who must have been a former librarian from Virginia. She had a very pleasant accent and demeanor; I could have listened to her speak all day. The building is beautiful inside, and I was fascinated by the intricate ceilings that in different places were frescos, tiles, stained glass, and plaster inlays. Just give me a repeated geometric pattern and a long hallway and I can spend hours trying out different angles and zooms and whatnot. It's a good thing I only travel with my ultra-compact digicam these days, or I really would be out of control.
The Walt Whitman exhibit inside was interesting historically, but I was more fascinated by the photo displays they showed of the post-depression lives of people. All the photos were taken using Kodachrome film, a new invention at the time. It made me think of the few snapshots I'd seen from my grandparents album that were really old and rural. I went back into the main area to exit the building and noticed a beam of sunlight was bisecting the floor of the atrium in an "Indiana Jones" type of way. Wonder where the treasure is buried?
Next door is the Supreme Court and I wanted to get a few snapshots of the exterior before all the light faded away. They look ok, but I wish I had a fun fisheye lens sometimes. For one shot I lay down on the steps and waited for the security guard to wander out of my shot. I realize that someone has walked up to within 3 feet of me but isn't saying anything. Click. I stand up. "It seems I've just witnessed the court case of Perspective v. Distance", the man says to me. "Uhhhh..." "It took me 2 minutes to come up with that joke" "Oh, well, all right, yeah." *awkward pause* "Well, enjoy your constitutional right to take photographs, have a nice night." "Ok, thanks, bye." As he walks away I wonder if he was just being friendly, or if that was quite possibly the worst pickup line I'd ever heard.
It's now evening and I arrive at Titan, where I eventually meet up with Tom and am introduced to a whole slew of other bloggers. Earl, Mike, Carl (who I'd actually met ona previous visit), Cary, and I know I'm forgetting at minimum 2 other guys... someone help jog my fuzzy memory. We stayed out until around 10:30 and decided it was now dinnertime. Bussboys and Poets was very yummy. We had front row seats for the poetry show... that had already finished. Oh well.
Saturday after brunch we walked downtown to try and find a place to watch the Hawks kick some Gopher ass. The ESPN Zone gave us no love, so we were forced to brave the Lehigh Valley Fans in the sports bar at the Grand Hyatt and beg the manager to put ESPN2 on one of the screens so I could get my fix. I ended up having dinner with a couple of friends in Virginia and then returned to DC for more partying at various bars around the city.
Sunday I had lunch at the Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington, and then we on the road at about 3. Got home before 9 PM so it was pretty good time considering we lost a half-hour trying to avoid traffic due to an accident on I-95. And now I must finish my graduate school applications.