DC At A Glance (Part I)

Life, at least my life, is largely defined by the journeys on which I embark. These can be solo excursions, or as has been the case for me during the last five years, partnered jaunts that open up my perceptions of travel in a way I cannot often get when alone.

My cousin, his wife, my wife, and I recently took such a vacation to our nation’s capital, Washington DC. We set out on Thursday August 22nd by the light of the moon, and returned on the 25th fairly early in the morning. It was our first road trip of this magnitude, with the four of us actually riding in one vehicle to a destination, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Our primary tour site was the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. After a Friday morning spent by ourselves (my wife and I had breakfast in a huge, multi-story Burger King wherein the cashier asked her “is he your son?” Surprised I’ve not gotten this question more often) we piled into an Uber and headed to that museum. I had gone to the National Holocaust Museum, so the concept and floor plan were similar. Instead of going up though, as you do in the latter, we descended into the bowels of the earth, where we would begin our trek through African American history.

The first thing you feel is claustrophobic, being stuffed into a fairly narrow space with people pouring through it. Naturally, this is the portion wherein we learn about the slave ships and what it was like for the many people who were fired to come to these shores from 1619 till the mid-1800’s. We believe they created this pinned-in feeling on purpose, so that we would get as much of a sense of what the sailing was like as is possible in a building.

The history, or what we saw of it anyway, was pretty much the stuff you know about: the Civil War and Reconstruction, Jim Crow and segregation, and the fight for civil rights. They did make it come to life though even for this blind person, with tons of audio and even artifacts, such as a train car that designated where the two races should sit, a Whites Only waiting room, and the like. The most poignant exhibit there, and the only one of which no one could take photos, was the Emmett Till Memorial. First, we had to stand in a long line to enter. Then, we passed a casket at the door, and listened especially to his mother speak about why she wanted his body to be presented at the funeral in the same way that it had been mangled by those who killed him in Mississippi. Many cried.

After this point, the museum takes on a generally lighter feel by highlighting the achievements of well-known basketball players and media personalities like Oprah, who has a significant stake in the museum. I also like that they have a Contemplation Room that allows you to come to terms with whatever you felt while seeing the tough exhibits and meditate near a fountain. Finally, we found the gift shop nearly impossible to enter, because the line was really long. My wife had intended to purchase a magnet, but gave up on this pursuit when the rest of our party called in search of us.

If you have been to DC, you know that it seems to rain nearly every day there. All four times I have visited have ended in soaked clothes, if not shivering cold. While we did not encounter the latter this time, it was late August after all, we did end up running through a gentle but steady drip to a restaurant called the Penn Quarter at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue. My cousin and I both opted for Chili Cheese Burgers, his turkey and mine beef. We marveled, because the server took all of our orders without taking anything down. While our wives were away, she ambled back over to the table to ask about which burgers we had indeed ordered. The place got louder as more people packed inn but it remained easy to hold conversation. We contemplated taking the Metro back to our hotel, as the rain had finally stopped by this point. But they decided that the logistics would be too confusing, so we grabbed another Uber and headed back in. Our accommodations were at the Days Inn at 4400 Connecticut Avenue NW, a decent spot by Days Inn standards but not particularly flashy. It’s good for a room and rest. It’s also well-located, as there are several Italian restaurants within easy walking distance, as well as a delicious bakery about which I will write in the next installment. By the time we hit that door though, my tiredness instantly caught up with me and I dove under for an hour and a half. I have no idea when I last walked like that, but ultimately it did feel good. Back with Saturday’s fun hopefully tomorrow.

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