So, where were we?
Ah, yes. Sharing a plate of appetizers with friends, trading stories about DC and Portland, and marveling at the evolution of journalism in the newsroom and the classroom.
Here’s how the rest of things went down on our recent bike tour of Washington:
Saturday, Sept. 5: Had great ambitions to see all the significant monuments on the National Mall, plus the Smithsonian museums, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol but fell way short on time. No one’s fault, really. It’s just that with 15 riders and thousands of tourists all sharing the same public space, you’ve got to go slow to avoid any collisions. And then you’ve got to allow enough time at each stop to hear the cultural/historical background and then visit the site itself. It’s hard to strike the right balance, especially with the sun beating down on you.
(Click on photos to see captions.)
All that said, we did see the White House and the magnificent Vietnam, Korea and World War II memorials. We saw the newest one for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and paid a return visit to the Lincoln Memorial. It was there in the vestibule of the latter that I realized we have become Selfie Nation. People of all colors, ages and income brackets all taking pictures of each other and then turning the camera on themselves. It would be amusing if it weren’t so obnoxious.
A more pleasant memory: Having the good luck to make a stop at the WWII Memorial just as an Honor Flight of veterans arrived from Indiana. The Honor Flight Network provides free flights to America’s oldest veterans to visit and reflect at their memorials in DC. What a sight to see these men in their 80s and 90s, many using canes or wheelchairs, as they laid eyes on the monument constructed in their honor.
As they passed by, we and other tourists applauded, offered heartfelt handshakes and shouts of “thank you for your service.” I sought out a man with a Navy insignia on his baseball cap whose quiet dignity reminded me of my dad, who also served in the Navy during WWII. Talk about a moistened-eyes, clenched-throat moment. (Coincidentally, there’s an Honor Flight from Oregon scheduled this weekend. Our friend, Eric Wilcox, is escorting his dad and more than a dozen other vets to DC.)
By the time our group turned in our bikes and made it back to the hotel for a box lunch, we had to split up to follow our interests. Lori and I joined a few others for a long trek to the east end of the Mall, where we walked the grounds surrounding the Capitol and glimpsed the Supreme Court across the street, knowing that a 5-4 ruling issued there months earlier had legalized same-sex marriage across the land.
The Capitol dome is surrounded by scaffolding for a massive repair job that Congress hopes will be done by January 2017 when the next president is inaugurated. Don’t hold your breath expecting that deadline to be met.
That night we joined another Portland friend, Mary Lee Fay, for dinner at Centrolina, a recently opened (and quite delicious) Italian restaurant in downtown DC. Mary Lee was a personal training client of Lori’s and a former Oregon state government administrator before moving back east to be nearer her family. So nice getting a glimpse of her apartment and an insider’s take on life in the capital.
Sunday, Sept. 6: Rode our bikes to Arlington National Cemetery, crossing into Virginia on the Memorial Bridge. We had to snake our way through the crowds on the National Mall, but the rest of the ride was great once we got into an open area.
Just as the Holocaust Museum was a highlight at the front end of the trip, the cemetery experience was a fitting bookend. The 1,100-acre property is well maintained and there is a palpable sense of reverence as you walk or ride a trolley up and down the gently sloping hills. It’s often said these are hallowed grounds and for good reason.
From the first Civil War-era military burial in 1864 to today, more than 400,000 active duty service members have been laid to rest here. The graves of the Kennedy family — John and Jackie, Robert and Edward — are a major attraction as is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We arrived at the latter for the changing of the guard, a solemn ceremony characterized by military precision and a sense of appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of American lives lost during our nation’s wars.
Even there, I had to grimace at the chucklehead in a tank top and backwards cap who felt it necessary to take a selfie in front of the tomb and a hillside of plain white grave markers.
Returning to DC, we turned in our bikes, gobbled up a box lunch and hit the streets. Visited the National Portrait Gallery, which had a great exhibit of contemporary celebrities in addition to the U.S. presidents and American civil rights leaders, including the United Farm Workers’ Dolores Huerta. Rejoined fellow cyclists for a final group dinner and crashed.
Monday, Sept. 7: After breakfast and a program wrap-up, we went our separate ways. Lori and I headed to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and thoroughly enjoyed it. We did our best to cover as much we could, but left knowing we’d just scratched the surface. Still, it was fun seeing Julia Child’s actual television set kitchen and taking in a well-curated exhibit of trends and key innovations as the American diet evolved since the ’50s.
Likewise, there were intriguing exhibits on scientific inventions and the American presidency (you’ll have to imagine me reading from a teleprompter as I delivered a faux speech from behind a lectern). Lori especially liked a special display of First Ladies inaugural dresses and other formal wear dating back to the late 19th Century.
In the afternoon, we went to the Newseum, an interactive museum of news and journalism. You’d think it would be at the top of my list of attractions, but I’d already visited it years earlier when it was still located in Virginia. Glad we went, though, because two additions are pretty spectacular.
One is a good-sized chunk of the actual Berlin Wall that symbolized the press freedoms enjoyed in the West and the censorship imposed in the East. Another was a display of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs through the years, a dazzling collection that leaves you with the realization that pictures carry an emotional punch and indelible truth equal to or greater than the words that accompany so many of them. Makes me proud to be a journalist.
At dinner, we finally celebrated our anniversary (a day late) at Oyamel, a really nice place serving Mexican food with a modern, healthier twist. You can choose from several types of ceviches and taco fillings (including grasshoppers) while you sip on a margarita and indulge in a honkin’ serving of guacamole prepared tableside in a molcajete. Fabulous.
Tuesday, Sept. 8: Travel day. Packed up, then headed out to a delicious breakfast at Busboys and Poets, one of six locations in and around the District serving as community centers for the progressive-minded. Each has a coffee shop, a bookstore and a calendar full of speakers and performances. Our friendly server had just returned from visiting Oregon with his girlfriend. Small world.
So…six days in Washington, including four of them in a bike saddle. Enjoyed ourselves as much as we could within the framework of a group schedule, knowing we’d inevitably run short on time. Met some nice fellow travelers, reconnected with some familiar Oregon faces, probably saw more than we would have on our own, and had a congenial and knowledgable tour guide to lead us through it all.
Glad we did it but also glad to be home.