Stories about Washington D.C.

Uncovering Washington D.C.: History, Culture, and Hidden Gems

I have always felt refreshed, rejuvenated when I’m walking around Washington, D.C., I don’t know what it is about the city, the downtown area especially. I can be giddy, like a little kid full of life and curiosity. I have been to D.C. more times than I can count. My first visit was the summer between my 8th and 9th grade school years. We took a class trip to D.C. and New York City. My first real kiss happened on the plane hurtling toward Reagan National Airport with my first serious girlfriend. Several years later my parents started keeping an apartment in Pentagon City and I used to visit them more there than I did at home.

          I went to D.C. on the fourth of July, watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the IMAX in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, I saw Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne perform a dueling Peace Train and Crazy Train on The National Mall in front of the capitol. I have walked the streets dozens and dozens of times in the backdrop of different life events and issues, at different ages, and with different purviews and still I have always felt a lightheartedness that I will forever associate with the city.

          My earliest memory of D.C. was during our class trip, my friends and I and Syd, my girlfriend, were sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I remember thinking how amazing it was that so many different people throughout the world had gathered here, right then. The vendors with their carts selling cheap crap corrupted the scene a bit for me but only because I didn’t have a clear line of sight from where I was to the Reflecting Pool. In a lot of ways that trip and being there with my friends and exploring the history of D.C., tracing it back so corporeally, stuck with me and helped to define who I am and, really, who I want to be.

          As often as I’ve visited Washington, I’ve only made it for the fourth of July once. I grew up in a fairly small town in the Texas Hill Country, it’s always been a wealthy town regardless of the size (it’s grown considerably in the last 15 years) and pretty much every year since I was 8 my family would drive a few miles to the county fairgrounds and watch the fireworks. Boerne put together a helluva fourth of July show. I watched the fourth of July fireworks show in New York City when I was living there and I genuinely believe that it paled, in comparison to the fireworks show in Boerne, Texas. With that said, I was excited to see what the nation’s capital had ponied up. The National Mall was swarming with people, there were vendors scattered about selling weird random crap: alien heads, American flags, inflatable Uncle Sam’s, handheld spinney things with rotating, different colored lights and there was a stage set up on the front green of the capitol in front of the Grant Memorial where Smokey Robinson and Kenny Loggins played with hosts and other guests. I spent most of my time around the Washington Monument until after it got dark, I made my way through the mob and the roadblocks. The closest I was able to get to the show—the fireworks released behind the Lincoln Memorial—was several yards from the World War II Memorial. I captured one of my favorites, although also one of the grainiest pictures that I’ve ever taken; the silhouette of the World War II memorial in the foreground of firework light lingering—Mie scattering—in the particulate matter of the residual smoke. The show put Boerne’s fourth of July show to shame and that’s exactly what I was hoping for. Boerne still remains a safe second.

          The Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum is one of my favorites, along with The American History Museum and the National Archives, I can close my eyes and picture the Air & Space Museum with perfect clarity even now and it’s been a few years since I’ve been back. What planes are hanging where, the Wright Flyer’s private room, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, SR-71 Blackbird. The place is an historical marvel. The prop used for the Enterprise in the original Star Trek series is even behind glass in the museum. There’s an IMAX theatre where they show a variety of documentaries. I happened to be in D.C. when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in theatres and they happened to be showing it at the Air & Space Museum. A friend of my dad’s was a lobbyist on The Hill, and he got us tickets for the release. I got goosebumps when John Williams’ Star Wars theme and the opening scene scrolled up that massive screen. I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan but I’ve seen every movie until Disney started releasing all the spinoff shows, I haven’t seen any of those. I do like the story a lot. I was excited that J. J. Abrams was doing it. And that movie brought new life to the franchise where the prequel trilogy left me unimpressed. Unfortunately, Rian Johnson got a hold of the series after that and f@$ked it up again. Still, I’m a little proud to have seen that movie—The Force Awakens—in that theatre!

          The Rally to Restore Sanity. Jon Stewart was an intelligent voice at the birth of a Great Reset and a misunderstood voice of moderation and reason, he wasn’t a champion of progressive ideals like many, for whatever reason, seem to think, he was someone who took opposing purviews of the story and found the unbiased balance somewhere in-between. It wasn’t always a liberal ideal that he was arguing, sometimes he championed the conservative perspective. He spoke on a platform almost solely viewed by a more liberal audience and that sometimes obscured his fair mindedness, and he was at his peak during the Iraq war and the leadership of W., which more conservatives have bitter feelings about him than they do Trump. So, there were a lot of people leaning left in the country that decade. Jon Stewart appeared to be the voice of progressive ideals, a leader in the rise of that revolution, but he wasn’t—not really. Liberals, just like conservatives, have no shortage of biased thinking and Stewart recognized that and was vocal about the fact, and the necessity of the impartial, unbiased purview.

I like Jon Stewart. I was living in New York when he put on his Rally to Restore Sanity at The National Mall, the footsteps of the capitol in D.C., and that was something that I wasn’t going to miss. Ariana Huffington offered to provide as many seats on as many buses as there were people who were interested in attending the event coming from New York. I was one of those people. Early to bed, early to rise, hopped in a bus, and headed for D.C., we were late arriving, still I was one of the fortunate ones that left on one of the earliest buses. Some actually missed the event entirely. The bus dropped us off a few blocks from the capitol and we walked the rest of the way. More than 250,000 people were at the rally. There were a number of guests joining Jon Stewart on stage: Sheryl Crow, Sam Waterson, The Roots, John Legend, Jeff Tweedy and, of course, Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne.

The full event name was the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and it was co-hosted by Stephen Colbert as his alter ego. I didn’t much like Colbert. Toward the end of the rally Jon Stewart brought Cat Stevens up on stage. I was taken aback, Cat Stevens more or less retired from music in the late 70’s and made a bit of a triumphant return in the mid 2010’s, seeing him on stage was amazing. So, Stewart introduces him, and Stevens starts to play Peace Train, the attendees are losing it, and a couple of verses in Stephen Colbert walks up and interrupts Cat Stevens and I was livid, I likely made an audible “What the f@$k, Steve?!” Until Ozzy walks on stage screaming, “All Aboard!” and he starts playing Crazy Train, and then Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne continue with a dueling Peace & Crazy Train, it was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen on stage, and I’ve seen some incredible things.

          Being in D.C. for me is like stepping back into our history, it doesn’t feel particularly real. It’s almost as if I’ve been sucked into a different world completely, one that is only as real as film and television, until I’m there standing inside history. Perhaps to me it’s the only place that isn’t real, at least presently D.C.; doesn’t exist for me in the same sense that any other place might and so it’s easier to not be concerned with anything else, except simply being there outside of time and worry and expectation.

No, actually, there is one thing about being in D.C. that reminds me of everything else—the escalators. Unless you’ve lived and worked in a major city you may not understand the frustration but if you find yourself on an escalator and you’re just going to stand there waiting to reach the top, hug the right side. Leave the left side of the escalator open for people who are walking. It’s a general etiquette to riding the escalator, and Washington D.C. just seems to have so many more escalators than anywhere else. Outside of the escalator situation, D.C. is for me, a playground and a savor being there every opportunity that I get!

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.