Reflections on Washington

In a creative nonfiction class I took not too long ago, one of the primary rules for our workshop pieces was the “six month” rule; that we were to write about an event that had happened a minimum of six months prior to the class. It’s a rule designed to give writers some emotional distance from whatever they’re writing, as well as a chance to reflect.  Now, what I wrote last August was a same-day travelogue, which has the advantage of capturing what I was focused on at the time. It also has the disadvantage of being narrow-mindedly focused on what was on my mind at that time. So, I look at a calender and see that it has been more than 6 months since my most recent trip, and I’ve decided to take a look back and see if the added time has made any changes to what I feel is important about the trip.

I begin in Washington, where I realize I didn’t write much about the city at all. The earthquake played a big part in that, but also important was a general sense of ennui. I’d spent about a week in Washington with my parents in 1992, and we’d seen a good number of the sights then. And even though I was only ten at the time, I felt like I’d done Washington as a tourist. I still remember fondly several visits to Union Station, the old Post Office building and even took the little subway car to the Senate cafeteria for a cup of navy bean soup.

19 years later, I roll into town as a man on a job. I got to the hotel an hour before they began checking new guests in, so I did some shopping and then sat in the hotel lobby with my laptop and began typing. I rolled by the supermarket again to pick up my salad before going to the game, and then straight from the stadium back to the hotel, where I sat up quite late typing up the next post, the game summary. The next day, I dropped off a suitcase in a locker in Union Station, walked over to the Capitol and decided to stroll down the National Mall. I had a few hours to play with, so I thought I’d keep my eyes open, see if there was anything that interested me, and maybe check out a museum or two. 

I took a moment to take a picture of the Washington Monument, slowed to a crawl as I passed the Vietnam War Memorial and stopped right in the middle. I don’t know if I had this thought myself or if I overheard a docent mention it, but the wall starts off so short and grows at such a narrow angle that at first it might not even be noticeable, but when you get to the center and realize that the names tower over your head, that’s when the senselessness hits you.

From there, I walked to the Lincoln Memorial, noted with great interest where there was soon to be a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration and much less interest that the reflecting pool had been completely dug up, and walked back to the station, hardly slowing down. I passed up the entire Smithsonian, including a few museums that hadn’t even been built the last time I was there, simply because I didn’t feel like being a tourist that day. And that was before the quake.

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