7/9 Washington, DC 3627 Miles

One restful night at the Latham, and it was time to check out and head off to see the fishes. The Baltimore National Aquarium was touted as one of the best, and I figured I had no choice but to check it out. It was in fact a very good aquarium, chock full of fish and information and loud screaming children running into me. The best section was the exhibit about fish evolution. Limbs, camouflage, and electrical currents all on display for me. They also had a huge shark and ray tank and a good seahorse setup.
A few hours of fish and fish and kids and fish and it’s time to go. A jaunt around Baltimore and we find the freeway again and Philadelphia awaits us. A stop at the IKEA to say we had been there. Philadelphia seems to be a nice city, but after DC it’s hard to go somewhere and see historical stuff and be impressed. I did get a good picture of a park ranger. I wish I had more to say about Philly, but the Liberty Bell was hidden by construction and Liberty Hall did not have a giant Benjamin Franklin inside to compete with the giant Abraham Lincoln that lords over our great nation’s capitol. I don’t think it’s necessary to make the comparison between the Washington Monument and the wholly inadequate Liberty Bell.
Just to be freakish and obsessive, we had dinner at the Baltimore IKEA. We didn’t buy anything, just ate the meatballs and walked out into a massive Atlantic storm. The way I see it, I live in the tornado belt; there is nothing else that can scare me unless the sky makes like a Hoover and wants to suck me to my doom.
Our new hotel was the Morrison-Clark Inn near Mount Vernon Square. First Milo, our extremely fun Eastern European transplant who loves to travel, greeted us. He checked us in and chatted about traveling around the country. He introduced us to Mohammed, the kindly guy who brought our bags to our room, parked our car and gave us directions around the city. He answered every question we had and lifted a suitcase that was three times the size of him.
After the door closed, everything moved in slow motion as I turned my head and spied an incredible basket of treats on top of a mini fridge that promised to be full of even more tasty treats. A Matrix-style leap across the bed put me at the base of this glorious cornucopia, and I spied a bit of paper that I was sure would tell me that I most certainly deserved to eat everything in this basket and in the fridge and they would selflessly restock as necessary. The world came to a screeching halt as I read the inventory and the PRICES for the treats. Obviously, they just did not understand the situation. I wept. When I lay my head down that night it was on a moist, disappointment-filled pillow.

I Promise

I keep listening to ‘True Love Waits’. Thom Yorke is so earnest in his pleas that all I do is promise to never leave.
Vacation updates are churning out slowly, be patient.

7/8 Washington, DC 3397 Miles

When you travel for 16 days, it is hard to bring along that many clothes and not look like some crazed midwestern Imelda Marcos groupie. Instead you buy Wisk tablets and pack them away and put on your Old Navy Lounge Pants and make sure your regular pants are in the wash and head down to the creepy laundry room in the parking ramp and get your clothes smelling clean. You have to battle the funk or you will be outcast.
This was one of those humid days we were warned about. Ambassadors for our great nation’s capitol come up to you as you step outside and strap hefty wet sponges to your body. But we were prepared for this and decided that since we had to check out of this hotel and we were not able to check into the next hotel for a few hours, we would pack everything up and just do a driving tour of the city. Humidity may try to oppress me but it can never break my SPIRIT.
The first stop on our driving tour was Red, Hot, and Blue, a Memphis-style BBQ joint in Rosslyn. Damned tasty food, and the iced tea was served sweet and in a pitcher with a straw. It took us a while to find parking, since every meter in the city is out of order. On the upside, though, DC meters accept nickels and dimes as well as quarters. In Minneapolis, the meters only accept quarters and popsicle sticks.
After lunch, we waded through the humidity back to the car and stopped at Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington is a national shrine and sacred ground. This is something that I can appreciate. Children and preteens could not care less about this place. It’s not that I think that kids are heartless nowadays, it’s just that this doesn’t register for them as interesting. I really felt bad for the kids having to stand out there in this humidity. I didn’t even bother going to see JFK’s grave. I wanted to, but I chose to battle the humidity from my car, so I just stood at the bottom of the hill and took pictures.
We drove up and down Embassy Row after that. Just back and forth screaming the names of the embassies and giggling at them. Why were we giggling? I don’t know! It just seemed like the thing to do when you saw the embassy of Norway or the embassy of Brasil.
This, that, and the other thing led us to the great disappointment known as Chinatown. The only thing that really makes this Chinatown is that they made the Starbucks sign up in Chinese. Nice effort, guys, but you still lose. They even had a BBQ restaurant. BBQ? In Chinatown? Well, time’s up, guys, I’m off to my hotel.
The Latham Hotel is all about swankitude. Belgian linens, fluffy towels on a towel warmer, cobblestone hallways and Citronelle right down the hall. Feeling the need to be decadent, we cancelled our dinner reservations at Citronelle and ordered room service. I just love room service, you get to eat swanky food in your pajamas on your bed and you can be a pig about it if you want. I had the salmon and Jen had the cheese plate. Then we curled up together and watched ‘Mothman Prophecies’ and vilified Richard Gere.

7/7 Washington, DC 3348 Miles

I am a big fan of Dean and Deluca. They do many things right: chocolate-covered ginger, cheese, novelty marshmallows. On the other hand, the things they do wrong they do appallingly wrong, namely their coffee. The iced lattes are bitter, covered in sweet, and insipid without any body. This is how I started my morning.
It had been decided that we would cancel the New York City portion of the trip and stay in DC for the week. We had a number of reasons for this change and a lot of it had to do with the fact that I just loved DC so very much. To make up for the canceling of 3 days in NYC, we decided to spend a day there.
There are many things between our great nation’s capitol and New York City, the slenderest of which is Delaware. The 12 miles of Delaware also cost about $14, 567 to traverse. They justify this highway ass-rape by touting their lack of sales tax. So, essentially, I paid the sales tax for 63 people to shop in Delaware for 9 months. I did not actually shop in Delaware, as I only spent 12 miles in the state. I expect gifts from each of the 63 people whose lives I have made happier. I did purchase a “hamburger” from the Roy Rogers, located in a specially-ordained tollway rest area. This vile “meat” concoction threatened sudden liver failure and terminal blindness if I finished it. I took its threats as a challenge and now I write these updates with the assistance of my specially-trained helper hippo.
On the other hand, the New Jersey Turnpike was quick and easy and the ticket told me exactly how much I would be paying at the end of my trip. No surprises here. There were signs telling me that when the lights were flashing there would be an important announcement on the turnpike radio station. The lights flashed and I tuned in only to hear announcements about transmission locations and gratitude for using the New Jersey Turnpike. For this I turned off my music. Many threats were made regarding my fist and the New Jersey Turnpike Informational Radio Station, but no one who heard me cared.
I zipped us happily and painlessly across Staten Island and into Brooklyn, where I handed the keys to Jen so I could take over photography duty. On the other side of the Battery Tunnel, we found ourselves in the middle of WTC land. It was certainly unexpected and very eerie. Where once there were giant buildings there is now a hole. One great big hole. Surrounding this hole are the attempts of people to memorialize not just the event but the individuals they lost there. We did not stop, but I did look at the faces of people there. There was never an expression of wonderment or awe, but always one of respect mixed with grief, fear and confusion.
After this, we inspected the various neighborhoods, taking pictures of everything that looked even mildly interesting. We also played another round of “What is that smell?” This time it was the special “Bodily Fluids and Secretions Edition” (as opposed to the “What Did You Leave In The Humidity Edition”). Even with our Minnesota plates (or perhaps because of them), we only got honked at twice. And really, I am surprised. I watched how you New Yorkers drive and I have two bits of advice that you should follow before you decide to honk at me again:
* Learn to use your turn signals! It’s that lever on the left side of the steering wheel, it sends a signal to the other motorists indicating the direction you wish to maneuver your car.
* Even if you don’t like the way the traffic is flowing, you still have no excuse for making a u-turn in the middle of a block into oncoming traffic, ESPECIALLY if your automobile is so unwieldy that you can not gracefully make the turn in one movement, but must stop and reverse and straighten out your car. I would not mention this if I had only seen it once, as there is always one bad asshole in every barrel, but I saw this 4 times. 3 of which were with minivans.
We had to turn around a lot and backtrack a few times, but all in all we had a good map and we saw everything we came to see without getting out of the car once.
Back on the turnpike and this time the radio station redeemed itself by telling me that there was an enormous backup at the Delaware border and I would benefit from taking an alternate route. The kindly man even went on to detail my route options. I imagine the backup was caused by motorists, irate at having to give Delaware so much for so little, rioting and looting in that obnoxious punk state. Good for them.
Too tired for any other option, we ordered room service and and rented a movie and retired for the evening.

7/6 Washington, DC 2793 Miles

The morning starts with happiness. I dress like a tourist with my sunglasses and khaki baseball cap to keep my pale skin the palest, and 2 cameras to document the minutia of my trip. I drew the line at a sun visor and a pink t-shirt with cartoonish recreations of DC’s famous landmarks.
Directions were given and we followed another group of tourists to the closest Metro stop. The DC metro is everything you want your public transportation to be: quick, clean, efficient, with easy-to-decipher maps and tickets with pictures of panda bears on them. We took the Metro to the Mall and I got to stand for a few moments and just sort of drink in the scenery. The best part of the Mall is that it’s okay to look like a tourist because, frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone down there who wasn’t a tourist. Everyone drives like a tourist, everyone talks like a tourist and everyone wanders around like a tourist.
Our first stop was the Hirshhorn Museum. This is where we got our first taste of the heightened security (besides the concrete barriers in place around EVERYTHING), all bags are searched (though somewhat laxly, if you ask me) and metal detectors abound. We passed with flying colors and headed into the exhibit. We weren’t there for the specific exhibitions but just a quick run-through so we could write about how we went to the Hirshhorn. The gift shop yielded a surprisingly good gift for my sister and we had a jolly good time chatting up Minnesota gay bars and climatic misconceptions with the 2 guys behind the counter.
Lunch at the National Air and Space Museum, then a quick jaunt through a few exhibits about the universe and aerial photography. This gift shop yielded the best prizes so far and we walked away poorer but happier.
Washington DC is an infinitely walkable city with easy-to-follow maps and conveniently-placed park benches. We took advantage of these benches and spent much time playing “What’s that guy’s story?” If even a small percentage of what we make up is true, this country is populated with some of the loneliest and most depressed humans in history. On the other hand, we are that much happier for having amused ourselves in such a vicious way.
The National Botanical Gardens were chock-full of herbivorous goodness, iguanas and man-made humidity. I almost knocked over a plant with my big touristy bag and that really was the highlight of the garden.
In our great nation’s capitol there are many exciting things to see and a few of them require a ticket and a reservation. Unfortunately, you can never obtain this ticket at the attraction you want to visit or at the time you want to enter. One must always follow a confusing ritual of being at one place at one time to pick up a free ticket that will instruct you to be at another place at another time to begin your tour. This is really more of a commitment than I am ready to make for some things and the Capitol Building lost out on my visit. I did take a lot of pictures and my laziness was rewarded when I discovered a quiet little watering grotto just off the side. It was a cute 6-sided building with 3 doors and 3 benches, and in the middle was a 6-sided fountain with 3 drinking fountains and 3 little basins with continuously running water for rinsing your hands. It was a surprisingly quiet and peaceful place to rest a moment.
Feeling refreshed, we wandered by the Senate offices, the Supreme Court where I gave a shout out to my biznitch Ruth B-G DAWG, and the Library of Congress. The Library’s function is to sustain and preserve a universal collection of knowledge and creativity for future generations (or so it says on the website). So it seems their job is to keep all the books published, and during a discussion between myself, Jen and my urbane friend, it was determined that they had everything published (even Danielle Steele) except for porn books. We debated many points about whether or not porn books should be kept and catalogued by the Library, with my falling resolutely on the ‘yes’ side.
Back on my beloved Metro and a much-needed rest at the hotel before our first trip to IKEA and meatball dinner.