I wrote this on the Amtrak into NYC on Friday; I’m already with Sarah, and we’re on an Amtrak train somewhere in picturesque Connecticut, where I think residents are mandated by law to own a sailboat judging by all the ones we’ve seen from our window. I’ve also have experienced many adventures in the Big Apple and Boston, and I’ll write about them later. But for now, my first day in DC:
Friday, September 7
I’m currently speeding north toward the Big Apple on the NE Regional Amtrak train. For the next week, I will be journeying through the labyrinth of skyscrapers with Gary and Evan, and then traveling to Boston with Sarah, whom I haven’t seen in two flippin’ months. I will apologize in advance for the lack of pictures and gifs. I took some pictures yesterday, but they’re all on my laptop at home. I decided not to lug around my laptop on this trip, so I’m practicing long-form writing on my iPad. Apologies for odd typos and crazy formatting.
On look, Philadelphia, where it’s always sunny! I wonder where Paddy’s Pub is?
My first day in DC started rainy. I walked about a mile south to the Eastern Market, which is this old-fashioned market where one can buy fresh produce, flowers, meat, seafood and delicious baked goods. After I walked around for a bit, I gorged on a Tex-Mex burrito at this Mexican-Ecuadorian fusion restaurant across the street from the market.
Then I headed south toward the Eastern Market Metro station. Thanks to my handy-dandy iPhone, on which I am now unhealthily and, perhaps, dangerously reliant, I didn’t have to plan the day at all. After figuring out rail fares, I hopped on the blue line with no arrival destination in mind. The train stopped first at L’Efant. “Nah,” I thought. “Too French for me.” But when the train stopped at the station titled Smithsonian, I leapt to my feet and darted out the sliding doors.
Metro stations are dark and cavernous, and they carry the vibe of the long queue for Space Mountain at Disney World. Fast-forwarding to later in the day when I went down the escalator to the DuPont Circle station, the moving stairs plummet down this steep hill into the bowels of DC. A morose, reflective Walt Whitman quote on a giant, curved cement slab encircles the hole in which the stairs dive into this urban pit. Considering I have a strange fear of heights, I grabbed the escalator railing and stayed to the right, where people who don’t want to rush down the escalator can stand to avoid being pushed by the hurried commuters who sprint down the left side.
Anyway, going back to the Smithsonian station, I emerged on the National Mall. “Holy hell,” I said out loud. To my right, the Capitol. To my left, the Washington Monument. Straight ahead, museums, which, if part of the Smithsonian are free — what a lovely word “free” is. I set my route to the National Museum of Natural History.
Oh, there’s Trenton. From my window, I can see Gov. Chris Christie yelling at union leaders.
At the museum, I saw a golden statue of a creature that is apparently the mammal from which most life on earth is in some way related. While I walked through the Ice Age exhibit, two obnoxious women kept asking everyone where the dinosaur gift shop was. When one of the in-your-face women approached me, I reacted with what us nice, cordial Midwesterners call East Coast coldness and flatly said, “uh, no.” When I had learned plenty about Wooly Mammoths, Irish elk and Neanderthal burial ceremonies, I left the exhibit and saw both women complaining to a paleontologist about the lack of a dinosaur gift shop. I guess the million-year-old fossils weren’t good enough for these folks.
The best part about visiting these museums is that I don’t have to exhaust myself with every exhibit. I can leisurely stroll through anything in DC, and if I want more, I can go back the next day after work or on the weekends.
After a nice hour of fossils, mummies, diamonds and taxidermy Okapis, I walked toward the White House. On the way, I stopped at the National Aquarium, which I thought could be interesting at the least.
Located in the dank basement of the Commerce Department Building, it’s the most pathetic excuse for an aquarium. I’m sure some Commerce Department employees have committed suicide in there. I could’ve reaped more enjoyment from visiting PetCo after a dirty martini at an expensive K Street bar and still paid less than the exorbitant price for admission. Never go to the National Aquarium in DC.
Next, I walked by the White House, which my sister Cori once said when seeing it for the first time, “that’s it?” I then headed toward the building in which I will work for the next few months, and I began my trek home during rush hour. By figuring out my commute during rush hour, I could prepare myself for when I really need to be on time.
At a Metro station in China Town, I experienced my first act of ticket con artistry and learned a valuable lesson. An older, white woman rushed up to me and said her friend was in a hurry to get to work, and that the ticket he had bought her didn’t work, and she hadn’t any money to buy another. She needed enough fare for the stop in Silver Springs, and because I was caffeinated, medicated and jovial about being in DC, I bought her the ticket. She threw me off, though, when she was showering me with thanks while I purchased her SmarTrip card.
“You know these black station attendants only help out their own kind,” she said. “I keep seein’ it. They never have to pay.”
Her tactic to bond with me via the reverse-racism route rubbed me the wrong way. Earlier that day, at the Eastern Market station, a black station attendant cussed the hell out of a black man who jumped the ticket gate.
After I handed her the ticket, she thanked me and walked away. A black station attendant approached me.
“Honey, I just wanted to let you know that you’re the third person she’s asked for money or tickets today.”
“Oh, shit,” I blurted out as I put my hand on her shoulder. “It’s my first day living here.”
“Don’t worry,” she responded. “You did the right thing. Just be careful next time.” She patted me on the back and told me to enjoy the rest of DC.
I’m glad she let it happen. I know now not to buy tickets for anyone, especially old, white racist ladies. In Chicago, I would’ve ignored someone like this woman. But my good mood compelled me to step outside the bounds of my usual coldness and help someone. I have to pinch myself once in a while and remind myself to remain a jerk.
I finally got home, constructed my new IKEA desk and ate matzah and peanut butter while I watched Obama at the DNC.
What a day. I think I’m going to fit into this town just fine … as long as I make sure to tell needy old women to shove off.