Sunday, November 18, 2018

Can LSD Get Better?

Ack!!  The fantastic Lake Street Dive (LSD you know) has been riding that peak, and their latest record, Free Yourself Up, is just another monster (though not as good as Side Pony IMO, past their peak??).  It features their new keyboard player, Akie Bermiss, and has some of their strongest songs.  It includes their first non-personal-relations song, Shame Shame Shame, which is huge IMO.

But I love Lake Street Dive, as boring boy-girl drama as they might express, and we got tickets immediately when they announced a November 17th show at the Wang Center.  And we got pretty good ones without breaking the bank, 7th row of the mezzanine/balcony, center!

There were ticket complications, and we were complicit.  They announced that at the door they'd just swipe the credit card you'd used to purchase tickets.  But our complications were that Dave had bought tickets with my credit card and that that credit card was now defunct.  No joy calling the box office, so after showing up down in Quincy and helping to install Christmas-computer gear, we headed for the Theater District through the dangerously-swelling early Saturday-evening traffic in Boston.

Parked at the garage on Charles in Park Square and then got the ticket situation straightened out tout suite with the friendly (at that time) people in the Wang Center Box Office.  It was still just a little after 5 and we had to get dinner ... and this was a problem!  We stopped into four or five restaurants in the area and they basically all told us that they were booked until 8 ... when the first show was going to start.  That's the Theater District for you, don't expect us to work on your schedule, you will work on our schedule and love it.  And as we'd driven up there from the expressway we'd seen that Jacob Wirth's, the second oldest restaurant in Boston, was currently dark!  I hope they get back open soon ... and that they clean their bathrooms.

So we headed back up Tremont in the direction of the Hill, but then Dave took us off on a side street, seeking an obscure Mexican restaurant.  And we found it, Fajitas and Ritas [sic] in a fold between Chinatown and Downtown Crossing.  We got a seat there right away and had some fine beers and some ok quesadillas, and a chicken burrito with guacamole.  Sorry to say, I forget what (non-home made) green sauce they had, but I loved it.

Jeez, time seemed slow but then caught up and it was time to go!  Wended our way back down Mason ('s Children) Street and Head Place (no lie!) towards Tremont and Boylston and then re-entered the Theater District.  There was a small area for us to catch our breath, get out of the wind, and light up the one-hitter after we'd made it the few blocks over to near the Wang entrance.  Talked to some Wilbur personnel there and asked them if all the dead balloons on the sidewalk were because of a birthday party?  They knew we were kidding, this was the detritus of the dentist convention last night.

Anyway, time to go in, and we were way early in a way.  We had gone to will-call and gotten the tickets we'd straightened out before, and then joined a line close by the doors.  In the meantime the crowd surged around the entrance and the staff got nervous.  They knew that when they "opened the gates" then a large number of the people would not get in smoothly, because of situations like ours, which we'd already fixed.  And it was just like that.  In fact, when we went in they at first tried to deny us because they weren't supposed to be accepting paper tickets, like what had just been issued to us by the box office!

Everyone got in eventually, but this was not smooth and it took an extra hour or more to get the majority of people seated.  There must be a better way of deterring scalpers.  Anyway, there we were in our excellent balcony seats and we realized that that couldn't be LSD's setup, there was going to be an opening act!  And Jalen N'Gonda went on on schedule, though to a bunch of empty seats, a fantastic opening act for LSD.

He had a bass player and a drummer and entertained us with beautifully-crafted song after beautifully-crafted song.  A large number of us were paying attention, we were waiting for the fucking crowd to get to their seats and we peering around them frantically, trying not to let his spell get broken.  And we sure let him know we appreciated his act.  He owned his own sound like you want a big-league act to do, and at the same time with his high but rangy vocals and ready-to-squeal guitar he was very much in the soul-funk-blues tradition.  This was a great set, though he kept it short so they could have plenty of time to set up LSD.

The 4-piece (now 5) came out and played perhaps the best concert I've heard from them.  I've seen LSD many times, in many different settings, and they always excel (except for Mike Olson on trumpet).  We'd seen them in the HOB and I thought that was perhaps as good as it gets sonically, but they sure had the Wang Center resounding to their confections.  Can they get better than this?  I was just giggling inside to the sound, it was wonderful.

Mike Calabrese is always amazing and on this night he was three times as good as normal.  You could say the same thing about Bridget Kearney.  She only had one or two short solos but she dominated the string end of the spectrum, and with MikeC they were riveting themselves, especially when they harmonized behind Rachael.

And Mike Olson was incredible on guitar, fuzzing out his amp and playing with a rock-solid beat you rarely hear from him.  He was strangely not in the vocal mix as much as usual, perhaps to give Akie a chance to fill that niche.  I don't like his trumpet playing but he concentrated on guitar instead.

Rachael was being Rachael, in a billowy skirt.  But hang on, she was extraordinary too!  She just exuded an incredible energy, grooving to all four instruments around her and then topping them with her phrasing, volume, and emotion.  She is an incredible singer and as good as her band is, she's the one when they play.  And play they all did ... as I say, this was perhaps the best I've ever heard them.

Here's their one long set:

You Are Free
You Go Down Smooth
Red Light Kisses
Baby, Don't Leave Me Alone With My Thoughts
Better Than
Bobby Trilogy: Bobby Tanqueray / Spectacular Failure / Doesn't Even Matter Now
Darryl
Hang On
I Can Change
You're Still the One (Shania Twain)
Got Me Fooled
Seventeen
Call Off Your Dogs
Musta Been Something
Shame, Shame, Shame
Bad Self Portraits
Good Kisser

Encore:
Strangers (The Kinks)
Dude
I Want You Back (Michael Jackson)

Well dressed and well behaved crowd, but there were a good number of hoots and hollers as the night went on, and most of us stood up for the long encore.  Great night of music and then they and we were gone to the wind.  Not as crazy a Theater District scene that night (though crazier than average) but we got over to the parking garage, said goodbye to Dave as he struck off for the T, and then barely got out of Boston through the crazies.  Back about about the same time as Friday night, two incredible concerts this weekend!


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Weir and Wolf Bros, Boston

We'd go see Bob Weir play with anyone.  Well, maybe not Drumpf.  But he was touring with a three-piece called "Bob Weir and Wolf Bros," him with Don Was on bass and Jay Lane on drums, and we had to go see them.  This was going to be an unknown quantity for us, however.  We've seen Jay Lane and he's great, but we weren't sure where this trio thing was going to go with Don Was, who's done some great stuff throughout his career but wasn't the first person you'd think of when you speculated who might sound great "with the Dead."

So we only got tickets to one of their gigs at the Boch-Wang-Citi-whatever theater in Boston, that I'll always think of as the Boston Music Hall, on Friday November 16th.  Presale/Ticketmaster sucks and we somehow ended up in the last row of the balcony, but that turned out great.  I think both nights ended up selling out.  It was sure packed even back in the hinterlands of the balcony on that Friday, and I think everyone there had a good time.

We'd seen large chunks of several of the Wolf Bros gigs on webcast, and had formed opinions about the band before we saw them live.  The impression that they weren't as full of possibilities and magic as Bobby & Phil or (e.g.) Furthur held true, and it's not debatable that Lane is a monster rhythm player and that Was can get a solid tone from his bass and not make mistakes.  But the most significant thing when we saw them live was that they truly were "Bob Weir and a couple of guys."

Weir just dominated the soundscape with an entire evening of fantastically-Weird guitar playing (first few songs on acoustic and then mostly his walnut guitar) and a lot of flawless Bobby vocals.  He didn't start drooling on us, or do a lot of jumping up and down, but his singing was spot-on.  A couple of vocal highlights were his uplifting verses on Easy To Slip and his serious funkiness on Speedway.  Also see below.

And the stage setup, at least the musical setup they fell into time after time, emphasized the fact that this was a BOB WEIR show.  He seemed to own most of the stage with his large oriental rug and his amps and guitars.  Was had a pretty huge speaker/monitor setup himself, but would end up backing up close to Jay's drums most songs, and the two of them would have the hawk-eyes on Weir, sometimes nodding their heads in unison, constantly aware of what he wanted to do next.

They had another, smaller rug and a mike stand set up to Bobby's right side, and we'd been speculating who would guest (there have been many guests on this tour), but no one appeared.  Possibly another musician was scheduled, but then was caused to cancel by the snow/ice storm we'd just had up and down the East Coast.  But after a while we were fine with the fact that there wasn't a guest.  This was Bobby's show and we were there to dig that.

So there we were up in our top-row-left seats, not too far away from where I sat back in 1973, after Sarah and I met Dave in her garage after both working at home that day (snow in the morning and then rain all day).  We bopped down to Kinsale for dinner and then it wasn't too far of a walk down Tremont to the Theater District, which was already pretty crowded (Boz Scaggs at the Wilbur that night, etc.).

The crowd was not late-arriving and the show got started without a lot of delay.  The threesome came out and lit into it with no big drama.  This was the Grateful Dead after all.  And the first song was one we three had talked about over the last few days, specifically the cover that Ratdog did in Boston, four years ago.  Here's the setlist:

Set 1:
Easy to Slip
Friend of the Devil
Me and Bobby McGee
She Belongs to Me
Lay My Lily Down
West L.A. Fadeaway
Lost Sailor >
Saint of Circumstance

We were delighted by the opener, as mentioned, and loved FOTD, which he of course he did as a cowboy song rather than as a funky blues.  Then the song I've been waiting for for so long that I'd forgotten I was waiting for it: Bobby singing gently to us that there was nothing left to lose, after that mistake in Salinas that is.

OMG, I have to take a moment here and mention how basic to my love of music Me and Bobby McGee is.  Back at 17 (see tomorrow's concert), I knew Janis's cover of that great Kristofferson song well of course, but when I heard the Dead do it on Skull and Roses my mind was bent permanently.  I've always been a country music fan at heart.  I'd never seen it performed by a Dead band (not counting DSO), and this was pretty spectacular.  No Lesh, but Lane was doing a pretty good Billy and Bobby was doing what he does best.

Then a monumental Dylan song to calm us all down, great musicianship here, and then some more Bobby greatness with one of the best, tragic songs from his cowboy album, Lay My Lily Down.  West L.A. mellowed us back down ... this had a long, long, intro.  And then Sailor/Saint.  I have to admit that I missed the middle of this fantastic Bobby creation for a bathroom/beer break.  Of course, I remembered the sage words of a fellow bathroom-breaker back when we saw Furthur in that theater and Bobby had started singing Black Peter.  This was a little like that.  And I had a chance to find the one beer outlet that had Sierra Nevada left!

It was an interesting first set.  I had enjoyed it wildly, but it was strange.  I commented to Dave at the end of the night that it was "Dead karaoke."  Bob's a great musician, I've watched him for years and want to see him more, and his "Wolf Bros" trio was very successful musically.  But I couldn't help thinking about what might have been as much as I was invested in what was happening in real time.

Was was solid but no Phil.  Lane was great but was filling a role rather than thinking about what he could do.  And as good as Bob was at coloring the whole guitar soundscape, I could still imagine another guitar.  And it was Garcia's guitar, playing around him, ripping the world apart when he took the chance, and laughing at Bob's excellence and naiveté.  And of course Jeff Chimenti would have been good too!

Whatever, we were having a fine time up in the top of the balcony.  We were standing up of course, but didn't really need to, we had an un-unobstructed view of the stage.  And the sound was pretty impressive for being that far back!  There was some whirling going on in the top-balcony lobby behind us and Sarah joined it a few times.  There was very little usher presence up there and so we all hung out.  The one down-side was that it was a long, steep climb.

Time for the second set and they came out and started up while I was still straggling back uphill:

Set 2:
Peggy-O
Tennessee Jed
Scarlet Begonias >
New Speedway Boogie >
I Need a Miracle
Stella Blue
Not Fade Away

This set actually seemed shorter to us than the first set had been, and it was not as full of high spots.  As mentioned, Bob was at the top of his game for Speedway, and he really was fantastic on vocals for the three preceding songs, though he didn't nail us to the wall on these.  Miracle was what you'd expect, but Stella Blue was him back to being pretty perfect.  He was strumming that walnut guitar, pulling up newly-invented chords out of thin air, and singing with power and right on key, like an excellent vocalist should at the end of the night, not letting any emotional twist go untwisted.  This was a wonderful ballad introducing the end of the night.

Geez, did he get audience participation for NFA and then for the encore (Touch of Grey)!  I'm a little jaded (my fault), and had my coat on by the middle of the encore ... dah-de-dah, we will not fade away in the grey today.  But the audience loved it and was rocking until the last note.  The band did a little group bow and a little namaste, and then were gone, as were we ... we had a long downhill trek ahead of us, immediately that is.

Out on the sidewalk the rain was pretty much gone but the dentist's convention was going strong.  Can't Trump do something about this?

Tremont and Stuart was a huge clusterfuck at that time of a Friday night, and the fact that two corners of the intersection were under construction and that the dentists had taken over reality added to the confusion.  We ended up going way around the block, over to Charles Street, and approached the Common from over at the Edgar Allen Poe statue.  Wow, you didn't think there was that much uphill work in the Common, but we finally made it way back up to the top.

Dave grabbed his stuff and screwed for the T and we got out of town pretty quickly ourselves, and were back home at not too long after midnight on a Friday.




Monday, November 12, 2018

Jim Lauderdale Makes Shirley

It's happened before and I hope it'll happen again:  The Bull Run announced a great act and I called right away and got tickets at the front table.  This time is was the incredible Jim Lauderdale, a musician that no one should miss.  So we were very psyched when we showed up there on a Sunday, November 11th, as was everyone at our packed table and the 20 or so tables around it.

Unfortunately, that was it!  The Sawtelle Room is never at its best on a Sunday night, but it was shocking how small the crowd was for a veteran Nashville singer-songwriter who's authored more hits than you can sic a dig on.  Oh well, this made it a very "intimate" performance and that's what the Bull Run excels at.

The opener was Martin and Kelly (Jilly Martin and Ryan Brooks Kelly), and they were really very professional (they were on the back stairs, waiting to rush on, while I took a quick bathroom break).  They had a great mix of covers ("I know this song!") and originals, and they had some distinctive elements, like her rhythm guitar, some of her lead vocals (nice range), and some of his harmonies.  Kelly could be criticized for too often going flat or losing the emotional thread of the song while he was taking the lead ... could use a good producer.  But they climaxed the set with their potential hit, Gonna Kiss You, and they possibly aren't that far from a breakthrough in the modern country world.

Another interlude and of course a bunch of us middle-aged guys rushed downstairs for another bathroom break.  Jim (who'd visited our table in mufti earlier) was down there in his country finery (a purple suit with yin/yang designs) and I asked him if he minded if I took a piss before his show.  He told me no, that I'd have to get back up there and hold it in.  You can guess which way I went.

Jim came on eventually and seemed in fine voice (he'd had a cold earlier in the week) and spirits and he was as incredible as ever.  He played a set of 4 or so songs from his new record, including Time Flies and Where the Cars Go By Fast (which could use some more verses!).  He also did a couple from London Southern and a couple that will be on the record he plans to release in the Spring (!!! how prolific *is* this guy??).

He asked for requests and we were ready ... pretty much.  One woman asked him for "That Martian song" and he was thrown for a loop, then figured she must mean Planet Of Love and he played that.

I asked for Like Him and he did that, and then Lost In the Lonesome Pines (perhaps the song of the night) from the Ralph Stanley collaborations (my line when a woman asked for a Stanley song was, "Yeah like Like Him").  Another person requested Whisper and that's one of my favorite songs of his too.  He did a sing-along of Headed For the Hills from his collaborations with Robert Hunter.  He did Forgive and Forget and Halfway Down (made famous by Patty Loveless).  And then he closed with The King Of Broken Hearts and encored with the Buddy and Jim song, Hole In My Head!

Very fun night and he was done by 10 on the dot so we got home not too late for a Sunday.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Back In Lowell With DSO

We hadn't seen DSO in well over a year.  And though we had a busy Fall schedule, we figured we just *had* to go see them again at their stop in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium on November 9th.  As I've said many times, they're always so much fun.  I have to admit though, that this concert wasn't as fun as I'd been anticipating ... with high expectations and such.  But it was still pretty good!

Memories of the last time we saw them in Lowell were still fresh (rain, pot), and it was a dark rainy night once again.  I got up to Lowell early so as to beat the traffic, or at least get a head start on it.  Sarah and Dave took the train up from work and then walked over to join me at Thirsty First, a bar/restaurant we'd found on the web.  They have an excellent beer selection there and I sampled a few while waiting.  Also made a few friends at the bar.  They were as friendly as you might expect a bunch of youngsters to be (including the owner), and may not have even noticed that I was a lot older.  I told them about the DSO concert that night and they were all dying to go to it (as had been some friends at work), though none made it there (except for me!).  Could have stayed in that place for a while.

Had some quick grilled cheeses with fries when Sarah and Dave got there.  Dropped stuff at the car in the parking garage and then crossed over the swirling canals and Concord River on the way to the Auditorium.  Went right in and it was only half full at the peak of the concert, if you count the large balcony.  We staked out seats (at 258 degrees or so) in the few rows on the rim of the big open floor, and Sarah stayed there while Dave and I crept up close to the stage.

We had read that Jeff would be playing Garcia's Wolf guitar that night and that they'd decided not to do a GD set but to re-create a show at which Wolf would have appeared.  And they did this with their usual creativity: a "1973" show for the first set and then a "1978" show for the second set.
Here it is:

Set One:
Greatest Story Ever Told
Cold Rain And Snow
Beat It On Down The Line
Here Comes Sunshine
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Black-Throated Wind
Brown Eyed Women
You Ain't Woman Enough
Bird Song
Weather Report Suite

Set Two:
Scarlet Begonias >
Fire On The Mountain
Samson And Delilah
If I Had The World To Give
Saint Stephen >
Drums >
Space >
Not Fade Away >
Stella Blue >
Saint Stephen >
Not Fade Away

Encore: Werewolves Of London

We had a great time as usual, including some good and puzzling crowd interactions.  The DSO fan world is sui generis.  But I was perhaps in a critical mood.  Jeff hadn't been living up to my (high!) expectations the last few times we'd seen them and I was hoping he'd bounce back.  But he didn't seize the opportunity to lead the band with Wolf.  It was still Rob Eaton's band, though Rob Barraco of course showed his quality.  So it was a bit of a non-surprising night ... the same old thing from DSO.

Lisa deserves a mention of course, with a great backing vocal on the opening Greatest Story and a sizzling Woman Enough.  Also fine playing from the drummers and Skip.  You have to be impressed by the technical ability of this band and their unified creative vision.  I wanted Jeff to rip off one of those incendiary, surprising Garcia leads, but he was too busy watching everybody else, particularly Eaton.

Oh well, had a fine time on a rocking Friday night, as did everyone else there!  We were told that the show was going to end at 11:30 and they may have stretched this a bit.  We were doing fine but when they encored with the sing-songy Werewolves we got our coats on and were out the door onto the wet street as the last verse was being sung.  Back over the swirling waters and then a pretty quick and rainy drive home.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Elizabeth Cook At the Bull Run

After dropping Dave in Quincy, drove out to the Bull Run for yet another fine concert on Sunday night, October 22.  This was Elizabeth Cook, and we hadn’t seen her since a couple of virtual decades in her career ago, since she was performing in a rock band with her husband.  She’s since divorced, etc. and was actually playing solo acoustic, which turned out to be excellent!

The big surprise when we got to Table 73 was that Star (and new husband) was there, an old friend from a couple of jobs ago.  Our table soon filled up but in all the room was just a little over half full.

Caleb Caudle opened with an absolutely incredible guitar, an old Gibson hollow-body walnut electric.  It sounded amazing and his voice complimented it as well.  His songs had some great, mellow hooks in them and he was way above average for an opening act on a slow Sunday.  He did mostly originals but included a Leon Russell cover and commented that “Liz” had told him that if he just went all white at once he’d look exactly like Leon Russell.  Couldn’t get that image out of my mind, she was right!

Then “Liz” came on, on the arm of her guitar tech, probably so she wouldn’t trip over all the wires in the dark, and wearing a rabbit-fur coat and studded pink boots.  She opened with the chestnut, Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You, and did songs from all over the “Americana” portion of her career.

El Camino wasn’t rocking like it did when she did it electric, but she did a great Rock and Roll Man solo acoustic, and covered a number of songs from Welder and Exodus Of Venus.  She also did a bunch she hadn’t recorded yet and was working out on us, a couple of them still needing some work and a couple just about done.  She says she’s going into the studio soon and from the sound of these new songs, I’m going to like the record.

It was a short set of short songs on a Sunday, but her wise-cracking and her stories were as good as ever.  One of her new songs (Half Hanged Mary) may have some accuracy (it came from a Margaret Atwood poem) but she accompanies it with much nonsense (“Imagine having a Daddy named Increase … sounds like an asshole”).  And it appears her Mommy and Daddy used to play in a band with Florida Man!

One of her best lines was (r.e. her and Todd Snider), “We did *not* puke in the garbage cans!”  And she encored with Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be a Woman and then was off to her next gig.  She’s an excellent songwriter and performer, and I hope she’s still got a long career in front of her.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Seven and a Half States

Ack!  Woke up on Sunday the 7th and it was the last day of our excellent vacation.  We'd had a great time and realized we'd been kind of pushing the envelope, as is evident in the day we just experienced in Washington, in which we saw 16 things, some of them requiring a lot of inspection.  So we'd discussed taking it easier on our last day.

It was a last-minute off-the-wall kind of thing, but we realized seeing Theodore Roosevelt Island would be just what the doctor ordered.  We had to get SarahP and Jim to Dulles in the middle of the afternoon, and SarahE and I hoped to get as far North as possible after that, perhaps all the way home to Massachusetts.  We'd considered going back to the Mall and trying to find a parking space downtown, or leaving the car in its hotel parking lot and taking the Metro somewhere, then coming back to the hotel and getting the car in early afternoon.  But both seemed ambitious and possibly anxiety-inducing, which we did not want on our last day.  When we looked at the map we realized the island was right there, and it made a lot of sense to just have a mellow urban-park experience and have plenty of time to get out to Dulles without rushing.

I'd never been to Theodore Roosevelt Island, but had seen it many times, driving over the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and from the Georgetown side.  Supposedly there was a family expedition there once, but I must have been out of town.  The first challenge though, was how to get there!?!  On Saturday Google Maps had told me to do some fancy footwork on Arlington parkways and I could approach the parking lot that way, but on Sunday morning it told me that because of street closings (more work on the Arlington Memorial Bridge) and the Army 10 Miler, I should go over the Roosevelt Bridge into Foggy Bottom, pull a U-turn at 20th St, and go back over the Bridge to the G.W. Parkway North.

Breakfast first.  All four of us went over to Ledo's Pizza and had the standard diner breakfast, that we had to wait a long, long time for.  There was only one staff person there and she had to take orders, cook, do dishes, and collect money at the same time, which was taking her forever because the place was suddenly very popular that morning.  Fortunately, she didn't yell at us and we decided that if we were going to have a mellow day, maybe a strung-out breakfast was part of the deal.  Anyway, Jim and I exited early and had the packing just about done by the time Sarah and Sarah returned.

Bumped the heavy suitcases downstairs and loaded up the car for the last time on this trip, and slowly pulled out of our coveted spot at the hotel.  Just as with The George Washington Grand, this hotel had advertised free on-site parking for guests but in reality had a parking lot that was nowhere near big enough to host all the guest cars.  We had barely snagged a spot when we pulled in on Friday and were loath to leave it.  But farewell to the Red Lion, farewell to Dark Star Park soon after that, and then we miraculously followed the convoluted path Google Maps had told me about, dashing into DC and back out, and then a few minutes later grabbing a spot at the busy public parking lot serving the Island and other recreational sites along the Potomac's Western side.


Roosevelt Island is in the middle of the Potomac, not very far at all from the center of the city.  It has a good number of trails, and most of them radiate from the Roosevelt Memorial itself, which we weren't interested in.  Instead we decided quickly to go counter-clockwise, as far from the vortex at the center of the Island as we could.  At first, this was a little crowded and there were signs telling us that we did *not* want to go on the Swamp Trail as it was a mass of mud from recent floods.  But after we looped under the Bridge we decided to risk it and took that right turn, towards the Swamp Trail, and we had a delightful, pretty isolated walk for the next couple of hours.


This ecosystem was perhaps more different from what a fresh-water estuary in New England would be (the Potomac in Washington fluctuates with the tides, but is entirely fresh water) than the Shenandoah Ridge had been from highlands in New England.  The reeds seemed similar but the edges of the island were populated with thick stands of swamp oaks, some growing to incredible thicknesses, though most of them were topped off by storms.  And the most distinctive thing was the pines, which were a variety we'd never seen before.


Birds rustled through the underbrush and sometimes flew out into the open.  At one observation deck in the middle of the swamp in the island's nether-land we saw a Blue Heron, an egret, and a large fresh-water snail.  At the North end of the island we made our way through the oak forest out to the muddy edge, right across the river from what used to be the Port of Georgetown.  It now featured college boathouses, sheltering under the Francis Scott Key Bridge, probably for Georgetown University and GWU.  The river was full of kayaks.


Coming around the head of the island we saw some great, worn river rocks, and then suddenly a family of four white-tailed deer.  The last quarter of the trail was actually very, very muddy but we made it, and we all scraped off our boots before tramping back over the pedestrian bridge to the parking lot.


A great last hike, a natural experience though we were in the middle of the city!  Our timing was perfect and we were right where we expected to be when we expected to be.  Scraped off some last mud, loaded ourselves up, and then headed out to Reston Virginia.  The traffic had already gotten intense and though we could have taken the George Washington Parkway all the way up the river to the Beltway and gotten out to the Dulles Access Road that way, Google Maps had a better idea and had us go cross-country through Arlington.  I'm sure it knew what it was doing because the Washington Beltway never seems to not be in a state of gridlock.


Reston is now a pretty big town, but was just a small planned community back in the 70s, leading to Dulles and the mysterious CIA enclaves out in the horse farms of Northern Virginia.  Everything there is built up at this point and well signed, and they're building the Metro out to Dulles.  SarahE had found a promising-looking restaurant on a lake out that way ... we wanted a nice place on the way to the airport.

We pulled into a mall parking lot and spied the Cafesano we were looking for, a relatively small spot in the sprawling mall.  The day had turned as hot as any day we'd experienced on our trip, and the sun was bright in a cloudless sky.  We went in and ordered at the counter, but quickly decided not to eat on their patio since the sun was burning down and the only spots in the shade were taken.  But we had a fine meal inside, and treasured the moment of a last lunch.  I had a chicken pesto panini, which was excellent, and SarahE had a chicken kabob.  We toured the "lake" for a bit afterwards, but it was kind of a joke.


We still had plenty of time, but had a longer road than expected to go out to Dulles.  The Dulles Access Road (a.k.a. Route 267) is a very strange superhighway.  It's got an inner section that apparently only let you enter or exit in Washington and in Dulles back when it was mainly a CIA conduit.  That center of the highway is now what you're directed to if you're not going locally.  It's paralleled on both sides by another part of the road, which allows local access and charges tolls, though the center doesn't.

Anyway, saw some of those distinctive airport buildings after a bit and the typical road in, with long lists of airlines, confusing departure and arrivals signs, and cars rushing by.  The curb at the terminal that hosted British Airways was a chaos of cars pulling up in the middle of nowhere, busses and limos, and cops whistling at everybody and threatening tickets if you stopped for longer than 10 seconds.  Just like an airport!


We were able to get close to the curb and get out Sarah and Jim's suitcases.  Very sad to hug goodbye after such a wonderful trip.  We'd traveled together before and been delighted at how compatible we were.  I was afraid that as we'd gotten older we might have drifted away from this a bit, but it turned out that we'd possibly gotten more compatible as traveling companions.  Or at least we were able to communicate well, to sense each other's moods and inclinations, and be willing to adapt to each other.  It may have helped not having young children along, not that our children are not delightful ... we would have loved to have them along, but the group of just us four was perfect for the kinds of decisions you need to make when traveling.

Waved goodbye and promised to be in touch, and then Sarah and I got on the long road.  It was 2:45 when we pulled away, and we had six more states to get to that day.  We'd already been to the half (the District of Columbia) and Virginia.  Next up was Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.  Google told us cheerfully that we'd make it back in 7:44, but we knew that was a too-rosy picture and that this figure would increase very soon.  And it did, Google freaking out at traffic on the Beltway and then leading us around through Northern Fairfax County before we got on and crawled up into Maryland.  Traffic was thick but moving, we were going as fast as we could in the left lane, and we were determined to make it back ... no more cheap hotels for us!


I'll spare the details of that long trip, except for a few highlights.  At one point in Northern Maryland, approaching the bridge over the Susquehanna, traffic went from 80 to 0 in a few short yards.  We lost some tread on the tires there (the ABS worked fine) and I was hugging the center divider so the car behind us didn't crash into us ... he had to weave into the other lane.  In Delaware we stopped for gas and to get sandwiches that we'd eat for dinner somewhere. In Northern New Jersey they announced that there were suddenly eight crashes in the George Washington Bridge area.  The option is to go over to the Garden State Parkway but there were crashes on the Southern bit of that too, so Google led us through some side roads (Route 3 in Rutherford and up Route 17), but when we got to the Garden State they had had more crashes and we crawled for the next hour up out of NJ and over the Tappan Zee.  At least we could eat our sandwiches while we crawled!  We had another almost-accident on the Saw Mill Parkway in New York, I still can't believe that these cars cut us off at 80 on a twisting Parkway and we didn't hit them.  And then there were three separate lane drops for (needed) construction in Western Connecticut that led to long delays.

Somehow we got back to Massachusetts and the Pike and though I was definitely tired I felt at that point that I could make it home.  I drove all vacation.  We finally got back to 495, back to 128, back to Winn Street, and back home, pulling into the driveway at a little before midnight.  In all, the trip from Dulles took just over nine hours, though (as Sarah said) 24 of them were spent in New Jersey.  Didn't unpack the car that night, but read a bit and had a snack so we could calm down from the drive, then had a long sleep in my own bed.

This was a distinctive vacation.  I'd wanted to take a trip to see Shenandoah, perhaps other parts of Virginia and Maryland, and DC for a long time, and was excited that it finally came to pass.  Our trip was shaded by many spectres, political, cultural, and medical, and was very strange because of that.  This was not a care-free week in the woods.  But we had some of the best times in recent memory in the woods and in the city and even on the highway, and it was wonderful to share these experiences with Sally and Jim!


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Lots Of DC Examined

SarahP and I had lived just outside of DC in our teens and early 20s and then had gravitated away to school, London, and Boston.  The rest of our family moved away from there by the end of the 70s.  It's hard to believe that I haven't been there since, after the (admittedly short) period of the city being central to my experience.

Both of us had Summer/vacation jobs at various places in the city, and our family lived in three different houses in Bethesda and Cabin John.  When planning what to see, we (or at least I) was tempted to see a bit of where we used to live and work.  But I realized that it's very likely this would have been disappointing.  I hadn't been there for over 40 years, and the ghosts I would have been looking for are long gone.

And when I looked for a hotel, thinking that there might be one close to Bethesda, I found the pickings in Arlington were actually by far the best.  And so my feeling was that we should forget trying to capture the past, that we should stay in Arlington, walk over the Memorial Bridge onto the Mall, and see stuff around the Mall with our modern eyes until we dropped.  There's more stuff there than you could see in a week, including a lot of stuff that hadn't been there 40 years ago when we were young!

Funny to call something around Washington "the Memorial" this or that, since the place is chock full of memorials.  The bridge we were destined to cross is officially called the Arlington Memorial Bridge, but Washington is chock full of nicknames and so I'll try to use the canonical names here.  And I have to preface that day by again saying that was another dread full experience.  Not "dreadful" ... we had a wonderful time, and the day was full of lovely, moving sights and personal interactions.  But the feeling of dread associated with the current crisis in our government was thick.  I always found Washington to be a straight-laced place, with people more concerned with convention than freedom.  I had lived there back in the Vietnam War days when every limousine, every police escort, and every collection of military suits represented the bad guys.  And this was the situation again.  Every time a helicopter took off from the White House or a street was suddenly blocked off, the feeling of dread was exacerbated.

 But anyway, time to wake up at the Red Lion, do my morning routine, and go to breakfast!  SarahP and Jim had gotten some breakfast yogurts at the Safeway yesterday, but SarahE and I walked the few yards over to the pizza place in part of the hotel, Ledo's, where they offered a typical "diner" breakfast.  I had the vegeterian omelet [sic].

Didn't need to pack up and load the car that morning and we knew what we were going to do.  The four of us were soon out the door and traversing the pedestrian walkway over Arlington Boulevard in the thick mist.  Only a few blocks on city streets and then we were in a National Park area, as we were for most of the day.

The first site we saw was the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, just South of our hotel.  I'm very familiar with the image the memorial is centered on, and have always considered it a little unreal.  In fact, the iconic picture was staged, though that should maybe be classed as an authenticity vs. sincerity issue.

I should have looked at the sculpture more critically, but instead my attention was taken by all the place names around it.  These were places where U.S. Marines had ... what?  Been dispatched to?  Invaded?  Died in?  Well, anyway, it was a list of conflicts the Marines had been involved in and it was amazingly long.  There was an unsettling number of entries in the list that we'd never heard of, though between the four of us we were very familiar with American history.  If you follow the link above you can see the list.  But it begged the question, are we supposed to be proud that our Marines have been involved in so many conflicts?  I'm sure some of them were justified, but for instance I know that the Grenada conflict in 1983 was nothing more than an embarrassing power grab.  How many of these incidents should we be proud of?  Oh well, this was the first of many memorials to violence that day.


The day was a little cooler than the recent average thankfully, and still a little overcast, though the sun would come out later.  The grass was damp beneath our feet and so we mostly stuck to walkways, though this was perhaps being overly conventional

Next up was the Netherlands Carillon, a gift from The Netherlands to the United States in gratitude for aid during and after World War II.  The Carillon was locked that morning and probably only opens for concerts.  We were lucky enough to hear it though, when it struck 10:00.  It's made of steel and features a lot of rust, but that's the medium they chose.  It's meant to be a "modern" sculpture, distinctive of Northern Europe, rather than another cookie-cutter Washington thing made out of marble, granite, or bronze.  And it's pretty successful in this, though not a compelling structure.  The best thing about it is its vantage point, looking West towards the National Mall across the Potomac, evocative of The Netherlands looking across the ocean at the U.S.  And they have musical-note-shaped flower beds that must be very colorful at the right time of year.


OK, next on our short walk down to the Memorial Bridge was skirting the Arlington National Cemetery.  We walked around the perimeter, between the Cemetery and the Jefferson Davis Parkway, and saw thousands of white tombstones in well maintained rows.  When we finally got to Memorial Avenue, we looked way down the straight road to our right and could see the grand entrance to the Cemetery and the Custis-Lee Mansion up on the hill (a.k.a. the Robert E. Lee Memorial ... we were having a hard time getting away from the Confederacy).  There was some kind of event going on there, people were pouring out of the Metro station and heading into the Cemetery.  We turned left...


... and we saw from a distance that the Memorial Bridge was closed!  I remembered that I had seen some signs about this on the parkways, but I hadn't had time to read them thoroughly.  We stopped a  young couple and asked if they knew if the Bridge was closed to pedestrians, or just to cars.  They were very nice to us tourists and the guy looked it up on his phone ... it was closed to everything that weekend.  This must have been the same people who closed the pool at the George Washington Grand on the night we were there and closed the Mexican restaurant in Elkton on Monday nights!

Oh well, we didn't have much choice; this meant that it was time to take the Metro.  Believe it or not, the Washington Metro hadn't even been started when I last lived there.  It's now been around for long enough to show signs of age in some spots, but is basically an effective transit system.  We all had to buy cards for $2 and put at least $8 on them.  We used them that morning and that evening (at $2 a ride) and so felt a little ripped off when we all had $4 left on our cards.  But this is par for the course these days and SarahE found a homeless center where we can contribute the leftover cards.


While the other three wrestled with the fare machines, I approached your typical mass transit employee who looks like she has much better stuff to do than answer your stupid-ass question.  I told her we were tourists and the Bridge was closed and we needed to know how to get to the Mall.  She seemed to take pity, for a second, and told me, "Take Largo to Smithsonian," which was all she needed to say and was a masterpiece of concision.

So that's what we did, after hanging out on the platform for about 10 minutes and checking out the maps and stuff there.  We realized that not every station stopped at by more than one of the six lines allowed transfer between the lines, but that some were hubs for a large number of lines.  Looked pretty well organized to me.  Next time I go to DC maybe I'll just ride around the Metro and eschew the depressing war memorials.


Whatever, we were going to see the depressing memorials that day (and hopefully some non-depressing stuff too), and it wasn't that long before we exited at Smithsonian, the seventh stop on the Blue Line.  By now the persistent overcast was pretty much gone and it had become a pleasant, mostly cloudy, breezy day, which was still too hot for me!  Our first stop was the Smithsonian Castle, where Dad worked for a short while, but just to visit the bathrooms.  From there we headed West toward the Capitol.


Just past the Castle and the Arts and Industries Building is the Hirshhorn Museum, which had been opened when I was living there.  And my spirit jumped when I saw their sculpture garden, on the Mall side of the Museum.  Don't know if I've ever been in the Museum itself, but I'd been to the sculpture garden several times and was delighted at the opportunity to do another quick visit there.  I strongly remembered a Henry Moore sculpture in the Garden, so vividly that I could almost feel its curves.  I hunted a bit and there it was, a beautiful organic thing in the middle of a lot of sterility.  I was home again in some way.


This was one of my favorite interludes of the day.  If you ever go to Washington, gentle reader, be sure to stop by the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden.  Besides several Moore sculptures, it contains Rodin's Balzac and Burghers of Calais, as well as a sculpture of a tree (well, in fact it *was* a tree) contributed by Yoko Ono.  And a dancing rabbit.


We'd already seen several sites and we hadn't even arrived at the one we meant to see first yet!  The incredible number of choices among the Smithsonian Museums is pretty intimidating, but SarahE had expressed a strong opinion and I agreed wholeheartedly: we wanted to see the National Museum of the American Indian, just beyond the Air and Space Museum.


I hesitate to try to describe this museum ... go there!  We didn't see anywhere near all of it or spend as much time as we should have, seeing what we did.  It's surrounded by gardens meant to evoke the kinds of places Native Americans live/lived in; which is in fact, America.  The plaza and the shape of the building are meant to evoke the landscapes of the world, and the place of the world in the firmament.

When you get inside there's a grand concourse rising up to the 4th floor and you're supposed to take the elevator or stairs up to the top and work your way down.  Of course, in the way of museums 'n' stuff these days there's a film to see first to orient you, but we missed it by a minute or two and we just got started anyway.


Getting an overview of where native Americans lived, how they were organized into tribes/nations, and how the range of these nations changed is the information I most wanted to get, and this is difficult.  The answer is multi-dimensional, but there were exhibits that tried to give you parts of the answer; it could not be all done at once.  The exhibit I spent most of my time with was on treaties between American Indians and the [European] U.S. Government.  They addressed the concept of a treaty and how that resonated in both the Indian and European world, and how both parties were committed or not to the idea.  They displayed specific treaties, and they had displays on the geographies involved, the people involved, and how the treaties turned out.  Let me just say that the Europeans flooding the continent did not come off well in this exhibit, though the exhibit was always objective.  One of the treaties featured was the one Johnny Cash has memorialized in song, where George Washington betrayed the Senecas.

This exhibit of course concentrated on tribes located mainly within the borders of the United States, though others depicted Indian heritage throughout the Americas.  We all spent a lot of time at an exhibit of three-dimensional figures of animals from all over the Americas, some created a few hundred years ago and some very recently.  We also looked at a display case of toys and clothes created over a similar time span.  This was very much a living museum in that their mission included collecting contemporary artifacts as well as historic ones.


And this aesthetically and functionally  oriented artwork was incredible!  I had seen belts of wampum in the treaties exhibit that must have taken incredible technical skill to make, and these objets d'art generally combined that incredible skill in beadwork and wood-shaping with a simultaneous timelessness and immediacy of form.  This seal had not only just jumped out of the water in front of you, it had been doing that for time immemorial.


Wow, this was a great experience!  But we were weak with hunger by the time we'd just skimmed through half of the exhibits.  Luckily they had a great cafeteria downstairs, which was also an integral part of the museum.  They had food stations in it that concentrated on Native American dishes from particular regions, and though the prices were a little high that was fine with us.  SarahP and I went to the meso-American station and I got a fantastic bean salad, Sarah got a quinoa soup, and we shared a piece of cornbread.  SarahE got frybread and buffalo chili at a Southwestern Indian station ... and I got a Belgian beer.

Got a great table in their crowded cafeteria and we decided that as much as we wanted to stay here, we had to press on after lunch.  We had done a lot already and there was still plenty of time in the day, but we had to seize it!  SarahP and Jim wanted to get over to the Capitol and maybe around it to the Supreme Court and I was a little skeptical as to whether this would be worth the long walk, but as always our group decision was the right one.  We left NMAI (I had to drop a few bucks in their hopper, this is a fantastic museum and we need this kind of stuff), exited out a different way than we had come, and proceeded up to the Capitol.


The next Act in our trip to Washington was the most dread full.  This was the day that the Kavanaugh nomination was going to be voted on by the Senate, and analysis was showing that they had the votes.  We were headed right for the Senate chamber (Jim correctly identified the Senate's wing of the Capitol by the fact that it was flying the flag) and we could sense the evil fog emanating from the place, though this was probably just standard Washington humidity and that area has seen plenty of fog over the last 218 years.

The Capitol Reflecting Pool was empty, and we headed up toward the West lawn anyway, still a little unsure as to whether we'd go all the way around that huge building.  It was great fun to watch tourists from all over the world taking group pictures and selfies with the Capitol and the Mall in the background.  We took a few ourselves, both of us and them!  And then we pressed onward, around the Senate wing and up to the business side, where a large impromptu rally was in progress.


Groups of people were pressing up to the steps in the center of the building on that side, chanting.  Hundreds if not thousands of others backed them up, and we moved to the center.  We were expressing our rights and our indignation.  Poll after poll showed that a majority of the American people were opposed to Kavanaugh's being seated on the Supreme Court, and it was a blow to our concept of the people being in charge of the government for it to be about to happen anyway, to say the least.  And we were right there, staring at the demonstrators, the building where it was happening, and the blameless Capitol police who saw this every day and considered it part of their job.

And there was a group of demonstrators from the Holton-Arms School, wearing t-shirts proclaiming this.  SarahP had graduated from Holton-Arms about 10 years before one of the events we were all indignant about, where Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a Holton-Arms student in their teenage years.  The women were delighted to meet an alumna as successful and exotic as Sarah, and the representative oldest woman there admitted that this alumna pre-dated her significantly.  They were out of t-shirts but had us all sign their placard and gave Sarah follow-up information.


There was another, perhaps bigger rally going on on the Hill simultaneously, over at the Supreme Court.  We headed over there around the long line of people waiting to get in to the Capitol and sit in the galleries of the Senate, as is our right.  We got as far as the edge of 1st St. NE, near where it meets Maryland Ave.  There were groups of people on the large steps of the Supreme Court building; probably they'd gotten in for a tour and then stepped outside to watch the scene.  There was a police barrier between the steps and the crowd, where there was a real rally going on with speakers, though often drowned out by enthusiastic chants from elsewhere.  The passion in the crowd was palpable, as well as the evil smog that overhung it all.  And of course there were Trump/Kavanaugh supporters scattered about, though they were few and far between.  A group of teenagers on motorized scooters who were wearing Trump t-shirts broke out of the pack and headed downhill past us speedily, as we wended our way back to the Mall.


Oooh, have I mentioned the motorized scooters?  Major cities have been going out of their way recently to declare themselves bike-friendly.  In fact, the Red Lion Hotel had a rack of bikes that guests could take out for the day.  But there seems to be a subversive movement going on connected to this: motorized scooters.  Of course the problem with a bike is that you need to actually pedal it, and this can lead to you looking harried rather than cool.  Motorized scooters (electric) were all over the fucking place, clogging up the bike lanes and running people off sidewalks.  I didn't think this was cool.

Finally dropped down off the hill and back onto the Mall, though navigating many urban crossings was required.  Our next goal was to see the outside of the new National Museum of African American History & Culture, and then the White House.  The Mall was beginning to wear on us, this was a long walk.  But we'd warmed up for it in SNP.  It was a weekend admittedly, and right in the middle of the Fall school term; but even so there were an incredible number of people on the Mall.  The line to get in the National Museum of Natural History, which I'd hoped we'd have time for, stretched around the block.

The African American Museum looked impressive, taking up a massive block in the Mall, and featuring a gold frieze of natural shapes.  There was no way we could get in, though SarahP tried.  We would have had to have gotten tickets by email months ago.  But the lawn leading up to the White House was free, when we got that far.  We were still way South of it when we declared ourselves to be close enough, and we sat down for a good rest and some water.

There's been pressure on the NPS to close off areas around the White House, to suppress the ability of the people to demonstrate.  They had a large part of the Ellipse fenced off, like they were re-seeding it, but they weren't.  This meant people couldn't gather on the lawn to yell truths at Trump, though the people standing on the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Ave were doing what they could.


There were a few more things that were at the tops of our lists for things to see on the Mall, and SarahP proposed a plan for a loop that would allow it.  We started off due South and then followed the paved path a little West, curving past the Washington Monument, which is a tall sucker.  We saw a bit of the National World War II Memorial at the East end of the Reflecting Pool.  We didn't stop there, but I thought it very successful in looking like a monument from the 1940s, though it was built on the 1980s.

Where we were heading was the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, slightly off of the Mall, across Independence Ave.  Before we could get there we caught a glimpse of the District of Columbia War Memorial, and a glimpse was fine.


The King Memorial was inspiring and is in a beautiful setting, off the craziness of the Mall and bordering the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park.  You enter it through a mountain of marble, evoking one of his most famous speeches.  On the other side is the slice of the mountain that he's symbolically removed, with a monumental statue of him emerging from the other side.  He's facing the Tidal Pool, but is not looking out, rather he's looking thoughtful and reflective, like he's considering his next speech.  His suit is stylized, with even waves of wrinkles.  But his hands and his face are human, belying the scale.


It was just then that phones all around us let us know: the Senate had just voted to confirm Kavanaugh.  This was an especially sad, emotional, moving moment.  We were standing there, staring at a monument to the underdog in our democracy, who had the moral virtue necessary to a true leader.  And we were hearing of another false leader advancing.  The backdrop of the statue was a long wall, bearing quotes from Dr. King.  One of my favorite quotes of his was there, and I found it particularly relevant: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Another incredibly moving experience, and there were a couple to go!  We cut back across Independence Ave and through the bit of woods by the Park Service stables over to about halfway down the Reflecting Pool, then turned to our left, towards perhaps the most meaningful monument I've ever seen, the Lincoln Memorial.


This end of the Mall was perhaps even more crowded than the other end had been.  Every one of the steeper and steeper sets of steps up from the Reflecting Pool was covered with people, and we had to weave back and forth to get up to the top.  We stopped several times on the way up and turned to take in the incredible view of the Washington Monument appearing more and more in the Reflecting Pool, and the Mall being revealed to us, with all the buildings, trees, and people on it getting smaller and smaller.


At the top of the steps the view is complete and you can see the Capitol on top of its hill in the distance.  Then you turn and the shadows part and there is Daniel Chester French's monumental statue of Lincoln, sitting in his chair and thinking deep thoughts.  His head turns to the side and his gaze is downwards, showing sadness mixed with resolve.  There are signs asking people to respect the quiet of the place, but it was filled with people gabbing in all languages, toddlers crying, and groups shouting at each other while they took pictures.


I walked over to the South cove of the memorial and read the Gettysburg Address, and studied the mural over it, showing an angel presiding over a scene of discord.  After that I went over to the other cove and read his second Inaugural Address, under a mural showing the same angel uniting the people.  The Lincoln Memorial was just as I remembered it from over 40 years ago, corny, overblown, mobbed with people, and incredibly moving.  There is hope for our union and our world, and words of truth will lead us there.


We ducked into the small gift shop to see how crowded it was.  There were some interesting looking books but we got out of there, assembled, and picked our way down the steps.  Only one more destination to go, the site that was at the top of my list of things to see, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.


This was another memorial that had been built after I left Washington, and I'd wanted to see it for years.  It's also another memorial that I don't feel I can describe as well as I should.  You have to go see for yourself.  I'd read a lot about it and seen smaller replicas.  When we approached I felt I was ready for it, and it was perhaps less imposing than I expected at first.  It's in a corner of the Mall that gets a lot of auto traffic noise, and there's a lot of foot traffic down at that end too.  And the heart of the monument itself, the Wall, was packed with people tracing names, taking selfies, coddling toddlers, and doing all those things people do.


But then it strikes you, and I had to hurry out of the Wall area to see this more completely.  The memorial is not one artifact, or a monumental statue, it's an environment consisting of lawn, trees, people, baby carriages, a couple of movingly realistic bronze sculptures, and also the Wall and the people interacting with it, and the short lawn at the top of it, leading to a busy street.  I was alive during that war and I demonstrated against it on the Mall and saw it every day on the TV.  That was the meaning of this environment, to show the connection between our reality and the reality it was commemorating, and the mindless incomprehensibility of the war.


We'd recently seen marks left by the Civil War all over the countryside.  Perhaps people wounded physically or psychically by that war were able to go to the Lincoln Memorial and feel the same kind of depiction of their experience.

And that corner of the Mall is a little sunken, and you can look up the gradual slope and see the top half of the Washington Monument poking up above the horizon.  And way in the distance you can see the top half of the Capitol.  And you realize that not only is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial a whole environment with a message, the whole Mall and the whole world is part of that environment.  The Park Service tries to maintain the Mall as a homogeneous experience, and we had just traveled it from one end to the other.  Perhaps the United States was no more comprehensible after this experience, but we definitely felt closer to the complexity.

OMG, the others were as affected as I was and SarahP took a long time at the Wall.  We showed her the Vietnam Women's Memorial section after that, which is really part of the whole thing.  And then we tried to get away from there a bit and strategize about dinner.

It was SarahP's turn to pick a restaurant, and she wanted to find somewhere concentrating on vegetables.  Several possibilities popped up on SarahE's phone, and we decided to head up to the Beefsteak location on 22nd St.  One good thing about this was that it was right in the direction of the Metro stop we wanted to end up at.  It wasn't that far, but we walked very slowly up there, into the middle of the George Washington University campus.  Across Constitution Ave, up 21st St, diagonally up to 22nd St on Virginia Ave, and finally to the right block.  We found a statue of Pushkin on the way, as well as a little memorial to a liberated slave (Leonard A. Grimes) who'd moved to Boston.

Finally made it up to Beefsteak on I St (labeled "Eye St" so people don't get confused), and there was some debate over whether we really wanted to eat there or go to another restaurant.  But everything else in the neighborhood was very high priced, so we did eat there, getting some nice bowls (I got a "crunchy avocado" thing) which we ate at tables on the empty and quiet sidewalk.  We confused the heck out of them though.  They thought they were a hip venue for college students and when these elderly people came in and started expecting them to do advanced math, like to put four orders on one check, they were discombobulated to say the least.

Dragged down to the end of the block after that and dropped down into the Metro's Foggy Bottom stop.  It was just one stop across the river over to the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington and we were more than ready to get back to the hotel.  Two things happened when we got off of the train in Rosslyn though.  One was that we went up the longest escalator that has ever existed, or at least that I've been on.  Seriously, this thing must have been a mile.  SarahE reports that she was hallucinating on it, thinking when she looked up that we were moving vertically.  And the second thing was that when we got out of there we didn't know which way to turn and probably turned the wrong way and headed in the right direction, but were now on the wrong side of the looking glass and so were a little lost.

Luckily, several phones were deployed and we turned around and headed in the right(?) direction.  We were getting a bit confused again and then there it was, Dark Star Park!  I had seen on the map that there was a park right near us named after the epic Grateful Dead musical work.  Oh wait, it wasn't??  You mean, this was just synchronicity that when we were lost we found this sculpture garden pointing us the way home (or to the Red Lion at least)?  Whatever.  We frolicked in the park for just a bit and then headed back to the hotel.


Yay, we were finally back!  It had been a long, long day and we felt very good about what we'd achieved.  By my count we'd seen 16 things, as well as the GWU campus and the Metro.  And we'd had a couple of great meals and hadn't been arrested.

The Red Sox - Yankees Divisional Series came on, but the Red Sox fell behind early and I went to bed.  Past time after an exhausting day!







Saturday, October 6, 2018

Confluence of Everything

Woke up on Friday in a cloud.  It was actually cloudy outside and rained a little that morning, though the dreaded long Fall rain held off and it became another fabulous day.  I was also in a little bit of a psychic cloud, wondering where Sarah was (I hadn't heard her leave), dealing with the black bathroom, and finally finding my way down to the basement through two musty flights in search of the windowless breakfast room (after replenishing the cooler with ice).  Sarah and Jim were right in front of me (or ahead of me?) and we all helped ourselves to the typical cheap hotel breakfast.  No donut turds this time at least.

What is it about non-disposable stuff at hotel breakfasts?  We cringed to use styrofoam plates, thin plastic juice cups, flimsy forks and knives, and garbage plastic coffee cups (pretty bad coffee too).  But we got the requisite number of calories and some vitamins and then headed back up out of that dreary room.  Luckily there was a cute baby in a stroller to divert our attention.  There are tourists (and babies) everywhere!



SarahE still hadn't showed up, but she was in the room when I got up there and had been a little discombobulated herself.  It was a strange place, and the strangest thing was the print hanging above the only acceptable coffee-maker around, the Keurig near the musty elevators.  This was an example of displaced (or at least not understandable to us) allegiance to Confederate icons, and to militaristic music.  The print was bordered by images of artifacts of 19th century military/country life: a confederate hat, gloves, a simple home, a brace of pistols, a covered bridge perhaps.  It was captioned, "Onward Christian Soldiers."  And the main image was of three named Confederate generals accompanied by a fawning colonel, riding horseback but pausing at the top of a rise and all smiling at each other like they were the happiest, most confident people in the world.  One was Stonewall Jackson but I forget the other names.

I won't go on about the psychosis expressed by this picture, though I might.  Let me just say that romantic individualism is not well expressed by military uniforms, or portraits of a group of leaders.  People will disagree and that's fine, but I found the print strangely offensive.  Might make another great t-shirt!

But though the day had started off strangely, I was pretty excited about our plan.  We were going to see Harper's Ferry,which I'd heard a lot of good things about, and then end up in the metropolis of Washington that night.  Jim and I were delayed at the coffee-maker by one of those people who went on about how great Harper's Ferry was, though he got more and more of his facts wrong the more he spoke.  But as I say, this wasn't the place to discuss politics or call another person's "facts" into question.

Checked out, loaded up, and the day was actually beginning to look promising by the time we waved goodbye to the Ramada and Hangouts.  Back to Interstate 81 North to the same exit in Winchester that we had approached from the North back on Sunday, and East on Route 7, then North on Route 340 (the aforementioned main road through the valley) in Berryville.

This was another great time to see the countryside, in the Northwestern-most part of Virginia and the extreme Eastern-most part of West Virginia.  There were still some corn and soybean fields, but also some horse farms, some auto repair shops, and some groceries.  There were also lots of "lower middle-class" houses, as there had been in the Shenandoah Valley proper, one-story cinder-block structures with perfect, huge lawns.  There were a few scattered post offices and city halls, and lots and lots of churches, all Christian.  It was beautiful in its own way, expressing pride in communities and well-lived lives.

Harper's Ferry is a very small town at the confluence of the Shenandoah (which had joined with its South Fork by then) and Potomac Rivers, located in West Virginia with Maryland across the bluffs to the North and Virginia just over the cliffs to the South.  There's a National Historical Park there, but one of the wonderful things about it is its place in the geography of America, not just that it's been preserved.  We need to cherish crossroads like this, they tell the story of our land.

This was also the key location in John Brown's aborted slave rebellion, one of the key events presaging the Civil War.  But luckily we weren't swamped by history that day, it was all about seeing this great confluence of early America.

From Route 340 we could sense the crotch in the mountains ahead, and barely see the Shenandoah River off to our right.  We turned into the NHP parking lot and flashed the Senior Pass again to the happy Ranger.  Big parking lot there, this must be a high-attendance Park in the Summer.  We looked at the diorama in the VC, hit the comfort station, and strategized.

Harper's Ferry offers three main themes: historical, commercial, and natural.  I've mentioned the historical and natural, but the commercial is very important.  We stumbled on a graveyard commemorating the first (European) settler, Robert Harper, who saw the potential in the place but established a town of only 4 people.  Lewis and Clark later used it as their jumping-off place for their early-19th century expeditions.  The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the railroad were built up the Potomac from the Washington DC area in the mid-19th and that's when the town was at its height.  There was also a canal that extended up the Shenandoah, though I have no idea how far it got.  The C&O and the railroad continued up the Potomac and then jumped over to the Ohio in lower Pennsylvania and so opened up the West to early America.



We decided to hike it and go for the natural theme.  Unfortunately, Route 340 crossed the rivers right below where we were hiking and highway noise was omnipresent!  But this was a fine hike, down the bluff to the Shenandoah, down the floodplain of the river (where we saw a turtle), which featured the last mile of the same railroad we'd seen in Winchester last Sunday.  Where Route 340 crossed the trail we switchbacked to the North back up the bluff and joined the AT, which of course went through this important crossroads.


We followed the AT into town, past the old graveyard I mentioned, and stumbled on an Eastern box turtle that was trying to cross the trail as quickly as possible but was terrified by us.


The key feature here was Jefferson's Rock, which overlooked the confluence just a hundred yards or so before the trail dove downhill into the town.  We'd heard a lot about Jefferson lately, and were not impressed by another place named after him.  But I have to quote him at length here, as he expresses the wonder I try to express often in this blog:

"The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. The first glance of this scene hurries our senses into the opinion that this earth has been created in time, that the mountains were formed first, that the rivers began to flow afterwards, that in this place particularly they have been so dammed up by the Blue Ridge of mountains as to have formed an ocean which filled the whole valley; that, continuing to rise, they have at last broken over at this spot and have torn the mountain down from its summit to its base. The piles of rock on each hand, but particularly on the Shenandoah, the evident marks of their disruptions and avulsions from their beds by the most powerful agents in nature, corroborate the impression.

"But the distant finishing which nature has given the picture is of a very different character. It is a true contrast to the former. It is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic."


Well ok, this is what we saw and he describes it well.  The rivers came together in a powerful, majestic way, under the railroad bridge we (and the AT) walked along, and pointed East to Washington and the sea.  When we crossed the bridge to the Maryland side, we climbed down to see the (well preserved) ruins of the C&O Canal and Lock 33 as it rose uphill towards Ohio.  There were many bikers and hikers and joggers along the Canal path and we joined them for a bit.  Don't know if they went all the way to DC, though for a day's bike excursion that'd be doable.


We came down the hill from the AT, past the old Catholic Church (Irish and other immigrants built the railroads in the US), and toured some historic streets, then went over the railroad bridge as described.  Many people had put padlocks on the bridge as symbols of love, though perhaps of a frightening variety, especially when you felt compelled to place the padlock in a dangerous spot.


I can't get over, in retrospect, what good weather we had!  What had started off as an overcast, rainy day had turned into another glorious blue day with lots of sunshine (and lots of heat).  We started looking for a place to eat lunch and the Amtrak from the West came hooting into town, then hurried on its way down the River after a few people got off and on.

The Ranger at the downtown VC gave me a great local map and list of restaurants, and we decided to seek out the Almost Heaven Pub & Grill (even though Jim had been confused with John Denver in the past), where we got a great table on their upstairs patio.  The buildings were cheek by jowl in downtown Harper's Ferry, as you might expect for such an old town.  SarahE and I got Seneca Ales (as we found out the next day, the Seneca tribe had extended that far South) and I had a fine turkey club.


Have I mentioned how hot it was on our whole trip?  I had soaked through my t-shirt a few hours ago and was probably very ripe by the time we ate lunch, though no one mentioned it.  There was not much breeze that afternoon, but it was maybe because of the location of Harper's Ferry, sunk into the bottom of sets of cliffs.  Whatever, we were not about to walk back up the hill from downtown, and instead took the shuttle bus back to the VC at the entrance, where we had left the car.  Let me say that downtown Harper's Ferry is as magical a historical place as I've seen, and I encourage everyone to visit there.  This is a beautiful, significant spot.

The shuttle bus dumped us back at the VC, where we hit the bathrooms and then found the car.  SarahP needed a Post Office and so we detoured into the "real" area of Harper's Ferry, as opposed to the tourist area.  There were lots of signs there about Rockwool.

Got back on the road and followed Route 340 over the Shenandoah bridge to the Loudon Heights and then back over the Potomac bridge to the Maryland side.  We soon found ourselves in Frederick MD, and transferred over to Interstate 270, Southeast to Washington.

Yikes!  It was only mid-afternoon on a Friday by then and traffic had already started to get intense.  The other side of 270 was gridlock, even as far North as Frederick.  And our GPS (we were using Google Maps on my phone) started making dire predictions, which only intensified as we got closer to Washington.

As predicted, the Beltway (Interstate 495) was pretty bad, though it had been a relative breeze getting there.  But soon after we crossed the Potomac counter-clockwise on the Beltway over to the Virginia side, we exited onto the George Washington Parkway and it wasn't too bad getting down to Arlington.

I'd been stunned when booking hotels to get one in Arlington, within a 25-minute walk of the Lincoln Memorial, for a very decent price.  The ones in DC itself cost multiples of this place, and I was sure it'd be sleazy, but all reviews and pictures assured me it was exactly what you'd expect, a tired  and non-elegant but still very serviceable hotel, crowded into a corner of the Rosslyn district of Arlington VA.  This was the Red Lion and though Sarah encountered a rat in the smoking area and Jim encountered a (dead) cockroach in his room, and we were lucky to get a free space in their parking lot, this was a beyond-acceptable motel.  At least they didn't have any weird Confederate paintings there.


We hauled the heavy suitcases up to the second floor (no elevator??) and I realized we were just about out of beer!  That was enough to rouse me, even after a long drive, and the useful documentation they'd given us at the front desk told me about a nearby Safeway.  I got SarahP and Jim to come along and made a pretty successful excursion.  This inner city supermarket experience let us know pretty quickly that we weren't in Strasburg any longer.

Back to the hotel and where to eat dinner?  We theoretically had thousands of choices (we were near the Metro), but basically limited ourselves to the "high street" we had seen in Rosslyn, Wilson Boulevard.  There were many choices there but we settled on Guajillo; Jim and SarahP wanted another Mexican restaurant since they're so rare in London.

And this was exquisite food.  SarahE had a braised pork shoulder that I tried some of and can still taste.  I got the pulled pork and it was delightfully seasoned, and was a huge pile of meat.  Jim asked me what mole poblano was and I advised against it, so of course he got a chicken mole poblano (SarahE recommended it) and the only thing he could complain about was that the chicken was a little overcooked.

Fine dinner and luckily it was downhill back to the Red Lion on Arlington Boulevard (Route 50).  And the Red Sox opened their divisional series against the Yankees that evening!  I actually stayed up to watch all of it, a nail-biting game that the Red Sox eventually won.  After that, right to bed.  Washington tomorrow!