Stranger than Fiction

A pic of the columns in the National Arboretum. Someone else took this picture.

Everyone had their cameras out, snapping pictures of the columns against a blue sky on a late fall day. One guy stood in the tall grass, like a wildlife photographer trying to capture the lion on her hunt. A group had a big white umbrella to reflect most beautifully on their glamour shot. Don’t anyone tell them that to include the stately columns in the shot, nobody will be able to see her face. The guy with the camera wasn’t that good.

There were the folks with their phones. Some standing on the base of the columns. Others hugging significant others, a pair of cheesy grins. The one lady who kept backing up and backing up and backing up until she fell in a hole. She recovered before she hit the dirt. The parents broadcasting their kids on Facebook live–their kids racing around, jumping from one tile to the next, tagging each other and barely avoiding the couple sitting on the ledge of the cistern having an intense discussion about the failures of the Clinton campaign. He was earnestly trying to get her to care.

The Park Service had drained the fountain for the winter so there was no reflecting pool in the foreground. There were some crunchy leaves stuck to the bottom of the reservoir and some very sketchy looking liquid that The Beast lapped up before he could be pulled away. For those of you tracking, we discovered later that it didn’t sit so well with him. That’s all I’ll say about that.

When we first came to the arboretum, the columns were laid out on their sides, scattered across the top of the hill. From the road, it looked like the abandoned rejects from a rook factory. The hill was mushy and the columns sunk a bit.

Over the years we watched them stand upright. We came back once to see the foundation for fountains. There was a dirt path but mostly you’d walk across the mucky meadow to get to your personal interaction with the columns. Later, they built the winding paver paths and planted grasses and wildflowers. I can hardly remember when it was a ruin. Now people have wedding shoots there without fear that the bride’s white high heels will sink slowly into the mud.

We circled around the outside loop and stepped along the path to the back of the sculpture. There was a nice couple–funny how we call strangers a nice couple–him with an arboretum brochure folded, almost crumpled up in his hand. We walked past them as they were straining to see the tops of the twenty-two columns. Maybe the guy was counting them. She found The Beast entrancing and remarked on his very good looks.

That’s how it started. An exchange of pleasantries about the dog and then some remarks about the remarkable columns. The visitors were a little unsure about them, but The Spouse, with the authority of an arboretum historian, explained that they were actually ruins from the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812. Wow, was all we could say. They were that old.

Except if the guy looked in his damn pamphlet, he’d see that they weren’t built until 1828 and were a key feature of the Lincoln inauguration. Oops.

“You really had me going there.”

“I had myself going there. It was a good story, no?”

Yes, it was. And hopefully the nice couple either read the inscription in the stone at the base of the columns or shared the incorrect information with others. The latter would be funny. Or maybe they had read the crumpled paper already. They were nice, so would likely not have corrected The Spouse. That is kind of funny, too.

“You know, it was as if you really knew.”

“I really did.”

Cool story, bro. Sheesh.

What Rhymes With Bucket?

Stonehenge at vernal equinox.

People come out in droves for must see annual events. The running of the Bulls in Paloma. Carnival in Rio. Octoberfest in Munich.

There are lists and lists of things that people want to do before they die. Yes. I said it. This is someone sitting down with pen or keyboard saying that before they die they’d like to accomplish Thing X, Thing Y and Thing Z. That’s what a bucket list is, a marker of mortality.

And, I mean, what happens if you do it all? Do you die right then? Or do you just add more? If you run out of Things, are you unhappy for the rest of your dull days? And if you don’t complete your list, do you die unhappy? Is a bucket list just an organizing tool for planning weekend activities (skydiving-ugh!) or vacations (Machu Picchu-yay!)? Maybe it’s just something for the list-obsessed to do. I couldn’t tell you, since I don’t have a list.

Actually, I do have a list. Things that make it to my list just stall. It’s more like a list of guilt rather than a list of to-dos. But that’s just me.

To get items checked off your bucket list you need to figure out the when–a calendar works here. Then you have to try and figure out the how. How to get there, where to stay, and, I would recommend, a quick primer on local laws and the location of the American Consulate.

Just to be safe.

Anyway, some things on a bucket list are harder to navigate. They are more ephemeral. Like seeing a whale breach. Timing and good luck are everything. Or catching the winter monster waves off Maui’s Pe’hai North Shore. Unless you live there, you could miss them.  The vernal equinox at Stonehenge–you can calculate it, but can you get there? Then there’s seeing the cherry trees in D.C.

Wait. How’d the cherry blossoms make this list?

I am clueless for that one. They are both hard to predict (they were 16 days earlier in 2016 than in 2015) and a mess. They are in peak bloom for a few days, then “poof!” Literally. (Okay, not really literally, but work with me.) Literally the trees look like poofs of barely pink cotton candy floating in a robin eggs’ blue sky.

Anyway, I don’t have a bucket list. I can see the cherry trees every year since I live here. Also, I could walk across the overcrowded boulevard filled with people who are wearing shorts and printed t-shirts in the cold all the while brandishing their selfie sticks and end up getting run over by an open-topped tour bus with a student group from Omaha, Nebraska.

But without a disappointingly incomplete list, I’d go happy.

Cherry blossoms, in my hood, on my way to work, by my house. Boo YA!
I took this pic on my way to work. Near my house. Boo YAH!


Dear Tourists, Let Me Help

weinermobile in front of the Capitol. I took this one.

Tourist season has befallen my fair city. As the hoards fill up our streets, hostels, chain restaurants and The Mall (we don’t shop there, by the way), I thought I’d offer some advice to smooth the stay.

Dear Washington, D.C. Tourists,
Welcome! I am super glad to host you in our fair city. A few things to help us get along better.

  • First, Washington D.C., is actually a real city. We vote for a mayor and a city council. We have schools where children study. People here have jobs and go to church and buy groceries and sit around dinner tables where we eat food just like YOU. Unlike you, though, we don’t have a vote in Congress. So don’t complain about your Congressman. We’d love to have one (and two Senators) to deride. But we don’t. And we’re U.S. citizens, too.
  • Second, D.C., is not Main Street, U.S.A. at Disney World. You can’t just walk into the streets and criss cross like it’s an amusement park. It’s not. There are traffic rules that you should follow.
  • Third, I know you don’t walk as a mode of transportation when you’re at home. You might walk on the treadmill at the gym or around your cul de sac with a neighbor for your New Year’s resolution. But here, we walk to get to work or to shop, and to grab a coffee or a beer.
  • Please please please, don’t start walking when you’re on the corner and you’re talking to your friends and not looking. Cars here are like your cars at home–made of metal and will hurt if they hit you.  We won’t mow you down because we’re mean but because you randomly walked in front of us without looking. Don’t jaywalk unless you learned this skill in Manhattan. Then you own it.
  • Key takeaways: Look for the traffic signals. If the light is RED do not walk. If the light is GREEN, go ahead. There are also signals that are RED with a hand that means, DON’T WALK. Really, nobody wants to run you over. Okay, to be honest, sometimes we do, but we wouldn’t. Not on purpose.
  • Fourth, I love it when you use our subway. We call it the Metro. It stops you from driving the wrong way on our one-way streets. It also stops you from running our red lights because you don’t see the traffic signals on the sides of the roads. We know you look for them hanging in the middle of the street. I don’t know why we don’t do that. But we don’t. Be careful.
  • Fifth, speaking of the Metro, if you’re not sure where you need to go, just ask anyone. People are happy to help you get to your destination. Seriously. They are. The thing we don’t like is your confusion at the turnstiles that blocks us from getting to the train. This is super-especially true during rush hour. An idea, please don’t use the subway during our rush hour. You are really screwing with us natives.
  • Also, this is weird, I know, but when you’re on an escalator in D.C. don’t stand next to your friend. Stand on the right and walk on the left. Leave the left side of the stairs open so people can walk. We are in a hurry because we have to go to work. We’re not on a vacation. We are glad that you are, though.
  • Sixth, this brings me to the costs of stuff in D.C. SHUT UP. You don’t have to pay a penny to go to the zoo and gawk at baby pandas; see the capsule that landed on the moon, the Wright Brothers’ plane and the real space shuttle up close; gape at the Hope Diamond and a stuffed woolly mamouth;  visit the East Room and watch the Secret Service watch you at the White House; and be in awe at pretty much everything–seriously look up, down and all around–at the Library of Congress. Also, there is crazy amazing art and culture–like Monet and ruby slippers and the lunch counter from the Greensboro Woolworths–at the Smithsonian. The Capitol Grounds, near the Supreme Court, have beautiful fountains, a botanical garden and lots of steps. Not to diminish the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Washington memorials, the homage to those who served and sacrificed in wars and the newer monuments recognizing Dr. King and FDR.
  • Back to the costs of things. Please don’t complain about prices for sandwiches or cokes. This is what we pay, too. We just live here. Also, speaking of prices, when you do eat out, please don’t be cheap. People waiting your tables and serving your drinks do this for a living. Tip. Really. You can tip.

My brain is awash with so many more things to help you with, but I know you’re already overwhelmed. Please, though, know this well. This is your city, because you are an American and this is our nation’s capital. And it is our city, because every day we drive and walk and bike past and work in and near the amazing landmarks you came to visit. We feel lucky to live here. You feel lucky to visit here.

We can do this together. We survived the Pope, we can work with you. Have fun!
Doc Think