Washington Trip Recap

You can tell that my original intention for recounting this trip was going to be a daily update with time stamps and a narrative about my experiences. That desire ended when I realized that a few days in, not only had I not written anything since the first day, I didn’t even know what day it was. I could tell you the time, of course, but only because I wear a wristwatch. The wristwatch didn’t know what day it was either, even though I kept checking.

My days were pretty much the following: wake up in a dazed stupor, shower, slug down some coffee, march on to a dizzying array of museums, memorials, and/or national monuments. Then food, then back to the hotel, where I tended to pass out in bed, often still with my clothes on and my contacts in. There was so much to do and see and experience and so much walking to do it all. It reminded me more than a little of my trip to San Diego for ComiCon in 2012.

Literally everything in DC is dedicated to the memory of somebody; at one point (and I swear to God this is true), I tripped over a sidewalk panel outside the Newseum because the edge was raised out of the ground. I looked down and saw that I’d tripped over a memorial that was dedicated to some guy. He also had a bench dedicated to him.

I was literally tripping over memorials.

I’m in Rochester, New York, for a few days to visit family before my flight back to Tucson. Here’s my recollection of events as best I can recall:

  • Thursday: Arlington Cemetery
  • Friday: Bureau of Engraving and Printing, White House, Library of Congress, Marine Corps Band
  • Saturday: Museum of Natural History
  • Sunday: Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space, MLK Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial
  • Monday: Capitol Building, National Archives, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial
  • Tuesday: Washington Monument, Holocaust Museum, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, World War II Memorial
  • Wednesday: Smithsonian Museum of American History, Newseum

I’ll focus on some of the highlights that I haven’t already discussed.

The Capitol Building

It was amusing visiting the Senate and House galleries while the Congress was not in session, if only because I was able to crack wise about how just as much is getting accomplished whether they’re in session or not.

The Museum of Natural History

I think I read every single display in that entire building. It took about six hours. It was totally worth it.

The National Archives

Someone really should have taken better care of the Declaration of Independence. The poor thing is barely readable these days.

Holocaust Museum

It’s exactly as uplifting as you would expect, but still worth the trip.


I almost skipped this one since I was pretty tired at the end of the trip, but this ended up being surprisingly entertaining. The Pulitzer Prize Photo Gallery and the 9/11 exhibit were both very powerful.

If anyone is curious about the specifics, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Yesterday Recap

I did a lot in Washington yesterday. In fact, based on the estimated number of miles I walked (approximately fifty million) and the amount of food I ate (almost nothing except coffee), I believe I have already lost 20 pounds. This is a nice reversal from my normal vacation tendencies.

Here’s what I did with my time in the capitol yesterday:

8:15 AM: Bureau of Printing & Engraving Tour

This is where paper money comes from! They mentioned they print other stuff here too, like passports and whatnot, but that’s boring. What’s not boring is watching thousands and thousands of dollars roll out of a machine like someone determined to print every single page on Wikipedia.

I also learned how much I’m worth in terms of stacked $100 bills: about $1.8 million.

My single favorite moment during the tour was a cheeky sign posted over one of the printing stations: “Just imagine how feel. I just printed my lifetime salary in a few minutes.”

11:30 AM: White House Tour

The time stamp here doesn’t account for the two hours we spent walking and deciding whether or not we wanted to wait in line for a Washington Monument tour (we didn’t). We also spent some time walking around to find a Starbucks and then we walked around the White House and looked at it from the outside.

And then it was time for our tour!

First impression: holy shit, you know in your mind that the Secret Service is going to have good security but your mind is probably way off base just how little these guys fuck around. A member of our little band was in a wheelchair and since the White House was built long before ADA compliance was a thing, the tour had to work a bit to accommodate us.

That meant when it was time to go upstairs, rather than follow the tour route, a Secret Service officer led us through a staff area, through a kitchen (!) and down some other corridors into a service elevator. You’re kind of used to security guys putting on this fake sunshine thing when dealing with tourists, pretending to be all “I’m really happy to answer your questions, citizen” when you know they’re thinking about all the ways they’ll kill you if you try to fuck with anything. This guy was serious business. “Stand here.” “Walk forward to that door, wait there.” “Walk forward. Stand.” And he said it in such a way that even I, an incorrigible iconoclast, was compelled to obey without question or sarcasm.

He looked like a math teacher, maybe mid-forties and balding, but I’m pretty sure he was the single most lethal individual I’ve ever personally met. It was impressive as hell.

Anyway, let’s focus on the White House itself!

I had that surreal feeling of familiarity even though I was (obviously) in a place I’d never ever been inside before. It’s pretty amazing how much the White House seeps into the cultural consciousness through television in movies, not to mention actual political state functions. I’ve seen all these rooms before; now I’m actually here. Now I’m standing in the halls of power. Many of the most influential people in recent history have walked here where I now stand.

My favorite part ended up being the various Presidential portraits hung through the White House. On our drive into DC, we’d had a discussion about our “Top 5 favorite presidents and why”, so it was fun to pick out where our favorites were hanging.

I mentioned before that the Secret Service guys were absolutely all business. When we reached the end of the tour, I asked where to return the wheelchair we borrowed. The Secret Service agent told me to take it around the White House and back to the visitor’s entrance outside the south lawn. That meant taking it off the property and down the street. He also advised me not to consider taking a White House wheelchair as a souvenir.

I was contemplating the strangeness of this routine (did they do this for all wheelchair guests?) as I pushed the chair down the sidewalk around the Treasury building. Apparently, they do not, because when I pushed the chair up to the visitor’s entrance, the Secret Service agent there cracked up laughing.

“Wow,” he said. “Nobody ever brings it all the way around like that.”

“This isn’t the normal way to return these chairs?” I asked.

“Nope,” he says, still laughing. “I can’t tell you how rare this is. Thanks for returning it, though.”

1:45 PM: The Library of Congress Tour

The Library of Congress was on my list of “must-see” places since, you know, I work for a library. The Library of Congress is practically like a temple to my kind. It has the most ancient books, the coolest collection, and the most profound names attached to its history.

As a building, it’s also freaking gorgeous. It’s literally a temple.

The walls and ceilings are works of art, to say nothing of the actual art that’s filling that place. Sculptures abound. I mentioned how the Arlington Cemetery gave me a feeling of the sacred that had nothing to do with deities. This was a similar feeling. There are sacred books, of course, but this was a feeling that books themselves are sacred regardless of content.

My favorite part was browsing Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection. Or maybe it was looking at a Guttenberg Bible. It’s so hard to decide! I think I’m going to have to go with Guttenberg, since that represented what could be argued as the single most important invention in human history.

3:00PM: Nap

I took a nap at the hotel room. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I passed the fuck out for a few hours.

7:00PM: The Marine Corps Band

We went to the Marine Corps barracks to watch a field parade and rifle demonstration. The phrase “rifle demonstration” is my own and I’m not sure it really describes what I was seeing. They don’t actual fire the rifles. Twirling also feels wrong. Imagine several hundred people moving in perfect unison, executing crisp and complicated movements with 10 pound rifles. That’s about as close as I can get.

The Silent Drill Platoon (I might be wrong on the name) was the most impressive of all, not only because they had the most precision and the most complicated movements, but because they did all of it in perfect silence without a drum or a sergeant to coordinate their movements.

11:30PM: Sleep

We arrived back at the hotel and I crashed again. I had a weird dream that I was opening a video game themed restaurant but it was invaded by bears which chased away all my customers.


I’m in Washington D.C. for about a week. Touring the nation’s capitol has been an item on my bucket list for a long time, so I’m glad for the opportunity to check it off. My flight arrived at 6 AM this morning and since I didn’t sleep on the plane, today was a light day. The only item on my agenda was visiting Arlington National Cemetery.

I’m glad Arlington was the only thing I did today because it deserved my undivided attention.

There are signs everywhere reminding you to maintain a proper and respectful demeanor while in the cemetery. It was fascinating to me how profound the feeling of the sacred was through the cemetery. You can’t help but feel as though you’re standing in the presence of something deeper as you look out at the rows and rows of gravestones and the sacrifices those long white lines represent.

It’s a sacred feeling in a very humanist sense. God is not mentioned much throughout the cemetery; mostly in inscriptions here and there. The feeling comes from the people buried there and it creates that feeling regardless of one’s actual religious beliefs. I found that very inspiring; proof that one does not need religion to create something sacred and profound.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was amazing. The discipline and precision of the changing of the guard ceremony is surpassed only by the incredible idealism represented by this particular post. The Tomb Guards are an interesting subject, even though there’s some misinformation floating around the web about them. It turns out Tomb Guards are allowed to drink alcohol when not on duty, contrary to what a few sites claimed.

I ended up staying to watching the changing of the guard happen twice.

Regardless of what you think of the military or wars in general, you can’t help but feel moved by what they’re doing here and the honor that’s being shown. It would be better, of course, if we didn’t need a place like Arlington because that would be a world without wars or bloodshed. But that’s not this world.

Honor and a sense of the sacred are universal, no matter what you believe. I’m glad that I was able to be part of it all today, even if only for a brief afternoon.

Travelogue: Toronto Recap

I am writing another post in offline mode while I wait for my connecting flight in the Chicago-O’hare airport. I’m not sure what’s so flawed about my little laptop that it can’t connect to either of the two open networks here in the terminal. It has to be my laptop, right? It’s not like one of the largest airports in the world would have substandard WiFi. I hope.

Let’s see, what can I talk about while I pass the time?

  • Toronto is a great city. A few observations, though: even after three days, the Toronto accent with all of its “oots” was endearingly charming. I can only imagine what American accents must sound like to other English speakers. I know that we all sound neutral to ourselves, but surely, that doesn’t change the sound of the cadence and tone of someone’s accent, does it? American accents seem harsh in comparison. I’ve never heard or read anybody who said they really liked the way Americans speak English, even though listening to one of the more prim British accents is, for me, a reason to fall in love and marry a person. I might have shared too much here.
  • Another observation from Toronto: it’s probably the largest city I’ve been in if we exclude all the airports I’ve been hanging out in recently. It’s sleek and modern, and its skyline reminds me of the movie Inception. Seriously, they have this thing going on where every high-rise condo is built in a pair, so you have sets of twins popping up all over the horizon. It’s kind of cool, but it looks like somebody was playing SimCity and hit Ctrl + V a whole bunch. It really looks like the skyline from Inception. I kept expecting the horizon to fold up like a giant taco, which would have been exciting.
  • I was thinking about writing a blog post about tourists behaving badly, but after I watched a guy try to break off a piece of crystal from a display in the Royal Ontario Museum, I was just too bummed out. On a more egalitarian note, all the dickish tourists I observed were from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. No one people on this earth seem to have a monopoly on being a jerk. Equality abounds! Consequently, I feel bad for the locals in every tourist spot on the planet. Including myself (hey, people come from all over to check out our Desert Museum).
  • Speaking of the Royal Ontario Museum, that place is kickass. I saw a lot of amazing dinosaur bones, including a tyrannosaurus rex. It was the first time I’d ever seen a tyrannosaurus rex in person! It was very exciting. They had a lot of other great exhibits there, including an Egyptian mummy, but I’m going to be honest: I was there for the dinosaur bones and I was not disappointed.
  • Standing on the glass floor on the CN tower and looking down reminded me that I’m not actually cured of my fear of heights; I’m just really good at dealing with it. The 58 second elevator ride reminded me that the same is true for my claustrophobia. Despite these personal revelations, it was still a great experience, because I felt like a total boss sliding past all the scared people at the edge of the glass floor to go tromp around and stamp my feet to show my complete faith in Canadian engineering and my complete disdain for gravity.
  • I’m kvetching a lot here, but that’s only because I think it’s the cynical stuff that makes for good reading. I’m sure a blog post about all the amazing beers I drank and the amazing architecture I saw and the cool video game exhibit I got to play in, etc. etc. would just make everybody dislike me. So I won’t talk about that, at least not anymore than I already have.
  • In conclusion, Toronto was an amazing city. It was incredibly multicultural, filled with interesting history, great beer, and friendly people. I think it’s something we in the States take for granted, but the relationship between our countries is pretty special. For instance, we share the longest undefended border in the entire world. I don’t think we could ask for better neighbors. Consequently, we should be really grateful that they’re too polite to ask us to move, so that they can have better neighbors. I kid, I kid. . . well, mostly.

That’s about it for now. I’ll post this when I can, which probably won’t be until I get back to Tucson. I still have another hour before my flight boards, but after that it’s going to be four hours of sitting in the same chair, so I think I’m going to get up and move around in an open space while I still have the chance. See you in Tucson!

Travelogue: Philadelphian Sauce

I’m writing this post in offline mode due to lack of WiFi, which means that by the time it goes live, I’ll already been in New York and likely have been for several hours. As I write this, however, it’s early morning in the Philadelphia airport and I’m waiting to board my last flight to Buffalo. Why Buffalo? Why not Buffalo? I haven’t been to the Buffalo airport before. Maybe it’s nice. I guess I’ll find out.

The Philadelphia airport is nice, although it’s pretty different compared to the other airports I’ve been in. I had to take a shuttle to get to my departure terminal. Riding in a shuttle isn’t a weird experience for me; riding in a shuttle that’s driving around airplanes on a runway is a little weird. I guess I haven’t been in enough airports to know how common this is.

I only have two complaints about Philadelphia’s airport. First, there is a criminal lack of coffee shops on offer here. I’m assuming this is because I’m at Terminal F, which seems to be under construction or renovation. Hopefully, they are constructing and/or renovating some coffee shops. Second is the WiFi, which doesn’t seem  want to work, no matter how hard I try. Connecting isn’t the problem; it just won’t let me go anywhere. It’s very frustrating.

My watch and my smartphone both agreed that it was 7 AM, although my Zune, my laptop, and my internal biological clock agreed it was more like 4 AM. My body’s not the boss of me, however; my smartphone is. In my search for coffee, I ended up in some fancy new-fusion cocktail lounge bar thingy with a trendy name, modernist furnishings, and roughly four million flatscreen TVs. You know you’re in the future when you are surrounded by flat screens.

I wanted to mention this place, Re:Vive was the name, I think (told you it was trendy) because I ordered an omelet so I’d have something to go with my coffee. Nothing crazy, just your basic omelet with cheese, tomatoes, etc., overpriced as only airport fare can be. However, I want to mention this omelet because there was something magical about the sauce they used on this thing. I have no idea what this sauce is. It doesn’t correspond to any of the known sauces in my mental sauce database.

I’m forced to conclude that it is some sort of secret Philadelphia sauce that they’ve hidden from the rest of the world. The server looked nervous when she brought the plate. Maybe she could tell I was an outsider and not worthy of the sauce. Either way, it was amazing. It was so amazing that I’m certain there’s something malevolent about it. It’s probably some kind of blood sauce harvested fresh from the bodies of the stillborn, or somesuch. You just know sauce like this isn’t vegetarian.

So that’s my little story about Philadelphia and its sauce. I wish I could post this before I board my next flight, but the airport WiFi seems to hate me, as I mentioned. Maybe it knows I tasted The Forbidden Sauce

Travelogue: Live From Sky Harbor

I’ve flown for twenty minutes and I’m already writing my first travelogue. God, I’m such a nerd.

There aren’t a lot of things to do while waiting for one’s next flight. One can read, of course, and you can be certain that I brought an ample supply of literary material to keep my mind so occupied. One can also drink beer, which is something I’m doing right now; this may well be my final Kiltlifter until I return to the western United States next week. I’m not certain this fine brew has made it all the way back to the east. In fact, I’m not sure if any of my favorite brews are known to the people of my ancestral land. I’ll have to investigate while I’m there.

What else can one do while waiting for your next flight? One can blog, which is what I’m doing! The WiFi is fairly shoddy, though, so there is a very curious time-delay between what I type and what appears on the screen. It’s unfortunate when I notice a typo, because the text tends to keep scrolling for several more seconds until I can arrow back to correct myself.

I started my travels in Tucson little more than an hour ago. My first flight brought me to Phoenix, which I noted was slightly ironic given how excited I was to fly out of Tucson . . . right into Phoenix, which where I always fly. All roads lead to the Shy Harbor, it seems.

It’s going to be a long night for me. My next leg will take me into Philadelphia, which is an airport I’ve never seen before. I worry that they won’t have any of my favorite beers. I’ll probably have to drink some strange Pennsylvanian beers. I wonder what that’s going to be like.

It’s funny, because as much as I’ve grumbled to myself and my coworkers this week about the amount of layover I’m going to have (almost as much layover as actual travel time!), the truth is, I’m really enjoying myself. Aside from my horrific experience last year, I really enjoy traveling. I like the flow and the feel of it. I like people watching. I like drinking in strange airports and typing on my little laptop and thinking about the world.

I also really enjoy red eye flights. Seriously, the plane from Tucson to Phoenix was less than a third full. When the captain told us he needed several people to move to the back of the plane to “balance things out,” rather than worry about the fact that planes can apparently become unbalanced, I leaped to my feet and proceeded to back of the plane to secure my very own emergency exit row. As I explained to the guy behind me, I really enjoy the extra leg room . . . and if the plane did go down, I could totally be a minor hero by valiantly opening the emergency exit and ushering my fellow humans to safety.

The only downside to this experience was that I’m now completely spoiled for the rest of the trip. I doubt I’ll be lucky enough to get my own row again, but we wants it, precious, we wants it. Ahem.

What else can I tell you? Not much; it’s incredibly weird to be on a flight that lasts only 2o minutes. I kept looking out of the window trying to figure out which Tucson streets we were flying over only to realize that we were already over Phoenix and preparing for landing. That was strange!

In my opinion, all flights should be twenty minutes long and allow you to have your own row. This would make flying an optimal experience.

That’s probably what it feels like for rich people when they fly. I think I would like to be rich someday. I may or may not blog again when I arrive in Philadelphia. We shall see!