11:59 AM, Sep 6, 2008
I left you off with our three brave travelers waiting in Baltimore's rustic train station for the departure of the train into our nation's capital. There is little to report about the train station other than the fact that there was a relatively tame pigeon there that was missing a foot. We climbed on the train and seated ourselves around a cafe car table. I busied myself with silly pictures and videos, in an attempt to pass the hour the trip took, and to avoid assembling my thoughts to write up our experiences in Baltimore.
Much more quickly that any of us expected, the train lurched to a halt after passing buildings with 202-numbers branded on their sides. It didn't compute temporally, but the fact is that Baltimore and Washington are closer together than Kansas City is from some of its suburbs. We followed the sizable crowd into the main terminal of Washington's Union Station like a tributary flows into a river. It was the busiest train station I'd ever seen. We quickly made our way to the exit via the truly grand Main Hall, and immediately fled the splendid blue afternoon into the ground to catch the Metro's red line to Dupont Circle, which we had deemed to be the closest station to our hotel.
We walked down Massachusetts, passing the Embassies of Uzbekistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, Chile, the Philippines, and Australia before reaching our hotel at 16th and L. The large doors, clad in red vinyl and gold rivets, creepily opened automatically at only a slight push, and the hotel's modern interior was immediately apparent, and continued as we rode the elevator up to our room on the tenth floor. The hotel obviously was trying to distinguish itself with style and class, and we just saw it as lame. Not dissuaded by the lameness of our accomodations, we walked down 16th to I(Eye), which we then walked to get to the Farragut West orange line stop. We took the train under the Potomac into Arlington, to meet up with my cousin Bart, his wife Catherine, and their baby daughter Moira.
They drove in from their home in Winchester, VA to join us for dinner at the Quarterdeck. Craig and Amber wanted to eat some steamed crabs, so Craig called ahead and had them hold on to two dozen blue crabs for us. The whole affair turns my stomach, and I never had any intention to pull a crab apart. So I had a BLT and a plate of fries just before turning sheet-white as the others smashed and dissected a dozen crabs. I came close to getting sick more than a couple times.
Despite the trying sight before my eyes, it was wonderful to see Bart and Catherine again, and it was sublime to meet Moira for the first time. We caught up as best we could, but I was so put off by the crab smashfest that I was a little distracted. After dinner we bade them farewell, as they had to get going to make their two-hour drive back home, and we walked back across Arlington to the Rosslyn Metro station. Through a transfer at Metro Center, we got back on the red line to Dupont Circle, from which we then made a beeline for the Brickskeller.
The Brickskeller, I have read and been told, has the world's largest beer selection. The selection is indeed incredible, and regarding bottles is certainly the most abundant selection I have ever seen. But they have nothing available on tap at all. This wasn't that big of a problem though, as the great variety more than made up for any absence of draught. We stumbled back to the hotel and watched October Sky
, which I hadn't seen in probably eight or nine years, and found just as interesting as when I first saw it. I kept laughing at the jokes and reacting to the drama until well after craig and Amber conked right out. i stole a glance at the clock and saw that it was 3:30am. I dropped the movie and went to sleep.
Despite the late crash, we still got up by 10am or so. After what became something of a ritual for the rest of the trip, we went to one of Washington's comically abundant Starbucks locations for whatever it is that Starbucks sells. Honestly, it's amazing to me that there are people that have been conditioned to think they need
to drink coffee every morning. Since Craig and Amber have been together, they've made it a mutual aspect of their relationship. But, there are far worse things to which one can get accustomed. Plus, it's nice to go to a restaurant-style place.
We walked down 16th until it ended in a T at Pennsylvania, with the White House filling our view. The street has been completely closed off to auto traffic, though foot and pedal traffic are still welcome. It's a wide open field of fire now, so I would guess that if anyone pulled a weapon out of their pocket, they'd be dead before they hit the ground. Freedom!
We walked over to the Mall and walked from the Washington Monument to the Capitol's reflecting pool, and passed the Department of Labor on the way up to Union Station. It was Labor Day so, of course, the Labor Department was closed. We wended our way through the zigzag of numbered, lettered, and stated streets of Washington until we reached the large clearing in front of Union Station and quickly spotted Capital City Brewing Company's gigantic banners on the Postal Museum's building. We went inside and enjoyed tasty beers and excellent food before running outside to an Irish pub for one last beer.
We made what haste we could to Reagan National on the yellow line, where we wished Amber well. She would be going back to work the next day, while Craig and I would continue our sojourn. We hopped back on the yellow line from there to Mt. Vernon Square where I thought I remembered there being things to do from a movie I'd seen. Well, we got off the train at the stop in question, and I saw nothing that was remotely familiar. There were lots of boarded-up houses and construction barriers, surrounding a shiny new convention center, the construction of which I'm sure was an extremely divisive issue in the District.
Though part of all this was the Old Dominion Brewing Company, so we went in. The 90% Asian staff was attentive and friendly, when the language barrier could be overcome, but the beer was nothing to rejoice about, and their tap selection was more than half composed of "guest beers," which were more prominently promoted than their own beers. We had some cheese fries and quesadillas before heading out and walking back toward the west.
The daylight was fading when we reached the Brickskeller, intent on some more great beer, and found that it was closed for Labor Day. Distraught, we walked back down to P Street, and saw an open bar called the Fireplace. At this point, what I really needed to do was relieve my bowels, which were now tender and jumpy from days of restaurant food and beer. So we went in, feigning an interest in hanging out there, and almost immediately after walking in the thumping music and the single characteristic of all the clientele prompted me to quietly ask Craig, "whoah, is this a gay bar?"
"Yeah," he replied. Don't get me wrong, I usually like gay bars. But this place was really
gay. It could best be described as a gay hookup bar. Trying to look as natural and comfortable as possible, while avoiding as much eye contact as possible, we took turns in the bathroom. When I emerged, feeling slightly better, Craig had a bottle of Yuengling waiting for me. He already had a six or seven ounce head start on me, and stolidly glared at me to finish mine when he did.
We spent the next hour or so wandering the Dupont Circle area, getting progressively more surprised at the lack of plain old bars. Almost every place that served drinks had some kind of theme that complemented its food aspect more than anything else. Finally, no thanks to google maps on my phone, or the GPS application on Craig's phone, we stumbled across an almost invisible door along Connecticut, just south of the Circle. The place was called The Big Hunt
, and was for the most part a loosely outdoors-themed dive, complete with scarred red vinyl booths and off-balanced formica tables throughout. There was a chandelier hanging from the high ceiling, composed almost entirely of deer antlers.
But the reason we stayed there for several rounds was their carefully selected twenty or thirty taps of American beer. Bear Republic, Stone, Dogfish Head, Clipper City, Brooklyn, Bell's, Avery, and Boulder all had beers on tap to represent them. It was the best tap selection we'd find until we got to Atlanta. We sat and talked for a while until the customary vacation wanderlust overcame us and we moved on.
We walked only a little distance down the same street and came upon another hole in the wall with wooden booths and even more rickety tables. On our initial walk to the bathroom, we went up some stairs and found that the pubbish appearance of the front of the bar belied the very active salsa dancing night that was going on in the back. We wound our way through throngs of dancing couples before going up an even longer, narrower flight of stairs to a small room with a small unmanned bar on one side, and doors to the bathrooms on the other. When I got back downstairs to the front bar, Craig had already gotten us each a pint of Sierra Nevada, but we were both convinced it was just Yuengling from a Sierra Nevada tap handle.
We watched UCLA upset Tennessee, with the game ending in an overtime field goal. By that time, we figured it was probably prudent to head back to the hotel and get some sleep, in order to be well-rested in time for the 11am checkout. On the walk back through the surprisingly empty streets, we were stopped for money twice: once by a woman that feigned some kind of disaster involving a sudden need to take a $40 cab to Annapolis(and to whom Craig emptied his pockets of $23), and a guy who wowed us with a math trick, and to whom I gave a dollar and change. He was not impressed with my donation. We got back to the hotel and slept comfortably until the daylight pierced our eyelids.
Our train wasn't scheduled to leave until 6:30pm, so we had basically all day to wander around Washington. So, not having been there yet, we went to Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. On a street abutting the banks of the Potomac, we got some lunch and a beer at a place called Chadwick's, and walked from there back toward Dupont Circle, where we'd be catching the Metro to Union Station, to catch the Amtrak, later that day. I wanted to find a laundromat, as I was on day two with the T-shirt I was wearing. To my intense amazement, we never found one. Does every apartment in DC have washers and dryers in it?
We got a drink or two at a small cafe called The Froggy Bottom
before heading over to the Brickskeller for a final Washington sendoff. We got there about 30 minutes before opening, so we sat in the shade of their front steps. I wrote some more of the Baltimore writeup to pass the time. The place opened, we went in, ordered some beers, and almost immediately I got a call from my brother. I learned in the conversation that the Brickskeller was where he and Kathleen had their first date, and that furthermore, it was her idea. I felt honored to be in a place that served as part of the foundation of their courting.
In what proved later to probably be a mistake, we stayed for two beers, and about halfway through the second one, saw that we had roughly forty minutes until our train was set to depart. We walked as quickly as we could over to the Metro station at Dupont Circle, and got on a train that pulled up right as we dismounted the escalator. Maybe ten minutes later we were at Union Station. Though its age definitely shows with the Jetson's-style architecture, the Metro is probably the most dependable, efficient rail transit system I have ever used. We made our on-time Amtrak train with plenty of time to spare.
Washington is a remarkable city. It has landmarks that inspire me and well up the emotion within me like few places do, and density to challenge that of almost any city in the world. The people however, were not very impressive to me. Most seemed to be young- of college age or low twenties, and interested more in pounding drinks than in sitting down and talking. As such, we didn't talk to many people that weren't in the service industry there. I write this from my hotel room in Atlanta, and having spent some time in all four of the cities of this trip, I think I can safely say that Washington was my least favorite, though we still had a great time there.