My D.C. trip quite an experience. It started even before I got there, while waiting for my flight in KC. The mix of passengers was different than what I'm use to. More people with bad haircuts and cheap suits, lots of them. Most of them seemed to know each other, lots of animated discussions, plastic smiles and handshakes. It could be that they were all employees of the same company, but I got the sense that they were something a bit different. Bureaucrats. Either that or they were all returning from a used car salesman convention, they exuded the same kind of synthetic oily charm. Considering the destination I was still leaning more towards these being low end players in the big political game.
The flights there and back were uneventful, and I was somewhat shocked that things went smoothly and the TSA agents were actually polite and friendly. Just not what I expect when traveling these days. Since my company wasn't springing for a rental car, I decided to take the MetroRail rather than bother with a taxi. Only the second time I've ever been on a subway, first was in Atlanta. I really wish that KC had something like this. It was easy to get everywhere I needed to go, and a little cheaper than cost of gas would have been. And after having witnessed traffic in D.C., I'm glad I wasn't in it. Turn signals are never used, horns always are. It was aggressive, chaotic, and rude.
Walking around downtown was cool. Lots of old buildings, a sense of history and style. The office I was working at was on Embassy Row, so there were plenty of really impressive buildings in a variety of interesting styles.
After I was done at work on my first day there I decided to do some site seeing. My hotel was only about a mile from the White House so I walked around for several hours seeing several of our national monuments and memorials. It was actually a lot more impressive than I had imagined. The sheer scale of some of these structures is amazing.
The people were interesting too. I've lived in areas with a diverse culture before, but it has been years and it was stimulating to simply walk around amidst a crowd made up of so many different cultures, listening to the babbling of different languages as they shared some of the same experiences I did. There were a lot of homeless as well. There were more of them than I have seen in any other metro area I've visited, though they were also very polite and non-aggressive. I'm guessing this is in part due to the very heavy police presence. It was sad, and I always want to give a little to folks, but after handing out a bit, it quickly becomes to costly to give something to everyone. I had quite the interesting conversation with one man that I had purchased a paper from, him telling me that "my people" had built much of this. Not sure if he meant the Irish (I had on the vest and hat that always make people think I'm Irish), orCaucasians in general . We then talked about the high school group in front of us that was looking at the White House and whether or not they would be able to get the Nation back on the right path when their chance came. I didn't learn his story, but he was obviously an intelligent thoughtful person, makes me wonder how we ended up on the streets.
In the end there was a lot more I would have liked to see, but time and energy just weren't with me and I finally returned to my overpriced hotel. $300 a night, internet extra, bottled water only $7. Hotels aimed for business travelers are just ridiculous. They charge outrageous rates and every little thing costs extra. I assume it is because people on a corporate expense account just aren't that concerned about how much things cost. But I've stayed in many much cheaper hotels that were just as clean and comfortable, and included free internet and breakfast. I don't go out of my way to spend money just because it is on the company tab, but because of the time of the year and the Pope's visit hotel rooms were scarce and costly.
Things were a little crazy the next day because the Pope was in town and would be passing close to our office. I hadn't planned to go see him. I'm not after all, a Catholic, or even religious. But my co-worker said since he was going to pass so close by we might as well go see him. So we walked a few blocks to find the street pretty much barricaded off. Heading down an alley we came to another place where there was a barricade but room for us to be up front where we would have a good view. After a fairly short wait the Papal Parade came through. A small army of police on Motorcycles, then more in various cars and SUVs. Finally the man himself, shooting by in the Popemobile at a pretty high speed. The slow moving, waving to the crowd and posing for the cameras part had been earlier. This was the blast through before some nut job shoots me part of the ride. Even so I got a decent picture of the Popemobile. They really need some fans and confetti blowing around in there. It would look like a Holy Snow Globe.
So anyway, the trip was a lot more interesting than I had expected it to be, and I really want to return to D.C. sometime in the not too distant future to see a bit more of it, especially the Smithsonian which I didn't get a chance to visit. I'm not sure I've ever visited a place that really had so many different currents flowing beneath its surface. It really was a vibrant place that spoke much of both the greatness of this country, and also revealed many of its shortcomings.