As I looked out of the back window of a Lyft as I crossed the Potomac, it was the first time in my entire life that I got to see Washington DC in person.
I immediately laughed.
So much marble. So much pomp and circumstance. A city carved from stone standing as a beacon made to look like the Greeks designed it over two thousand years ago?
It was all a bit nonsensical at first glance.
What first popped in my mind was Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. It looked almost fake, like a movie set.
Everything in marble, designed to last for thousands of years, looking like it was always there, but largely built when the country had barely formed.
And where did they get the money? Could you imagine today if a developing country was in a prolonged war, then won it unexpectedly, and proceeded to build an opulent capital city out of the finest materials before they’d barely developed their first laws or established their banking system?
Ooooooh right. Free labor is how they did it. Funny I never heard this in my history classes growing up.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was incredible. You have to reserve tickets online at 6AM to get in the same day but it’s a really great set of exhibits in a beautiful building.
The museum’s basement begins with a story I’ve never heard examined before, the prehistory of American slavery, from the 1400-1600s and how Europeans gradually built the slave trade.
The rest of the exhibits didn’t go as hard as the Whitney Museum did, but I walked with an afternoon tour and it covered the highlights of how gruesome slavery was and how much money it made and how it continues in many ways today.
The first few floors are pretty heavy, so it was good to see the upper levels of the museum celebrate black culture in many different facets.
When you leave the African American museum and you head to the National Gallery of Art next door, there’s a bunch of shaker furniture on display but after you’ve left a heavy exhibit about slavery, it’s kinda difficult to muster up appreciation for silly rich people stuff like fancy ass chairs.
By the way, the weekend we were in DC, there was a 100,000 strong motorcycle rally for “freedom” and you’d see old guys in leather vests walking around literally everywhere, but I never saw any of them at the MLK memorial or at the NMAAHC. I wonder why…
The Metro subway in DC was incredible. We happened to have a station right next to our hotel and getting all over the city was fast and easy. Every time we arrived at a station a train was no more than 4 minutes away. The only subway I’ve ever used that was this reliable was the London Underground. I’ve never experienced an American subway system that was so quick, easy, air conditioned, and beautiful. Also? I’ve NEVER been on a subway before that told you which side doors would open just as you approached each station. It was so human and so handy.
It’s a gorgeous subway from end to end, and it was really impressive and yet another reason why it reminded me of a foreign country’s system. I’ve never seen anything like this in America before.
The many memorials were incredible across the board, but I think the public doesn’t quite understand them when they’re first built and gets mired in criticism about where they were placed and how they might look, but that all goes away after they’ve been around for a couple decades. I remember controversies around several of them when they debuted but they’re revered now and I have no doubt the new MLK one will fall into the pantheon of celebrated works on the mall.
I got to visit the White House and it was a really weird experience. First off, you’ve got to find the secret gate entrance for visitors, then you have to wait in a long line for multiple levels of security screening. It was clear about half the people there were reluctantly visiting like me while half were definitely fans of Trump and happy to be there.
It was a trip to look at the buildings and know you’ve seen those same places in breaking news before. Oh that’s where he did the weird handshake with the French guy. Oh that’s where he did the stupid burgers for college football players. Oh, that’s where Obama would do the state of the union.
It was weird to be there during a large protest and be on the other side of the gates for it. I was glad to get away from there as fast as possible.
Also, I bet he hates seeing this prominent Bill Clinton portrait every day.
The portrait gallery was amazing.
I remember a wave of sadness hit me after seeing the Barack Obama portrait. It’s so beautiful and as bright and brilliant of a painting as the man is, and to think that he presided over Washington for eight years and now the shitshow clown we currently have gets to follow him—it was just a bit depressing to think we went from the best to worst so quickly.
The Air and Space museum kinda sucked because they’re going through such a large renovation, so it felt like only about half of the collection was on display with lots of boarded up rooms and hallways due to construction. I was happy to be reminded that the Wright Brothers were not only bike shop owners but also made a few bikes and they had one on display that would look at home at any current National Handmade Bike Show.
A highlight of my whole trip was getting a personal two hour tour of the Holocaust museum and the exhibit about how America reacted to Hitler, the war, and the holocaust from the creator of the exhibit. We got to learn why each display was selected and why it was there and how it related to the larger story along with the transitions between exhibits. Of course, viewing it today, it was easy to make parallels to current news, but the exhibit was created in 2014 and connecting the japanese internment camps to the ones you see today in El Paso, or the rhetoric found in headlines and speeches of Hitler that mimic a lot of the ways we talk about immigration in 2019 was entirely left to the viewer.
I so quickly got used to every museum being free. I remember going to London and being amazed that museums didn’t charge admission, but once you’re in DC and enjoying museum after museum after museum and there’s no charge for it, it just makes sense. You’ll never think of a completely different way to look at something until you get to experience it, and then it seems bananas we don’t do it everywhere. Why not use an endowment or sponsor or any way you can to keep a museum free and open to the public for all to enjoy and be educated? After a week of free museums, it’s going to feel weird to pay for a ticket at one in the future in other cities.
Food was expensive as fuck! Our group of three ate at a variety of places, from cheap pizza/italian to sidewalk cafes to fancy seafood joints. The bill for lunch or dinner at just OK places was frequently $60-70 with no alcohol. One lunch we splurged and it ended up costing $110 for fairly decent seafood but not what I’d expect for the money. This was all in the central district, so I’m sure it’s a bit of a tourist tax going on.
An outlier was going to an Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant, buying a variety platter bigger than our table, buying a beer, and having the entire bill be only $22. I tipped $10 because they deserved it and it was frankly too cheap for such incredible food.
I’ve always wanted to visit DC and before a month ago, I never had the chance.
Actually, there was one chance where my fourth grade class all got to go to DC and I asked my parents but they didn’t have the money to cover it so I sat and read books at the school library for a week while my classmates enjoyed seeing government in the flesh. I resented my parents for years after for denying me this experience, but I never had the chance in all my travels as an adult to check out DC.
So it was great to finally see where laws are made and where people work in government and those kooky stone buildings that hold it all in.
What an utterly ridiculous but unforgettable place.