As a Nebraskan, D.C. and much of the east coast seems ancient. It's not an absurd statement given that our home state is a good 100 years younger than most cities up and down the Eastern seaboard. In D.C., it's hard to escape history. In one afternoon we toured all of the National Mall with my 75-year-old grandmother and we weren't even hustling.
The first time I visited D.C. was on a Close Up trip between my junior and senior years of high school. You paid for the trip selling cheap chocolate bars to your family, family's family, and any neighbors or other suckers you could talk into paying $2 for a chocolate bar that didn't have a hope of making you happy or satisfied.
As I walked the streets with my mom, grandma and fiancee, I couldn't help but compare notes to that first trip. Sure, I'd been to D.C. plenty of times for work trips in my adult life. But this was only my second time playing tourist. And being a tourist in D.C. is not the same as working in D.C.
That first day we toured the monuments and the National Mall. As I retraced the steps I previously took as a 17-year-old, I discovered new revelations.
- The Lincoln Memorial is always the most visually striking. And to stand where MLK Jr. gave his I Have a Dream Speech and imagine all the people side-by-side flooding the reflecting pool is always one of my favorites.
- The Vietnam and Korean War Memorials are always a somber visit for me. This time I had a new thought: what will they build to memorialize my generation's war? The war my brother fought in and gave so many years to.
- The MLK Memorial was a treat having just spent the entirety of winter in the South, retracing his many steps and speeches against racism.
- And FDR had new meaning, too. We've visited many CCC parks, marveling at their beauty and character and thinking how wonderful a program it truly was.
All in all, it was hard to believe that Costello stole the show much of the afternoon and paused for at least a dozen photos with admiring strangers. I guess sometimes even history can be stood up for a fluffy, dumb dog on The Mall.
The second day we toured the Capitol. We'd arranged a tour through a U.S. Senator from our home state that, to be quite honest, I don't care for. I miss Ben Nelson... Anywho, the tour was brief but informative. An intern led us through jam-packed chambers and hallways. We gazed at the statue of J. Sterling Morton, one of two statuary figures sent by our state to remain in the halls of the Capitol. At the end, we were left to explore the Senate and House chambers on our own. With the Senate out of session, we were only able to tour the House floor. Sitting inside, it was hard to imagine that a room so small held the State of the Union each year. It always seems like the President is traveling such a long ways on his way to the podium. After, we walked through the most beautiful building in all of D.C.: The Library of Congress.
The third day we had reserved tickets (thanks, Jordan and Alissa!) to see The Holocaust Museum. I remember feeling profoundly impacted by this museum when I visited more than a decade ago. The shoes still made you wince. The train cars and scale models of Auschwitz and videos of the experiments still made you teary. We left in a somber mood, but an appropriate one. We shared street food in the park near the Washington Monument and strolled over to the White House. It was my mom's first time to D.C. and it's obligatory to at least walk the perimeter. Parts were closed off for an event, but we still got a good look from the front. It always appears smaller in person.
We rode the subway home to the Vienna station. A ritual we'd performed the last two days in lieu of parking our giant suburban in the city. The fourth day we spent entirely at our park, Bull Run Regional Park, part of the NOVA parks system and one of the only places to camp near D.C. It was a sunny day filled with, cleaning, packing, post card writing, foil packet dinners and a movie: 27 Dresses which we borrowed from the free library in the camp store. That night before we washed up at the bath houses and settled into our one room cabin for the final time, my grandma told us how happy she was to visit and see the city one more time. My mom said she had a great first visit and we scrolled through some of her photos. And I went to sleep feeling complete.
Truth be told, there probably was no beating my first time in D.C. as a tourist. After all, I just so happened to be there during Ronald Reagan's funeral. And I cried when I saw the Declaration of Independence. But then again, I cried when I put my mom and grandma on the plane. And when I came back two days later to work in the Library of Congress helping Carson with some research, I got goosebumps in the Jefferson Reading Room.
So maybe it's a tie.