I have to admit, I got nostalgic as our crowded, sandy Jetta sped (figuratively speaking, of course) along once familiar highways. Road signs pointing to places like Jamestown, Williamsburg. Closer to DC, the signs read Woodbridge, Quantico, Potomac Mills.
There, it seemed the Beltway, Washington’s legendary ring road, was being revamped. An endless line of traffic stretched from suburban Virgina, across the Potomac, and well into Maryland. Day-um.
I know the Beltway. It doesn’t scare me or intimidate me but like everyone else who drives it, the damn thing frustrates me. Clearly, nothing had changed in that regard. What has changed since I left my hometown in 1993 is the sheer volume of traffic.
Jesusmaryandjoseph, the TRAFFIC. First I supposed it was construction. Then I mused that it was the downpour combined with the construction. Then, over one hour later, having not gone more than two miles, I considered the fact that there were too many cars on too little highway. Looking around as we sat – what else could we do – I looked at the new lanes under construction and knew instantly they would not be enough.
Welcome home, Banshee.
Talking to friends during our visit, the consensus is that too many people drive in DC. There is constant gridlock – on every freeway, parkway, avenue, and side street. If a goose so much as poops on Connecticut Avenue within an hour of rush hour, it will cost motorists hours of delay. They will sit and sit and fume and fume (as we did) and they will never see any evidence of a problem – just the endless glow of tail lights ahead of them. The goose will have made it back to Canada before commuters in DC get to their homes.
‘Nuff about traffic. Once we made it to our hotel, The Madison on 15th Avenue NW, we were almost too pooped to notice our luxe surroundings. The Madison is a posh hotel where power brokers come to schmooze each other. The game hasn’t changed in this town. The outdoor cafe was full even as we dragged our road-weary selves in around 11 pm; everybody in it oozed something – money? Power? Importance? We oozed burger grease and sand.
The linens on the bed were the finest we’d felt yet. The decor was the epitome of understated elegance. Thank you, Visa rewards points for this hotel I murmured as I passed out on at least 101 bed pillows.
The next morning I awoke to find my husband gone. This is not at all unusual. He likes to wake early and get a lay of the land before he herds us sleepy folk around. I knew roughly where we were – the Washington Post Building was two doors down and the White House was right around the corner – but the husband likes to explore. Plus, he’s well-trained to scope out the nearest Starbucks for me as I don’t go very far at all without a latte.
Sure enough, he had it all worked out by the time we got up. The plan on this very, very hot day was to see:
- The Smithsonian’s Natural History and Air & Space Museums
- The White House (from the outside)
- The Spy Museum
- any other art gallery or museum that was free
The Smithsonian complex crams no less than ten museums within a mile and they’re all FREE. The Potomac River along the Tidal Basin is also chock full of things to see – also free. That said, it’s nearly impossible to see everything in one day – the museums are huge and crammed full of fascinating (ever-changing too) exhibits. By the time you get to the memorials on the river, you’re at risk of falling into the water due to exhaustion.
On this day, I left the museum trekking to the family; I paid my respects to the Gems section (Hello, Hope Diamond!) and then I split. I had a lunch date with my dearest friend from DC who is like a sister. If I ever get famous and if she ever decides to write a book – WHEW! I’m in trouble. That kind of friend.
I walked up Constitution Ave to 12th St. NW and hopped on the Metro at Federal Triangle. I scurried by the IRS Building with my head down (yeah, I owe them some money). During the short walk, I noticed how clean everything was. DC looked like it was all spiffed up for a party. I also noticed how lovely the buildings, the trees, and the wide streets were. It’s a beautiful city, my city. It’s funny how we can live in the midst of beauty (for over thirty years) and fail to see it. Was it always this nice?
Once I figured out the Metro ticket machine (thank you little old man from the info. kiosk!), I was on my way. On DC’s Metro system, riders pay by distance; the further you go on the line, the more it costs. Unlike Toronto where you pay $3 whether you go one stop or 20. Fares increase during peak hours. Based on the traffic I’d seen, it was clear more people needed to ride it.
After a lovely lunch, my friend and I battled midday gridlock to get to her house in a close-in suburb. Around six pm her husband joined us for the rush-hour gridlock back to the Metro station nearest their house. Here’s the thing about the transit system in DC: once you get to your stop, you might still have a long commute to your house (if you live in the suburbs). Yikes. If I ever live there again, it will be downtown.
Over dinner that night at Irish pub in the heart of the city, the family recounted their day. The kids’ favourite place had been The Spy Museum. It sounded awesome – very interactive. The kids were fascinated by the prevalence of spy games during the Cold War. Offices, hotels, and restaurants were all bugged back then. DC was on the front lines; there was a spy on every corner.
DC is the epicenter of great power. The architecture reflects this. As we walked by the Old Executive Office Building my husband commented, “This whole place was designed to impress.” Absolutely. Maybe Washington has always had to prove itself, to “dress for success”; that’s why there is so much grandiose architecture downtown. Back in the beginning, the U.S. had to fake it til it made it. Nothing like a lot of marble and gold leaf to accomplish the effect.
So much there wasn’t time for: the Vietnam Memorial, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials – I know that even my somewhat jaded teens would’ve been moved and impressed. The Capitol Building, surely one of the most wondrous sights. Then there’s Georgetown – a perennially hip district once full of boutiques and funky shops. A side trip to Mt. Vernon would’ve been cool too (the kids are always asking me about George Washington).
Nonetheless, Washington, birthplace of Banshee, got a huge thumbs up from everyone. We will surely go back and see much more. Thanks grande dame by the Potomac, hopefully we will see you again soon! I am proud to call you home.
The traffic, though. Get that sorted. It reminded me a lot of Congress: perpetual gridlock.