I woke up in South Orange to a light rain. Sleep is difficult in the suburbs without the constant din of sirens and hollering that has turned into a sleep therapy machine for me. Nicole and her kids were of course worried about me, but I assured them the rain would dry and the radar had sunshine up ahead. I clipped my bags onto the Brick and started to drive away. I felt a magnetic pull – one of a family that didn’t want me to leave. I watched their house shrink in my rear view mirror as my tire hissed along the wet pavement. I twisted toward the Jersey Turnpike, and slapped down some quick miles. Everybody goes 25 miles over the speed limit on the Turnpike so the travel went by like a blur. I only stopped for gas and planned to eat lunch in our Capitol city.
I arrived in DC and found the State Plaza Hotel where I would be staying, but they would not let me check in until the afternoon. I was permitted to park in a cozy indoor garage that put me at ease about the Brick. I have no idea why I worry about my bike so much. I bought it for $2400 and if anything ever happened to it, the financial loss would be minimal. We did 7000 miles together on a cross-country trip last summer and I guess what is more important than the monetary value of the bike, is the level of comfort. The seat fits my butt. I know the controls without thinking about them. It starts every damn time I push the button. I am also a little more than a touch O.C.D. I like to keep my things nice so yes, she’s old, but she deserves a roof over her head.
I wandered the streets of DC. I saw the Washington Monument with a skeletal support system that was put in place after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake damaged the needle-like structure. I happened across a nice place called the Irish Whiskey Public House and had a burger and a beer. I chatted with some of the locals and told them of my trip to visit all of my immediate family on this tour. People like to hear stories in person. In this world of social media, the talent of spinning a good yarn is becoming a rare commodity. I’ve been an entertainer for most of my life and once I get rolling I can make just about anybody laugh.
Still not near check in time, I wandered past statues and protest signs on my way to The White House. The roof was being repaired which seemed to be a striking metaphor for the shape of our country. The disparity between the rich and the poor is at an all-time high. As people struggle to make ends meet, huge corporations pay lobbyists millions to sway legislature for tax breaks and monopoly leniency. I wanted to shout, “When you are done with the roof, fix the rest!” But I held this thought for myself as small children may be traumatized and steered away from public office.
I headed over to the hotel and even though my trip from Jersey was short, I wanted a nap before playing tourist. I slept a solid two hours in the king size bed. I hit the street and walked around, taking in the sights and sounds of DC. When I came here many years prior, it seemed to be bustling, but now as a denizen of NYC, every other city I visit (except maybe Cairo) is mellow by my new standard.
I walked into the Museum of American History. I had been within these walls before but this time my waning wonder and excitement seemed as threadbare as the worn carpets on the floor. I had been through so much life since visiting last in 1988. In my mind back then, hope laid clearly before me and I thought one day my guitar would hang among these exhibits, my legacy being equal to Lennon or Dylan. But as we age, realities take root. My music career never became a full time job, and the family life I tried to start wound up in painful divorce. Gazing upon the signature bent bell of Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet wasn’t inspiring. It was merely a knife in my side of how I never would achieve that greatness. Yes, at 48 it’s too late.
I pressed on and shook off some of the sadness by appreciating the immersive sound design of the museum. With every turn is a well mixed and well placed collage of sounds. I glanced over the displays of technological advancements that have come during the past 100 years. Even during my half of a century I thought of the developments: cable TV, ATM machines, cell phones, the compact disk, personal computers, the internet – all of these things invented during my lifetime. I came to an exhibit that had the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem. This flag is the actual Star Spangled Banner. I was in amazement until I saw a sign that said no pictures. The irony was crushing. The very thing that represents our freedom, the inspiration for our national anthem, the symbol thousand upon thousands gave their lives to protect it’s meaning, and I was not allowed to take a picture. In the spirit of the first patriots I snuck a few anyway with my iPhone as a lazy security guard checked her text messages. I felt victorious. Wagner’s “The Ride Of The Valkyries” played thunderously in my head as I saluted goodbye to the grand old flag.
For my next stop, I went directly into the Museum of Natural History. I tried to let go of my jaded feeling and recapture the wonder I felt when coming here in the past. I walked among the display of skeletons and taxidermy somewhat numb. The two history museums are just that – history. Every self-help book insists that letting go of the past is the key to happiness and here I am mired in the tar of nothing but the past. I caught myself and decided I was overthinking everything. I’m on vacation for chrissakes! What’s with the hyper self-introspection?
I exited the museum with a smirk on my face realizing what a charmed life I do get to lead. I marched past the Reflecting Pool towards the Lincoln Memorial. This body of water is such a beautiful expanse of peace. So simple in it’s design, yet so genius in it’s effect. I was instantly calmed and sat for a while and watched kids play, lovers kiss, and vets remember. The sun was setting and the entire area glowed with an amber hue. I approached the Lincoln Memorial and saw the man himself sitting stoically. Once again the beauty of a monument interrupted by construction. Scaffolding was erected up Abe’s left leg so the appendage could be refurbished. The repair-in-progress did little to dampen my emotion. The statue is bigger than can be described. He did so much for the forward movement of our country. I hung out for a long time and even read the entire Gettysburg Address tattooed on the wall of the memorial. I remember studying the document in school, but I don’t think it ever had more meaning than on this warm August night.
“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Among the crumbling monuments, I was given a new sense of hope. Thanks for that Abe.
Yes, I know I’m moody.
I scoured Yelp for a place that had chicken wings. I located a joint named The Big Hunt and made my way towards the bar. On my way over, I passed the Institute of Peace which was closed for the day. If there is anyplace that should be open 24/7 – it’s this one.
I found the bar and ordered the wings that were great, and drank several beers reflecting on the day. There was a trivia match going on and that added to the fun. I shouted out answers after the millennials in attendance couldn’t answer a single Who question even if they were slapped by the album jacket of Quadrophenia. The place closed early, which was a bummer because I liked the vibe. I took to foot and tried to find another watering hole. I walked into a neon encrusted aquarium joint, had another beer, and decided to pack it in. My ride would be doubled tomorrow, so a good night sleep was on the books.
I relaxed on the big bed and thought about the day. I experienced a range of emotions during the last 24 hours – the beauty of traveling alone. I spiraled into sleep. I was not disturbed at all by the supposed ghosts of the State Plaza Hotel.