Washington D.C. in Squishy Shoes

by John Robinson

Yesterday began early as we boarded the Smart Bus at the Roanoke Civic Center, destined for the Lynchburg Amtrak station. A few hours on the train got us to Alexandria, where we walked to our swanky hotel. Ok maybe not so swanky, but hey we’re only sleeping there, right? An afternoon on the metro and strolling the mall was our opening to this “empty nest expedition.” That’s right, the youngest, -“Our baby!” I wail with all the drama I can muster- has recently flown the coop to college a month previous and has not been seen or heard from since.

Our second morning in D.C. had begun in thick overcast, and I knew that rain was a distinct possibility. However, sunny optimism prevailed, “We’ll be fine, and besides, we’ll be in museums all day,” I offered up confidently. I hadn’t brought a shred of rain gear on this now-pouring September morning. Marybeth, in contrast, is wearing her rubber shoes, raincoat, and carrying a Roanoke College umbrella. For some reason she chose not to follow my lead on the free-n-easy tourist walker status.

Now we’re at the FDR memorial, which features, especially appropriate today, fountains and walls of cascading water. We pause to read the elegantly profound quotes inscribed into the stone walls. “Wow, this is great. If I’ve ever been here before I don’t remember it.”  Onward we go to the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which is especially moving and meaningful in the dark weather. It’s quiet there in the rain, but I can sense that strong, booming voice of Reverend King delivering another message of hope and encouragement.

 Wow, I am getting soaked. Ok, so a raincoat (or something!)  might have been a good idea after all.  Feeling somewhat -only somewhat- sorry for me, Marybeth again offers to share her umbrella. Up to now such offers have been met with “Oh, I’m fine, thanks” but now I sidle up close and tuck my head under the bumbershoot.

We’re laughing silly as we trudge past the Washington monument, which seems to stare down stoically at us through the foggy rain. With my head poked under Marybeth’s umbrella, rain is no longer obscuring my vision. However, the not-so-modest sheet of water which the umbrella deflects is cascading down my left shoulder, absolutely soaking that side of my fashionable polo shirt, which by the way is a cast off from son number one. All of this strikes us as particularly funny, and one of us states, “ I’m going to pee in my pants if I laugh any harder!”

Running the final block to our next destination, the Corcoran, we duck inside the stately art museum. I purposefully walk to the reception desk, as if all is under control and I always walk around half soaked. The smiling woman behind the thick glasses informs us that we are just in time for the docent-led “highlights” tour. Perfect. Linea, a fine-featured woman of impeccable manner and poise meets us. If one were quick to judge, then Linea might be wrongly labeled as a haughty art critic. But no, she graciously and smilingly accepts this wet beatnik with the squeaky shoes into her small tour entourage – the wife is clearly lending me some much-needed credibility here- and off we go on a tour of the fine works housed in this hundred-year-old mansion.

“I’m sure they’re all good,” I remark as we pause in front of another restaurant in China Town. “This one must be good … it’s full of what appears to be a representative from every country in the world.” Not unlike the persona of the greater city, I’m reminded.  We’re somewhat dried out now, and it feels great to be here wielding chopsticks and tucking into some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. And, as Marybeth points out, “It’s just us two.”

Our time in D.C. is fleeting. The rain stops but my shoes remain squishy for the remainder of our stay. We visit the “Newseum” and its 6 floors of journalism history; we see the Museum of Crime and Punishment, where we are befriended by a lonely security guard who enthusiastically gives us a private tour of his wing of the place. We explore the tower of the Old Post Office building. We stroll New Hampshire Avenue on Friday night. We sample “half smokies” and milk shakes at Ben’s Chili Bowl near Howard University. We learn the fine points of navigating the Metro, and laugh hard again as we completely bungle the ticket vending machine process.

It’s time to head home. We board the train in Alexandria, and I spend the pleasant ride back to Lynchburg watching night fall over the panorama of countryside rolling by. Now and then I nap with my head on Marybeth’s shoulder.

You know, we were concerned about being sad and out-of-sorts over our empty nest situation, but we think we’re going to be ok after all.

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