July 04, 2003
Beltway Adventures (On the Ground in the Garden State)

As promised, our ExCITe (East Coast Investigative Team - with 'x' for edginess) conducted a reconnaissance of Washington D.C. (capital of USA) a couple of weeks ago. Herein lies our tale of not getting shot by police at all.

After finding out that the train is ridiculously expensive, we decided to rent a car, which required me to get up at 6:00 am to go to the Newark International Airport of Liberty (or something) to pick it up. I then picked up the rest of the team (recall French correspondant, Etienne, and photographer, Shin) back in New Brunswick. Then came the driving. Then the Waffle House. Then more driving. Then trying to find downtown Washington. Then the parking. The parking was quite easy, and free; plus 1 civic point on the Tim Scale of Civilized Cities.

Seeing as how it was near our parking spot, we decided to swing by the Canadian Embassy. As a disinterested observer, I have to say that it is awesome (on the outside, at least - it's closed on Sundays). We spent many minutes standing under the echoic dome, clapping like tourists.

Proceeding onto The National Mall, we established that the Capitol building is still there, and partook of the public water-fountains (plus 1 civic point). We then embarked on a whirlwind tour of the Smithsonian museums.

Free admission to museums. Plus 10 points. Baggage search. Minus 2 points.

First up was the National Air and Space Museum, which has some pretty impressive artifacts of the Cold War. Also, there was this red-headed kid in the gift-shop with an afro of radius ~30cm. We followed him around a bit hoping that he would wander under the Sputnik replica for a hidden photo opportunity, but no such luck.

For those who think that our team goes to strange cities with no planning whatsoever, I should make clear that we checked out the Smithsonian website the day before, from which Shin decided he wanted to see some Stradivarius violins, and Etienne decided he wanted to see an Enigma. We didn't really check which of the museums we might find these objects, so we did a bit of aimless wandering after leaving the NASM. After a brief swing through the Arts and Industries Building (thinking that violins are sort of arty, and computers industrial), we finally found the Information Center, and a map.

It turns out that both Stradivarius violins and German cipher machines are typical samples of American History. Shin (born in Nagasaki) got Etienne to take a somewhat tasteless photo of him standing next to the Fat Man replica. With only a few minutes left before closing, we split up and I did a high speed pass through as many exhibits as possible, so as to absorb the maximum amount of history. In his haste, Shin missed the misleadingly labelled Stradivarius section; Etienne saw it, and describes it as, "the best thing [he has] ever seen. [He] couldn't live with [him]self if [he] had missed it."

In a surprising display of planning, we moved on to the National Museum of Natural History, which is open until 7:30pm on Sundays (plus 1 point). I would rate their collection as fairly comprehensive, but I have to say that when one reads "Giant Squid" on a map and rushes upstairs with visions of titanic battles between submarines and the monsters of the deep, one is a little disappointed to find a 2 metre long pickled squid and a movie where some guys try to find some giant squid in their (the squid's) natural habitat and fail.

I took a wander through the Geology, Gems & Minerals section, planning to crescendo with the Hope Diamond (recall thorough planning). They have some great crystals, including my favourite, ulexite, which clearly transmits the writing on a card behind it, but makes it seem like the card is just below the surface of the crystal. I think you should be able to make an orthographic camera out of it.

To answer the question of how the security on the Hope Diamond compares with that around the Liberty Bell, the former's security consists largely of closing the Hope Diamond room 15 minutes before the rest of the museum so as to thwart last-minute jewel thieves. Shin saw it, and describes it as, "the best thing [he has] ever seen. [He] couldn't live with [him]self if [he] had missed it." I calmly mentioned that I'd seen it before.

After being flushed out of the last museum, we decided to check out the outdoor attractions. The Washington Monument was bigger than Etienne expected, and as closed as I expected.

We headed over towards the White House, hoping to take some pictures while keeping our hands where everyone can see them and making no sudden movements. We almost had a clear view, when we came to a crowd of people standing on the sidewalk across the road from the concrete barrier that is infront of the road that is next to the fence that keeps people off the lawn that surrounds the White House. We joined the crowd and tried to guess what was going on.

Basically, the crowd consisted of 2 kinds of people:
1. People like us who wanted to walk 10 metres further along the sidewalk so as to take pictures of the White House rather than the tree across the road
2. Sergeant Beretta. I don't know that he was a Sergeant, but it seems right for him. He was not about to let the fact that he is an agent of the National Park Police Department stop him from being as intimidating as possible. He kept his hand on his gun at all times.

The rumour that trickled back through the crowd from Sgt. Beretta to us was that "he" was on the move. We assumed that "he" referred to George Bush. Thinking that seeing a presidential convoy on the move might be exciting, we settled in for the wait. Sgt. Beretta was joined in his crowd control duties by a bicycle cop (we'll call him "dual-suspension") whose job was to stand on the far side of the concrete barrier and yell at anyone who tried to cycle down the road.

After a while, another bicycle cop ("hard-tail") came along and conveyed some secret signal at which Sgt. Beretta stepped aside. I guess our road was just the emergency escape route or something. We took our pictures and moved on.

We checked out the Vietnam Wall in quiet dignity, and walked by the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. It's pretty big.

Walking. Driving. Pentagon. Driving. Taco Bell. Driving. Sleeping. Driving. Train. Work. Sleeping.

Stay tuned for "Montreal and Ottawa - They're in Canada!"

Posted: July 04, 2003 02:26 PM
by: on July 5, 2003 01:07 PM:

The giant squid is big, but the colossal squid is bigger.
Next up: the mega squid and the “really, really, ridiculously huge” squid.

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