Mt Sentimental Journey Part 3
Day 18: Monday: Washington, DC: Today we delivered Lucy to the vet for a doggie cab ride to Shady Spring Kennels for four days of doggie camp. She will get a 15 minute walk (with ball throwing) and a private suite with a 20 foot run. Then we learned the Metro. When I lived here from 1957 to 1968 I don’t remember there even being any talk of a mass transit system. Now there is one. We missed our stop and had to back track but still we got to the Holocaust Museum with two hours to spare before our 1:30 ticket would let us into the main exhibit. One could take all day or maybe more seeing all the pictures, movies and reading all the captions and quotes. I could be glib and sum it all up as “We shellacked Germany in the First World War and left them with damaged pride and economy. They reacted with puffed up pride and decided to kill everyone who in their mind was inferior to them. They killed six million innocent people. We beat them. And it should never happen again.” But it is so much more profound than that. As long as there are “We” and “Them” it will happen again. It happened in the former Yugoslavia. It happened in the Congo. It might be happening in Libya. What is frightening to contemplate is that we all are capable of doing what the Germans did. The Germans of the thirties and forties were no different than we are now. We could demonize some group. Some of us have demonized Muslims. I fear the We-Them mentality. When I was very young we reduced the Germans and Japanese to “Krauts” and “Japs,” the North Koreans to “Gooks,” the soviets to “Commies.” I see the roots of the same hostility in ads for professional wrestling or in the talk of some sports fans. I see the same “we-them” in politics. One of the things I want to do in DC is visit the National Archives. There is a statue in front that has the inscription “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Too many of us believe that liberty means we can do what we want and make others not do what they want. Too often we don’t want to pay the price of free speech which is to let other people say things we don’t want to hear. I don’t want to see the flag desecrated or burned but I’ll begrudgingly defend your right to desecrate or burn it. I don’t want to see your naked body on Main Street but I’d rather look away than have you arrested. But many people who “Love Freedom” would disagree.
I was moved, disgusted, frightened by what I saw at the Holocaust Museum. We met a man who showed us his number tattooed on his arm. He survived 3 years in a concentration camp. We can only prevent a repeat by recognizing our common humanity in all people, by seeing “we” not “them.”
Day 19: Tuesday: Washington, DC: Today we did the tourist thing and rode a tour trolley all over the place. We got off at the National Cathedral where Michele took an audio tour and I took it easy for a half hour. A delicious lunch at a local brewery, Gordon Biersch, and off to the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden and the Hirshhorn Gallery by way of the National Archives Building where I got pictures of the statues with the aforementioned inscription. I used to take energy from the city. When I worked in San Francisco I picked up energy as I walked from the bus station to work, both at Western Union and at Wells Fargo. Now the city saps me of energy. This is only the third day in the city and I’m worn out. I long to get back behind the wheel and see the country.
Day 20: Wednesday: Washington, DC: Today was war memorial tour day for me. Michele and I went to the Korean War Memorial together. It is so different from the others. It is a group of statues war-weary soldiers. The one in back is looking over his shoulder like he sees something he didn’t want to see. In front of the soldiers is a fountain (well, a water feature) that lists the number of killed and wounded both of US and UN forces. Then Michele grabbed a cab and went to the Sackler Museum while I went to the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. I wish I had the sense to take a picture of the book at the entrance to the Vietnam Memorial. It looked like a phone book for a large city. It had two columns of names on each page. Next to each name was Rank and address of the name on the memorial wall. There must have been five hundred pages. What could we have won that was worth that many lives? I have heard about and seen pictures of the Vietnam Memorial but seeing it is a whole new and moving experience. The same is true of the World War II Memorial. It is large. It has columns for each of the states and territories. It has a wall of Gold stars, 4048 of them, each one representing 100 Americans lost in the war. Flanking the Gold Star Wall are two water features of cascading water. The roar of the water blanks out other sounds. The stars and the water create a strong emotional experience.
In the center of the States pillars there is a large pool and fountain. It is all quite magnificent. At the east entrance to the WWII Memorial there are a number of Bas Relief depictions of war scenes. I saw some young people looking very closely at one and laughing. After my earlier rant about how important it is for us to see all humans as “we” and not “we” and “them” I am not proud of my anger at these Asian, and I presumed Japanese, young people showing disrespect at this memorial. If I am going to hold such a high standard for other people I must do better, myself.
I got better pictures at the Archives Building and rejoined Michele for lunch at the Smithsonian Castle from which we went to the Native American Museum before folding for the day. We were both exhausted.
Back in Greensboro, NC we stayed in a Ramada. I meant to mention a delightful note they had on the bathroom door. Instead of threatening legal mayhem on anyone caught stealing Ramada property they had this note that said something to the effect.”We know that many of our guests really like some of the amenities we provide, like irons, hair dryers and towels. We keep a stock of them at the front desk and would be happy to sell them to you. Our housekeepers keep careful records of what is in each room. If you would like to take any of the amenities in your room we will gladly add the cost to your credit card after you leave” There followed a price list of irons, towels, hair dryers, sheets, coffee pots, etc. I think it is an excellent way to convert thieves into customers without sounding in any way threatening or un-trusting of good, honest clients.
This being a journey of remembrance and acknowledgement of change I have been reminded several times of how my world has changed. One of the sculptures in the Smithsonian Sculpture garden is a large stainless steel and fiberglass representation of a typewriter eraser, you know, the round eraser wheel with a little brush attached. Michele explained it to a full grown woman who had never seen such a thing. Someone explained it to a kid who replied that if the typewriter had spell check it wouldn’t need an eraser. Another thing I noticed (or remembered) is that billboards used to be painted by men on ladders with paint cans and paint brushes. Now they are either electronic LEDs or are preprinted and rolled on like wallpaper.
Day 21: Thursday: Washington, DC: Today we went to the Newseum, seven floors of displays, artifacts, films and experiences related to the news. It is the most modern of the museums we’ve seen. It is the most technical. It opened in April, 2008. It has a page from the Guttenberg bible and the front pages of 700 daily papers every day. A ticket gives you two days of access and that could not be enough for a thorough inspection. I spent 6 ½ hours there and didn’t see it all, hardly scratched the surface. But I saw enough. One thing I learned that had always puzzled me. Where did the term
fourth estate come from?” There were two explanations at the Newseum: The press was the fourth estate and the other three were Clergy, nobility and the people, or, the press was the fourth and the other three were the three branches of government, Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. It took me back to an experience in high school. I was the editor of my school newspaper. I was very shy and deathly afraid to speak in public. One afternoon at a school assembly with the whole school in attendance the headmaster introduced me to speak to the assembly as “our representative of the fourth estate.” I had had no advance warning that he was going to do this. I was totally unprepared to deliver a speech. I was in shock. And I had no idea what the “Fourth estate” was. I could fall apart and run from the room and be teased for the rest of my high school career or I could get up and speak. So I got up and spoke. I made up some bull story about the other three estates being study, sports and religion or some such and sat down. I have never been afraid to speak in public since. Now that I have been to the Newseum I know the four estates. A long time coming! Michele will go back to the Newseum tomorrow and I will drive out to Woodbine to pick up Lucy from her spa.
Day 22: Friday: April Fool’s Day! Washington, DC: It’s been three full weeks since Lucy and I left Ashland. I may be getting homesick. This morning I left Michele off near the Metro Station and went out to the Maryland countryside to bail Lucy out of her “vacation” or “jail,” depending on who you ask. George (the GPS) tried to send me the wrong way on a one way street but eventually got me on the right road to Woodbine. Lucy was happy to get out of there and to chase the ball for her 10 minutes. She sang all the way back to DC. Part of the sentimental part of this journey was to visit my old homes which we did this morning. The house we bought in 1965 and sold in 1969 was in a new neighborhood that had few trees. I planted several saplings before we moved. The place we visited today is an established, tree-lined development. I rang the bell at the house next to ours to see if our old neighbor was still there. Roxanne had moved about 7 years ago. A guy came out of our old house to see why I was taking pictures. He was satisfied with my explanation and invited me in. He has air-conditioning, which we did not, but he says the fan I put in the attic still cools the house on hot days. The family room has an alcove which buts into where my shop used to be. Otherwise the house looks pretty much the same, except for the trees and bushes.
Next we tried to find where I lived before we bought the house. It had been a nursery with a green house, a main house and a small house for the help. We lived in the small house, with 26 acres of prime Montgomery property at our disposal for several years. Since 1965 the property has been developed. The house we lived in has been torn down and replaced by a house lived in all these years by Senator Inouye form Hawaii. I used to go to the big house to study when I was finishing college. The “big” house doesn’t look so big anymore.
Today, nostalgia was sweet.