Wednesday, July 14, 2010



As anyone who has read this blog for more than, oh, fifteen minutes or so can determine, I go to Washington, D.C. predisposed toward hating the place. It is the place that people, who assume themselves imbued with intellectual and moral superiority go to set the rest of us on their path of enlightenment and do so with our money, which they are inherently better equipped to spend than are those who actually earned the money. The place is, in short, a den of iniquity inhabited by self-appointed suzerains who must have come by their qualification for lofty office by osmosis because, in nearly all cases, they have done nothing in their lives but prepare for jobs in which they boss around people who do actually do something, but I digress.

I was, however, confronted by two surprises on our trip, one pleasant and one very unpleasant. Let’s get the pleasant surprise out of the way first and move on to the stuff that comes more naturally to curmudgeons like yours truly.

First, I have never met a friendlier group of people than the people we met in D.C., whether in our hotel, on the street, in the musea, or anywhere, and, remember, I spent a few years in Iowa, the home of the world’s most wonderful people. I was floored by the random pleasantness of strangers, a pleasantness I, believe it or not, strive to practice but am usually flabbergasted when it is returned.

My children, well schooled by their father, were quick to point out that most of those we encountered were probably tourists, like us, and in many instances they were right. But I still would like to believe that Washingtonians are a pleasant lot.

Second, for the very unpleasant surprise: the national mall is appalling, a pit, a hovel, a national embarrassment. The reflecting pool is brackish, green, and odiferous. The gravel path through the mall is rocky, uneven, unkempt, and dangerous to many. The lawn is yellow, weed infested, overgrown, and can only be called a lawn in the broadest possible context. Garbage is strewn everywhere. The washroom facilities surrounding the mall are what we used to call “razor blade johns,” a term we used to describe the rest rooms in most of the bars we frequented, the kind of places where the sinks were set sufficiently high that those who could use them for an obvious alternative application were either eight feet tall, or, well, we won’t go into that in a family blog. They were called razor blade johns because one was well counseled to carry a razor blade when frequenting bars that featured such facilities so one could terminate one’s life rather than face the prospect of having to do, er, serious business in one of those johns. But I digress. In short, especially when I noticed the large number of foreign tourists around the mall, I was embarrassed by the condition of our national mall. When we have been in Europe, the analogous tourist spots were, if not immaculate, far cleaner and better kept than our mall. The bathrooms might require a small payment for use, but they were indeed immaculate, even in Russia. Those countries seemed to put their best foot forward; we seem to put forward our worst.

No comments: