Monday, May 10, 2010

Wrapping up DC

We finally left DC on Sunday, May 9. On my last walk that morning as I was passing the south lawn of the White House, Marine One, the President's helicopter, cruised right over me (close enough to feel the prop wash) and landed on the south lawn. About 1/2 hour later, two Marine helicopters flew over the boat. We've seen them pass in tandem like that before and had been told that they always travel in pairs when the President is on board. This is the first time I could personally attest to the fact that these Marine helicopters actually came from the White House.

Saturday the EU nations had open houses at their embassies in Washington. We had planned to walk around Embassy Row the previous week, before I got sick, so we figured we'd do it during the open houses. Big mistake! Neither of us is really a crowd sort of person and Massachusetts Avenue was a mad house, with huge lines at every embassy. We walked from Dupont Circle to the British Embassy, admired the architecture, then took a bus out of there.

One of the "who knew?" moments we had in DC was discovering that that State of Florida has an embassy in Washington. That is right -- an embassy. It is the only State embassy. It was founded in the 1970's by Rhea Chiles, wife of then Senator Lawton Chiles. The purpose is to provide Floridians visiting DC with a place to rest, drink some orange juice, soak up some air conditioning, get guidance on tourist things to do and, if you need to, access the Internet. It is a determinedly non-partisan place, staffed with charming Floridian hostesses. A real hoot! I dropped in one hot day for oj and a lunch recommendation, both of which were excellent. Mrs. Chiles hoped to start a trend of states opening embassies, but it never happened. The house, purchased with donated funds for $175,000 is now worth over $3.5 million. It isn't self-supporting, but does make a goodly portion of its income from renting space for private parties. The rest of the funds are donated by wealthy Floridians. It is at 2nd and C SW, behind the Supreme Court, if any of our Florida friends find themselves in DC.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, we were among the last visitors who entered the Supreme Court by walking up the marble stairs and through the front doors. For "security reasons" the Supreme Court has decided that visitors now have to enter through a smaller, easier to control side door. And Congress is considering a proposal to put bullet-proof glass between the galleries and the floor of the House and the Senate. It seems unnecessary with all of the security checks you have to go through before you can get into a gallery.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Love and hate in DC

I'm developing a love/hate relationship with DC. I'm loving all of the tourism things we are doing, but DC has been a health disaster for us, particularly me.

First the good news, the touring continues. Since last I posted we've gone to Mount Vernon where we learned, at his death, George Washington was the largest producer of white lightening in the nation. He owned and operated a 5 pot still, producing nearly 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey in 1799.

The still was found and excavated in the 1980s and rebuilt in '90s. They are now producing whiskey and planning to sell it as soon as they get the legal stuff done. The whiskey producers of America welcomed Mount Vernon into the business by holding a fundraiser, mixing two special bottles of whiskey and auctioning them off. The picture is of the bottle sold for a $100,000 bid. It was then donated back to Mount Vernon for display.

We took a tour of the Pentagon, which really is just a big office building. The most amazing part of the tour was the Air Force Honor Guard guy who walked backward, facing the attendees, for the full 45 minute tour. Jim facetiously asked if he had to take a walking backward test. The answer was yes.

There was a small white building in the middle of the Pentagon yard. After the Cold War ended, we discovered that the Russians had decided, based on the number of people who entered and left this building (per their satellite photos), that this was the entrance to a secret nuclear storage site. It was actually the hot dog stand.

We went to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving the day after they introduced the new $100. We saw them cutting and packaging the last run of the old style bills and printing the first run of the new bills. The multi-colored bills are actually printed in four separate runs: the color-security features, the black front, the green back, and then the serial numbers/signatures/seals run.

We were scheduled to walk along Embassy Row then have brunch with Ginnie this morning, but that didn't happen. Which brings me to the hate part of my relationship with our nation's capitol.

A couple of weeks ago, I caught a really bad cold which, of course, I shared with Jim. He was laid low for so long, we decided to extend our stay in DC by a week because we missed so much touring time during his cold. Just as he got better, I slipped on a step in the boat and banged my back. After the bruises cleared up the pain remained. I seem to have cracked a rib or torn/stretched the ligaments around a rib. It only hurts when I cough, sneeze, or take a deep breath, so I was prepared to soldier on. Then, yesterday, I developed a bad case of conjunctivitis in my right eye. I don't think Washington is good for me. We're leaving at the end of the week and I think that is a good thing.