July 2005

July 11 & 12

That’s about it for the fun part.  The last two days were spent in driving back home.  We could have
chosen either of two routes home:  one that took us past the Biltmore mansion, the other took us past Monticello.  Both were places that we really wanted to see but there simply wasn’t time enough
so on we went.  We made it as far as Lebanon, Tennessee which is outside Nashville.  I had booked us a Sleep Inn there and even though it was the cheapest of the entire week, it was also the nicest.  It had everything we wanted or could have wanted: continental breakfast, free USA Today, indoor pool, and free high speed internet.

The next day was much the same except that we arranged to stop off at Tom’s in North Little Rock.  There we met up with Linda who took delivery of Erin for a week or so.  So basically, Erin gets another week of vacation with the added advantage of Linda spoiling her the whole time.  Sounds pretty sweet to me.  We visited there for awhile and finally had to head home.

We came dragging into our house at around 8:30 pm and I had to go to work the next morning.  Alas, the real world reared its ugly head at last.  Melissa always goes to great pains to make sure we all have clothes to wear, that those clothes are clean and wrinkle free, and that we eat well.  At least it starts that way.  By this point in our vacations, we’re wearing whatever is left and we’re eating food randomly with our hands wherever we find it.

So, all in all, it was a shining success.  We probably didn’t spend enough time at any of the places but we certainly enjoyed the time we did spend.


July 10

Today we got up early and hit the continental breakfast.  Then it was off to the visitor’s center where everybody has to start.

I guess because it was Sunday, the crowds were pretty light.  They stacked up later in the afternoon but in the morning, we felt we had the place to ourselves.  It was quite interesting; we entered just about every home or tavern that was open and talked with some characters.

My big highlight was the cabinetmaker due to my unhealthy obsession with woodworking but unfortunately, he was popular with just about eveyrbody.  His shop was full.  Full of people asking all sorts of political type questions and he was enthusiastically engaging in all sorts of talk about what the politics of the time would have been like.  I wanted to tell him to shut up and build something.  Cut some dovetails man!  His assistant was busily rasping out the leg of an elegant chair so at least I could watch him but I wanted some chips to fly.  There was a room outside his shop that was displaying some of their creations which were way more elegant than I ever expected.  With only hand tools, they managed to build many pieces that were more elegant, complex, and attractive than anything you can buy now.  Most impressive handywork.

They had also built a ‘spinnet’ which was a small harpsichord.  There was a man in-character minding the store, so to speak, and he managed to talk Erin into sitting down at it and playing a short piece.  She did and it she picked a good one – it sounded like perfectly suited to the environment.

We took the tours of the Governor’s Palace which was where the colonial governor (Great Britain’s representative) lived, and the “Capitol” building which is where the local officials (the house of Burgesses) met and eventually from where the new American government met but only briefly.

Of course, we had to visit the gift shops of the visitor’s center but they were much less interesting to me than the shops up in the village.  In the village, Erin bought a small journal made of some fancy paper, a quill pen, and a packet of ink powder with which you could set up to write in your journal with the quill.  Very classy.  Evan tried his best to find himself a tri-cornered cocked hat but there were none in his size.  The picket fences of the village all had gates that closed by themselves and I noticed that they accomplished this not by any mechanism but by the simple and elegant expedient of hanging a couple of cannonballs on a chain that attached to both the gate and the fence.  The weight of the hanging cannonball would close the gate automatically but if you pushed the gate all the way past open, the weight wasn’t enough so that it would stay open for you.  Very clever.  They sold these things at the shop in the village.  They also had a variety of things like household items and games that would have been popular at the time.

We took the shuttle back to the visitor’s center so that we could sit in the air conditioned restaurant called:  “Huzzah’s”.

One of the highlights for me is always the blacksmith and so I was dissappointed to find that he was not working that day.  But we did get to see the silversmiths.  One was operating a forge out back where they were melting some brass to pour into a mold.  They tried to get Evan and I to pump the bellows for them “for fun” but we know work when we see it.  The other was an actual jewelry type guy who was cutting little pieces of silver to make some sort of medallion.  These sorts of things fascinate me and, unlike the cabinetmaker, he was making stuff and describing how he did it.

We also went into the printer’s studio to see him make a newspaper.  I had to ask why all their lowercase “s”‘s looked like “f”s and this is apparently his most frequent question by far.  He had a wooden display made up that he pulled out from under his bench just to explain it.  He answered the question in detail but the fact remains that the words printed that way look goofy and that’s why we don’t see it done that way any more.  Suffice it to say that the “s” and “f” do look differently even though that difference is microscopic.

It got pretty hot that day but fortunately, many of the homes and buildings have had airconditioning cleverly added so that you don’t see the vents.  The characters must have been used to the heat because they stayed outside a great deal with out sweating.  As to the characters, I like to see and talk to those characters who are portraying someone of skill.  I like the idea that just because they didn’t have machinery and mass production back then, they still created things of great elegance and beauty.  But the character of the slave-woman kind of made me feel weird.  I can imagine lots of people wanting to be the cabinetmaker or gunsmith but I wonder how they found anyone willing to pretend to be a slave?  I suppose that was part of life but I still wanted to tell the woman to stop using words like “master” and “mistress”.  It just sounded wrong.

The gunsmith was quite interesting also.  He was apparently a genuine gunsmith who made real flintlock muskets and so was all the more interesting to me.  He let Evan and I hold one and aim it.

We finally wore out and retreated to the hotel and it’s pool.  Both Evan and Erin seemed to have adapted to the vacation lifestyle and had energy enough for all of us but Mel and I stayed tired a lot. No matter, that’s what we were there for.

We decided to sleep in a bit today in order to avoid traffic.  It worked well.  We left the hotel garage at
10:30.  The map indicated that it would be about 3 hours to Williamsburg, Virginia but traffic on I-95 was crawling all the way to Fredericksbrg.  And when I say crawling, I mean no more than 20 miles per hour.  So we got off on highway 17 and headed towards Williamsburg by somewhat of a back road.  We stopped for lunch at a place called Horne’s in Port Royal.  It was at the crossroads and was obviously the best place in town or the only place in town.  It had something for everyone:  gas, sit-down restaurant, convenience store, and lottery tickets.  It turned out to be pretty good and the waitress was aware of some sort of toxic spill on I-95 to explain our traffic issues.  Good thing we turned off.

We arrived at Williamsburg and checked in.  I had elected to stay at one of the “official” properties which was close by, had a free shuttle, offered discounted tickets, and continental breakfast.  Good move on my part.  We walked around town a bit to get our bearings. I was a bit confused by the whole thing – I was used to thinking in terms of an amusement part that was walled off and required you to buy tickets just to get in but this is an old town and so we were free to walk the streets as we wished.  Apparently we only needed tickets to go inside those homes or businesses that were open and take the tours and fraternize with the colonial characters.  We found an ice cream shop in the retail section and had our “dinner”.  Then we went to a grocery store (food lion) to stock up on snacks and some drinks.

July 8

We woke up to torrential rain this morning.  I’m talking tropical downpour.  I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and we took cab to union station even though it was only about one minute’s ride over there.  Our bus tour was to take 9.5 hours and called for us to be there on time.  There was a brief debate as to which shoes
Erin should wear in order to deal with the rain but that was quickly resolved.

Sure enough, the bus showed up at the appointed time but not before we got to see the bus company guy motoring around on a Segway in the parking garage.  I had never seen one of those in person before.  Anyway, off we went.

I used to think poorly of bus tours until we took Mel’s mom on one in San Francisco and now I’m sold.  They do the driving, they take you to all the cool stuff, they park the thing, and all you have to do is look out the window and get on and off the bus to take pictures.  We always had plenty of time to do whatever we wanted
to do.  We saw all the major monuments, the white house,  Mount Vernon, Christ church in old-town Arlington, Lincoln memorial, Vietnam memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, old-town Arlington, Embassy
row, Korea War Memorial, and lunch besides.

Again, at Christ church we saw the old pews of the famous names from the revolutionary war period.   Mount Vernon was the first significant thing on our trip that day though.

We got to Mount Vernon early enough to beat most of the crowds and late enough that the rain was starting to slack off.  I was struck by several things there.  The mansion was a bit smaller than I had expected but perhaps that was not unusual for homes of that colonial period.  It didn’t need to be all that big either since the kitchens, storage areas, stables and what-not were all separate from the house.  I was also struck by the fact that the house looked like it was made of stone but upon closer examination it had been made of wood and covered with a sand-filled paint to look like stone.  So George Washington, for all his other admirable qualities was apparently a frugal businessman with no particular desire to spend more money than he had to.  We learned that he sold lots of his crops; particularly the corn in the form of whiskey – again a man with an eye towards maximizing profits.  And finally, the woodwork inside the house was pine made to look like mahagony.  Many things about the plantation made me think of Washington as very much a regular guy who
happened to have a knack for political leadership.

Next, we had lunch at a buffet and then headed off for a whirlwind tour of the monuments.  We drove past most all of them and took time to stop and look at the White House as well as the Lincoln and war memorials.  We also stopped at Arlington National Cemetery and took a brief tour through there and the bus company had timed it such that we got to visit the tomb of the unknowns during the changing of the guard so we got to see the soldiers in the dress uniforms do that fancy thing with the guns.  I found the whole  experience pretty moving.

The Vietnam War memorial was interesting and I find myself mystified as to why so many people leave things there along the bottom edge.  I don’t really understand what would make someone want to leave an
artifact there and not, say, at the Lincoln memorial.  Whatever.  On we went.

When we finally made it back, we again had a quick dinner in Union Station and admired all the bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers that were there due to the elevated levels of security.  The local TV
crews were interviewing some bigwig – the mayor perhaps about what he thought of the whole affair, whether he himself would ride the Metro, etc.  I didn’t actually see this – Evan reported it from one of
his trips to the bathroom.

Even though we were riding for most of the day, we were still exhausted but after this many days of continuous physical activity, we were getting pretty used to it.  We were getting into shape.

July 7

Finally, we slept late.  This was a day for travelling down to Washington DC and Kent had to leave for work early so we just lazed about the house until around noon at which point we left.  We figured the traffic would be better at that time and perhaps it was.  We pretty much kept to the speed limit which I’ve heard is a
bonus around there.

We passed through Wilmington, Delaware, Baltimore, Maryland, and soon made it into
Washington.  Our hotel was within a short walk of Union Station and the Capitol building and so was right downtown.  As such, we had a bit of a hard time actually driving to it what with Washington traffic, one way streets, construction, and what-not.  But we made it eventually.  Their parking garage was teeny.  I was
seriously concerned about being able to fit the van into the space but I did it.

Since it was an easy walk, we walked over to union station for dinner.  That was allegedly where our bus tour for the next day left from and so we felt obligated to find it the night before lest we miss the early departure.  This was a tour we had to show up on time for.  Union Station is really impressive; a building built in another era for a grander impression that we attempt to make now. We had dinner and then took a walk.

We took off in the direction of the capitol and walked around it.  We then walked around to the capitol Mall and began walking towards the Washington Monument.  It was further away than it looked.  Along the way are some of the great museums which were unfortunately all closed.  All except the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.  It was extremely humid and finally it began to rain so we ducked into the Natural History Museum until it closed which was only about half an hour later.  That didn’t leave us much time to see

Our hotel had a rooftop pool so we walked back to the hotel and headed to the top floor.  It was pretty cool with a nice view but unfortunately, the rains began again.  That was the day that we became aware of some newsworthy events that we had been oblivious to since we hadn’t been watching TV or reading a paper.  We asked to get down into the Metro station to use the bathroom and were told about the bombings in the London Underground which was a bit of a shock.  Then we learned about hurricane Dennis which was the cause of the rain we were experiencing.  As we tried to swim it began to rain harder which is not really a problem when you’re in the water but it suddenly got a lot cooler.  I don’t know if it was the cold raindrops or the air but we had to go inside.

We were exhausted anyway so that wasn’t a problem for anybody.

Last night was interesting. Evan's girlfriend is performing in a play at a local studio and we went to see it. Needless to say it was a “production” on both sides of the stage.

I'm probably taking a chance at posting this openly but I'm pretty sure that nobody besides a small handful of people ever read it and they don't live here so on we go…

The show: Once Upon a Mattress.

It was produced in a small studio on the south end of town in a strip mall. The plan was to show up at Abe's Cafe where we should have reservations, eat dinner, walk around to the theater which was actually in the back near the dumpsters, and have an intermission with refreshments at the picture framing shop next door. It sounds kind of hokey but it all turned out great. Evidently all these business owners know each other and the system all worked out beautifully.

Dinner was simple: we had two choices (chicken or beef) and that was that. It's a bit strange to go into a restaurant and bypass the usual give-your-name, wait, read-the-menu routine. I could get used to that.

The play itself was very good. I know very little about the studio but it has the appearance of being a program that parents put their kids in (of all ages) in the summer while the parents work. I could be wrong though. But they all acted and sang remarkably well. I was impressed.

Now the other drama. The setting: Evan's girlfriend is in the play and her mother runs the studio and is the director. A situation fraught with peril from a social standpoint. As any fool knows but which teenagers apparently don't know is that when one knows someone who is performing, one brings them flowers to present after the final bows. Evan fought us on this one; only because he had never heard of it and needed to consult his “Jedi Council” of buddies. Thank the heavens that one of his more socially astute friends backed us up on this one. So Mel dragged him into the flower shop to get an appropriate bunch of flowers. Then the worries began as to how to hide them and how to present them.

We always make such a big to-do over the least little things.

This being a very local production, the director (her mom) knew everybody who was going to show up; i.e., the families of all the actors. So she spotted us right away and came over to meet (in other words, inspect) us. No problem there, I would have done the same. As soon as any male starts sniffing around Erin, I intend to run a background check on everybody in his family. Mel says that I am not buying a shotgun but she's not the boss of me!

The weird part was that I was so nervous. It wasn't simply that we were watching a play where we knew a participant; it was that Evan had that teenaged thing about worrying about whether he was going to look stupid or if one of us was going to make him look stupid. That was our fly in the ointment. It didn't help anything that temperatures were at a record high yesterday and it was 104 degrees as we drove to the theater and I was sweating pretty profusely anyway.

In the end, it went pretty well – our introductions that is. The play was perfect. But we probably skipped out a bit too soon and I didn't smile enough and we didn't talk to her enough. Probably.

No matter, we can redeem ourselves on Wednesday when we are taking her to see Camelot.

I'm in one of those moods where I want to do primitive things. I want to go build something with hand tools only. I want to buy a flintlock rifle. Skin a squirrel. Buy a farm. Ride a horse. That sort of thing.

But I draw the line at air conditioning. I won't do without that.

I guess I'm just reacting to the mountain of digipix and digivideo I have to organize and deal with. That and the fact that Evan has a new girlfriend who is in a local dinner-theater production Friday and we all have to go and I HAVE TO GO BUY NEW CLOTHES FOR IT AND EVERYTHING!

That's my life: one over-reaction after another.

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