July 2009

Evan has been a lifeguard for several years now and Erin has been working the concession stand for a couple of months.  Between them they tell some pretty amusing stories.  But even with all the stories that get told around the dinner table, there are those that we only hear much later.

Like the story of the frogs.

Lifeguards sit on a stand when they’re on duty.  The stands at one of the pools (and maybe all of them) have a pipe that an umbrella stand can be placed into.  Lifeguards rarely make use of umbrellas; preferring to get the sun and the subsequent tan.  This pipe apparently became a favorite place for frogs to take shelter. 

When I asked how they knew, Evan told me it was because they would hear the croaking sound amplified by the tubular shape.  I had at first imagined that they had tried to shove the umbrella stand down it and felt the resistance as they smashed into a frog but apparently it was the sound that spooked one of the girl lifeguards out of the stand.  They could stand up to the bloody videos of first aid during their training classes but apparently could not stand the thought of a frog sharing the stand with them.  For some reason, they tasked Evan with removing the aforementioned frogs.

His solution combined practicality and fun; he removed the pipe and slung it, letting centrifugal force propel the frog from the pipe as well as giving them a nice arc-shaped flight to the grass beyond.  This met with outrage on the part of the female lifeguards. 

Well, you can’t please some people.  Thereafter, he was still called upon to evict the croaking frogs but made sure nobody was looking when he slung them on their way.  Apparently it was quite fun. 

They both gripe about having to clean up nacho leftovers.  Usually the guards are responsible for cleaning the pool deck and the furniture and the concessioners get to clean the little kitchen but if there’s a big enough mess on the deck, they all help out.  Apparently the nacho cheese that we all know and love from baseball and football games is a bugger to clean off of concrete pool decks and patio furniture. 

Snow cones that are dropped and left to melt also have a bad reputation.  Luckily, there is a bleaching spray that will take care of the bright red stains.

There are also stories of poop in the pool and pool closure due to throwing up.  It seems that poop can be dealt with by a two-hour chemical treatment; vomit closes the pool for the rest of the day due to its eight hour treatment.  It was new to me that lifeguarding involved so much janitorial work.  In spite of the fact that they are paid by the hour, they seem delighted to close early and come home.

I look forward to more of these as time goes on and they remember them later.

The PAC in Tulsa brought in the production of Wicked this month.  It’s been quite popular; in fact, I tried to get tickets to it when it came through Oklahoma City last year but could not.  They gauged the popularity pretty well and scheduled it for most of July here in Tulsa.  Mel and I got tickets.

And then couldn’t use them.

So we got more tickets and saw the show.  It was awesome.

I bought the tickets before I worked out our vacation and unfortunately, had to schedule the vacation right on top of our play data.  No matter; we gave them to the kids and had them go.  Erin had seen it in New York just one month before but told us that this production was just as good if not better.  We bought new tickets after getting home and even into it’s third week, almost all seats were sold. 

I’m glad that such things draw well here so that more cool stuff comes.  The new BOK center seems to be drawing some major acts with the Eagles actually coming twice.  But anyway, I really enjoyed the Wicked show.  We both woke up the next morning with the songs in our heads.

Our last day was a quick trip to the Washington Monument and then over to Georgetown.  I had booked a ticket on the trolleys which were the only easy way to get over there except for the taxis.  In fact, we took a cab from our hotel to the monument and although it was the most expensive way to travel, it was by far the most pleasant.  I had gotten our tickets on the internet so we didn’t have to wait in line except to get on the elevator and this was very quick.  I had almost decided not to go to the top but I’m glad I did.  It’s one of those things that you really should do just because it’s there.  The weather had cooled off again but had gotten very humid and rain was threatening.  As a result, it was pretty hazy but we could still see fairly well.  It was fun.  From there we walked over to the trolley stop.

I guess we were getting our second wind or something because all the fatigue in my legs and feet had gone away and I was ready to take on the sights again.  The Old Town Trolley goes all over the place – we went over to Georgetown and the National Cathedral.  Our driver was from Egypt and claimed his name was Aladdin but I find that questionable.  I was tempted to ask to see his driver’s license.  I really wanted his name to be Aladdin because that would be cool but I was just afraid that it was too good to be true.  I let it go though, choosing instead to enjoy the sights.  We got off at the Washington National Cathedral.

I’ve always loved reading books set in medieval Europe:  The Name of the Rose, Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, etc. and so I love the idea of cathedrals.  I’ve visited Westminster Abbey and loved that as well.  As a result of all this, I was pumped about visiting National Cathedral and I was not disappointed.  It was as beautiful as I had thought it would be.  We missed the last guided tour before lunch (actually before the noontime Eucharist) but we got the self-guided audio tour thingies and set off.  Partway through, we stopped to participate in the noontime service and took communion.  I’ve attended Episcopal services before and was aware of their use of real wine for communion.  I thought it lent an old-school coolness to the experience. 

From there we continued our self-paced explorations.  I of course spent time with my camera trying to deal with the challenges of capturing the experience with my teeny camera.  Like most people, I was limited in my success but the images are enough to bring back the memories.  I found myself wanting more.  This was the only time that I wished for a nicer camera.  I used to carry the old 35mm neck-breaker and was delighted to shed all that when the Canon Elph series of digital cameras came out.  Now I can literally shove it in my pocket and not have to carry anything in my hand most of the time.  But once in awhile in special cases, I wish for more options.  But not often enough to do anything about it.

There are passageways upon passageways in cathedrals – some used only by the builders and I want to explore them all.  I imagine that if I researched it enough and made some arrangements (possibly augmented by a suitable donation) I could make that happen.  Perhaps someday I will try.  As it was, we took the elevator up to the observation level in one of the towers and satisfied ourselves with that.  A bird’s eye view of the flying buttresses is always something to go out of your way for if you’re a fan of architecture.

I found myself wondering where they ever found builders for the cathedral that were skilled in carving stones for the innumerable statues, gargoyles, and bosses.  The guidebook did not say.  But the evidence is there that there have been men with hammers and chisels just like in the old days.  I guess that lots of the work did in fact happen in the old days.  I hate the idea of modern day craftsmen getting away with air and electricity powered tools and speaking Spanish during their work.

Anyway, from there we reboarded the Trolley which took us through Georgetown and back to downtown.  We took some time to have a late lunch at the Hard Rock Café, mostly because it was convenient.  I’ve long since matured to the point of not seeking these out.  I sought out the original in London but after it became a chain, I only stop there to buy T-shirts for the kids but our lunch was very good.  It’s next door to Ford’s Theater where Lincoln was assassinated so we watched those lines of people standing in the light rain while we had our lunch and were bombarded with music videos from 1982.  They know their audience, that’s all I can say.  I’d like to hope that as the evening wears on and it gets later, the music is updated as the younger crowd comes in.

We got done with that and got on the Trolley back to Union Station and from there across the street to our hotel.  It was pretty early yet but we went ahead and packed up our stuff and watched a movie on the hotel cable.  Our flight was very early and required us to get up a 3:30 am in order to have sufficient time to get through security at the airport so we made an early evening of it.  We arrived home at 10:30 am on Saturday with a camera full of digital photos and lots of guidebooks for the things we saw but that we had not had time to read yet.  In the next few days I intend to read every single one of them and possibly learn some things that I didn’t catch during our visits.

We got up early on Thursday to head for the White House.  I was unable to arrange a tour in time but we took the Metro subway over there just to say we’d walked past it and seen it in person.  We walked all around it taking many photos.  From there we visited the visitor’s center a block or so away.  This is a bit of a yawn.  It needs some work to make it worth visiting.  It’s in part of the Commerce Department building which is the usual impressive structure but the visitor’s center itself does not amount to much of anything.  We headed off from there towards the Smithsonian American History museum.

The weather was quite nice for most of our stay but this turned out to be the hot day.  The temp was forecast to be about 90 but instead soared to 95.  We had to wait awhile for the Smithsonian to open and spent it outside in the heat.  Mel had come prepared with umbrellas to keep off the sun and these came in quite handy.

I had heard that the Smithsonian was gigantic and was prepared to leave without seeing everything.  We planned our visit to head straight to the Star Spangled Banner (the flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired the national anthem) and from there to the pop culture section.  Having accomplished our requisite view of the Ruby Slippers, we then visited the First Ladies’ Gowns exhibit.  At some point I went off to see the steam engines and other engineering type stuff but met up with Mel just before she was to enter the exhibit of gowns.  We had lunch down in their café and headed over to the Air and Space museum.

The place was hopping – it’s the most popular museum in the world in terms of number of visitors and that day was no different.  There was large numbers of kids to avoid stepping on.  Rockets and planes have always been a big deal with me and the NASM has that in spades.  By this time, we were both exhausted from the previous two days of walking and from the heat.  My legs and feet have never felt that way before; just really tired.  Astronaut Alan Bean was there signing copies of his latest book of artwork. We got our fill of history and headed to the gift shop which is without doubt the finest anywhere.  We stocked up on souvenirs and staggered off towards the hotel.

It wasn’t far, maybe half a mile, but as I mentioned before, we were suffering the accumulated fatigue of two previous days and with the heat, we both began to feel like the cartoonish images of people trudging across the desert.  We made it back to our hotel where I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothes and fell onto the bed.  It took me a long time to cool off but not too long to fall asleep.  Mel took the time to shower off and soak her feet.  I only did this later on.  We had both put those blue gel-soles into our shoes before leaving Tulsa and I’m sure they helped but my feet were pretty sore even so.

We got up and had dinner at Union Station and then went out to the Grayline terminal for a tour of the monuments after dark.  This was something we signed up for on a whim and were glad of it since our legs were so tired.  This took us to most of the monuments.  While standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, I saw three helicopters heading towards the white house.  Two of them peeled off and one landed and I suppose it was the president coming home from his European trip.  Pretty cool.

On Wednesday the 15th, I had booked us a Grayline tour to Monticello.  These are extremely popular but for some reason our bus was only half full so we all had a seat to ourselves which was quite a luxury.  It’s a long way down there but the drive is pretty plus they played a documentary on the video system.  In order to work the timing of things properly, they dropped us off for a half hour or so at the University of Virginia to wander around and check out Edgar Allen Poe’s dorm room.  It amuses me to think of modern day students staying in these rooms (which they still do); rooms with working fireplaces and no bathrooms. 

From there they took us to Michie Tavern for lunch.  It was a bit touristy but better than fast food.  The food was old-style southern like eating at grandma’s and I tanked up on fried chicken and black eyed peas.  I then had to spend a few moments of quiet contemplation in the nearest men’s room but I should not have eaten so much perhaps.  I think it was the biscuits; I have a weakness for and extreme love of biscuits.

We finally wound our way up the mountain to Monticello.  Like many people before me, I was completely taken by the house.  Thomas Jefferson is now my new hero.  After one look at his private rooms, I immediately want to build my own bedroom exactly like it and outfit it with telescopes, microscopes, oil paintings, and books with a gigantic closet upstairs from it.  And also the cool furniture like the revolving book stand with space for five books to remain opened.  He seems a kindred spirit in several ways and the visit made me wish that I could experiment with cool stuff in my own house.  I guess I could but I’m afraid any of my cleverness would be offset by inferior craftsmanship and cause the value of the home to go down and make it hard to sell; something that Jefferson never had to give any thought to.

It was all very inspiring.  I wish I could have known him – I’m sure we’d have things to discuss.  I had time to think of all this on the way home in the bus.  I also thought (and not for the first time) how glad I was that someone else was doing the driving.

We got off at Union Station and walked across the street to the Smithsonian Postal Museum which is a gigantic building with not only a fairly new museum but also a real post office and a Capitol City Brewing restaurant.  This was our destination and we tanked up on more food; a bit more than was warranted perhaps since we had to seek out the Rolaids later on.

Everything official in Washington DC is big, imposing, and made of solid marble, limestone, or granite.  They are obviously intended to project an impression of power and permanence as well as recalling the greatness of the Greeks and Romans with their style.  They do a pretty good job of it but after awhile I got somewhat immune to it.  Still, I love the feeling of permanence.  It makes me wish my house were as well built.  But huge rooms made of marble tend to echo a lot.  The guard yelling at the crowd to be quiet comes across as unintelligible gobbledygook.  There are also a fair number of sad attempts at architecture from the 60s and 70s: ugly chunks of blocky bureaucracy and massively ugly apartment buildings but most of those are on the outskirts of town. 

We took the tour of the Capitol building on Tuesday, July 14th.  It is now fixed up with a palatial visitor’s center and plenty of space for long lines.  We were unfortunately herded about like cattle but that’s what they have to do to deal with such huge numbers of people. We were shown a brief film and then taken on a guided tour of the rotunda and the sculpture room off to one side.  There is much more to the building than that but that’s all the tourist gets these days.  The crowd control was very efficient and the docent that took us around was friendly and informative.  It was fun but left us wanting to see more. 

From there we took the underground tunnel that led directly to the library of congress.  That kept us from having to go through security again.  The LOC was something that I just put on our itinerary because it was right there and connected via an air conditioned tunnel but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.  It is extremely ornate and the docent that led us through it was again, very informative and friendly.  Here, we were allowed to explore on our own after the tour but we chose instead to spend our time in the gift shop which was very nice. 

We went next to a café nearby for a quick lunch and from there headed back toward the hotel to stop at the Supreme Court building on the way.  It wasn’t far but we are pretty out of shape and the walking was a challenge.  This has become a pretty popular tourist destination although it is a working office building.  I guess the other two places we visited are the same way.  It was a quick stop since there is little other than the lobby and the courtroom for the public to see and you can only see that if court is not in session.  After this we headed back to the hotel for a siesta.

We headed back out at about 4:00 to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  That is one of many impressive buildings and they have now set aside a special entrance just for looking at these two documents which are in the huge rotunda.  I guess it’s standard for old documents but the place was extremely dim and the documents only illuminated with tiny pinpricks of yellow light.  They are quite faded even after all the care that has been taken.  I guess they are suffering from the sins of past displays. 

We left there about 7:00 and were not only tired from the day but in need of food.  We staggered back to Union Station and went down into the lower level where the food court is and got some Gyros.  These things were huge – the biggest I’ve ever seen and we both gobbled them down like it was nothing.  With that under our belts, we browsed some of the stores in the mall part and then went back to the hotel to bed.  We hadn’t really walked all that far and the temperatures had been quite mild but as I said earlier, we are out of shape and so the day did us in.  But we slept well.

Well, vacation has come and gone.  It was fun as all vacations are; even those where I do nothing and don’t leave the house.

This year, we realized that we had not had an actual vacation for about four years.  One summer was filled with breast cancer surgeries and after that we just seemed to forget about it.  The kids were starting to work, etc.  We decided that this was ridiculous and that we should do something about it.  Erin had already had a break when she went to New York with her drama class for a week and Evan had taken a week off to go to the Cornerstone music festival.  Neither of these things involved us so we planned our own trip to Washington DC.  Melissa has wanted to go to DC and see all the sights for years now – decades actually, and so I arranged to burn some of my frequent flyer miles and head to the Capitol.

I also found a nice hotel that was just across the street from Union Station and within walking distance of the capitol.  While expensive (as all hotels are in DC), it wasn’t break-the-bank expensive and so was quite nice.  From there we saw all the major sights.

I used twitter to keep track of what I was doing on what day so that I could refer to it later. 

It felt really strange to leave town on a joy ride like this without taking the kids with us.  It’s the first time we’d done such a thing – ever.  For 19 years now we’ve had the kids in tow when we went anywhere and it just felt strange to be without them.  I got over it pretty quickly though and began to enjoy myself. 

We visited the capitol building, the supreme court building, the library of congress, national archives, Monticello (on a day trip), the various Smithsonian museums, some of the monuments and memorials, the Washington monument, and National Cathedral.

It was a pretty full week.  Stay tuned for the daily blow-by-blow.

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