Editor’s Note: This is the first in what we hope are many “Rant Road Trip” entries — our way of capitalizing off of otherwise meaningless family vacations and other excursions outside of our fair burgh (we kid … vacations are fun). For our first Road Trip, Rant co-founder and future destroyer Billy Liggett writes about his family’s recent trip to our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
Destination: Washington, D.C.
- Travel: 5.5 hours by car from Sanford, N.C. … 6.5 hours if you’ve got three young kids and you’re hitting D.C. traffic at just the wrong time.
- Accommodations: Hotel in the Crystal City community just outside of D.C. in Alexandria.
- Length of stay: An extended weekend trip — 3 days, 2 nights
- Reason: In-laws had never been, nor had our kids. Plus, why not?
- The history: Isn’t this the reason most of us go to D.C.? This was my third visit to the city, and I was still in awe of the monuments, the buildings and the whole, “Wow, Lincoln was here” aspect of it all. The Mall alone — even on a hot ass day with temperatures in the low 90s — is worth the trip. Added bonus was bringing my father-in-law, a Vietnam veteran, to the Veterans Memorial. Our tour of the Capitol Building was a highlight, even if it was cut short by an unexpected and unexplained evacuation halfway through. The film they show you as you begin your tour is inspiring … it brought at least one ‘Merica tear to my cynical eye.
- The Newseum: We were disappointed, for the most part, with our museum experience on this trip (more on that later). But the Newseum — which just turned 20, making it relatively new among the Smithsonians surrounding it — was fascinating. Unlike the Smithsonian, you have to pay for this one. And at first I was hesitant to do this … knowing full well as a writer and former journalist, I’d love it, but wondering if the contents inside would keep my family, young and old, interested. The good news is, this was everyone’s favorite. Highlights were the current display of rock n’ roll “free speech” items, such as John Lennon’s guitar, Bruce Springsteen’s T-shirt and jeans from the “Born in the USA” album cover and the guitar Hendrix played the National Anthem on at Woodstock. The 9/11 memorial and “history of print” displays were incredible, too. Well worth it. Well, well worth it.
- Nationals Park: This was another reason for our trip. I grew up a Texas Rangers fan, and the Rangers were in town for a three-game series against the Nationals, the best team in baseball. Texas won, so that was great. But the ballpark itself was a great experience, too. Tickets are bit pricier than most Major League parks, but it’s a nice facility. Comfy, understated … great views of the Potomac. One of the nicer stadiums I’ve been to.
- The Smithsonian: Granted, we only visited a few of them, and maybe this is unfair. But the Natural History and American History experiences were downright disappointing. Crowded. Confusing (the maps did little to tell you what was where and where was what). Did we mention crowded? It wasn’t all terrible — the Star Spangled Banner (the original tattered flag that inspired the song) was really well done. And I got to see Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs. Indiana Jones’ hat and whip. But I expected more from the freaking Smithsonian … and yes, I know there’s much more to it, and it takes days to see it all. But for a quick trip, it wasn’t worth it. (The boys did like the Space and Air Museum, but again … way crowded, and we didn’t have much time to do it all).
- The Metro: It was a hot damn weekend. What we didn’t know was that Washington’s Metro — way cleaner and nicer than what you have in NYC and even Atlanta — has a few dozen stops in the city, but they’re very spread out. You’re at Lincoln Memorial, and you’re ready to catch the Metro back to your hotel? Get ready to walk another mile. You’re done with your Capitol Building tour, and it’s time to catch a train? Four to five blocks, sir … and Washington has huge blocks. Long story short, we did a ton of walking. A ton. It might have been better to drive and try to park most places. The heat didn’t help at all.
- Pride Weekend: Hold on there, friends … don’t get mad at me just yet. I support the gay community. I support equality and rights for all. But this could have been Star Wars Weekend, and I’d feel the same. Pride Weekend derailed a handful of our plans — a giant parade blocked streets and thus our route to a restaurant with our reservation. The huge gathering at the Mall on Sunday forced huge detours, and had us 2-3 hours late leaving the city. Pride Weekend, I’m sure, was a wonderful experience for the thousands and thousands of people in town to celebrate. But for the family of five with in-laws in tow, it was like trying to sight-see New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Just isn’t a good idea.
- Favorite meal: “Deluxe” Grilled cheese and tomato soup at Ted’s Bulletin in Capitol Hill area. The “deluxe” meant short ribs and mac and cheese inside the grilled cheese. Ted’s is also famous for its homemade pop tarts — a big hit with our kids.
- The guards: The Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery is simply cool. Even better when the guard yells at the dumbasses who step over the line or talk too loud at the sacred site.
- The kids liked it: D.C. isn’t Disney World, but our 7, 5 and 3 year-olds enjoyed the trip. Maybe they just liked being out of the house.
Having lived in D.C. for 25 years, we had the luxury of moving through the city at will and avoiding some of our favorite spots during “high season,” which is spring break to Labor Day. I always took great pride in the fact that people from all over the world chose to visit our Nation’s capital and loved helping out tourists with directions, getting a Metro ticket, restaurant suggestions and acting generally as a cheerleader for a city I love. No, it’s not Disneyworld. It’s the real thing.