Somehow we all got up, ate breakfast, and got out the door by 8:15 so we could be at the White House by 8:45–recommended early arrival for our 9:00 tour. Naturally we’re in Washington the week the first heat wave of the 2014 season hit. Our .85 mile walk seemed even longer in the steamy heat, with the sidewalks and buildings reflecting the severe sunlight. (The nearest Metro station is only a block or two from the White House, so that was no help, and the bus routes are confusing, at least to us.) We’d brought water but had to get rid of it before we entered the White House grounds. After a brief breather in the shade of Lafayette Square, we finished our trek to the visitor’s entrance, where there was already a long line. Eventually we entered the grounds, circled the statue of Sherman, and approached the first of several checkpoints. Another checkpoint to review our tickets and IDs, then a wait of several minutes to enter a small complex with a body scanner, on to another scanner where our wallets were sent through an x-ray machine, and finally we were in the White House.
It was very museum-like, and I had a feeling guests wouldn’t be encouraged to tarry, even though the tour was self-guided. I would have liked to look closer at all the great paintings, the Presidential china going back to the earliest days, the amazing furniture, and the rooms where all those famous personages had lived and visited. It was enough, though, to get a good sampling of all those famous rooms (the Blue Room, the East Room, the formal dining room). In some ways it felt rather cold (or maybe impersonal is a better word), but all the employees were so friendly and seemed so proud of the place (even when some had to yell at visitors to get off a window seat or similar infraction) that it rubbed off some of the cool sheen.
I’d gotten separated from Diamondqueen and the Hooligans in the gift shop, so I waited along the iconic iron fence until I saw them emerge. We walked a block down to the White House Gift Shop just to see how weird and tacky the “gifts” might be (there were some strange things). By then we were pretty hot and tired, so we started the long walk back to our hotel for a rest.
Frankly, the entire venture took a lot out of me, between the heat and the walking, which is more than I’ve done since before the surgery. As I lay on the bed, I thought, “I don’t think I can go back out in that.” I asked if Diamondqueen minded if I didn’t go along to the Spy Museum, which really didn’t interest me much. I said I could write out directions and give her one of the tourist maps with everything circled. When S.Hooligan heard I was staying behind, she wanted to stick around as well. Diamondqueen wasn’t thrilled about our defections, but I emphasized she and J. might enjoy their visit more without S.Hooligan’s “distractions.” They headed out, I left S. to her Disney channel and chilled out in the bathtub with a book.
I was taking a pleasant nap when something woke me. It turned out S. was shooting one of her mother’s ponytail bands at my butt while I slept, then creeping over to retrieve it. I recovered it and found it was wet and slimy with spit; S.Hooligan had been chewing on it. We proceeded to have a back-and-forth battle with the band until it bounced off the air conditioner console and vanished, which thrilled Diamondqueen no end when she found out about it.
Our agreement was that J. and Diamondqueen would pick up pizza on their way back from the Spy Museum. Late in the afternoon they arrived, Diamondqueen overheated from carrying a huge pizza box with a freshly baked pie the half mile from the shop in 95 degree heat.
After lunch, Diamondqueen and I napped again. J.Hooligan lay on his air mattress with his blanket over his head and watched YouTube on his iPod. S.Hooligan screwed around, including tormenting her mother, while watching the awful Disney programs.
We had to get out of that room, so we agreed to leave at 6:30 to walk up to the DuPont Circle Metro station to travel down to the National Mall. Despite experience with the London Underground and the El in Chicago, the Metro proved to be a little confusing, but we got to the Smithsonian station just fine.
Our goal was the Lincoln Memorial, so we turned toward the Washington Monument and began our longest walk yet. It was still hot but not unbearably so; the humidity seemed lower and there was a refreshing breeze. Still, it was a loooong walk.
After we’d passed some concession trucks parked near the Washington Monument, S.Hooligan complained she was thirsty. She whined through the World War II Memorial and all along the reflecting pool. I spotted a bathroom with a drinking fountain outside, but S. refused to drink that water because it was “dirty.” She then continued to whine as we made our way toward the bottom of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
A signpost seemed to indicate there were refreshments somewhere inside the memorial, otherwise we might never have gotten S. up those steps. We admired the seated figure of Lincoln, then started searching for drinks, or at least bottled water. After going astray to the bookstore and down to the previous level via the elevator, we returned to the bookstore where I asked if there was somewhere we could at least buy bottled water. The painfully polite clerk replied there was a stand to the left at the bottom of the steps. Outside we searched and finally determined the refreshments were in fact at a stand way off to the side. J. and I took seats toward the bottom of the steps, which actually was pleasant with the milling crowd and the view toward the Capitol building stretching before us. Diamondqueen and S. returned with cold bottles of water for me and J.Hooligan. S.Hooligan had already killed a bottle of Gatorade and looked more satisfied than she had all evening.
We had that long walk back ahead of us. Despite the water, the heat was wearing me down, and my hips and legs were starting to ache. My feet felt sore and raw, so I suspected I also had blisters. I moved slower and slower, still trying to admire the sunset and the illuminations of all the monuments. By the time we reached the Smithsonian Metro station, I was hobbling in a dramatic and embarrassing way and my mind was gone, so choosing the right lines when we changed trains made even less sense than they had earlier.
While we waited for our final train back to Dupont Circle, Diamondqueen and I discussed our prospects for a late dinner. It was already 9:15 and nothing we’d seen in the neighborhood had seemed very kid-friendly. On top of our weariness and hunger, we had to squeeze into the last train where the body odor was so strong Diamondqueen turned green. (I wondered if a baseball game had let out or something. There were so many people for that time of night and they seemed especially sweaty.)
We emerged from the Dupont Circle station right in front of a Panera. However, they closed at ten and it was already five till. As we dragged back to the hotel, I became more and more crippled; my hips were locking up and shooting electric spasms of pain, and my feet felt twice their normal size. When we found a Mexican restaurant just down from our hotel, our last hope, was closed (and I stumbled and nearly fell on my face because my joints were no longer operating), Diamondqueen grabbed J. and trotted off toward the pizza shop, which she’d noted earlier that day was open till midnight. In tears, I limped down the two blocks to the hotel and, in our room, threatened S.Hooligan until she went into the bathroom and took her shower. I downed three ibuprofen and flopped down on the bed.
For the second time that day Diamondqueen carted a hot pizza a half mile; on top of that, she got verbally assaulted by a homeless man who called her a “fat ass” and said she didn’t need all that food. When she arrived, I found she thoughtfully had purchased me a chicken club Panini so I’d have plenty of protein. I was too wasted by then to do much more than check e-mails and go to bed, although it was nearly midnight by that time.
Diamondqueen wore her pedometer all day. She and J.Hooligan put in thirteen miles of walking. And they were both in so much better shape than I was.