Top Five Washington D.C. Sights

Washington D.C. happens to be where decisions are made that effect every one of us. It’s where our elected leaders hold court and its where our country first began official business after the Revolutionary War. As such, most Americans make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives to soak in the framework of our day-to-day existence and perhaps come away with a better knowledge of our home country than we had before.

Emoting my views of the White House

It can also be a rough place if you don’t watch yourself, but hey, that’s any city. Below are five of my picks for the hottest spots in town, each with an array of pics, which you might want to visit on your American pilgrimage.

Museums

There are so many D.C. museums that it’s virtually impossible to visit them all in a week. It can take half a day to absorb each one. The National Gallery of Art is high on my list. They have a Leonardo da Vinci after all, and seeing the Genevra de Benci was simply unforgettable. The U.S. Botanic Garden is also a treasure to see, particularly the sinister Devil’s Tongue. But for the pulse of that American heart beat, visit the National Archives to drink in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and other documents that feed our country’s lifeblood. Beat feet to the Capitol Building and take a tour of democracy in action or trek along the outdoor museum that is the National Mall. To feel history tug at your mind and heart, always visit the Holocaust Museum and listen to the lesson it’s begging to teach.

One bummer was the Newseum. As a former reporter, it sat high on my list of places to visit, but it closed for good back in January, which is another scary indicator the war on the freedom of the press is not going the way of free speech. Another thing to remember is no pictures at the National Archives, so there’s only the gift shop to remember viewing those indelible documents.

Books

People read like fiends on the right coast, not that they don’t on the left, but in D.C. people brought books with them into bars. That speaks volumes. I visited three of D.C.’s literary hubs on my trip: East City Book Shop, Solid State Books, and Capitol Hill Books. All cooler than Hell. While there I was sure to pick up books by George Pelecanos, D.C.’s staple crime writer, among other tomes to heft back as carry-on luggage. Capitol Hill also coughed up the Constitution for my library, not to mention a Declaration of Independence from the National Archives, since I’m a nerd and wanted them from the nexus.

Historic buildings

Where to begin with the architecture? It’s a trip in and of itself to visit the famous homes, the institutions, the churches, and everything in between. What I found most interesting were the row homes, some of which are jammed between high rises. They’re all over, some nicer in appearance than others, but all insanely expensive said the cab drivers. Also, churches are everywhere. Every. Where. D.C. has its own Chinatown, which is worth a visit, though it is smaller than Los Angeles or San Francisco’s. For a touristy nerd who doesn’t get out much, visual stimulation in architecture literally called out to you from every street corner.

Food

There’s some sexy eating to be had in Washington D.C. from the hot dog sellers on the corners to the finer, cattle cart dining found around the National Mall. I recommend a few places when you pay a visit. First off is Tortino Restaurant. They had the best Italian dishes around. Second, and within a leisurely stroll of Tortino, is Phillips Seafood and Steak. Great steak, great ambience, though it can get a bit noisy, so be ready for the din. For a real D.C. taste, also swing into Po Boy Jim. The joint had great hot sausage, an upstairs bar, and a good time.

Scary Stairs

There’s a famous scene in the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s book “The Exorcist” in which Father Damien Karras tumbles down seventy-some stairs to his death. Those steps where the scene was filmed can be found in the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. For a fan of horror literature, director William Friedkin’s 1973 movie adaptation is a classic, which makes a visit to the Exorcist Steps a must on any vacation to the area. Just be sure to catch your breath since those stairs are steep mothers.

Oddly enough there were no copies of The Exorcist to be found at any of the local book sellers. Coincidence? Well, yeah, probably.

Winchester Mystery House: take a tour of this rich pad

Winch-3

It’s tough to be absolutely terrified of something when you have to go through a gift shop first.

Surrounded by mugs, tees, bottle openers, and God only knows what else, a sense of creeping fear is in limited supply. Until you see the Ouija boards. Creeping fear comes then, but it’s just a tickle. At least it’s there, breathing on the back of your neck like a breathless hound from the depths of Hell. And you see the board’s hefty price tag. Heavy fear comes into your stomach, like a three-egg omelet dripping with cheddar cheese and chorizo an hour after you ate it.

There’s a lot that can be said about the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The mansion is reminiscent of Hearst Castle (found just a few hours south). The mystery house is beautiful, oddly built, tight-quartered, sunshine deficient, and obnoxious with old world luxury. There are thirteen hooks in the closets, windows with thirteen panels, thirteen bathrooms, and so on. That number sends creeping tendrils of mathematical grief up my spine.

There’s the staircase that leads into a wall and a door that, should you walk through it, will drop you to the cold earth a floor below. The creeping horror grabs your shoulder with invisible skeleton fingers. The ghosts of all those killed by Winchester’s rifles shuffle zombie-like through the claustrophobic halls; they fill dark shadows with smoky semi-human forms, and wait for the call of Sarah Winchester from her now empty séance room.

It could be they’re rehearsing for the movie slated to be made there starring Helen Mirren. Out next year. It’s on IMDB even.

You follow the tour guide into the next room, listening with dumbfounded anticipation as she recites a well-rehearsed litany of stories – from earthquakes to hired help –  and you realize you could have been considered just as odd as Sarah if you had a home like hers, only there’s a difference. A creeping epiphany gnashes its teeth in your face.

She was rich and you are not. Helen Mirren will never play you.

Had Mrs. Winchester taken her quirky building habits and applied them to a tiny home, or an RV (or even an old VW bus), chances are no one would care. But she took a farm house and kept adding on, and adding on, ad nauseam. For us, putting a bed against a door or hanging a map sideways takes out our budget. That’s as “Winchester” as we can get. But was Sarah really crazy?

The folks at Winchester Mystery House do a great job of leaving that up to us. They tell you what people tell them, share the stories of what some believe were her battles with ghosts (and a few employees have stories to tell as well), while they also share more mundane brain fodder (the great quake and how it damaged her pad, for example). Could it be she was simply one hell of a Freemason or a nutty Bacon fan? There’s a lot that proves this could be the case. Or was she down with the demons?

I got a mug with a creeping skull on it from the gift shop. That means the place is ghosting it up. The undead creep up the walls, leaving snail slime behind, and they make sure that logo makes sense. If their putrid hands weren’t foggy I’d high five them.

A road trip gauged on karate chopping

How the drive from Monterey to Cottonwood and back again might go for you

There was a beat up pickup truck, larger than average, with a flatbed area surrounded by wooden fencing made of paint chips and splinters. The bed was full of sheep. They were pressed against the wood, but not making a sound. Had I not looked up while pumping gas, I wouldn’t have seen them at all. Not even a smell preceded their arrival. And they had no idea how old that wooden fence looked. I probably could have karate chopped it to pieces without trying hard.

Tehachapi also hosted the scrawny woman with the mousy brown hair and burgundy corduroy pants. She approached our table during a short food break to give us a religious book, then asked if my son and I wanted to pray with her. Probably could have karate chopped her pretty easily. She didn’t order anything.

Barstow, driven through on the way to Arizona and slept in on the way back from Arizona, held terrors to chill the very soul. From expensive gas stations and herky-jerky stop lights, to the denizens on their bicycles who hang out in a few of the motel’s parking lots wearing very little (it was past 100 degrees at 11 p.m.) with their tattoos and desperation on view for the road weary to witness. What they did wear looked like it had been new back when Cindy Crawford still made movies. My sleepy, caffeine-fueled karate chops would have confused them at first, but then they would have kicked my ass and stole my stuff.

How can you Bruce Lee a heatwave? Mentally it’s possible. Especially from inside a car. With an air conditioner turned so on it’s like love. But that heat kills everything. My dreams of a life without becoming a crabby curmudgeon left a stain on Route 66 when it melted there years ago. But mentally, I totally kicked that 109 degree temp’s ass.

In Paso Robles, there’s always a guy who only has enough money for a soda and sits in the restaurant adorned in torn clothes he probably got from the bicycle-riding crowd in Barstow, because it was always too hot there for them to need it. That guy sits in a booth and sizes up the customers when they walk in. He makes uncomfortable eye contact. He karate chopped with his eyes and I karate chopped back. I could be him after all. I could make those who see me uncomfortable. But I don’t.

And now my eye lids are karate chopping my cheeks. And my cheeks keep karate chopping them open again. And I miss the quiet sheep.