The last time I was in Washington D.C. was for President Kennedy’s funeral. I was nine years old, and my parents decided on impulse to drive us all down from New York City. My dad borrowed gas money from a friend. My mom made peanut butter sandwiches and a thermos of coffee. They bundled the four of us kids in the back end of the station wagon in a nest of blankets and pillows and we drove into the night. We all slept in the car in a parking lot near to funeral procession route, and we staked out places near the sidewalk at first light. It was bitter cold and a long wait, but none of us questioned the importance of this pilgrimage (not even two-year-old David). I was the only one in the family with a camera, a little Brownie snapshot, and my dad lifted me onto his shoulders so I could get a photo of Kennedy’s flag-draped casket as it rolled by on a horse-drawn wagon.
Fifty-two years later, I finally made it back. Mostly at Kate’s insistence, because I seem to have become even more city-avoidant as an RV’er. But we found a national park (Greenbelt) just outside D.C. that was forested and quiet, and if it weren’t for the occasional helicopter or siren, you’d never guess was just 12 miles from the Capitol. We spent three nights there and had one day in downtown D.C. and another day at the zoo.
Fast-Track D.C. Tour
Uncertain of traffic or parking, we took the subway in from a nearby station and spent the better part of the day hoofing it around D.C. We walked to the Washington Monument and on to the Lincoln Memorial, stopping at the World War II and Vietnam memorials along the way. It was an absolutely gorgeous, warm day, and there were lots of people out enjoying it, but very few tourists. In fact when we finally made it to the Lincoln Memorial, there were just a handful of people milling in front of Lincoln’s immense form.
There were a few more tourists in front of the White House, but really it was a comfortable day to walk around the city just looking around. We stopped for lunch at the Elephant & Castle, and then went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I was delighted to learn that all the Smithsonian Museums in the city, including the zoo, are free to the public. If only we had more time and fewer years on our feet. Because by the time we got home that night, we were beat.
Our second day we decided to spend at the zoo. Kate and I have been to a lot of zoos, and generally, we love seeing the animals and taking photos. As long as they’re good zoos with large, comfortable habitats for the animals. Maybe I’m getting hard to impress after seeing so many zoos, or maybe I’m more sensitive to what it’s like for the animals now, but neither Kate nor I were crazy about this zoo. A lot of the animal exhibits were closed (where do you put 12 elephants when you’re working on their enclosures?), and we must have walked half a mile before we saw our first animal. And that was in the small mammals house, which presents animals such as meerkats and lemurs in cramped glass boxes, which I found very depressing. The primate house was even more depressing, with sad-faced orangutans and gorillas staring blankly into the distance.
It’s not a bad zoo. The grounds are huge and beautiful, and some of the animal habitats are very humane. The pandas, for example, have a virtual forest to roam in outdoors, as well as inside quarters. But generally, we just weren’t enjoying this zoo like we have others, such as San Diego or Portland. That said, it’s wonderful that the city offers the zoo free to the public.
We had just finished setting up Bessie in the campground when we started conversing with a nearby camper who was launching a major adventure of her own. Andrea had just left her home in Pennsylvania to begin life on the road in her Grey Wolf trailer. She also had a cat (an older guy who was happy to stay inside), and she was eager to talk to us about what we’d been doing. We invited her over for a drink and ended up talking for a couple of hours.
Andrea is much younger than we are, but her two kids are grown, and she felt like she wanted to explore America on her own. California is her ultimate goal, but she expects to take many months to get there, working some along the way. We were happy to share some of what we’ve learned about the road, and while we talked, we discovered lots in common. We so appreciate making connections like this along the way.