Monday, April 27, 1992...
Got home at about 11:00 tonight, having wasted too much time in Washington. Didn't want to hit the morning rush-hour traffic heading for Washington, so I took my time. The drive north from Fredericksburg doesn't offered a perfectly acceptable alternative to the Interstate all the way north to Dumfries, VA. My first stop was George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon -- however, it was also the first stop of at least a dozen school tours, resulting in a 40-minute wait for access to the house.
Mount Vernon includes 200 acres of buildings and grounds huge by modern standards, but a fraction of Washington's original holdings. Despite Washington's devotion to democracy, Mount Vernon's size and formality bespeak a man who considered himself first among equals. One of the mansion's most interesting sights is the key to the Bastille, sent to Washington by Lafayette during the French Revolution. Washington's buried (near his slaves) along the slope leading to the Potomac.
Continued north through Alexandria, which wasn't quite as intolerable as I'd feared. As I recalled from the 1987 SABR convention at the Crystal Gateway Marriott, the Crystal City district has as hideous a collection of tanned-concrete convention hotels as anywhere in America. Drove through Alexandria's historic district, but didn't see anything fascinating enough to make me stop -- looked like more of an attraction to the antique-purchasing matron set. Instead I stopped at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial atop Shooter's Hill in Alexandria.
When I arrived I was the only visitor, greeted by two Masons at least thirty years my senior. In addition to the Egyptian-themed building, there's a large statue of Washington in the rotunda and a collection of Washington and Masonic artifacts, including various Masonic utensils used by Washington and the clock which was at his bedside when he died. There's an observation level above, but I didn't ask for access to the elevator and no one volunteered. Then, shortly before noon, I turned into the Arlington National Cemetery parking lot, prepared to spend a couple of hours looking around Washington.
Those "couple of hours" turned into five. I spent an hour and twenty minutes wandering the grounds of Arlington Cemetery, looking for recognizable gravestones. Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas and Oliver Wendell Holmes are buried practically next to one another, with Admiral Hyman Rickover on the other side of Douglas and Potter Stewart only a few graves away. Definitely the high-rent district...also just steps from John Kennedy's grave. His brother Robert is buried on the other side of the tomb housing the President and his two children who didn't survive infancy, beneath a simple cross which sits entirely isolated from all other graves. Then boarded a Tourmobile for a couple of stops -- ha! Started off easily enough with the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials, then a quick swing around the White House. Had originally planned to switch buses at the Washington Monument, returning to the car in time to beat the rush-hour traffic, but then I foolishly decided "What the hell, I'm already on the bus...let me at least hear the commentary the rest of the way. I won't get off." Big mistake. The narration ranged from the banal to the outright wrong; the trip lasted an hour and a half. I turned north to make up time.
The ride through Washington, DC was as bad as I'd feared. Not just the surroundings, but the road itself was downright decrepit -- barely passable even at 20 mph through some of the District's worst neighborhoods. The road improved as soon as I reached the Maryland border. Through Baltimore, the city's endless rowhouses provided the most interesting scenery: mile after mile of identical four-story buildings directly abutting one another, with only an occasional change in the painting scheme to mark where one ended and the next began.
Past Baltimore, the road became the sort I love: two lanes through countryside, the Interstate out of sight five miles away to draw off the traffic, and the occasional small town with perhaps a stoplight or two. Got as far as Rising Sun before the setting sun forced me back to the Interstate. I headed home - will resume this trip from here next time...
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