Road Trip II: Southeast US (05/2010) [Part 1/4]

2010 July 19
by Jon

MON 05/17/10 – FRI 05/21/10
Written 06/05/10 – 06/20/10

Monday, May 17 - excited about the trip ahead, we woke around 7:30 in the morning. I made a couple of eggs we had left over and started to throw away whatever remained of perishables in the fridge in the process. After breakfast I started the process of packing up the suitcases for good and took a shower. I called up Bank of America to inform them I’d be traveling with my credit card so they wouldn’t lock it and then set about loading up the car. This was all accomplished earlier than I had entirely planned since we were so eager to get going and so we sat down to play a few rounds of Mario Kart before hitting the road. A bit after 10 AM we did a final sweep of the house, loaded Buddy up into the car, and departed our house, not to return for over 14 days.

Our first stop wasn’t very far at all: I had to drop into work to fill out my time card. This wouldn’t have been an issue if it weren’t for the Memorial Day holiday which sort of messed up the timing of when I could fill things out in advance and so I had to fill out the next two weeks then instead of on the previous Friday. I surreptitiously slipped in around 11:15 to take care of that and sneak out relatively undetected:

Day 01 Stop 1 - Framingham, MA
Total distance: 25 miles

We continued on to I-84 West, crossing into Connecticut around 12:15. About 45 minutes later we decided to stop for lunch at a Chili’s off of the Queen Street (Exit 32) in Southington. We’d try to be a bit more creative with our food choices in the future, but just then it helped us to feel like we were really out and on the road:

Day 00 Stop 2 - Southington, CT
Total distance: 120 miles

It’s one of my fairly poorer-kept secrets that I am an incredible sucker for cheeseburger sliders. This might be a contributing factor to why I have put on a troubling amount of weight over the past couple of years. I don’t know whether the fact that there isn’t a White Castle that I know of in all of New England makes things better or worse. Certainly it makes me healthier, at least. Anyway, the point is that I had the cheeseburger sliders. Because they were there. And curly fries, but seriously, who doesn’t like curly fries?

We hit New York around 2:30, banged down I-684 South to I-287 West, crossed the Hudson at the Tappan Zee Bridge, hit New Jersey around 3:30, exited off onto NJ Route 10 West and reached my folks’ place in Denville a bit after 4 in the afternoon:

Old folks' home

That’s their townhouse in the “community” they live in for folks 55 and older. The people who run it can really be pills but their neighbors are actually quite nice and they get along with my parents really well. So that’s good. I still refer to it as the “Old Folks’ Home.”

We offloaded the Dog and all of our stuff from the car, having finished our driving for the day:

Day 00 Stop 3 - Denville, NJ
Total distance: 260 miles

When we got there my sister was there but my parents had yet to arrive home from work. So, we threw our little bit of laundry from the past couple of days in the wash just to give us a couple more sets of clean clothes and sat down to relax a while and calm Buddy down after his car trip.

Dog and Girl

Dog relaxing

While he’s in the car Buddy is perpetually in a hyper-alert state and so the 5-hour drive down to New Jersey leaves him completely exhausted. You’d think he’d figure out to just chill out for a while until we let him out of the car but he’s never quite gotten the hang of it. Oh well.

My sister was there with her two adolescent cats named Casper and Cheyenne. One weighs maybe 6 or 7 pounds and the other’s 5 pounds soaking wet. She calls them her Squirrels on account of their bushy tails, their rather remarkable ability to jump up to high shelves and counters (I’ve witnessed one leap 4 feet vertically into the air) and, most importantly, their panache for causing mischief when left unattended for even a single second. The smaller one is especially astute in this regard.

Squirrel in sink


Cute, though.

My mom got home around 5 o’clock and my dad about an hour after that. After that I put on a decent shirt and we went out to dinner at the Tabor Road Tavern down the road a bit as a late celebration for my sister’s Master’s degree from NYU a week earlier. I had a couple of pints of Victory Hop Devil, some fantastic braised short ribs and a glass of Talisker 10 year over dinner. I don’t get to indulge in the Scotch very often anymore so that was a nice treat. As we waited for our food we each took a whack at drawing something on the paper tablecloth (which was, in and of itself, funny, as it really was the sort of place that you’d think would use cloth for everything). Predictably, I think my sister won:

I’d have to guess the worm is mostly inspired by the Beetlejuice cartoon. The figure to the right is a farmer, she said, but I noted that if you threw a keffiyeh around his neck and wrote something ironic on the shirt he could also pass for the average resident of Billyburg, too. Except I’m sure that NYC hipsters are so past the keffiyeh and that no one calls it “Billyburg” anymore. Also, I hate hipsters.

After we got home we relaxed and talked a bit while folding our now-clean reserve laundry and then headed upstairs to bed down and read a bit before turning off the light. All in all, it wasn’t much excitement nor anything new, but it was a good, solid prelude to our journey, and that’s all that we could ask for.

Tuesday, May 18 - ah, now we’re really started! My dad left for work at -37 o’clock as per usual and so we didn’t catch him leaving, but when my mom departed around 7 we managed to say goodbye and use that as a means of getting up and getting going in the morning. We tried to be as discreet as possible as we grabbed some fruit from downstairs for breakfast and attempted to make it seem like we weren’t planning on going anywhere soon so as to not freak out Buddy. It only sort-of worked. He still got really nervous as we finished showering and started to mill about. He started crying at the base of the stairs and nervously pooped on the carpet, a habit he’s picked up in old age (still nothing compared to the litany of behavioral – shall we say – “difficulties” my old dachshund Schnaaps had in his winter years). After we cleaned all that mess up Becky took him out for a walk away from the house as I loaded up the car so he wouldn’t bear witness to it. He came back and started to drink water from his bowl – another nervous tic – and we took the opportunity to sneak out. We felt a little bad leaving him like that but it was really better for him than making a big show of it.

We hit the road around 9 AM and crawled down Route 10 through residual rush hour traffic to I-287 South and quickly banged down to Route 24 East. It was smooth sailing for the most part but we hit another wall of traffic toward the merge with I-78. This one, though, wasn’t regular traffic but rather the result of a rather spectacular accident involving a tractor trailer that apparently decided to take its hatred of forests out on a single tree. The result was a Pyrrhic victory at best.

Traffic was better on I-78 East and we reached the Garden State Parkway South without any further problems and from there hit the NJ Turnpike South around 10. Despite the on-and-off rain we made great time down the Turnpike, but I’d unfortunately made a math error in my trip planner as to the distance we’d be on it and so when we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge on I-295 into Delaware around 11:30 we were actually running about 45 minutes behind schedule. Fortunately we’d make up that time later in the day, and, furthermore, our first official touring stop of the trip was only a few hundred yards away from the bridge in New Castle:

Day 01 Stop 1 - New Castle, DE
Daily total distance: 132 miles

“What in the world could New Castle, Delaware have to offer for sightseeing that would be worth stopping in the driving rain?” you ask.

How about a 34-foot tall Madonna made out of stainless steel?

Stainless Steel Mary

Stainless Steel Mary

Why build a gigantic Heavy Metal Mary? I don’t know, but – aside from the good people of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales – it’s almost certainly the coolest thing in the entire state of Delaware. I can’t imagine how she would look on a bright and sunny day; I imagine the sky must always look ominously cloudy around her. Some people had given her offerings, perhaps to appease her so she wouldn’t go on a giant robot rampage:

We were just happy to meet her, though.

Stainless Steel Mary

You can’t quite tell from the picture, but it was actually raining quite hard by that point and was maybe all of 50 degrees outside – hell of a way to start a road trip down South – so we jumped back into the car after just those few pictures and got back on the highway. We had planned on stopping at the lone service area off I-95 in Delaware for lunch but it was closed. Seriously, Delaware? You have one service plaza. One. Not even technically two: it’s in the middle of the road and services both sides of the highway. And it’s closed. Way to be, Delaware, way to be.

So we pressed on, crossing into Maryland at noon and stopping at their first service plaza around 10 minutes later:

Day 01 Stop 2 - North East, MD
Daily total distance: 160 miles

This actually turned out to be a rather brilliant stroke of luck on our part. Lunch was from one of those self-serve Burger Kings and was no big shakes, but they also had a penny machine! And it had what is unquestionably my favorite penny we got from our entire journey:

That’s right: a Frank Zappa penny. From a rest stop. It’s so amazingly nonsensical that I can’t help but think Zappa would approve. As you can plainly see, it deserved using one of the shiniest of pennies we brought with us.

With that little bit of extra win under our belts we continued on I-95 South and headed down via local roads into Baltimore, reaching our next stop at about 1:30:

Day 01 Stop 3 - Baltimore, MD
Daily total distance: 200 miles

Now, I’ve been to Baltimore 5 times previous to this in recent years: once in 1999 with my mother to visit Johns Hopkins while touring colleges and once per year for Otakon from 2002-2005. That said, we didn’t do any dilly-dallying for the first and the latter four were all in the Inner Harbor: where the white folks are. This stop was decidedly in a neighborhood that more genuinely represented Baltimore as a whole: where the white folks ain’t.

In a related story, I’m about mid-way through the fourth season of The Wire in my Netflix queue.

The streets were practically deserted of both parked cars and pedestrians. After circling the block a couple of times we decided it was wisest to park along the main road and to take our expensive items with us. That the man at the front desk did not bat an eye at us encumbered with laptops and backpacks indicates we probably chose wisely. However, he also didn’t seem to begrudge us by the color of our skin, which was a bit of a relief, as we were about to tour the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.

Nestled in the heart of East Baltimore, the Great Blacks in Wax museum tells the history of African-Americans as they were subjected to – and have overcome – adversity. It is roughly laid out in chronological order and, as such, starts with the 17th-19th century slave trade to North America as one walks though a re-created slave ship:

Female slave

Men's quarters


From there, though, one can walk up into a side-hall containing the first of several exhibits of 20th-century black community leaders:

Great Blacks in Wax

Ballot Box

A dream realized...

Not surprisingly, the wing was expanded relatively recently to include the Obama statue. Also to no terrible shock, it was decidedly darker-skinned than the pallid one we saw in South Dakota and had a delicate spray of stubble across his face, as if accentuating his blackness while the one in South Dakota sought to play it down. I rather liked this one better as, having seen him up close once, it seemed to be a better representation of the real man, albeit with definitively broader shoulders.

We continued down into the main hall, past some preserved pieces of Jim Crow cultural memorabilia from the early 20th century…

Minstrel Show

Uncle Remus

As well as a diorama on abolition and women’s rights, apparently overseen by Frederick Douglass Master Control:

Abolition Master Control

The lighting in that portion of the museum was quite low, so I apologize for the grainy pictures.

At that point we reached a juncture where we could go up or down. Up was the gift shop and another display of local black community leaders:

It also contained a display focused on historical persecution of black children:

Boy on a fire

Boy in monkey cage

These were, of course, mildly unsettling. The floor below, though, was the centerpiece of the museum and was far more disturbing: an exhibit on lynching that came with its own warning at the head of the stairs:

The overhead audio loop told the story of a man and his pregnant wife who were brutally tortured, hung and mutilated. The result was displayed in one diorama I will not show here. Needless to say, though, it got its message across. To one side was some re-created or preserved artifacts from lynchings:

Non-sequitur Santa

I never did quite understand what Santa had to do with it. Or pirates, for that matter.

Around the room were displays on how racial hate is propagated in modern times…

Hate on the Internet

…along with a rather macabre exhibit titled “now we lynch ourselves:”

As we walked back up to the main floor and passed through the remaining dioramas on great black leaders in the 20th century, the mood lightened substantially. First we saw Booker T. Washington, here in his book, of course:

He stood next to J.J. Abrams’ contribution to the museum:

Insert LOST joke here

There were numerous other historical figures as we would toward the end:

Malcom X and Elijah Muhammad

And this guy:

Non-sequitur linesman

Hey, power lines are important, too.

The final exhibit at the exit was probably our favorite: astride a life-sized elephant sat Hannibal, ready to cross the Alps or over to West Baltimore:

Becky with Hannibal

We thanked the museum attendant for indulging us and headed back out to the car, which had sat without issue during the hour we were gone. We continued on down I-95 South and around the eastern side of the Capital Beltway. By that point it wasn’t yet 3:30 and so we didn’t want to check into our hotel just yet, so we dropped on down to a rather disgustingly commercialized outdoor mall called the National Harbor (warning: nausea-inducing splash page) in Oxon Hill, MD:

Day 01 Stop 4 - Oxon Hill, MD
Daily total distance: 260 miles

The rain had stopped but it was still overcast and windy – not to mention unseasonably chilly – and so there weren’t many people there at all on a Tuesday afternoon. After cramming enough change in the outrageously-priced meter (10 minutes per quarter!) to allow us to walk around for a half-hour or so we had the run of the place to view what we came for: a huge, metal statue (theme for the day) of a giant emerging from an artificial beach titled “The Awakening:”

The Awakening Buried Giant

Of course, we had to have a bit of fun with him:

The Awakening Buried Giant

The Awakening Buried Giant

The Awakening Buried Giant

From there we noticed a Peeps store across the way. We thought what you’re probably thinking right now: “what the heck could be in a Peeps store?” I mean, there are like, what? Maybe a half a dozen different varieties of Peeps? How can they have their own store? So we decided to check it out.

We were the only ones in there aside from the three workers all trying to look as if they weren’t as intensely bored as they were. It was full of endless and needless arrays of Peeps swag. That wasn’t what was interesting, though. What was interesting was the excessively-loud soundtrack blaring throughout the surprisingly-large store. The present song was a sort of upbeat Motown number featuring a chorus of women soulfully singing the praises… of Peeps. The word “Peeps!” was roughly three-fourths the lyrics. One presumes that the rest of the music played in the store was other such songs about Peeps in different genres, played on loop. All day long. How those poor people don’t go on a homicidal rampage is beyond me. We didn’t stick around much to find out as we could only stifle our laughter for about 45 seconds before it became too much for us.

And now let us never speak of it again.

We exited the National Harbor and took I-295 up to I-395 into Washington, DC, got turned around a bit around the Lincoln Memorial in heavy tour bus traffic, but quickly got back on track and arrived safely at our hotel and the location of my conference around 4:15 – the Washington Marriott Wardman Park up near the National Zoo:

Day 01 Stop 5 - Washington, DC
Daily total distance: 270 miles

We checked in and got a room – a lovely late-Victorian chamber in the historical section of the deceptively large and sprawling hotel that was wonderful save for the two twin beds instead of a queen or a king – without any troubles and I pulled the Prius into a rather fantastic space just inside the hotel’s lot (I would wind up doing the Seinfeld thing of not driving the whole time we were there because I had such a good parking spot. That the Metro doesn’t suck as horribly as the T made this easier), ending our driving for that day and for the next several days:

End of Day 01
Cumulative total distance: 530 miles

After relaxing for a bit and checking email to get up-to-date with plans to meet folks en route, we took advantage of the clearing skies and decided to walk the 2-or-so miles from our hotel to Churchkey down on 14th St. We were there to have IRL-meetups with one Gordon Withers, who was already there to secure a table for us when we arrived around 6:15. His lady Cathy arrived from work shortly thereafter and good food and conversation was had by all.

Cathy and Gordon

Churchkey is one of those places where I could definitely see myself spending far too much time and money if I lived in DC. It’s sort of like Cambridge Common (seriously, someone needs to tell every website ever that splash pages are so 2004 and that they were annoying then, too) crossed with Lord Hobo here in that it has excellent albeit slightly pricey food and a positively daunting beer menu. The draft menu was enough for me to wrangle with at the time but they also had a selection of bottles that required a table encompassed in a folder the dimensions of a karaoke book. As for us, though I can’t remember what beers I specifically had – an IPA, a Belgian and a rye ale, I think – we had some of the Best Tater Tots Evar that Gordon had ordered before we arrived, some of their fried mac ‘n’ cheese and their take on poutine and a very good sundae.

Around 9 we thought it best to let our new real-life friends head home since they had jobs and work and stuff and meandered back to the hotel. This time I wasn’t quite up to the heavy walk and so we elected to take the Metro a single stop from DuPont Circle.

DuPont Circle Station

The Metro is kind of odd in that every station is a reminder of the Cold War era: they’re all built far underground – normally taking two separate long escalator rides to reach the tracks – and they’re all encased in thick concrete. The idea was that if Washington was attacked, the Metro could still be used to mobilize people and supplies in and out of the city. Now the lengthy escalator trips are seen as a regular minor inconvenience by locals and the stark concrete just a representative of mid-20th century architecture, but right then it still struck me as how much consideration was given to the worst case scenario at the height of the Cold War.

We got back to our hotel room without much difficulty and relaxed as I prepared for the start of the conference the following morning. We’d be spending the next three days in Washington, DC and so far everything was going quite smoothly without any lack of things to keep us occupied. I’m happy to say it would stay that way for the duration of our time there. We looked forward to the days ahead of us.

Wednesday, May 19 - we awoke around 7:30, I got dressed up in a decent shirt I’d ironed the previous day and some khakis and then parted ways with Becky for the morning. We’d agreed to meet up back at our room at 3:00 and so she had the entire morning and early afternoon to herself. As for me, I was set to attend the 2010 meeting of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy and if you know what that all means then you were probably there.

I headed across the hotel to register first thing in the morning. I steeled myself for the standard difficulties in locating my registration but they had all of my info on file and so I got my badge and my little baggie full of free stuff related to the conference – none of which was all that impressive – without any issues. Shortly thereafter I managed to run into my VP as he was coming out of the hotel’s restaurant, having just gotten breakfast. This is no mean feat as there were probably somewhere in the realm of 3,000 – 4,000 people at the conference on any given day. He instructed me to go get some food myself and so I sat down for a bagel and some coffee. And waited. And waited.

For reasons not entirely obvious to me it took over a half an hour to get a bagel and a cup of coffee in front of me. I grumpily charged the bill to my room and vowed to not eat there over the next couple of days. Instead I’d just grab coffee elsewhere or skip breakfast altogether. It was less frustrating that way.

At that point it was about 9:15 and I had still yet to go to the actual conference. So, I sat in back for the morning session in a large ballroom that seated about 800. Fortunate, as these first talks were unusually dense, dry, and, frankly, not all that interesting. The symposium sounded promising based on the billing (”a global renaissance” of gene therapy) but man, I know a lot about the stuff and even I was struggling to keep up. At some point I gave up and dedicated the rest of my time to leafing through the abstract booklet and marking down a list of posters I’d want to examine in the coming days. This was, honestly, probably the best use of that time and it passed relatively quickly.

For lunch I scoured the lobby and managed to find my VP again. He’d gotten there on a 6 AM flight from Boston – that is, departing at 6 AM, meaning he probably left his house at 3 in the morning – which is sort of how he rolls. Accordingly, there was no one else there from my company yet and so it was a rather foregone conclusion we’d be getting lunch together. Which worked out well for me as that would be one less receipt I’d have to expense later on. We would up going to a good diner down the road from the hotel called OPEN CITY where I had a chorizo and black bean omelet. Tasty.

After we returned I attempted to head back to my room but discovered that the maids had taken that very instant to clean it. Mmph. A bit dejected, I headed back down to sit in the lobby for the several minutes until it was time for the afternoon sessions to start. I managed to run into another member of my group then just as she arrived, thereby making myself sufficiently visible for the day, so I guess it wasn’t all that bad.

The afternoon symposium I went to was on new manufacturing technologies involving oligonucleotides and while that might sound like a bunch of wah-wah to you it actually was a lot more interesting to me than the morning talks. A lot of my work is with oligonucleotides and I only knew how they work when they’re already in cells, not all the stuff that leads up to that. So that, at least, was quite educational for me. Well, most of it, at least. The last talk was all about cancer stuff and oncology is sort of the techno music of biology: unless you know a crap-ton about it already it seems rather unapproachably vast and dense in scope and depth. And I’m not an oncologist. So there you go.

Around 3 I headed back to our room and met up with Becky as she had just arrived back myself. I freshened up a bit as I listened to her talk about what she’d been doing all day (more on that in a bit). I headed back out after just a few minutes, though, to go to one final talk that had irresistibly piqued my interest: an NIH geneticist discussing the status of genomics in 2010. Genomics is the science of the sequencing entire genomes of species and the leveraging of those genomes into useful information that can be extrapolated into larger patterns. It’s largely dependent upon two things: first, getting the sequences themselves (duh), something not feasible on a single-species scale until about 10-12 years ago and not possible on a broader scale until, well, now; and second, the in-depth analysis of genomes side-by-side that requires the sort of exceptionally badass supercomputers also not available until roughly now-ish. And so it’s a very exciting time for the field and, honestly, lately it’s difficult to discern genomics from the larger field of genetics as a whole. The talk didn’t teach me much of anything I didn’t already know, but it did reinforce what I thought I already knew, which is a major relief as I’ve already blogged about some of that stuff at length in FwLN2. So, for me, it was still very informative.

So while I was off doing all of this, what was Becky up to? More interesting things than I was, certainly. As I left for the conference in the morning she was getting a list of sites to hit prepared for the day. She elected to head to Ford’s Theatre first: the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, in case you are either not from the United States or else were asleep for the entirety of your US History class in high school.

She thought she would be able to pop into the theatre, take a couple of shots of the Lincolns’ box seats and get along her merry way. But of course it’s never that easy. She was rather confused at the sight of a long line of folks outside the theatre but initially didn’t think too much of it. It turns out that in order to get there she had to see a play about the assassination of Lincoln called “One Destiny.”

The tickets were only $5 so she figured, what the heck. It’s at that point that she figured out the long line was waiting to be let into the 11 AM performance of the play. A bit annoying, but no big deal. Plus, in the gift shop she managed to get a Venus fly trap while she waited!

This, as it so turns out, was because not only is Ford’s still an active theatre, but they were presently showing Little Shop of Horrors, Becky’s favorite musical of all-time and only one of two she really likes (the other rhymes with “Sest Wide Worry”).

This would be like someone asking if I wanted a KFC Double-Down on top of my burrito: just so much goodness all at once. She would, of course, be back.

As for then, though, she discovered that the play was actually at noon and that they were supposed to mill around in a tiny museum for the better part of an hour until they could be seated. Frustrating, but she persevered. The play was performed entirely by two men who acted out various characters by donning different hats. As the play progressed the light focused on the Lincolns’ box seats, still done up to look as they would have in 1865:

She was terribly distracted by the Little Shop of Horrors set, though, as if her mind couldn’t reconcile the clash. She was occupied in studying the sign in Mushnik’s window, so when the actors cried out lines like “The President has been shot!” and “Somebody stop that man!”, all she saw was “STOP IN AND SEE THE AMAZING NEW PLANT AUDREY II”. And when the doctor arrived and said gravely “It is a mortal wound, he cannot recover”, she was blinking back tears, but in the back of her head she just heard chorus girls singing “shing a ling shing, what a creepy thing to be happening…”

When the play ended the audience was all herded over to the Petersen House across the street from the theatre where Lincoln was taken after having been shot and where he breathed his last. The line was so incredibly long, though, that Becky decided to forgo it as she had to get back to meet me by 3 and it was already pushing 1 by that point. So she instead hoofed it over to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

At this point I’m a bit jealous. On the one hand, she had to wade through endless crowds of school kids packing into the museum like it was a Tokyo subway station. On the other hand, though, the Smithsonian has a world-class Origins of Man display hall that has been newly renovated and I was unable to see it. Becky tried her best to enjoy it for both of us.

When she had returned she was very excited about the museum but rather woefully informed me that it would have been better had I been there so she could have taken more of such poses. As it stands, she had to ask strangers and that was the only one of the several she tried that came out even remotely well. Perhaps we’ll return some time. As for then, she did her best to cover as much of the museum as she could despite her limited time and the crowds, but really, the Origins of Man hall was where it was at:

I’ve tried to stress in FwLN2 how the early history of humans and human-progenitor species is quite rich and complicated and we’re still struggling to understand just how we got here. From what I can tell, the Smithsonian does an excellent job of visually conveying not only that depth of history but also the importance of each of our ancestors and their relatives along the way. Very neat.

By the point Becky had finished it was nearly 3 and so she rushed back to the hotel, arriving in our room just several minutes before I returned. As I went back for that genomics talk she relaxed a bit in the drawing room in the hotel’s wing for our room:

When I returned around 4 we gathered ourselves together and headed out on foot toward the Washington National Cathedral:

Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral

It was a good, solid walk despite the high humidity and we found it without any trouble, what with it being the only building in the area that looks very much like Notre Dame (the one in Paris, not Indiana). Inside was a bit disappointing, though. They claim their gift shop is open until 5, yet when we arrived around 4:55 or so it was closed up tight as a drum already, preventing us from getting the flattened penny we’d come out there for. More on that later. For then, at least there was this:


As if the GITMO block isn’t confusing enough, its location – in the stairwell leading to the bathrooms – makes it even more cryptic. Who knows what sort of message it’s intended to convey. We tried not to belabor the point.

After taking those pictures outside the cathedral and getting eaten up by mosquitoes in the process, we continued to walk down Wisconsin Ave and into the northern stretches of Georgetown. It looked not all that bad: kind of like a combination of the nicer parts of Cambridge and the not-so-intolerable parts of Allston. We were headed to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Duke Ellington – it should be pointed out – apparently hates pets:

Duke Ellington hates pets

There is, though, room in his zombie heart for gigantic chairs:

Becky in a Giant Chair

Becky in a Giant Chair

Becky in a Giant Chair

I mean, sure, it was big and all, but we’ve seen bigger, like this one in Gardner, MA almost exactly a year earlier:

Now that’s a big chair.

We decided to head back to our hotel then, but didn’t want to go up and around the same lengthy route by which we had come. So we tried to cut through on some side-streets. This proved a bit more of a challenge than we anticipated. After getting turned around by a mansion blocking what seemed like a perfectly-reasonable way to go at first, we elected to cut through a patch of wooded public park, hoping it would spit us out closer to the hotel. Instead it plopped us neatly next to the New Zealand Embassy, all adorned with Maori art. I resisted the urge to photograph the building for fear of getting tackled by an overzealous security guard who had just witnessed us emerge from the woods, but when we kept walking – down the road past the much-more-stately British Embassy – I couldn’t resist in snapping this one:

Poor New Zealanders

Apparently the Kiwis were having troubles with itinerant Britons parking in front of their embassy in some sort of post-colonial display of passive-aggression. I couldn’t help but giggle at the sign as it just reeked off “c’mon you guys, quit pickin’ on us.”

As we reached the end of the row of embassies we loaded up Google Maps on Becky’s iPhone and decided that the best course of action was to go through yet a second patch of woods in front of us. This one paid off, though, and we got back to our hotel room safe and sound – albeit slightly grungy – around 6.

We rested a bit and cleaned up and tried to relax some. I put on some better clothes and walked down to the “welcome reception” they were having in the main hall for the conference. And walked right on back about a half an hour later. Meh. $7 for a Sam Adams isn’t much of a welcome if you ask me. Plus almost everyone I knew wasn’t there. Except for my Senior VP for some reason. Which meant I had to mull around a bit and see what he was up to in case the rest of my colleagues showed up (they didn’t). So that was a rather awkward waste of a half an hour.

Not terribly long after I returned to the room we elected to head on out to where we were to be meeting Brandon and Steve for dinner. Along the way we found a rather impressive mural:

Mama Ayesha with Presidents

Camberville (that’d be a portmanteau of Cambridge and Somerville for you non-Boston folks and yes, no one in Cambridge ever calls it that) is awfully fond of bright and colorful murals. They’re all over the place, not the least of which is a Shepard Fairey piece not four blocks down from my house. This one was uniquely DC, though: it was on the side of a restaurant called Mama Ayesha. That was Mama Ayesha there, we guessed, flanked by the eleven most recent Presidents. I like how Obama, apparently, is still being worked-on.

We arrived at the restaurant Brandon selected – Meskerem Ethiopian in Adams Morgan – a bit on the early side and so we grabbed a table for us and I ordered an Ethiopian lager as we waited. Before long our friends arrived, though, and we got to ordering some quite good and surprisingly filling food:

With Biquet and Tricky

Meskerem Ethiopian

So that’s two IRL meetups of LJ friends I’d never met before in two days. It’s gettin’ all 2003 up in here, isn’t it?

We had a wonderful time, of course. Brandon and Steve are both awesome people and they both had a lot of insight to offer as to their fair city and what they do there. After dinner we decided to keep the party going for a bit longer and went across the street to TRYST for some desert and nightcaps.

TRYST Coffeehouse

Becky had some strawberries and Nutella – which, really, is one of the very few things on which she could probably subsist indefinitely, much like me and pizza – and I had this concoction called a Dufrain that was Guinness and espresso. It was… well. I’m glad I tried it once. Other than that I’ll say it tasted about like you’d think it would. Hey, worth a shot.

The place had a good vibe, though, and we really enjoyed it. It was getting late, though, and so we bid farewell to our new real-life friends and headed back on foot to the hotel. We bedded down around 11 as Becky read a bit and I prepared for what would be the longest day of the conference for me the next day. A good first full day in DC for both of us.

Thursday, May 20 - after a big evening the previous day we were more than happy to sleep in a bit and so we woke up at 8 to get ready for the day. Around 9:15 Becky and I parted ways again as I went down to the conference for the morning and she headed out to stretch out a bit in the gym before running down to the National Cathedral again in a second attempt to get the flattened penny she was after. This time she was successful but not without some trepidation.

Knowing that the gift shop allegedly opened at 9:30, she planned to arrive then. That said, her plan to go running in the morning with the idea that it would be cooler proved to be tragically wrong, and so she arrived red in the face and soaked in sweat to find that the door to the gift shop was… still closed. Something inspired her to try the handle, though, and she discovered that it was unlocked. She walked down a hallway which led down the stairs to a heavy, wood-and-iron church door. That lead to another door just like that and she opened that one, too. There was no one in the gift shop except a stern-looking, thin woman with glasses, who was putting an armful of mugs on a shelf. She paused at the scene, probably still dripping with sweat, to which the woman said, “we’re not open yet!”

It was 9:37, and according to that sign upstairs, they should have opened seven minutes ago. Becky said nothing and the woman quickly corrected herself: “well, technically we’re open, but that door should have been locked!”

Which, y’know, is nice. What’s the point of having a gift shop if you never keep it open? Maybe they only open the gift shop to those who are holy enough to purchase the Cathedral’s various nick-nacks. Clearly, soaked with sweat, Becky didn’t appear all that divine to that woman.

“Can I just get some pennies from that machine?” Becky asked. “It’ll only take a few minutes…”

The severe woman frowned and sort of grunted, which Becky took as a “yes.” While she was cranking out her four pennies, a younger woman came into the gift shop. The first woman snapped at her, “that door wasn’t locked! You need to lock that up as soon as she leaves!”

Yikes. When she was done it was around 9:42. They locked the door behind her.

I was having a decidedly more pleasant but less adventurous time around then. First I went down to the main hall, where coffee was laid out for everyone. Now, after the $7 beer debacle the previous evening I wasn’t about to assume this coffee was free right off the bat but I was eventually able to discern that it was complimentary and helped myself as I wandered around and looked at some of the first early few posters I wanted to see that were already up. After that I met up with my colleagues and sat down for the morning lectures. These were more of the same from the previous day – more interesting than the morning sessions from Wednesday but not quite as captivating as the ones from the afternoon – but the difference was that in order to maximize the bang for my buck – as well as to stay alert and keep from getting terribly bored – I decided to skip between sessions in different rooms about every half an hour. This wasn’t a terribly bad idea and it worked fairly well for me except for one session where the room was already overflowed and I had to sit next so a man from some country where body hygiene and personal space are apparently both not top priorities. It happens.

While I did this Becky had returned from her run and, after showering and changing, had walked up to the National Zoo a few blocks from the hotel. As is typical of zoo-going experiences, it was both devastatingly hot and full of children. But they did have free-roaming orang-utans!

Those ropes are called O-lines and the orang-utans use them to wander about the zoo between enclosures. There are signs posted addressing the question that must get asked all the time, namely, “OMG WUT IF THE MONKEEZ FALL?!!1″

The short answer is “they won’t fall.” Orang-utans climb around trees as their primary mode of transportation. Them falling would be like an adult human simply tripping over his own feet and falling face-first into the sidewalk. So, clearly, unless the orang-utans are drunk, they’re just fine on those lines.

Becky and I reconvened in our hotel room around 12:30 and headed out for some afternoon sight-seeing from there after I changed into more comfortable clothes. We got lunch at the Chipotle down the street from the hotel, whereupon we discovered that apparently the sunblock Becky had been putting on her face was corroding the plastic in her sunglasses. And so every time she took off her sunglasses it looks like someone played a practical joke on her straight from a Charlie Chaplin film:

Melty sunglasses

After eating we took the Metro down to Metro Center and from there walked first to Ford’s Theatre, whereupon we got Becky her ticket to see Little Shop of Horrors that night while I would be at the conference again.

Pop art Lincoln

Having successfully secured a ticket and something to do that night, Becky noticed that the line outside of the Petersen House across the street wasn’t nearly as bad as it was the previous day when she was there and so we walked through quickly to witness the preserved home where Lincoln died:

Inside the Pertersen House

Lincoln wedding portrait

Lincoln's death bed

"Now he belongs to the ages."

Now he belongs to the ages indeed.

From there we walked down to the Museum of Natural History where Becky was the previous day and southeast across the National Mall.

Becky with the Washington Monument

The thing about touristy areas like that part of Washington, DC that is at once convenient and a bit frustrating is that the second we try to size up a picture for both of us, someone will pop out and offer to take one with both of us in it for us. This is quite friendly of them, of course, but it should be noted that most people barely know how to take a decent picture with their own camera, let alone one belonging to a stranger. And so most of these shots of us come out horribly. The one above was an exception if only because it was so very bright out that it could not have possibly been blurry.

Our main destination that afternoon was the National Air and Space Museum, a favorite from my childhood. We arrived a bit before 2:30 and, after some difficulty fighting groups of teenagers being herded through the metal detectors, got in to wander about.

Air and space museum!

After getting Becky the requisite pennies we tried to make our way through the “air” part first followed by the “space” part.

Old timey flight!

With Amelia Earhart

Girls Wanted!

Becky was clearly interested in being a stewardess in the early 1950s. Which mainly involved preening oneself in a mirror, apparently.


Earth and Mars

Museum of space!

Becky behind space food

Many of the above were from the human space exploration section, which was by far our favorite. They helped us understand how astronauts pee and poop!

Urine Transfer Tube

Fecal Bag

Truly wonders of modern technology.

The best display, though, was on early space monkeys Able and Baker, who were launched into orbit in 1959. Baker, a squirrel monkey, was not shown, presumably because it would have been too cute to handle seeing a squirrel monkey in his own little space cradle:

Baker cradle

Even the cradle is adorable. Able, though, wasn’t a squirrel monkey but rather a rhesus who are less cute and more bitey and scratchey and full of Herpes B. So it was okay to show a reproduction of Able in his space monkey carrier:

Space monkey!

Both monkeys survived the flight. Baker lived on to have a very long and healthy life for a squirrel monkey and died some 25 years later in 1984. Able, though, died four days later as a result of an infected electrode used to monitor his vitals. He was posthumously awarded the Certificate of Monkey Merit:

Certificate of Monkey Merit

After that we went up to the section all full of MODERN TECHNOLOGY. It was utterly fantastic.

Modern technology!

Modern technology!

From top to bottom we’ve got: a TI graphing calculator, a Speak and Spell, a 35mm camera, a TRaSh-80, a Walkman, a Casio watch, an Airwolf Game and Watch, a couple Radio Shack calculators and a Casio keyboard. But, oh, it gets better. There was also this:


The CRAY-1. From 1976, one of the world’s first supercomputers, capable of processing at a sustained 0.138 GFlops. The present world’s fastest supercomputer, the Cray Jaguar, processes at a sustained 1,759,000 GFlops. That would be over 10 million times faster. We’ve come a long way, baby.

From there we headed to the exit, via Skylab of course.

Inside Skylab

We fought the heat to hoof it all the way across the National Mall, past the Washington Monument, along the Reflecting Pool and up to the Lincoln Memorial, arriving around 4 after sitting to rest a couple of times along the way.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Mr. Lincoln

Becky with Mr. Lincoln

I’m especially fond of that last picture because it’s so totally deceptive. It makes it look like we were there by ourselves but in fact it was swamped with people. Positively claustrophobic. But at that one second the sea of humanity parted and I snapped that shot of Becky with Mr. Lincoln.

We asked Mr. Lincoln how he was doing and then went on our way.

View from the Lincoln Memorial

We stopped to get some water and to rest and then attempted to find our next stop: the Albert Einstein memorial. Easier said than done, apparently. It seems that where Google Maps places it is off by a full two blocks: it’s one block south and one block east of where it says it is. We figured this out after getting some directions from a guard at the State Department building that was sitting where Einstein was allegedly supposed to be. When we got there there was some more trouble, too: there was a large number of people there who were all standing idly as two boys climbed all over the statue for what seemed like a half an hour as we proceeded to get more and more impatient. Finally they cleared off and, as we got our cameras ready, this happened:

They were all in a group, apparently. So we waited some more and then FINALLY had Dr. Einstein all to ourselves:

Albert Einstein Memorial

Becky with Einstein

Us with Einstein

Us with Einstein

At that point it was getting late and so we headed back to the hotel, stopping at the needlessly colorful Panda statue outside along the way:

You can gussy yourself up all you want, panda, you still fail at life.

We got back to our room around 5:15. I immediately jumped in the shower as I was by that point positively drowned in sweat. I changed to some nicer clothes and we relaxed for a bit. Around 6 Becky headed out to see Little Shop of Horrors and I headed back to the conference not much longer.

First I went to the afternoon poster session. The food wasn’t all that great but I filled up on cheese and crackers as I looked at posters. Oh, and no soda because they wanted $3 for an 8 ounce glass of soda. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Before long I headed over to the room where the special seminar on SMA. I know a good deal on SMA and I knew 3 of the 4 presenters so it was quite interesting to me. Unfortunately, though, it was under-attended, possibly due to a last-second room change. The silver lining was that there were enough cookies and coffee there for twice the number of folks who showed up so I was able to stave off whatever hunger I might have had from not getting a proper dinner.

I enjoyed the first three speakers – the ones I knew – but I just couldn’t cut it through the entire fourth talk, largely very dense clinical stuff, so I excused myself and headed back to our room around 10.

Becky had a much better time than I did, I think.

She says she had the best seat in the world: there was a pole next to her on the right and the aisle on her left, so her seat was isolated from everybody else. The Russian seating lady helped her find it and when she saw how it stuck out all on its own, she said “you’re all by yourself!” in a mournful tone. But it was a great seat and she wanted to be all to herself. There was no better seat in entire theatre besides the box seats reserved for the Lincolns, but they wouldn’t let her sit there. The program said that if she liked her seat, she could have her name engraved on it for $10,000. She was tempted a little.

The show was so good she was trembling during the prologue. She knew that prologue word for word and she knew what was coming and then… the chorus girls flew out on a revolving stage wearing 50s style spaceman suits! She thought she was going to weep. It was already the best musical she’d ever seen.

The man who played the voice of Audrey II was also extremely impressive. He was huge! And he sat in a throne-like chair above the stage, visible to the audience. He looked like Mr. T and he was wearing silver shirt that, from her distance, looked like it could have been chain mail. Whenever he demanded to be fed in that commanding voice, it suddenly seemed reasonable to chop up humans and toss them into the plant. He was emoting when he sang lines like “I swear on all my spores/When he’s gone the world will be yours…” He had a vibrato on the word “spores”. In the beginning when Seymour was describing how he acquired the seedling Audrey II, Mr. T stood motionless above the stage, holding a small flytrap that a spotlight shone upon. He looked like the All-Powerful Supreme Lord of Horticulture.

She was enjoying herself so roundly that she had to restrain herself from bouncing along in her chair to every single song, and compromised by rocking very slightly side to side in her chair and mouthing the words. She doesn’t think the pole sitting next to her noticed.

She could also see Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s seats, reserved for all eternity, up on the right. At various points during the show she imagined the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln, silently watching the show. She wondered what Mr. Lincoln would have thought of it. I know that in their time the Lincolns loved the theatre and during Lincoln’s presidency, going to the theatre was one of the few things that Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln did together as a couple once Lincoln was elected president.

She watched the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln watching the show from their seats above her. She pretended that they had a really great time and were baffled yet amused at the musical, which was nothing like Our American Cousin.

She wasn’t the only one who was seeing the ghost of Mr. Lincoln watching the show: at the end of the show Audrey II eats Audrey and Seymour and the chorus girls take clippings of the vines to raise more Audrey II’s, implying that the small plants continue to grow and multiply and take over the world. During the finale, the chorus girls each take a small plant and sing about world destruction and warn the audience not to feed the plants or we’ll all die. When the chorus girls sang, one of the three faced the empty box seats and quite deliberately offered up her small venus flytrap to the ghosts in those seats. She felt honored to have seen such a show with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln that night.

She returned back to the room all of 6 seconds after I had gotten back myself, bubbling with the above story. As it had been quite a long day, though, we elected to relax a bit, read for a while, and go to bed. It was a very full day in DC and we had one more to go before we would move on.

Friday, May 21 - we woke up around 7:45 and I prepared to head down to the third and (for me) final day of the conference. The evening would be especially important as I’d be presenting my poster but there wasn’t much to the morning. I meandered down to a couple of more talks around 9 after setting up my poster as Becky headed out to get more flattened pennies. I think by that point my brain was just full, though, as I just plain couldn’t keep attention and was counting down the minutes to when I could get out of there. Around 10 I went to meet a coworker who had co-authored the poster down in the main hall where I was to put it up. This was easier said than done as the woman working security was taking her job far too seriously. I finally talked her into letting me in to discuss how I was going to present it. It’s not like there was anything in there worth stealing, anyway. I guess she was just doing what she was told.

After that I wandered back to the talks until maybe 11:30 or 11:45 before I decided I could no longer fit any more Science into my brain and decided to give the poster room another try. Fortunately by that point the overzealous security woman had left or was on break and so I was able to slip in without being read the riot act again and spent a half-hour or so looking at some posters I would not get the chance to view while presenting my own that evening. After that I decided to head back to our hotel room to meet Becky for lunch.

She had had a decidedly more interesting morning than I did. After getting some of those pennies she went to see the naked Boy Scout Memorial in between the White House and the Washington Monument. “Huh, that’s funny,” you say. “A naked Boy Scout? Surely that’s controversial.” No, it’s not a naked Boy Scout. It’s actually worse than that:

Yes, it’s a Boy Scout with an enormous, well-chiseled, very naked man standing behind him. With a very well-placed piece of cloth blowing across his nether-regions but, as you can see, not his backside. I don’t know in what Universe this wasn’t supposed to be suggestive, but, having been forced to read Ayn Rand in high school, I blame objectivists. It looks like something Roark would design. Seriously, it’s a horrible book. And that is one very naked man standing next to a Boy Scout. In the center of the touristy part of Our Nation’s Capital. So there you go.

We decided to keep things simple and got lunch at Chipotle again. After that we took the Metro down to Pentagon City (technically our first foray into Virginia, but we won’t count it since it wasn’t driving) and walked across to our sight-seeing destination for the day:

Outside the museum

That’s right, the DEA has a museum. “Wouldn’t that just be a big collection of various drug paraphernalia?” you ask.

Well, yeah. I guess. But a US Government-sanctioned collection of various drug paraphernalia, so it’s okay! Needless to say, we were put through a metal detector by a couple of stern looking guards who looked like they had long ago grown weary of dopey-looking white kids coming through and taking pictures standing next to bongs. So maybe we weren’t helping, but hey! Our tax dollars at work! We paid for it, amirite?



The museum starts off with examples of the good, clean life. Like creepy Coke-shilling dwarfs:

Creepy Coke gnome

“He who controls the Coke controls the Spice. He who controls the Spice controls the Universe!”

One could also use a drug-free lifestyle to see Canada by train!

We're seeing CANADA by TRAIN!

Though I cannot imagine how anyone not under the influence of drugs could possibly be that excited about seeing Canada by train. Her flounder-like expression is slightly telling in that regard.

From there it went into a history of drug abuse in the United States over the past 150-or-so years and, in the process, highlighting different kinds of illicit drugs based on what was popular at the time. They started, of course, with opium:

Opium pipes

Opium vials

From there it moves on to the turn of the 20th century and the rise of patent medicines, what you might know of as snake oil. If you’re interested I’ve written about patent medicine before. The moral of the story is that the stuff that wasn’t pure placebo was mostly alcohol mixed with various depressants.

Just in case you thought getting all messed up and then writing about it was something isolated to the era of the Internet.

This was also around the time when heroin was prescribed for a cough and cocaine was handed out for… well, whatever.


Try refreshing Heroin!

It seems “here, take this! It’ll make you feel awesome!” was the prevailing medical wisdom of the time. Treating underlying diseases – not just alleviating symptoms – was something that didn’t really come about until the latter half of the 20th century and the prevalence of now-illicit drugs used to treat everyday malaise is evidence of that. And it wasn’t limited to getting through the trials and tribulations of adulthood, either:

Kopp's Baby's Friend

Kopp’s Baby Friend: the baby “soother” that babies are physically addicted to by name! But at least one of the four babies pictured was black, so, hey, progress toward racial equality! That’s… something, right?

Of course, around the Prohibition Era – the 1920s or so for those who nodded off in US History class – all this doping started to generate a cultural stigma and so the first real campaigns were started to combat drug abuse:

Hint: if you think using marijuana is having John Waters give you an IM injection into your shoulder, you’re doing it wrong.

It was around this time in the years leading up to World War II that the first drug laws were enacted and many of the substances above were first made illegal. The reasons for this change weren’t always altruistic, though, and were often motivated by fear of the racial intermingling that seemed to be associated with these drugs:


Later, to combat these “hipsters,” the US Government would also place severe restrictions on import and export of trucker hats and ironic t-shirts.

It was also around this time that the now-famous-amongst-asinine-college-stoners Reefer Madness came out.

Reefer Madness poster

Reefer Madness

As you can plainly see, apparently “reefer madness” is the act of dressing up like a raccoon and performing a caber toss. While smoking. Good to know.

Clearly, enforcement of drug laws was required. This was initially carried out by a division of the FBI until the DEA was created under the Nixon administration.

Official business

In the mean time, drug abuse went underground, with secret government tests using LSD:

LSD a help to mental illness?

…and recreational users making bongs out of practically anything, such as imitation mayonnaise jars, apparently:

Imitation Mayonnaise bong

Which is disgusting on more levels than I can comprehend.

For the slightly better-moneyed stoner there was… whatever the hell this thing is:


It appears to be an old household popcorn maker with the exhaust manifold for an Edsel stuck on top of it. I can’t even begin to guess how it worked, if at all. But there it is, in Arlington, VA, if you ever care to look at it yourself.

With the creation of the DEA, the crackdown could begin in earnest.

Undercover pimp

The pimpin’ crackdown. Like on this guy:

Looks very regretful

I’ll bet he’s really sorry that he was low enough on the totem pole to take the fall! I mean… for selling drugs!

As for the higher-ups in the drug cartels, they had their own flair to attend to:

Diamond-encrusted Colt .45

You’ll note at this point that this museum did absolutely nothing to dissuade me of any preconceptions I might have had about what the 70s were like.

But just what were these agents up against? Nothing less than geniuses who disguised cocaine as… “Peruvian incense:”


How did they ever cut their way through that dense code? Since this was around the same time that people had yet to figure out that Freddie Mercury was gay, though, I’m going to have to go with the good ol’ “simpler times” fallback, I suppose.

As we entered the 80s, a new nemesis arrived, crack-cocaine:

Crack pipes

With it, crack brought an increase in gun violence and, of course, Paddington Bear:

Guns and Paddington Bear

But then, everyone knows that. What you might not know is that it also brought with it a bumper-crop of Mexican musicians who sought to glorify the gang warfare related to the drug trade by wearing leather outfits so ugly that you’ll beg your captors to stab your eyes out just so you won’t have to continue looking at them:

Grupo Exterminador

Finally, there was the 90s:

The 90s
Pictured: the 90s.

As we wound out the main wing of the museum we entered the adjunct section that highlighted the abuse of prescription drugs via a gigantic medicine cabinet:

Giant medicine cabinet

…as well as a “pharm bowl:”

Pharm Bowl

If we’re to believe the description, it’s apparently all the rage amongst the hep cats these days to dig their ironic mitts into these bowls and down a big ol’ handful of whatever-the-hell they can shove down their throats. Now, Becky and I aren’t in with the in crowd 100% of the time but we aren’t exactly big, equilateral, equiangular squares, I’d like to think. I mean, we have friends in New York, right? And yet neither of us have heard of this practice, not even tangentially. That coupled with how unmitigatingly brain-leaking-out-of-one’s-ears idiotic it would be to do this makes me wonder if the DEA just might be telling stories or else perhaps believed something it read on the Internet. And we know how that goes.

But what happens when too much is taken?

What happens when too much is taken?


That’s what. So there. To illustrate that point, the DEA included a folder full of pictures of young people struck down in their prime due to drug abuse called “Remembering Lost Promise:”

Remembering Lost Promise

There were other pages, of course, but do you need to see them? No, of course not.

And so we completed our tour of the museum and I bought a polo shirt from the gift shop for my dad. On the way out we stopped by a vending machine they had in the lobby:

A tough choice

Unfortunately, everything cost $4.20 and we didn’t have exact change. Oh well, maybe next time!

By that point it was about quarter of 4 and so we took the Metro back to our hotel and relaxed for a bit. We got in touch with Gordon and Brandon to make plans for later that evening and then ordered some room service, since neither of us had had a proper dinner the previous night and wanted to make sure we actually got to eat something this time. I had a pretty darned good chicken quesadilla but the total bill of $55 for both of us was unreasonably steep for a light dinner. Meh, at least I got to expense it.

Around 6 I headed down to the main hall to present my poster. Overall it went really well, I think. Only one guy seemed bound and determined to stump me by asking me a ton of biochemistry questions to which I didn’t know the answers and could only politely suggest he should have attended the talk by our collaborator the previous evening who invented the biochemistry processes involved in the therapeutic. So instead he reverted to asking me a ton of hypothetical questions that amounted to intellectual wankery. Thanks, guy. Fortunately, everyone else I talked to was much more genial. Still, it was quite a rush and so when I was finished around 8:30 I was absolutely ready for a drink or five.

While I was gone Becky went to the gym and then went down to pick up a couple of things at the Indian store down the street, fighting her way through several crunchy hippie women who were too white for their own good and would not survive five minutes in actual India but had no problem being incredibly bossy to the meek man running the store. Becky tried to be as nice to him as possible.

When we re-convened at our hotel room we planned to meet Brandon down the street close to where we had met a couple days earlier in Adams Morgan. Gordon had had a rough day and so sent his regrets and so we followed Brandon’s suggestions for places to get drinks. We first headed to Madam’s Organ, as much – if not more – an institution of Adams Morgan as the Sunset Grill is for Allston.

Good place, too. We had a couple of rounds down on the first floor and then headed upstairs for a couple more when the band started playing so we could continue talking/hearing ourselves think. As it continued to get busier we decided to take a walk down 18th street to Larry’s Lounge, an old hangout for our host that was not nearly as crowded. And they had Dogfish Head 60 Minute on tap! Bonus! Though that combined with the Lady Gaga playing over the PA was a bit of cognitive dissonance for sure.

It was growing close to midnight by that point and so we bade farewell to Brandon and walked back to the hotel for our final night in DC. We were perfectly fine on the walk back but when we settled down Becky started to feel ill. She would spend much of the night fighting nausea and lightly groaning. She’d still feel sick the next morning but would fortunately shake it off shortly after we hit the road again.

Still, even if it was a rocky end to our time in DC for her, we really felt as if we had a fantastic three and a half days, overall. We saw the sights, ate some great food and got to hang out with some wonderful people. Not bad for a week in which I was technically working. Not bad at all.

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