Updated: May 1, 2019
Welcome back, my loyal blog followers! I’ve been too busy (read: lazy) recently to update you all with the thrilling conclusion of my most ambitious Crapitol journey to date. But the wait is finally over!
We last left off at the Amtrak station in downtown Richmond, Virginia, approximately 9:30 AM on Sunday, September 30, 2018. Still feeling the lingering effects of the previous night, having stayed up until the wee hours with my bearded brethren, I was relieved to board the spacious, comfortable train. Train travel is a truly delightful experience, and quite novel to those of us who don’t live on the east coast or in Europe. I found an open row and plopped down in the window seat, or window recliner, I should say, as the seats could have easily passed for business class on any airline. The space to stretch out and the ease of moving about the train are a luxury for the vertically gifted like myself. I relaxed and watched as the lush, green Virginia countryside flew past. I also reviewed my plan of attack, as there was much I wanted to see and do in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and most importantly, Maryland, and my time was very limited.
I had been to Washington, D.C. only once prior, on a spring break trip 20 years ago. My siblings, mother and I had seen a lot over that week, but being solo would allow me to be much more fleet-footed this time around. My long legs, my fast-walking pace, my unwavering intransigence about straying from my itinerary, and my unrealistic expectations about how much one can reasonably see and do in a mere 30 hours would be pushed to the limits of human endurance.
After rolling into Union Station, here is what I did:
Disembarked the train and immediately searched about for the two souvenir penny machines I had read about on PennyCollector.com (Washington D.C. is perhaps the greatest collection of souvenir penny machines on Earth, but more on that later). Found the machines, got the pennies. Bought a postcard in the great hall, sat down and wrote to my dear grandmother, like I do whenever I travel (Pro tip: always carry stamps in your wallet). Ate a quesarito from the Taco Bell in the food court (in preparation for my assault on Annapolis the following day), walked across the street and dropped my postcard in the mail at the United States Postal Museum (because why not), and hoofed it for the National Archives. Made it through security and sped right past the uninteresting stuff to the large hall housing the Declaration of Independence, as well as the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but most importantly the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE! No photography allowed, left after about 5 minutes. Headed directly to Ford’s Theatre, got souvenir pennies. Down the street to the Downtown DC Welcome Center to get more pennies. Booked it to the White House Visitor’s Center to get still more pennies. Proceeded through a throng of 20,000 Turks celebrating the annual DC Turkish Festival. Looked like fun, but I had a schedule to stick to.
Booked it to the White House-south-lawn-tourist-photo-op-corral, where I towered over the heads of the many Asian tourists, allowing me to crop them all out of my pictures.
Made my way to the lovely State Plaza Hotel just west of the White House in Foggy Bottom, a real neighborhood. Took some much needed rest in my room for about an hour. Regrouped, put on more deodorant, and headed back out. After grabbing some nourishment (definitely check out the veggie bowls at Beefsteak), I hit the National Air and Space Museum for, you guessed it, more souvenir pennies. Also touched a moon rock. Crossed the Mall to the National Gallery of Art, something my brother and I had missed back in '98. I was absolutely floored by the collection. I kept thinking, “I know all of these paintings.” A stunning collection of famous Western art, including Ginevra de Benci, the only Da Vinci on display in the Western hemisphere. Very cool.
Climbed Capitol Hill at the magic hour as the sun set across the mall. In case you’re wondering, the US Capitol is not on my, um, shit list, so to speak. Not at the moment, anyway. This project is specifically about the 50 state capitols, but perhaps I’ll return to D.C. as a capstone to the project after completing all 50 states. Plus, it’s closed on Sundays. Took a selfie at the Supreme Court, took a selfie at the Library of Congress, watched the sunset.
Found a Car2go nearby. This was a key part of my plan all along. The fact that Car2go was available in D.C. was a major factor in my attempt to hit Annapolis. I would rent this Mercedes GLA for 24 hours, with a 150 mile limit. I parked near the Holocaust Museum and began my walking circumnavigation of the tidal basin. All open late and dramatically-lit, the monuments of our nation's capital are breathtaking at night. Hit the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, the newer MLK Memorial, then headed for the Lincoln Memorial. Climbed the steps, read the Gettysburg Address, tipped my cap, proceeded to the Vietnam War Memorial. Incredible as ever. Saw the new (since I was last there) WWII Memorial on my way to the Washington Monument, then returned to the car, ate Shake Shack, lost my parking ticket at the Wharf, got charged the $38 maximum, and finally returned to my hotel to watch HBO. Pulled out my phone to find out I had logged 30,766 steps and 17.9 miles that day.
Woke up early Monday morning to make sure I got to Arlington National Cemetery right when it opened. Had the run of the place. Visited JFK and Jackie, and Bobby, who is currently obscured by construction work, and finally the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Then, finally, I headed for Annapolis. As I was researching this trip I discovered the Maryland capital was a mere 32 miles from D.C., or about 45 minutes in good traffic. I did the math and discovered I could easily make it there and back in a Car2go, with time enough to then see Mt. Vernon, and maybe grab some crab cakes on the Chesapeake. I told you this was an ambitious trip.
I arrived in the adorably historic part of old Annapolis at around 10:00 AM. I began wandering about as I didn’t quite feel the necessary urge to complete my mission just yet. Nothing a bit of coffee and strolling couldn’t fix. After obtaining the only souvenir penny available in Annapolis, I found an adorable little coffee shop nestled in a used book store called Brown Mustache Coffee, within sight of the Maryland State House. This was too perfect. I sipped at a table in front on the little colonial street and wrote another postcard to my dear grandmother. Still not quite feeling the urge and needing to kill some time, I made my way over to the United State Naval Academy, alma mater of Roger Staubach, John McCain, and Jimmy Carter, just a few blocks down the street.
I watched a fascinating short film about Plebe Summer, the grueling military indoctrination cadets go through the summer before they even start classes. I certainly gained a greater respect for these fine young seafaring folks. I inhaled the wet, gamey bay air as I explored the campus, checking out the chapel and the basement crypt of the Father of the American Navy, John Paul “I have not yet begun to fight!” Jones. Very cool. At the Naval Academy Museum, a very kindly veteran volunteer explained to me all of the current exhibits, including an impressive-sounding collection of model ships. In all honesty, I just popped in to see the “Don’t Give Up The Ship” flag because I had to be somewhere to poop.
That place, just up the street, was the Maryland State House.
No tours were provided, but a handy brochure offered ample assistance for self-guidance. Rivaling, nay, dare I say surpassing the Virginia State House in historical significance, this building has been in continuous legislative use since 1772. Not only is it the oldest state house, but it is the only one ever to have served as the nation’s capitol, as Congress met here from late 1783 to summer 1784, just as the Revolutionary War ended. On top of all that, on December 23rd (that’s right, Festivus) 1783, General George Washington appeared before Congress in what is now the Old Senate Chamber, and, having won the war and seen the last British troops depart US soil, resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Talk about mission accomplished. This was a colossal act of humility and statesmanship, and the reason why we have a civilian controlled military. Indeed, the man who could be king declined the opportunity, to return to his beloved wife and their estate, only to be called back into public service in 1789.
The old Senate Chamber has been restored to this 1783 period and features a statue of Washington reading his speech on the very spot that everybody guessed was probably about where he was standing because why not and there’s really no way to know for sure. Just outside the chamber in the rotunda (which incidentally, is the largest wooden dome in North America, built entirely without nails) is George Washington’s personal, hand-written copy of his speech, complete with his scribbles and corrections. The placard there states that historians consider this to be the fourth-most important document in American history, presumably behind the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. But they would say that wouldn’t they? I mean, flaunt what you’ve got.
The historic portion of Maryland State House also features the beautiful Old House of Delegates Chamber, restored to 19th century grandeur, and the blood-red Caucus Room, home of the silver service from the USS Maryland. The current Senate and House chambers aren’t too shabby themselves, with Tiffany skylights and black and gold marble matching the Maryland flag (which is undoubtedly one of the best state flags).
These newer chambers were part of an addition that was constructed from 1902-1905, which also included the installation of new bathrooms…
Having completed the main objective of Operation 2 Birds, 1 Stone, I departed historic downtown Annapolis and proceeded to my remaining secondary and tertiary objectives, commencing Operation Icing On the Cake, or Operation How Much More Can I Jam Into This Afternoon Before My 7 PM Flight Out Of Dulles?
I decided to swing for the fences. After all, I wasn't sure when I’d be making it back to this part of the country. I fired up the Benzo and headed not west back to DC, but east, toward the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Have you seen this bridge? It’s huuuuuuge. Spanning 4.3 miles and 186 feet above the Chesapeake Bay, it’s the largest bridge I’ve ever been on. My destination was the Kent Narrows, just at the far end of the bridge, to find some crab cakes. I pulled up to the first place I saw, Fishermans Crab Deck, got myself a table on the deck ordered some crab cakes, ate my crab cakes on the crab deck, and was shortly on my way. I had one more stop to make: George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, 64 miles away. Traffic would have to be merciful.
As it turned out, traffic was indeed merciful, and I made excellent time to Mt. Vernon, but I knew I hadn’t much time to spend there. I first grabbed a few souvenir pennies, as well as a Mt. Vernon souvenir penny booklet, and grabbed a ticket for the 3:00 mansion tour. I was a few minutes early so I nearly sprinted towards the tomb of George and Martha Washington, thinking I could see it first and then cut out from the tour early.
The tomb is remarkably understated for being the resting place of the single largest figure in American history. The rest of the estate, however, is quite extravagant. George Washington was the richest man in Virginia and everything else about Mt. Vernon was designed to impress and to showcase his great wealth. There was no greater brag at the time than having so much land that you could afford to waste some of it on a massive and useless bowling green in your front yard. Truly a wondrous place, though if I had to choose, I’d say Monticello's mountaintop views trump Mt. Vernon's waterfront overlook, but that's just me.
Highlights of the mansion include: the bed GW died in, his writing desk, the key to the Bastille gifted to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette, modern air conditioning, and no photography allowed. It’s fascinating visiting such places and realizing that, while these may have been the richest men in the New World, and they may have owned literally hundreds of other human beings to serve them hand and foot, they were sweating their balls off wearing all wool clothing in their un-air-conditioned mansions, and shitting in chamber pots. They never once tasted an avocado in their lives.
I thanked my guide as I bailed on the tour and hurried back toward the car. Everything had to fall into place perfectly for me to make one last stop. Did I already say Mt. Vernon was my last stop? Strike that. My last stop would be the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the National Air and Space Museum Annex near Dulles International Airport. Why, you ask? Well one reason you can guess: souvenir pennies, obviously, with the other two reasons being: the Space Shuttle Discovery and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. I’d never seen a Space Shuttle in person before, and the SR-71 Blackbird just melts my heart into that of a 9-year-old boy peeing his pants with excitement, because, it’s just the coolest fucking airplane ever.
It was around 4:00 PM when I left Mt. Vernon, and standing in my way was 30 or so miles of unpredictable suburban DC traffic. Udvar-Hazy closed at 5:30. I would be cutting it very close. After an annoying sequence of stop lights through Alexandria, VA, I hit a stretch of seemingly miraculous traffic-free driving all the way through the heart of DC on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. My plan was to leave the car at the far-western edge of the Car2go home area in Arlington, thus minimizing my remaining Uber time to Dulles. I dumped the car, summoned my Uber and we were on our way. Had I not had plenty of time before my flight, or had traffic been significantly worse, I would have felt pretty anxious about the drive to Dulles, as it seemed obscenely far from the city, and that’s saying a lot coming from a Denver resident.
My driver dropped me off at the front door of the Udvar-Hazy Annex right at 5 PM. I grinned blissfully at the security officer who politely mentioned they were closing in half an hour as if to say, "My friend, that is all the time I need." I first grabbed the souvenir pennies I wanted (including a badass SR-71 penny that is now the jewel of my collection), then began my half-hour victory lap tour of the museum. I hurried through the giant hangar ecstatically, like George Bailey tearing through Bedford Falls. Merry Christmas SR-71 Blackbird! Merry Christmas Concorde! Merry Christmas you wonderful old Space Shuttle Discovery! Merry Christmas Mr. Potter!
I then triumphantly boarded the shuttle bus that conveniently ferries folks twixt Dulles and Udvar-Hazy. After navigating the larger and more-Byzantine-than-expected airport terminal, I found my way to the United Club, where I gorged myself on the abundant free snacks (thanks MileagePlus Explorer Card!). I boarded my plane shortly thereafter, scarcely able to believe my good fortune, as there would no one in the seat next to me on the near 4-hour flight. Cherry. On. Top.
So in the roughly 30 hours from the time I left the train at Union Station to the time I boarded the plane at Dulles, I had driven my Car2go 147 miles, spent probably $30 on souvenir pennies, taken 50,929 steps and walked a distance of 28.6 miles. I had seen and done everything I came to see and do.
Next stop on the tour: Michigan. Stay tuned.