New Year Musings

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Hotel Harrington

Washington, D.C

The persistent sound of dripping woke me from a restless sleep: Water dripped from the ceiling of our hotel room onto the end of our queen-sized bed. It was raining outside.

“Wake up Cecil! The ceiling’s leaking,” I implored, frantically shaking my sleeping spouse. The leak had created a puddle on his side of the bedspread. Engineer that he is and not wanting to move to another room in the dead of night, he approached the problem by attaching an ice bucket to plastic coat hangers, then attaching the rig to the leaking vent to catch the drops. Fortunately the rain soon diminished, and a bath towel placed on the puddle temporarily resolved the problem. 

Rain earlier that evening ended a typically hot and humid late summer day in Washington, D.C., where Cecil, the trip planner, felt we should stay before we crossed the Atlantic for our European vacation. A duel purpose spurred the brilliantly conceived idea: reduce jet lag by acclimating ourselves to East Coast time, and visit our nation’s capitol.

Our first day had gone well: breakfast at Harriet’s Family Restaurant in the historical Harrington Hotel—within walking distance of the National Mall, the White House and the city’s many historical attractions. We walked to the Washington Memorial, studied the Vietnam Memorial, and gawked at the newly erected memorials to women who served militarily in wars and conflicts. The heat and humidity demanded water to keep us hydrated, and we hailed a taxi for the ride back to our hotel.  

“What kind of food are you up to for dinner?” asked Cecil.

“Why don’t we ask the desk clerk to recommend a place to eat?” I suggested. My mind harked back to a decade ago when my corporate employers put me up at four and five-star hotels with “concierge” staff who directed guests to top-rated restaurants and popular attractions. 

Clyde’s Restaurant, an establishment within walking distance of our hotel, was recommended by both desk clerks. The restaurant’s ambiance was highlighted by jazz standards playing softly in the background, and garden fresh salad makings. Dale, our server, was entertaining and prompt. But at meal’s end, a sudden downpour forced us to take a taxi back to our quarters. A young black man emerged from the small crowd gathered at the restaurant’s entrance, offered to hail a cab for us, did so, then held out his hand for a reward. His action shocked me, as he was clean cut and well-spoken. Neither Cecil nor I had less than a $20 bill on us, and told him so. The “helper” then had the nerve to ask the cabbie to change the $20!  

“I’m homeless,” he said, “and so is my family.”  We instructed the Haitian cabbie, who’d refused the young man’s request for change, to drive on.  

Journal Note: It’s 1:00 a.m. now and I’m hitting the sack. Today’s Lesson: Chivalry is dead.

 

 

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I will fix this thing!

 

September 3, 2014

Hotel Harrington

We were upgraded to a room down the hall with a king-sized bed, larger closet, and a microwave oven. Both were top floor rooms, thus the leak.  Cecil said the desk clerk expressed no surprise when he learned of the leak.  Organized leader that he is (as pilot), he outlined our day:

“We’ll take the metro to the mall, lunch at the American Indian Smithsonian and then explore the aeronautics museum.”  Had it not been for my pesky knee, I would have savored the subway experience.  It so reminded me of the metro in Paris, except there were escalators easing our D.C.journey. The heat compelled us to take a taxi to the Martin Luther King Memorial (MLK), since we had another eight blocks to go after leaving the subway. 

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

 “What a beautiful tribute to a great man,” I thought on entering the memorial plaza.  A statute, created by the “foremost sculpturist in the world,” said our park ranger guide, dominated the plaza. The Chinese artist, Lei Yixin, from Changsha, Hunan Province, was selected from an international group of outstanding sculptors gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2006 to create stone sculptures in an outdoor studio. The monument depicts the human rights activist in great detail, his profile facing the Washington Memorial.  Majestic, I thought. The stone walls leading to the statue featured carved excerpts of Martin Luther King’s famous words, including letters from the Birmingham jail, and quotes from his 1963 Washington D.C. “I Have a Dream” speech. The ranger presented an historical rundown of Dr. King’s accomplishments, including his trip to India to study Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolent approach to civil rights. 

 

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

 

The National Museum of the American Indian

“It’s lunch time now, let’s head for the National Museum of the American Indian,” suggested my personal guide and companion. A charming young D.C. resident we met on the shuttle ride from Dulles airport to our hotel highly recommended this museum cafeteria for its “great” food.  I’d fallen in love with Indian bread ten years ago on a trip to South Dakota. The interactive museum exhibits were rife with episodes of Indian history excerpted from the History television channel. The singing, rituals, and drum beats reminded me of historical documentaries about African countries; and, for the first time, I consciously made a connection between the two cultures whose rituals illuminate and sustain their ancestral heritage. 

The National Air and Space Museum 

A tour of The National Air and Space Museum next door occupied the remainder of our afternoon. Outstanding exhibits included Amelia Earhardt’s, who along with her publicist husband, George Putman, used her fame to start an unsuccessful line of clothing. An early advocate for women’s rights, the spunky pilot turned down six marriage proposals from Putnam before consenting. Still, she insisted that the word “obey” be stricken from their otherwise traditional marriage ceremony. 

Another exhibit featured the Tuskegee Airmen, college graduates of the Alabama university, who emerged during World War II as the first African American pilots. Their performance in successfully escorting US bombers through enemy lines target is legend. My having met and interviewed three of these outstanding gentlemen, along with their equally brilliant wives, was one of the defining moments of my nine-year stint as a weekly Op Ed columnist for the Stockton Record, a Gannet publication.

Next to catch our attention was an exhibit honoring aviation pioneer brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, whose persistent campaign to launch flying machines transformed the transportation world. Watching Cecil’s reactions to all of these exhibits was like watching a baby playing with one overhead crib toy after another. Emotionally engaged from the start, my pilot lingered at several other exhibits as we made our way to the exit.

We taxied back to our hotel, enjoyed cool drinks in the lounge, and returned to our new room before walking the few blocks to the Elephant and Castle for a light supper. The wine list featured a Kenwood, California champagne, so naturally we ordered a glass.

“Vacations are a way of celebrating life,” said Cecil, raising his glass in a toast.

“Right on darling...I’ll certainly drink to that!” I replied.