As 2016 drew to a close, Taylor and I were invited to begin the new year in our nation’s capital. Washington D.C. was no new experience for Taylor, but this was my first visit. Our journey began in Birmingham, Alabama, and after a full day of driving, our first night's stop was in Roanoke, Virginia at The Snuggle Inn. We arrived in Roanoke as the first snowflakes of the year began to cover the Virginian capital city.
Once we'd arrived in Washington D.C., our first destination was The National Mall. We walked to the Library of Congress, and among the expertly crafted institutional buildings that we saw, the Library of Congress may have been the most impressive. Its seemingly flawless design, captivating murals, and patterned ceilings and floors is a spectacular home for the personal library of Thomas Jefferson. The library holds some of the American republic’s most direct influences. Fittingly, we would move from a building whose walls hold the ideas that formed our nation to a building whose walls have heard the debates those ideals have encouraged.
We did not spend much time at the Supreme Court, but the highest federal court in the land is housed in an impressive structure that is just as imposing as the decisions that echo from its halls. We sat in on the beginning of a scheduled lecture but did not stay for long.
We moved on to The Capitol Building, but we were only allowed into the visitor’s lobby without purchasing an official tour. Instead of signing up for a tour, we decided to explore on our own.
We took a tunnel from the capital building back to the Library of Congress on our way to the Madison Memorial Building. Once we were inside the Madison Memorial Building, we followed a tip from a friendly staffer that led us to a view of the city from the Madison cafeteria. After finding our way out of the Madison Building, it was time for us to rendezvous with our friend and host for the weekend.
We met Taylor’s sorority sister Laine and her brother Jay at the Christmas tree display on the white house lawn. The Funkhouser family was kind enough to allow us to be guests in their Arlington home for the remainder of our trip. Once our luggage had been unloaded and introductions were a thing of the past, we ended our night catching up at Pizza Paradiso with a delicious meal and much needed relaxation.
Our Saturday began with a wonderful breakfast prepared by Mrs. Funkhouser. The breakfast was followed by my first ride on the metro. Laine, Taylor, and I met a friend of mine and his significant other at Arlington National Cemetery. Looking out over the sea of uniform, white tombstones made me realize the reality of war. We were told that the cemetery buries, on average, 30 per day. That sounded absurd at first, but when we considered the qualifications to be buried there and the number of American veterans in our country, the absurdity vanished.
I must highly recommend visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and, if at all possible, watching the ritual changing of the guard. The amount of physical and mental discipline on display at any moment at the Tomb is difficult to fathom. If more time is available, the Internal Flame at the tomb of John F. Kennedy is another sight that gripped my attention and demanded my respect.
A short distance from the Internal Flame, the manor of Robert E. Lee is standing but seems to be deteriorating at its extremities. No matter the sentiment toward the previous owner of such an estate, I found sadness in the allowed degradation of such a piece of history. Once we had toured a large portion of the grounds, it was time for lunch.
We moved over to Georgetown to head to The Tombs for a delicious meal of hamburgers and bloody Mary's. Our only other stop in Georgetown was to see the iconic set of stairs featured in the classic horror film, The Exorcist. Although we did not explore much of Georgetown, what I experienced of it was spectacular. With our stomachs full, we decided that the evening would be complete after a drive to The National Mall to visit one of the Smithsonian museums.
We decided on the Air and Space Museum. I can’t speak for the rest of our party, but I know that Taylor and I were excited that this museum was the group’s choice. The museum is massive, and we did not have time to see an IMAX film or see every exhibit, but we did see several airplanes, rockets, and landers. After going through the exhibits on space exploration, my local friend and I decided the only suitable dessert would be flash-frozen, astronaut ice cream.
Our couple of friends that had joined us for the day had different plans for the night of New Year’s Eve, but the evening would find Laine, Taylor, and I preparing to ring in 2017 at Don Julio’s in Arlington. We had been joined by Paige—a friend of Laine’s—by the time we left for Don Julio’s. The admission privilege for Don Julio’s was a bit expensive for my tastes, but the night was nothing short of what a NYE spent out on the town should be. We danced and celebrated as if it would be our last NYE to enjoy.
The first day of 2017 would be much more active than I had ever imagined it would. Laine, Taylor, Jay, and I began our morning with a brunch burger at Whitlow's on Wilson. The meal was exactly what Laine, Taylor, and I needed to kick start our day of walking and viewing the many monuments of Washington D.C.
Our first monument was Einstein, seated in thought with his theories of general relativity, the photoelectric effect, and the conservation of energy inscribed on his papers. I stood in the statue's presence as my thoughts were warped by the magnitude of this man’s propositions.
We kept walking until we reached the Lincoln Memorial. I did not read the inscribed speeches in Lincoln’s temple, only because I am well aware of the contents. I consider this monument one of the most fittingly portrayed. As we descended the steps of the temple, a crystal clear sky, adorned with the Washington Monument, shone in the reflecting pool and was the most captivating sight, of a man-made object, I’ve seen.
Rival views were plenty as we walked through the Korean War memorial on our way to the memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The likeness of a man who revolutionized American society--and its controversial inscription--will never do his deeds justice, but his words of wisdom engraved on the surrounding walls provide a sample of his mission and morality. Dr. King’s statue looks out over the Tidal Basin toward my favorite monument of the day.
Thomas Jefferson’s memorial left me speechless. I felt in the presence of the very ideas that I find most intellectually satisfying. The summation of his most noble thought is inscribed around the base of his monument's dome: “...for I have sworn, upon the altar of god eternal, hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Still basking in the light of Jefferson’s words, I joined Taylor and Laine for an Uber ride back to Arlington for a much needed evening nap. With batteries recharged, we hit the streets to meet Taylor’s cousin and her family for wings at the Bracket Room. Once our appetites for food and conversation were satisfied, we made our last trip back to the Funkhouser residence.
The next morning, Taylor and I packed our bags, said our goodbyes, and fixed our bearing south. We fueled up the car and fueled up ourselves with bagels from Brooklyn Bagel Bakery. Our drive to Birmingham was an easy one with so many new and sweet memories to cherish.