Day One – Arrested Development, Deposed Premier, Budget Crisis, This Ain’t No Disco, Seeing Red, Grab A Vine, Bar Exam, Monumental Journey and No Go-Go
Wearily staring at my computer at 2:30 a.m (I don’t sleep well the night before flights) on this Saturday morning, the headline from the morning paper jolted me awake faster than a four-shot espresso. “Congressman Arrested,” the headline stated. It was more than six hours before our plane was to depart heading to our nation’s capital, and already the Congressman who had arranged (and who was going to meet us) for our White House Tour less than a week from today had been arrested.
Amused and bemused, I, of course, had to go wake up Tracy to tell her the startling news. “What the hell time is it?” she asked not so pleasantly. “
When I told her, Tracy responded, “I could kill you.”
Knowing that the trip was already paid for, I did not feel in any eminent danger, although I did keep sharp objects from her before departing for the airport.
When booking the flight, I decided to spend an extra $68 on what United Airlines calls “Premier Line.” For this stipend, Tracy and I would go to the head of the line for check-in and security along with a Boarding Pass for Group One. We would be like first class passengers, even though we would eventually be taken back to coach. I could even act like a Premier for a short time. Thinking of our fellow coach passengers, I thought, “Let them eat cake.” Instead, as it turned out, I would be eating crow.
Arriving at the nearly empty United Airlines terminal at 6:15 a.m., we checked in our luggage (we took more clothes for a week in DC than we do for a month in Europe), and then, like Leonard Nimoy, went In Search Of the Premier Line. Shortly, there was the sign up ahead, and we followed the directions to what we thought surely would be “Traveler Nirvana.”
Oh yeah baby, there were only three people in the Premier Line. “Tracy. You have a pretty smart husband, eh?” I said to my spouse who, for some reason, now had a wry smile on her face.
“Take a look over there,” she said. I took a glance to the left of me, where the multitudes of people would have to wait to go through security hell. To my immediate dismay, there were only two people in the “I Didn’t Just Waste $68” line. Oh well, I surmised, we are in Group One to board, so at least we will get that benefit. Soon it was time for boarding to begin and for us to get our 68 bucks’ worth. We were in Group One so we should be boarding quickly.
First up were the Premier Executive passengers, first class passengers, passengers who needed help boarding and passengers pretending to need help boarding. “OK, we’re next,” I said to Tracy.
Then they called for business class passengers. One by one, two by two, they boarded. “It’s like Noah’s Ark,” I said. The only things missing were the unicorns. The waiting area was becoming less and less crowded. “We must be next,” I said a little less confidently to Tracy.
I don’t remember for sure, but I think the order of boarding that followed was bald-headed men, people who had not yet showered and finally Group Number One.
By now, more than half the people ticketed were on board. Needless to say, we did not purchase Premier Line service for our trip home. Once in our seats, the flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. was perfect; meaning it took off, stayed in the air and landed with all of us in one piece. Upon landing, the plan was to hook up with our traveling cohorts in crime, Kim and Mary. As we walked into the luggage area, there they were holding a sign with our name on it, and now the journey had officially begun.
DIGRESSON: The usual MO of our European vacations is that I do all the planning, and Kim, Mary and Tracy are pretty much at my mercy for the itinerary. They have had to endure Bataan-like death marches in Prague, Tuscany and other venues throughout the European continent, but this trip was different. Kim and Mary have some knowledge on Washington D.C and offered to do the planning.
My Type-A personality thought about that and said, “It might be fun to be a follower for a change.” So, for a few months leading up to our trip, the two of them would send me periodic e-mails updating us on everything we would see and do when we visited DC. The Sunday before we left, we met them for breakfast and Kim whipped out a spread sheet that, well let me just say this; if the government had done such extensive planning over the course of the last eight years, we would not be in the mess we are today.
Monuments, museums, art galleries, transportation, restaurants, more museums, more art galleries, tours and presidential residences were laid out in an extensive day-by-day itinerary.
I told Kim that I was happy to see that there would be time for a bathroom break on Tuesday and a quick shower on Friday.
Back at the DC airport: Once we retrieved our luggage, Kim asked, “Which way to the cabs?” Without hesitation Mary started off quickly in one direction, which happened to be the wrong direction. Kim laughed and said, “Seldom right, but never in doubt!” As a former travel platoon leader, I felt Mary’s pain, but it was Kim who received his first “look.” I felt his pain, as well.
Kim stayed on a roll when Mary started talking about a woman on the plane that could not seem to keep quiet. “She sure was a Yappy woman,” Mary said. Immediately Kim shot back, “Now I know how Tom felt on that six-hour drive from Krakow to Vienna last year.” Bada-Bing! The soft spoken Kim suddenly was Rodney Dangerfield reincarnated.
Armed with the Washington D.C. manifesto, we were picked up at the cabstand by a nice gentleman in a nice car. We casually chatted with our driver who provided us some interesting tidbits on Washington D.C. as we rode in the taxi lane on the way to our hotel.
“How long have you been doing this?” we asked. “Well, I only do this on weekends. During the week I work for the Treasury Department.”
Man, this budget crisis is really in turmoil, I thought. I half expected Joe Biden to great us as the porter at the hotel.
“What hotel are you staying at?” our driver asked. “Hotel Rouge,” I said.
“Hotel Rouge?” our driver inquired. “With those red leather doors, I always thought that was a disco.” Since the hotel was the only thing on this trip I had chosen, I immediately started feeling pressure and had the song “YMCA” in my head. I like the night life, but I hoped he was wrong.
Once at the Hotel Rouge, we realized the name was certainly apropos. Sure enough, one enters through a red leather door and red is most definitely the dominant color throughout.
But it was only $149 a night, which for this location near DuPont Circle seemed pretty good, and we all made our way upstairs to view our respective rooms. When I opened up our closet, I went “Whoa.” For a moment I thought Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler from Wild Kingdom might jump out. There on hangers, directly in front of me, were leopard camisoles, underwear and robes. I was surprised PETA wasn’t staging a protest right there in my room.
“Don’t touch them,” Tracy said. Obviously she has been watching those undercover exposé pieces on the local news before we left. “But we could play Tarzan and Jane,” I retorted. That reply was met by complete silence. Let me tell you folks, it’s a jungle out there.
We walked about 15 minutes to a spot outside the White House and took a few moments to get our bearings on where we would commence The White House Tour the following Friday. I told Kim and Mary about the “arrest” of the Congressman who would be our “ticket” to the White House Tour.
As it turned out, he was taken into custody during a planned protest rally in support of union workers, and he was not arrested but just detained, cited and released. The White House Tour was still on.
It was right about now that the hunger pangs caused by a day of fasting on the airplane hit us right in the digestive system. Fortunately, located very nearby was one of Washington D.C.’s most venerable spots, The Old Ebbitt Grill, and it was on the Kim/Mary spreadsheet.
There has been an Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington D.C. since 1856. It moved to its present location about 30 years ago and is a watering hole for politicos, professionals, journalists, celebrities and, of course, tourists.
Best of all, they have four bars, and since it was a tad after 5 o’clock (well, not that it really matters to us), it was also time for a libation. No, it did not matter to us that it was just a little after 2 p.m. California time. Hey, we adapt quickly.
Walking inside, there was an instant buzz. The place was packed and it was noisy in the dining area, not to mention at every standing room only bar we perambulated. Finally, we wound our way to the back of this establishment and, speaking of Unions, plunked ourselves down at the four remaining seats at Grant’s Bar. I wondered aloud if we would hear tales of brave Ulysses, but as do most of my lame jokes, it fell upon deaf ears.
With its Victorian influence, one could almost see those old presidents and senators sitting down here at the Old Ebbitt arguing politics over a snifter or two of Brandy. Those recollections, by the way, had nothing to do with the strength of the two excellent martinis that Rich the bartender served me.
The food, if a little nondescript, served its purpose. Mary had a lump crab cake with a side of coleslaw, while Tracy opted for the Calamari with spicy aioli along with a strawberry goat cheese salad with toasted walnuts and a balsamic dressing.
Kim tried the sausage pesto pizza while I was in the mood for the steak salad with a spicy horseradish dressing. Mary asked Rich for a beer, and he recommended Yuengling Lager, which none of us had ever heard of before. According to Rich, the Yuengling Sisters Brewery in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, is the oldest brewery in the United States.
With a gleam in their eye, Mary and Kim then led us on the Washington D.C. Monument Death March. It looks like Tom’s Prague Death March of the previous year will be looked back upon as a nice, little stroll in comparison.
As we walked by the nearly 60,000 names etched in that wall, you could not only help think about their sacrifice…
Dusk had already settled upon the National Mall as we made our way up the steps to the magnificent Lincoln Memorial. What struck me was, that even with so many kids wandering about in the area, the mood here was surprisingly reflective.
The next memorial was dedicated to women who have participated in our military,
The statues of infantrymen were placed in a field, and you could almost place yourself in their shoes. I thought it was a very fitting memorial, and it became even more fitting as we now realized that we had been walking for nearly two hours.
But there was no stopping squadron leader Kim and his first in command, Mary. Next stop, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. FDR is one of Kim’s favorite people in history, but he thinks they might have gone a bit overboard with his memorial.
“They gave everyone else a building, but FDR gets his own condominium project.” Well, yes it does sprawl, and Kim, ever the avid historical book reader, said that he thought Roosevelt would have been embarrassed to have something this large dedicated in his name. That is true.
As we would see later in the week, there is a small memorial dedicated to FDR in front of the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. It was placed there because Roosevelt once stated, “If they put up any memorial to me, I should like it to be placed in the center of that green plot in front of The Archives Building.” He went on to say that the memorial should be about the size of a desk.
Well, after death you lose any veto power, so the FDR Condo Project was constructed. Tracy, Mary and I vetoed Kim and said we enjoyed the memorial. The waterfalls, lit up in the nighttime tableau, made for a serene setting. It was very relaxing, but only for a moment.
“Where to next?” I asked our platoon leaders.
“The Jefferson Memorial. It’s over there,” Kim said while pointing at a edifice that was awash in a bluish tint that looked like it was located 100 miles away. I believe it was at this minute I actually heard a groan from one of my feet.
But trudge along we did, and it was on to the Tidal Basin and the spectacular Jefferson Memorial, a memorial so beautiful that FDR had the trees cut down between the White House and the memorial so he could witness its beauty as he awoke each morning. At this moment I could have used his wheelchair, too.
By the time we reached this striking memorial, monument fatigue was starting to set in, but up the stairs we climbed (1,000 stairs a day whether you need them or not would be an easy goal this trip) to the Rotunda.
Designed in a similar fashion to the Pantheon in Rome, this classical architectural style was also used in the construction of Jefferson’s home at Monticello. With the distance we had traveled on this Monument Tour, it felt like we had already walked to Monticello.
We attempted to grab a cab once we hit the main road, but it seemed that the taxi drivers felt like avoiding us. I must have passed out, because the next thing I remember was sitting in the bar at The Old Ebbitt Grill; the bar located at the front left as you enter. OK, I didn’t really pass out, but you get the idea.
The front bar did not, in all our opinions, have the same panache of Grant’s bar, but fortunately the vodka tasted the same. We thought about taking a cab back to the hotel, but what the hell we thought, our feet were numb anyway, so we limped back to the Hotel Rouge for a nightcap in a “hip setting with barmaids in short skirts and go-go boots.” Well, at least that is what some online reviews stated.
We entered the hotel through the now-familiar red leather door and turned left to witness the bar scene. Far from being hip, the only couple we witnessed having a drink in the bar looked like they had a better chance of breaking a hip. There was a nice looking woman who was tending bar, but there were no go-go boots to be seen 0photo from internet).
I believe that Tracy and I were literally asleep before our heads hit our respective pillows. Our dreams tonight would focus upon the Georgetown area, which is where we would spend the better part of the day and night tomorrow.
Day Two – Sooner Or Waiter, By Georgetown We Like It, I Could Go Broke Here, Obama Vino, Exercise and Exorcise, Home And Gardens, An Extraordinary Martini and Party Like It’s 1789!
Even without donning the leopard underwear and camisole, Tracy and I slept great, and the benevolent Mary did not give us our wake up call until 8:30. The Hotel Rouge might be a little funky, but their beds were awfully comfortable.
Down in the bar that still had no one in go-go boots, I poured a cup of the complimentary Rouge coffee. One sip told me that this was not the place to grab the $11.95 continental breakfast. The coffee seemed to have all the needed ingredients, sans one…coffee!
On the agenda today was what Kim and Mary called a “free day,” but certainly not in the monetary sense. Our plan was to get over to Georgetown, check out the area as well as looking for the restaurant where we would dine that evening.
Since it had now been about 17 hours since our last meal, we ducked into one of the first restaurants we saw, Le Pain Quotient (we have one where we live, too) to enjoy their breakfast. Seated upstairs, we ordered and waited for our food to be delivered. And we waited. And we waited.
I had seen one of the wait staff carefully navigate the staircase and deposit a tray of hot food on a shelf relatively close to our table. At first, it didn’t mean anything to me. Soon, our waiter started serving food to people who had come after us, and the tray of now not-so-hot food stayed on the shelf. Patience for me on this Sunday morning was not a virtue and not in the cards.
Looking at it from afar, but not that far, the now cooling-by-the-second food on the tray looked very much like the order for our table. “I’m just going to go see if that is our food,” I said. The table vetoed me, and we waited. And we waited. After another five minutes and no sign of our waiter I said, “To hell with it, if that’s our food, I’m getting it!”
Before anyone could say “chocolate croissant,” I was at the shelf and, sure enough, there was our not-anywhere-near-hot breakfast.
Showing off my deft Garçon-like skills, I plucked the tray, which sadly weighed quite a bit more than I expected, from the shelf. Staggering back toward the table, I nearly spilled the contents on the people at the table adjacent to us, but I ultimately was able to successfully bring the contents to our table.
“Bonjour, Je m’appelle Tom. I will be your surrogate waiter this morning. Mary, I believe you had the Tartine with egg salad. Tracy, you are having the Quiche Lorraine. Kim, here is your chicken pesto and Tom, even though you are not seated because the idiot who was supposed to be doing this has gone AWOL, please enjoy your Gruyere Omelette.”
Later, our waiter came by, but never said a word. Not so coincidentally, never have I tipped less.
The day was sunny and beautiful (and thankfully not too humid). We walked down to the Potomac where the restaurants with outdoor patios were filling up for lunch on this beautiful day.
I think if we lived here they would be great places to hang out, but for our one day Georgetown tour, we very much liked the shops and restaurants in Georgetown proper much better.
I looked over and there they were. “Hey, who is that person calling an ass? We’re just two poor, hard-working mules,” and he-she-it was right. These two mules were part of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Historical Park, where you can take a canal ride and see how these historic locks work.
Walking inside, there were fresh crab cakes from the Chesapeake Bay, barbecued baby-back ribs, heirloom tomatoes, wine and even more wine. I had never been in a Dean & Deluca before. “I could live in this store,” I said.
As we were in the back chatting with the wine guy, Kim asked, “Did you see the Obama Wine in front?” Located at the front of the store were numbered “Inaugural” wine bottles with a gold seal that shows The White House, has the name Barack Obama and the inauguration date all on its gold seal.
We each bought two bottles (along with a few others) to be shipped home. One we will keep as a souvenir, and the other we will serve to some future, unsuspecting Republican friends of ours as a gentle ribbing for their defeat last November.
Forty-five minutes and $300 later (yes, we are good for the economy), we left the “store of evil” and headed toward the special place where we would dine on this Sunday night. We thought we were near, but the street it was located on was nowhere to be found.
Next we stopped by Francis Scott Key Park. There’s a bronze bust of Francis Scott Key, wayside exhibits explaining his story, and an American flag depicting the year 1814 when Key penned his now famous poem.
After nearly being run over by the incredible amounts of traffic in the area, Mary finally asked someone where we should go (never a good question to ask anyone who has known us for more than a minute).
“Up there,” he pointed. Not too far from us was a narrow set of stairs that rose steeply. “Those are the stairs from “The Exorcist,” the man said, spitting out green liquid as his head did a complete 360.
The stairs were steep, all right, but we all made it up successfully. We counted 90 steps, but it seemed like 666. Some people were actually running up the steps, although others were having a devil of a time (ok, enough of that).
Near the top of the stairs was our restaurant, 1789. Nicely dressed patrons were entering and exiting on this early Sunday afternoon for the special Mother’s Day brunch. We were shown a dinner menu from the previous evening (the menu changes every day), and we told them we would see them later when more appropriately attired.
Grabbing a bottle of water at a nearby store, we trekked up to Georgetown University, a very lovely campus (Let’s Go Hoyas).
After a brief respite on some benches we walked through more of charming, residential Georgetown to Dumbarton Oaks.
The wait to get in was only about 15 minutes and, as it turned out, it was well worth the effort to get here. The self-guided tour is $8.
The property encompasses more than 50 acres, and we meandered slowly through the various gardens…
…enjoying the sights and smells of this great spring day.
The only downside was that the spring weather had been so cool the previous weeks; the flowers were not yet at their peak color.
As we exited the property, our feet finally got the better of us, and we grabbed a cab back to the neighborhood where Jack’s is located. That morning, we had seen a place that touted half-price bottles of wine on Sunday. Well, it was Sunday and it was afternoon. Enough said!
We were dropped off a half block away and walked over to the empty wine bar that was closed, even though it said it was open. A voice boomed from the balcony across the street, “That place is out of business. Try the Oyster Bar.
” Kitty corner to us was The Oyster Bar. “Sorry, we don’t open until 5,” the guy at the door said. So, it was off to Jack’s (1527 17th Street NW), who had their “Five Dollar Cocktail Sunday” (better than a $5 foot-long) in full gear, and the patio was packed. We got the last table out of the sun (by now, it was hot. Very hot!).
Tracy ordered the house Blackjack Martini while the rest of us asked for the Urquell Pilsner in honor of our trip to Prague last year. I’m not really a beer drinker, and all I can say is Urquell tastes better in Prague. I needed something else. It was then that the alcohol gods smiled down upon me.
Our waiter, Ismael, a very funny guy who grew up in Turkey, recommended I try their Limoncello Martini. I took my first sip of this delectable concoction consisting of equal parts Stoli Limonnaya Vodka, Limoncello with a splash of sour mix shaken then strained into a glass, and I felt like singing in both Russian and Italian. Looking at the other drinks on the table, Ismael said, “You made the right choice.”
When Ismael brought Tracy her Limoncello martini, he looked at me, looked at Kim, winked and whispered to Tracy, “Yours is the best.” Did this guy know how to get a tip or what? Luckily, I had leftover tip money from breakfast, and he got it.
We had a few hours before our 8 p.m. dinner reservations, so we took what would be the first and last nap of the trip. After getting spruced up, we were in a cab whisking us to one of the area’s most famous restaurants, 1789.
Built in a country inn-type setting, the restaurant has been in existence for almost 40 years. There are six separate rooms to dine in that range from Civil war décor to a garden room to where we were situated on this evening; The Pub.
It was quite warm inside, and this restaurant requires a coat and tie, which complicated matters for me. The room, although full, was very quiet, and the four of us were afraid that this might be a pretty stuffy dinner.
Well, we’ve never met a room that we couldn’t get to liven up, and tonight was no different. Our very professional server, a very lovely young woman by the name of Caro, chatted with us extensively and soon a couple of tables changed out to customers who were a little more lively and who we got to know later, with a little surprise thrown in for good measure.
The food was exquisite. I started with a dish entitled “Snails In A Blanket,” which is certainly better to have here than at your hotel. The dish comprised burgundy snails, wild Ramps (I think Kim dated her in college), Neal’s Yard Coolea (who I actually thought was a rap artist) and parsley.
Tracy began with the Baby Carrot Soup that included crispy veal sweetbread croutons (showing why she is the “brains” of the family), raisin compote and tarragon mustard.
Kim decided on a Bitter Greens Salad of Belgian endive, radicchio, frisée, fennel vinaigrette and spiced croutons.
Mary went with the Farro Salad of spring garlic, baby carrots, black Spanish radishes, green almonds and wild Dandelion greens.
Before we got to the main event, we were served “amuse bouche,” which, although sounding more like a Cirque du Soleil show, were actually crostinis topped with baby wild onion flowers.
The main event was equally as good. Kim dined on an EcoFriendly Farms Pork Chop (no pigs were harmed in the making…oh wait, yes they were) with Black-eyed peas (no Fergie, however), Applewood smoked bacon, wild Dandelion greens, grilled green garlic and Blis sherry vinegar. Mary, ever the fish girl, had the Day Boat Halibut with potato gnocchi, Fiddlehead Ferns (my old college flame), wild spring onions and Yellowfoot chanterelle.
Tracy’s Bo Bo Farms Free Range Chicken with Smokey Blue Cheese polenta, baby carrots, roasted young Vidalia onions and Herb jus (Tracy’s ex-boyfriend) was a hit. I had the Muscovy Duck Breast with a Long pepper crusted foie gras, baby turnips, Riesling Macerated Black Mission figs and stewed turnip greens.
It always seems we eventually end up chatting with people at restaurants (shocking), but tonight came an unexpected meeting. After talking extensively about wine with the people next to us, and delving into other areas, it turned out they were relatives of Kim.
By now we were extremely full, and when Caro asked what we wanted for dessert, we passed. Major 1789 faux paus! Caro’s face turned long (although she is happier in the photo – below left) when we ordered only cappuccinos and my Mexican coffee.
A short time later, she returned…with treats for the table! “Dinner is like a book,” Caro told us in a nice, but stern tone. “There is the prelude, the story and the conclusion, and dinner, like a book, is not complete without the conclusion.”
So (on the house I might add), we were first presented various sorbet of Rhubarb Lime, Raw Almond and HoneyComb grapefruit. All were pure essence of the flavors. Sorbets were served with cranberry and chocolate chip cookies along with chocolate wafers. “Wow, that was nice of her,” we said. But like the late, great Billy Mays would have said, “Wait, there’s more!!!”
Caro then brought over to our table an assortment of pastry Savories, pecan Sandies (which I had only known as a golf term) and chocolate Sandies with pink peppercorn. These cookies melted in your mouth, and Mary exclaimed that the pecan Sandies tasted “just like Christmas.”
By now the room had emptied somewhat, but the remaining guests were now all talking with one another, and then part of the 1789 crew from the other rooms starting sifting in to The Pub. One of them said, “I wish I had worked this room tonight. It looks like everyone is having so much fun.” So much for stuffy, eh?
One of the servers then took me on a tour of the restaurant (photo abpve from website) showing me all the other rooms, which was very cool, I thought. What was also interesting to me was that we were the last few remaining groups in the entire restaurant (the four of us did the same thing at Il Latini in Florence one night until finally our entire group, including many Italians we had been singing with, had to leave through the darkness of the rest of the establishment).
We apologized to the crew for keeping them there so late, and they said, “Don’t worry, we’re having fun, too.” It was after 11, so we said goodbye to Kim’s relatives, a couple of other revelers and all the good folks at 1789. As for the cost of the evening, I will simply go to the end of the commercial and say, “Memories – Priceless!”
We did not get to sleep until after midnight, and were hoping for a good night’s rest, because tomorrow the spreadsheet was filled to the max, and there would be no time for dawdling.
Next: Day Three – The Twelve Hour Day, Is That A Shoe Or A Condo, Lunch In A Native Setting, Capitol Idea, A Very Public Library, The Supremes, A Museum in KAOS and CONTROL, Escargot Here I Go and My Favorite Torturer