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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Smoky Mountain National Park: Camera Aneurysm

We made it. Winding down mountain cutbacks, not at tire screaming speeds, but averaging at least five miles-per-hour over the suggested rate.

"There is no way we are going to make it," Colette cried through taut vocal chords every time we took a two-wheeled turn.

"We'll make it," false confidence etching each syllable into the cloud drenched air.

O.K. now imagine this with blurrier trees. I might have been exaggerating a bit, but I swear at one point we were on two wheels.
To be a Junior Ranger, Evan had to attend a ranger program, and on this particular day there were only three offered. We could have made the 10:00 a.m., but it was about bears. We had done bears at Shenandoah, and honestly it was a little below his level. There was a talk scheduled at 7:00 p.m. that definitely did not fit our schedule. So we were consigned to the 2:00 p.m. stream life activity.

"We are not going to make it."

"If we don't, I will sweet talk the ranger, but we will make it."

"Have we passed the picnic area?"

"I don't know. I think so."

We barreled on to Smokemont Campground. At. 1:56 p.m., we were technically not yet late. I could not estimate an arrival time considering my lack of experience with the park and knowledge of the map scale.

We may fishtail into a parking space in with a minute to spare or not even find the entrance until fifteen minutes after it commenced. A third option of driving in circles in a sprawling campground scanning nervously for a flock of children surrounding a ranger finally happened at 2:03 p.m.

"Why the heck don't they have a sign? I don't see a ranger."

"I know, but we are going to make it. See, there they are. Evan unbuckle."


"What do you mean why? We are here. We are late. Unbuckle. Get your hat."


"Just get out and go."

Evan leaped from the car and sprinted to a gaggle of kids crushing a picnic table and two rangers explaining how to use a variety of nets to scoop up bug larva and other creek critters. Colette and I gathered the cameras, the expensive Fuji, the Droid, and Evan's Toys-R-Us Christmas special. We also got his ranger book and hustled to the gathering to secure a seat on a stump.

After instruction that went on much longer than needed Evan took the biggest net available which had to be used in coordination with two other kids. Though he is well trained in photo posing, the excitement of netting creek critters meant that he was paying little mind to the location of the camera.

"Here," I said holding my hand out for the camera.

I left the security of the bank and venture out into the creek to get a better angle of Evan. Every time I positioned myself for the perfect shot either he moved or some other child, oblivious to the fact that I was trying to photograph the only thing that mattered, crossed into the frame.

I stumble around a while and finally decided to give up. Ambling back to the shore I placed my foot on a water worn stone and fell face first into the creek. Did  I say face first? I meant camera first. The entire camera had found a pool deep enough to submerge itself. It could have hit the rock to my right or come down in the shallow gravel just inch further ahead, but no, it dove beneath the surface only to reemerge pour water from the battery compartment and lens casing and any other orifice.

Evan NOT falling down in the river.

"Take out the batteries," Colette screamed.

"I know, I know." And I did. We had a similar incident at Niagara Falls while riding on the Maid of the Mist our old camera had inhaled enough of the mist to cause a psychotic break in which it refused to take
photos so we had learned how to best prevent camera aneurysms. It is, however, difficult to perform these medical procedures when you are suffering from an accelerated heartbeat and sudden onset heat flashes.

Colette later told me that many of the other parents were concerned about my physical well being. She assured them that I was fine and that in her expert medical opinion I just felt really, really stupid.

I quickly obtain the towel from the car that had previously been used to clean up Evan vomit (that is another story), opened every openable compartment on the camera, and took it to the sunniest spot in the tree filled campground.

Dabbing did little.

I tried blowing. It worked for dust in video game cartridges, but had little effect here.

I check to make sure that the strap was secure and spun the camera as if a was preparing for knockout punch against Yosemite Sam. drops of water gleamed in the shaft of sunlight that I had managed to find.

Then to the hand dryer in the campsite outhouse. Then an older guy told me that the other restroom across the way had an  Xlerator XL-W automatic high speed hand dryer. He didn't use those words. What he actually said is, "They got one of them really fast one over there in that other bathroom."

I felt confident that we had most of the moisture out of the camera, but you not supposed to use them for at least 48 hours, and we weren't even done with the Smoky Mountains. Pictures are monumentally important on our vacations. We average well over 100 photos a day, and the cell phone and Evan's camera from Toys-R-Us was not going to cut it.

We finished the ranger program, but cloud loomed over us. It was not the cool "smoky" kind, but the ominous  tornadoes and flash floods kind. I had ruined vacation. Only 45 minutes later we were at the visitor center when a herd of elk wander into the river. We had to have a picture. I risked the camera, but the LCD screen came on briefly and then did a neat little sizzle fritz thing like screens do when ghost encounter is imminent and EMF readings spike.

Not bad, but our real camera could have diagnosed a malignant mole  on their lovely elk ears.

We ended up buying a similar camera at a Wal-Mart in Waynesville. I was assured that the there was a fifteen day return policy, and for the next two days we took pictures with our "borrowed" camera. We eventually went back to our camera when we made it to Charleston. Of course we immediately took it to the beach.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ranger Harris

I realized that most of my blogs about the National Park Service have been about traumatic events, disastrous choices, and life-threatening doom. Perhaps those are the things that our memories choose to preserve. The combination of adrenaline, dopamine, and norepinephrine form an acid that etches these memory in my marbles. In an effort let the world know how much I appreciate the National Park Service and its employees I will occasionally emphasize our positive encounters with our nation's parks.

July 2nd and we were finishing our day at the National Mall with a visit to the U.S. Grant Memorial and the Capitol Building. In front of the Capitol a stage had been set up and musicians were filing in. We knew that there would be fireworks on the 4th, but we thought we might get a bonus show that night. Looking around for someone to ask we spotted the regulation green and brown of the NPS.

We have grown accustomed to asking rangers all or our questions.What are the best trails? When did this become a national park? Where is the picnic ground? What was Derek Jeter's batting average in home night games? So naturally we decided to ask this ranger what events were scheduled for this evening.

Eric Harris was on  special duty at the mall that night because, as he explained, there was a dress rehearsal for the big show on the 4th. There would be no fireworks.

However, while talking to Ranger Harris he noticed that Evan was wearing a couple of Junior Ranger badges. Ranger Harris became quite animated at this point and started asking Evan which parks he had been to. With our help he explained that we had been several of the parks in the city.

He told us that we needed to head out to National Parks East. He was normally stationed at Green Belt and insisted that we go there. We assured him that it was on our agenda. We also told him that we would be heading up to Gettysburg. His smile became even broader as he told us how great Gettysburg was, and told us that we should visit the Eisenhower home that is adjacent to the battlefield. Though our schedule was tight we promised to go there.

Not Eric Harris, but another very helpful ranger at Greenbelt.

When we are on vacation and wandering around, the wide brim of the rangers hat is always a welcome sign. Ranger Harris is just one of the hundreds of rangers that have helped us, guided us, and made our trips as fun as they are.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Neer neer neer neer, neer neer. (Dueling Banjos)

The red canoe rested on the gravel shore accepting the life jackets and cushions casually tossed in its maw. I had been expecting more ceremony. This was not the final launch of the Space Shuttle Atlantis or the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but it was momentous for us. With the exception of the relatively stable paddle boats in the Forest Park lagoon this was Colette and Evan's first experience with human propelled water craft, and despite my unfortunate choice of comparing it to a ship named after a sunken city and another most famous for sinking this was going to be fun.

No fanfare of trumpets announced our arrival. No crash of champagne bottle unmoored our vessel.  Instead the gravel and metal cacophony and the slosh of my left boot descending into a bit of deeper water announced that our voyage had begun. Under light gray skies that teased that the rain may possibly avoid our float, we slid into the water.

Before we left, I asked where they were going to pull us out. "Oh you can't miss it. There is a big white sign at the Circle B campground," I was assured.  (At this point we will pause for ironic effect. Perhaps a rack focus on my face looking extraordinarily confident and a musical cue such as a slide whistle.)

Notice the lack of other floaters. It will be important later in the story.

As soon as I turned the canoe down stream Evan asked, "Are we going the right way?"

I hope that it is just a phase, but Evan's faith in my ability to navigate this river teeters on the edge of insanity when it topples into doubt about whether it actually is a no uniform day at school or if he should wear his swim trunks to what is obviously a swim party.. If it is not a phase then I must come to terms with the fact that my trustworthiness lies somewhere between carnival barker and con artist.

With only a hint of sarcasm I calmly assured him that the river only flows in one direction, and since we were on a "float" trip, then going with that flow would be our only option. This did not stop him from asking the same question whenever we would come to a smaller stream joining ours or a fork around a small island.

"Evan, We can not get lost on a river." (insert ironic beat here)

After nearly two strokes with the oar, the clouds grew tired of the teasing and let loose an unspectacular yet steady precipitation. I scrambled to extract the ponchos from my backpack before my lack of steering sent us into the overhanging branches, and for the next half hour we coasted through the intermittent rain.

Evan sat in the middle of the canoe under a Casino Queen golf umbrella that rested on the sides of the canoe making a cozy little shelter if it had not been for the water that sloshed at the bottom of the boat. Occasionally he would complain when Colette's oar merely scraped the surface of the water and splashed an arcing spray in his general direction. This was nothing compared to the ruckus he raised when I struck him in the back of the head with my oar while switching.

Later we would have to use this umbrella, some aluminum from the boat and a Speak 'n Spell to "phone home." 

The rain eventually ended and other than my left foot and the tops of my thighs I was relatively dry. We stopped to pee on a log and throw a few rocks. Well I should say Evan and I did. Colette did not move from her seat from the time we entered the canoe until the end of the ordeal .. . I mean trip.

Piloting our craft down stream once again, we passed a group of two canoes from the same rental company for a second time. We had passed them earlier, but they had caught up while we were log peeing and rock chucking.  They talked to Evan this time since he had the umbrella up the first time. The first time we passed them he had the umbrella up so they were unaware of his presence. The conversation comforted us by confirming that others were as foolish as we were.

Not long after that we started seeing signs of civilization, fishermen, restaurants and campground.

"What are we looking for?" Colette called back.

"Circle V," I replied.

"V or B?"


"Vvvveeeee or Bbbbbbeeeee?"

"I don't know maybe it was D. Just look for a letter with a circle around it. It should also say Windy's Canoe Rental."

From the middle of the canoe Evan asked, "Are we lost?"

"No we are not lost," we hollered in unison.

A sign for 2 Rivers Canoe stood guard over a sandy inlet. A white placard for Alley Springs bounced into view. Jacks Fork's white sign called awkwardly to us, we never saw a sign for Windy's, or a circled letter or anything.

Having faith in our ability to observe, we continued  though our two to three hour float had meandered into the third hour and signs of civilization were beginning to dwindle.

"Do you think we should call?" Colette asked.

I am not going to ask for directions on a river. It only goes one way. You can't get lost on a river. We can't miss the sign. "I don't know how we are going to call," I said obstinately. Pretending like I had no idea how to dial 411.

But doubt tugged at my poncho sleeve like an annoying three-year-old. The minutes passed more quickly than the currents and the clouds darkened in a desire to reflect our collective dread. Evan's oar, which had been useless for most of the trip, dipped in and out of the water hypnotically and I noticed that the phone number for the Windy's scrawled in Sharpie on its red blade.

Relieved that I would not have to pay the charge for a 411 call and assuming that whatever diety was in charge of Ozark rivers was sending me a sign, I called.

Though relatively ineffective in propulsion, this oar worked great as a phone directory.

"Windy's Canoe Rental."

"Uh yeah, we are past the Jack's Fork canoe pull out, and I think we might have gone too far."

"Are you done?" she asked.

"Yeah, right now we are by a bunch of horse stables."

"Alright. I'll try to get a hold of Rick and see if he can pick you up."

I hang up and steer the canoe to a landing and wait to be contacted.

"What did they say?" Colette asked.

"They said they would come and pick us up."

"So we went too far didn't we?"

"Maybe just a little, but we are not lost. You can't get lost on a river. Eventually you just end up in New Orleans. They are supposed to call back."

And they did. We were told to stay put, and they would be down to pick us up. A few minutes later I got another call saying that they couldn't get to us, but they would go down river and pick us up in about 1/2 a mile. "Don't leave until I call you again, or you'll go right by us."

So we waited.

And waited.

And the phone rang. We headed out, and it started to rain again.

"Look at it this way," I said "it can't get worse."

"Yes, it can. It could start to thunder."

"We are almost there. Don't worry."

"That sounded like thunder," Evan exclaimed.

For those of you that have read my Mesa Verde post, you know that Evan is deathly afraid of thunderstorms and attuned to any low rumble, but this did indeed sound like thunder. It wouldn't stop sounding like thunder either. It lasted for at least fifteen seconds.

Colette made me call again to make sure that they were there and we hadn't already passed them. I knew that Colette was not comfortable with being on the river for the rest of her foreseeable future especially when we could only foresee it lasting another five minutes, so I called immediately. I didn't want to explain again that we can't get lost on a river, and to be honest I was starting to doubt it this truism.  Calling was not an easy task with the rain falling and the tendency for the boat to drift like a badly aligned car every time I took my oar out of the water.

When I finally managed to dial, they assured me that we would be seeing them any minute.

We were going to get out of the river one way or an otter!

Just when Evan and Colette (and possibly me) thought we would never leave the river, we saw two guys to our left screaming, "Over here."

I steered the boat the best that I coud and paddled as hard as I could so that we would not drift past them. We ran aground on a gravel bar so I jumped out to push. At that point I figure that I would just guide them in the rest of the way. What I did not figure was the depth of the river. I should have been Mark Twaining that shit because I was suddenly in water up to my navel.

I lifted my jacket up like a Victorian woman walking through horse manure and kept my phone dryish, but my jeans and wallet couldn't have been any wetter.

During all of my phone conversations the general tone had been that this was a relatively common occurrence, and I had reassured Colette that this was not a big deal. Unfortunately as soon as our soaked selves were in the truck Colette asked.

"Uhhhhhh," the driver paused trying to find a polite way to say it and failed, "no."

The purpose of the road we were on is still a mystery to me. It could not possible exist just to pull us out of eh river, yet I saw no other reason for it to be there. Of course when I say road, I mean a level area along the  base of a bluff.

We rattled and bumped back out to a paved road and from that point we were only two minutes from where we left the car.

"Can you recommend a good restaurant?" Colette asked.

"There's a steakhouse just across the bridge. Take the first left, but if you run out of pavement you've gone too far."

I assured him that though we had just recently gone to far, we would find the restaurant. Unfortunately, we missed the first left and went to far. When we finally found the steakhouse, it was closed.

We finally ended up stopping a a burger place. Our waitress was extraordinarily nice bringing crayons so that Evan could work on his Junior Ranger book. However, her "what are you stupid" look when she heard we had been on the river dropped her tip by a couple of percent.

For the hour or so that we weren't lost (you can't get lost on a river) and it wasn't raining, we had a lot of fun. I just need to convince Colette that if we going during the summer it can be a much more pleasant experience.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mall Rats - The Longest Day of Vacation (Part 5: National Security)

I finally had my shirts, but we didn't bring a bag for fear of security hassles. Laden with five shirts and a bag just big enough to hold two patches purchased at the Lincoln Memorial gift closet, we headed to the Holocaust Museum.

According to the map, it was at the intersection of 15th and Independence Ave. I could not, however, find 15th. Colette questioned my map reading abilities, and I questioned my sanity. I handed the map to Colette to confirm that I was both competent and sane. In this particular instance I was both. The street did not exist, at least in this corner of the universe.

"Excuse me," I approached a police officer leaning against his patrol car, "Where is the Holocaust Museum?"

"Right there," he replied pointing to the building across the street. His tone of voice was similar to the one I used as a teenager with the old ladies when I worked at  Food Barn and they would ask me where the peas were. If they would have just turned around, it would have been obvious.

"Do you see the giant Nazi? Yes? Well that is the Holocaust Museum," said the officer.

It would prove to be our most pleasant experience with law enforcement for the rest of the day. As we neared, street sign I noticed the name I was reading was on a brown sign denoting that it was an honorary street name and not reflected on the ten-year-old tourist map I was using for navigation. It was named for Raoul Wallenberg who rescued thousands of Jews from Nazi occupied Hungary. 

Apparently not a Hispanic or a Jew.

There was a line to get in, and a helpful employee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum informed us that we would not be allowed to take drinks in. She said water was fine, but we would have to consume our Gatorades. 

"There are water fountains inside so that you can refill them," she kindly suggested.

Our Gatorades were empty, but a metal detector awaited us inside the building. As Colette had informed me at every other metal detector, I should not have worn a belt. I told her that a wanding was a small price to pay compared to running around the national mall looking like Lil Wayne.

You can understand why people might be confused.

During the wanding Evan and Colette ambled over to the conveyor belt to retrieve our items. After spending a couple of days wandering D.C. tourist sites, we were familiar with the routine. They attempted to grab the pile of free t-shirts and my keys and phone from the plastic tub.

"Ma'am you're going to have to back up and let me do my job," the guard declared as he placed his arm on her to guide her away. Luckily, Colette did not decide to go all Beatrix Kiddo on him and waited until he handed her our items.

We chalked it up to one guard having a particularly bad day. It was the 4th of July, probably one of their busiest days. Once through security we got tickets for the last possible time slot because we still had to make our way to the Jefferson Memorial so Evan could get his Junior Ranger badge, or at least we hoped that was the case. Our only source of intel was one beleaguered ranger at an information kiosk back near the Lincoln Memorial.

The bald dome of the memorial was visible from the Holocaust Museum like Pike's Peak is visible from western Kansas. The direct route lay through a body of water. While eating the Popsicle we promised him, Evan excitedly pointed out that we could rent a pedal-paddle boat to get there. Fortunately for my calves this was not the case. We would not be able to disembark at the memorial. At least that is what I told Evan.

                                                                 photo by Evan

So we began walking again. Orange plastic fencing taunted all along our path. I'm not exactly sure what they were working on, but it was obvious that like Poseidon pestering Odysseus, the founding fathers were not going to make our odyssey easy. In order to avoid the Scylla and Construction we had to circumnavigate the Memorial

I kept looking for signs of the Junior Ranger Program that I had been promised, and I was starting to worry. Jefferson is the writer of the Declaration but he is morally ambiguous at best.  I'm not sure he was worth the voyage. Even Colette was showing the effects of fatigue.

I felt like Columbus, or Magellan, or that Siberian that decided to get all of his buddies to cross the land bridge (or kelp highway). It was my idea and if we didn't find gold, or a North American vacation home, then I would be sacrificed upon the altar of the Jefferson.

After passing the gauntlet of barricades and Port-A-Potties we would have to make one final orbit before entry. It was as if path had been modeled on the sling shot trajectory of lunar modules.

Nothing phallic about this.

Evan had managed to find a few fellow Jedi whose musings on the Galactic Empire infused his legs with enough energy to bound ahead. So he and I had traversed to the dark side of the Memorial just beyond the horizon of Colette's perception. 

There was no sign of the Rangers which I had been told would be on the lawn. I saw a door leading into the base of the Memorial, and in an effort salvage our expedition (and find a/c) I went in. There we found a table manned by Rangers and living historians. Unfortunately cell phone signal did not penetrate the stone of the Memorial, and it soon became evident that Colette had not witnessed our detour. I got Evan started on an activity and stepped outside to call Colette. She was a little angry like a sailor left on a deserted island or astronaut left behind at tranquility bay, or one of the crew devoured by the cyclops. I have used so many metaphors for this day I am starting to get confused. Suffice it to say she was not happy. 

Not pictured: Colette standing on approximately 20 feet of granite directly above Evan.

We eventually got the Junior Ranger badge and a bag for our free t-shirts. I refilled the Gatorade bottles and prepared for the return flight. 

In an attempt to shorten our voyage by about ten feet we squeezed through some barriers and past a S.W.A.T. van. At the end of the van we noticed several heavily armed police officers geiting out. I was reminded of our trip to Mexico where armed guards stood watch at the borders of the states. I always thought of that as something that happened in other, less fortunate countries, but here they were a the Jefferson Memorial. Of course I realized that I was still in the U.S. because there were two shirtless gentleman taunting the officers as they took their positions. Ahhhhh, freedom of speech.

We finally made it back to the Museum and found our security square dance partner awaiting us.

                                "Take your keys and take your phone."
                                "Put'em in the basket and dos-e-do."
                                "The beep will sound and you turn around."
                                "Put your arms out and let the wand pass."
                                "Along the arms, down the leg, around your beeeeeep"
                                "Do it again and take off your belt."
                                "Look at your partner say 'What the hell'"
                                "You're finally through, no more to do."
                                "If you wouldn't mind sir take a drink."

Hold on, that's a new move. "It's just water. The lady outside said that we could have water."

"Do you mind taking a drink? If you wanted to take a swig of kerosene, I guess you could."

I can only conclude that anti-antisemitism is still more dangerous the radical Islamism. I guess it could be a perfect storm of isms.

The Museum is best experienced in person. My emotions are rarely set off by museums, but this is an exception. By the time we were done most of the other tourist spots were closing. The big three Smithsonians were open until 7:00, but we had already seen them.

The crowds foretold by many had begun to materialize. Though they still didn't seem as bad as those on the Arch Grounds on the 4th. It could be that there were more people, but there was so much more room to spread out that the density was more noble gas than heavy metal.

Colette however was still concerned about Evan's safety and insisted that he walk in a much tighter formation. If Evan's safety was left entirely up to me he would most likely have wandered off with another family long ago. But I was not about to let him wander of with the Hare Krishnas so when we walked past their festival I started to watch him a little more closely. The promise of a return to the McDonald's at the Air and Space Museum however was enough to entice him away from the allure of the "awesome" dancers.

Evan's new family.
After dinner the Gatorade bottles were filled once again. This time with ice tea. I'm not sure if this breaks any moral codes or McDonald's policies (which in some cultures are equivalent), but a desire for caffeine far out-weighed any threat of eternal damnation.

We headed out to claim a position on the Mall to view the fireworks. My eminent collapse clawed at my calf muscles and burned my soles. We had planned to sit on the Capitol steps, but our legs only carried us to the first open spot past the Hare Krishna festival. We plopped down and finally the free t-shirts could serve as something other than a strain on my arms. Five shirts and a plastic bag make a pretty good pillow.

I will probably never understand what happened next. Colette and Evan decided to continue walking. They were going to see the "silver tree" by Roxy Paine. A similar but smaller tree is Evan's favorite art at SLAM. I, rather unselfishly, promised to stay there and save our spot.

I'm not sure it the bars are to keep us out or the sculptures in.

In defiance of Colette's explicit orders I attempted to sleep as soon as they were out of visual range. The air settled over me like damp blanket, but exhaustion soon forced me into a semi-conscious state in which I incorporated snatches of ambient conversation into my dreams.

The dog next to us was a rescue dog.

The guy behind us went to an "amazing" wedding in Michigan.

I'm at gay marriage involving canine participants.

Something struck me in the face. Cooler than the surrounding air and only marginally wetter. Then another strike. And another. Molecules of moisture had banded together in the upper atmosphere and decided to assault my last chance at rest. Rain that we had thus far avoided threatened to drench the centerpiece of our vacation.

After 23 drops had struck my face (yes I counted), Colette called to say that it was raining, and we should move to a location that may provide some shelter. Gathering as much data as possible such as the coloring of the sky, the prevailing winds, and the number of droplets per square inch of face, and comparing to my wealth of meteorological experience, I decided that we were staying put.

It was risky. I was opening myself up to an I-told-you-so, but I honestly thought the rain would hold off. We were in an excellent spot to see the pyrotechnic display, and quite frankly, my legs hurt. To compound the problem further before I had drifted off I purchased a glow necklace from a passing vendor/homeless guy. The Holden/Morton household has a long-standing policy forbidding the purchase of such fripperies, but it was only a buck.

I am happy to say that on this one night everyone lived. The rain never materialized and the glow necklace kept Evan peacefully entertained until the fireworks began.

Soon I will photoshop the guy with the "H" out of the picture and alter history forever.

Except for half-mile hike to the Metro station and half-hour ride back to the commuter lot where we left our car the longest day on vacation had ended, and I wish it hadn't.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mall Rats - The Longest Day of Vacation (Part 4: The Sweet Smell of Free Shirts)

I unsuccessfully scanned the field for piles of shirts or wild throngs of people snatching 100% cotton manna from the sky. Nothing.  So I was forced to confront the next pack mule burdened with a pile of schwag.

"It's that way. You see the stage?"

I did.

"There's another stage just past that."

We continued.

Past the first stage.

No shirts.

We continued.

To the Washington Monument.

No Shirts.

We continued hugging the curved wall retain the patch of grass surrounding the monument.

"Hey, you. Hey, hey. Where did you get the shirts? Evan, stay there. Hey, you with the shirts. Yeah, you. Where did you get the shirts?"

By the benefit of my periscopic height I was aware of our destination before Evan and Colette. The shirt stage was our El Dorado, our Fountain of Youth, and the crew would not mutiny. I picked Evan up and placed him in the crow's nest. "Shirts Ho!" Let the pillaging begin. And of course by pillaging I mean I got shirts for everyone and politely asked for a couple of extras so we could give them out as gifts.

Only six hours remained until the fireworks, and we still had plenty to do. We didn't bring a bag for fear of security hassles. So now laden with five shirts and bag from the Lincoln Memorial gift closet just big enough to hold a couple of patches I was ready to head off to the Holocaust Museum.

Oddly enough, nobody asked me where I got the shirts. Go figure.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mall Rats - The Longest Day of Vacation (Part 3: We Go To War)

"Excuse Me, where did you get the shirts?"

"They were giving them out just over there."

He pointed in the general direction of the Washington Monument. I was on a mission. These were better than my collection of radio station, movie promo, volunteer worker shirts that I had collected over the years. These were souvenirs. I could avoid paying $30.00 for one shirt and get three free ones instead. I was going to get these shirts.

However, there was business to take care of on this end of the mall. I glanced longingly into the reflecting pool, or I wish I could. It was currently under repair and was just a mud pit behind chain link fence. The shirts would have to wait.

Colette was already on the phone with her parents. We were going to the Vietnam War Memorial, and she had called to see if her dad had any names that he wanted her to look up. As is the case with almost all conversations with her parents over the phone, or in person, this one was leading to more confusion than when Celine Dion opened for ICP.

The collaboration soon ended when Joseph Bruce felt Celine dissed him in her song It's For You when she said, "Quelques fois je dis des mots bizarres."

Her dad was working on the lawn so her mom had answered the phone. Somehow the message shouted over the roar of the hedge trimmers became somewhat confused as it was relayed to Colette. A call would be forthcoming that would clarify the situation. 

We decide to eat lunch and during the sandwich and chips meal we ordered at a snack shop the phone rang. Colette's mom thinks she finally got the name right so Colette takes the last few bites of her sandwich and heads back to the memorial to find the name in the directory. Meanwhile I watched Evan chase pigeons and trying to feed them his lunch. As soon as I said that we were going to find mom, his legs began to hurt again. If only the pigeons would follow my lead. 

We eventually found the name on the wall which turned out to be an old neighbor of Colette's mom, and not a war buddy as we had thought.

Nothing funny to say here.
While all of this was going on I was also on the prowl for a park ranger. I found one at an information kiosk. Though he had no information on the free t-shirts I did learn that the Junior Ranger program was happening at the Jefferson Memorial so we wanted to make sure that Evan got there. Colette kept insisting that she wanted to go to the Holocaust museum, and all I could think about was that there were now less free shirts than there were half an hour ago. 

I plotted a path on the map of the mall that would get us to all three locations, but as far as I was concerned the free t-shirt was the primary objective. Who cares about the experience if you don't have a t-shirt to commemorate it? 

This path first took us by the Korean War Memorial depicting a number of soldiers marching with heavy loads. Evan of course was fascinated with the soldiers, but the irony of their marching juxtaposed with his aching legs was lost on him. 

Honeycutt and Hawkeye never had to walk this far.

Next on the trek, once we passed the interminable fence blocking our view of the reflecting pit, was the WWII Memorial. 

The buzz of insects swarming my face formed a cacophonous melody with the plaintive whine of Evan's discomfort like a preschool marching kazoo band being followed by fire engine sirens in a parade honoring aural assault.
Not pictured, the fire engines.
For the next leg of our journey Colette set a pace faster than any Kenyan in a marathon and was quite a distance ahead of us. So much so that it would make more sense for me to call to her on a cell phone rather than disturb the other tourist with my hollerin'. I followed, frequently looking back to insure that Evan hadn't collapsed on a bench next to Bummy McNopants. I had given him a map of the mall to distract him from the torture of his calf muscles, but now he was trying to find himself on the map using a public restroom as his reference point.

We finally made it to the WWII Memorial which consists of a column for every state surrounding a shallow pool. Many people were soaking their feet, and Evan asked to do the same. Though the only thing either of us said out low was, "Well, uhhhhh," both Colette and I were debating whether is was disrespectful to soak your feet in a memorial honoring fallen soldiers. Is it acceptable or would it be like roasting marshmallows over the eternal flame at Kennedy's grave?

"Mmmmmmmmm S'mores"
They had died preserving our freedom, but Evan was working our nerves. Eventually, we decided that the soldiers would understand.

Just like a day at the beach.
I was soon ready to go. We were close to the Washington Monument, and I had still not see the free t-shirts. We could contemplate freedom later, now we needed to concentrate on free-shirts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mall Rats- The Longest Day of Vacation (Part 2: Free T-Shirts)

"Myyyyyyyy leeeeeegs huuuuuurt," Evan's vowels exploded all over the sidewalk. He sounded more like a howler monkey warning us about a nearby harpy eagle or jaguar than an eight-year-old asked to walk to the Lincoln Memorial. We encouraged, begged, implored and demanded that he catch up. This merely succeed in embarrassing and annoying him. I was walking a few paces ahead of Colette and Evan when in a fit of pique Evan ran up and struck Colette in the behind. I am not sure what he hoped to accomplish with this act of rebellion, but what he got was obviously not it. Reflexively Colette reached back to defend her posterior and made contact with Evan's bass drum abdomen causing a hollow thump to reverberate across the Potomac.

It sounded much worse than it was, but did little to improve diplomatic relations. An entire page of the scrapbook is devoted to "grumpy bridge."

"You are going to be in this picture and like it. Now come on."

"Huunhh I'm going stay on this bench forever."
I do want to make a quick detour into a discussion about the conservation of energy. As you can see above, benches were spaced evenly across the bridge, and Evan conceived a brilliant plan. He started running to the benches to sit and wait for us. Technically it is the same amount of work using Newtonian physics, but Evan is more of quantum guy. In Evan's conception of the universe the rest given to his legs is cumulative. So is it better to turtle or rabbit? Aesop would have you know that slow and steady wins the race, but which style results in less strain on the calves and blisters on the feet.

Philosophical conundrums aside, complaints continued to dive-bomb our ears like the unidentifiable black flying bugs that infest the mall. Extensive research, and by extensive I mean I googled it for a minute, reveals that they may be Cicada Killer Wasps. I'm not buying it since one of them flew into my eye. Evan insisted that they were bees and ran away from them like they were cans and he was The Jerk. If only we could have run from his complaints. As we reach the bottom of the stair to the Lincoln Memorial, they reached a crescendo.

Fortunately we were able to appeal to Evan's love of the Great Emancipator to drag himself up the 57 steps to view the Daniel Chester French sculpture. We took some pics, read Lincoln's words and visited the gift closet. We eventually headed back down to what I assumed was lunch.

"Four weeks and seven hours ago our Evan beheld his hero."

However, the nature of the National Mall is that everything is just a few steps away, and in this case it was the Vietnam War Memorial. At this time I also started to notice other tourists toting bundles of t-shirts. I have developed over the years a keen sense for free give-aways and these shirts had all of the tell-tale signs, but mainly it was the fact that people were carrying piles shirts on their shoulders. This of course set off a mild panic. What if all of the shirts were gone before I could ascertain their source. I had to find out where to acquire the gratuitous garments, the complimentary clothing, the no-cost smock. A free shirt could easily assuage some of Evan's "can I have this" tendencies and perhaps soothe his aching legs such is the curative powers of schwag. But first lunch, I mean but first the Vietnam War Memorial and a comedy of communication with Colette's parents.