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Long Weekend in the Capital

Today is the last day of my long weekend trip to Small Press Expo 2016. SPX ended yesterday, but I have spent a couple days wandering around Washington DC, and staying at the Hostel on K and 11th Streets. Right now I’m waiting for my Chicago-bound train in an Irish pub near Union Station, and a couple politico types are sitting next to me, talking about counting votes.  I don’t know which votes and for what, but I guess it could be important.

I’m thinking about a lot of stuff. I could easily write an entire post about SPX and my comic-related ambitions; staying at a hostel instead of using AirBnB; the general DC experience… but I think I’ll just start writing about everything and see where I get.

Train Experience

I took Amtrak (again), the Capitol Limited line, on Wednesday so I could get into DC on Thursday and spend Friday wandering around before the conference on Saturday. The train got stuck behind some track maintenance on the way in, eventually making us over three hours late.

I think this was less than an hour before the tunnel adventure.

Many people missed connecting trains. I don’t know how and/or if Amtrak gives people travel vouchers or reimbursements. I do know that after reading a bunch of Amtrak reviews, I decided it was in my best interest to never plan anything time dependent on the day I am supposed to arrive, especially on the east coast lines, which have to deal with more freight train priority and train traffic in general. This trip confirmed my decision.

So I was okay, if annoyed. Mostly because we waited most of the time in a dark tunnel. We couldn’t see anything outside the windows, and there was no coverage for anyone’s phone.  Also (perhaps most grievously) because we were in Maryland, they couldn’t serve alcohol until 4pm – which was around the time we finally rolled onto the station.

This trip wasn't as scenic as the last one, but still some cool views.
This trip wasn’t as scenic as the last one, but still some cool views.

People got a bit punchy. Some people tried using their phones as makeshift flashlights to see if they could tell what was outside. “Where are we?” “We’re in a god damn TUNNEL! I want the hell out of this tunnel or I’m gonna flip the hell OUT!” Luckily no one quite flipped. They finally gave us some modest snacks for our “patience.”

I have one more brief train trip this year, but after that I think I’m gonna hang up on Amtrak for a while.

DC Experience

I didn’t have a heck of a lot of time, so I decided to wander around the Smithsonian during the day and then take a tacky bus tour at night. I gotta admit, I sorta dig the double decker city bus tours. I know they’re kind of horrible, but at least they stick to the downtown, which is the part of every city that’s mostly for tourists anyway.

Some disturbing sculpture in the yard at the Hirschhorn.
Some disturbing sculpture in the yard at the Hirschhorn.

I took a great bus tour last year in San Francisco. The guide talked like a local about every  landmark, including a long diatribe against the San Fran DMV (which I really doubt was on the official list of sites). He went on for quite a while about their inconvenient hours and lousy service and the fact that there was only ONE DAMN OFFICE to serve the entire SF metro area. He had been very nice to let me ride before paying, because his card reader wasn’t working and he needed to wait until we had a stronger signal at the last stop. When we reached the last tour stop, he disappeared immediately, making it impossible for me to pay him. So yeah – that trip would be a hard one to beat.

I am ready to be an unapologetic tourist.
I am ready to be an unapologetic tourist.

My DC bus guide was a very young man, rather fratboy in appearance. I try not to judge. But honestly he sucked as a tour guide, and insisted on fist-pumping everyone when we got off the bus to take a closer look at various monuments. The one thing he did that I liked was telling us to yell whenever we went under a bridge. The bridges – as well as the branches from the tree-lined streets – felt pretty close to the head, so yelling was sort of a natural thing to do anyway. The concrete underpasses amplified our cries. I like to think of people sitting outside on the balconies of their swank condos lining the highway, hearing the periodic distant laments of the bus tourists on our way to and from the photo-ops. Maybe this guide was more of a Dada scholar than I give him credit for.

Sort of a voyeuristic view of the White House.
Sort of a voyeuristic view of the White House.

I know that I only took one bus tour, didn’t go inside any official buildings, and really didn’t see any of the neighborhoods. I did have dinner with a friend near Eastern Market. That was nice, but I’ll respect his privacy and leave it at that. However, I have to say that overall, DC reminds me of my first impression of Hollywood. Like, that’s it? It looks so much more important in the photos. The whole thing feels like a façade to me. Go figure.

This was one of my first views of our capitol. Sadly - this photo represents both Washington DC and many other cities in this country right now.
This was one of my first views of our capital. Sadly , this photo represents both Washington DC and many other cities in this country right now.

Every night that I have been here, I have stopped to have a drink at a touristy place called Cap City Brewery. It’s a chain. But it is near the hostel and it has a big bar that you can sit at as a single person and drink or talk as you choose, and I respect that. One night I sat next to a very profo looking guy in the whitest and most pressed shirt I think I have ever seen in my life. Seriously the thing glowed in the dark. We spoke a few times and he ended up buying me a drink.

He was cagey about what he was doing in the city, but eventually admitted he was a telecommunications professional, in town meeting with elected officials. I WAS DRINKING A BEER BOUGHT BY A LOBBYIST. I told him I was in town for a comic book convention. Every person I met in DC, when I told them that, they seemed absolutely delighted. My friend with the shirt was no exception. I told him about being an artist and everything, and he said, “I envy you, in a way.” Well I’ll bet.  I wonder what “way” he meant. After a very pleasant conversation, he had a few I guess obligatory but at least brief questions about “why isn’t your boyfriend here,” and “what are you doing later,” but he accepted my polite refusals pretty quickly and got an Uber.

As he left, he said, “You’ve made this night a pleasure for me.” And I think he meant it, in not a creepy way. I get this kind of thing a lot. I’m glad people like talking to me, but I do wish more people could learn how to create their own fairy dust once in a while. It ain’t that hard.

Hostel Experience

They don’t call them “youth” hostels anymore, if they ever did really. I’ve stayed at hostels in maybe three or four cities in the last few years, and although they do mostly serve younger people, there is a pretty decent age range overall. Especially in DC, it seems. I saw many people my age and older, and some of them perhaps in town on official business. A lot of them were probably staying in the single or double occupancy rooms. I like to go as cheap as possible, so I stayed in the ten bed female dorm for forty bucks a night. This means I got to stay four nights in downtown Washington DC for just a little more than one night of the “discount” hotel price for one night in Bumhole Bethesda. I have no problem with that.

I lived in a co-op household for four years . I shared living space and household responsibilities with about twelve other people, none of whom I knew very well when we moved in; and for the most part I l really liked it. So hostels are old hat for me. I like the communal breakfast, I like that we bus our own dishes into the kitchen, I like that more than half of the guests are international. You can’t drink alcohol on the premises, but Cap City was a block away, so whatever.

I know that Air BnB exists. I have never used it. It might be like ride sharing, where I avoid it for a long time, but then use it once and realize how convenient it is and use it all the time (I am ashamed of that). But maybe not, too. Air BnB has helped expedite gentrification in Chicago and many other cities, as landlords realize they can make much more money renting to travelers for a few nights, than they can renting to residents for longer term. Along with the luxury condo glut, AirBnB is one more step in the transformation of cities into short term destinations and not homes. I don’t want to be part of that.

So my train departs in a couple hours, and if I leave the pub now I bet I could get back to Union Station in time to get the spotty wifi to work long enough to post this blog, and still catch my train. I’ll leave my thoughts about SPX for next week.

For now – if you have been thinking about travel? Do it. It will give you a lot to think about.

Published inNavel Gazing

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