After our last night in the Williamsburg and Richmond area, we only had a loose plan for our trip north to Cape Cod. We faced a drive through several of the county’s biggest cities: D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and, gulp, New York. In an RV. The plan… I repeat… the plan was to avoid as much of this as possible by meandering up into Pennsylvania for a few nights in the Poconos.
Then our daughter said, “I want to see the Lincoln Memorial.” She said this because, before the pandemic hit, we’d had booked a hotel by the Capitol to watch the 4th of July on The National Mall. But with Covid-19, we didn’t think it was a good idea to join what I was certain Trump would call “the largest crowd ever to witness the 4th of July ever. Yuge.” #fakenews #wheresmysharpie
Who can deny a seven year-old who wants to see a monument honoring a great man? Monica was also excited about a half-day in D.C. seeing the outdoor sites. Monica also doesn’t do the driving – and parking.
I haven’t been to D.C. since I was a kid, so I got online to see what the parking situation was. The consensus was: it sucks – but (there’s a “but”!) there was bus parking at Union Station that also allowed RVs! Of course, since COVID, you really can trust nothing on the internet. But I was ready to try.
I mapped us to the parking area. Everything was going fine. We followed the signs! We entered Union Station! Right to the sign that said, “Buses” and then promptly found ourselves in a narrow exit lane into an alley. “You have arrived,” my phone said as we left the premises.
“Did I miss something?” I asked?
“Try again,” Monica said.
We circled to the front, around Columbus Circle (I think they named everything in D.C. with leftover signage from New York City) and back to the bus entrance, quaintly marked, “Kiss and ride.” We pulled in, found ourselves faced with the same lack of options. We stopped, and we kissed this time. And went back around. “Look kids, Big Ben, Parliament!” I said, channeling Clark Griswold stuck in a UK roundabout.
We circled the building again – baffled. I began taking a series of random turns, while Monica fiddled with her map (don’t get me started with Monica and maps. Last time we ended up naked on the side of the road.)
“My stomach hurts,” the kids complained. That never means anything.
Finally, Monica found some info directing us to H Street behind the building (presumably leftover when New York stopped naming streets in Alphabet City after they got to letter D.) And magically, we found the Taj Mahal-sized bus entrance. Apparently, we were trying to park in the place where you drop people off to TAKE the bus.
We could see pretty much everything as we stood on Capitol Hill. The Lincoln Memorial is RIGHT THERE. Only, “right there” is three and a half miles. Did I mention it was 93 degrees and the air felt like the inside of the trunk of an old Buick?
The Mall was completely fenced off from the fireworks the night before. The ground was strewn with debris, medical masks, and signs, because they remove all the trash cans for security reasons. Oh… and the place looked like an electric scooter graveyard. Those hip new rentable scooters were scattered all over like there’d been a battle between scooters and mankind.
“Let’s take these!” Monica said. It took a couple minutes of setting up accounts on our phone, and soon we were zipping up the sidewalk on a trusty scooter. The app constantly reminds you not to ride on the sidewalk (I assume because they know the sidewalk is covered in other scooters, making it unsafe). But there was really no safe way to ride them in the street either. Plus, each of us had a kid riding with us like a kangaroo – also not recommended.
This is a guide in how not to do things in D.C. Soon to be part of a handy pamphlet distributed in 59 languages.
This was great. In a flash we were at the Washington Monument. Took a quick picture. Grabbed some popsicles to combat the heat and whee, we were off the see the Lincoln Memorial.
“My stomach hurts,” our son said. That never means anything. “No really.”
“He does look kind of pale,” Monica said.
We found a tiny spot of shade amidst a sudden forming hullaballoo. At first, I thought Trump’s motorcade was coming by and I had to make sure I wasn’t holding anything so I could give him both middle fingers. As I waiting in line to get our son a Gatorade from a food truck I realized that it was a full scale Black Lives Matter Mock Funeral Procession. The crowd cheered. History being made.
I returned to my family to find them joined by a huge puddle of what had been James’s lunch and a Bomb Pop. Rocket’s red glare and all.
Like a general determined to take the hill at all costs, we dragged the boy’s lifeless carcass to see Honest Abe, but only my daughter and I made it to the statue.
D.C. wasn’t done beating us up yet.
Now, we were 4 miles from the car. And – guess what – Uber only accepts two passengers at a time (that’s another story). “Why don’t you go get the RV and pick us up,” Monica said as our boy began to perk up. Sure, I’ll pull right up to the curb, I thought. Good idea.
“I want to go too,” our daughter said, excited about another scooter ride. Off we zipped.
The good news is that the Sunday after the 4th of July during a pandemic, D.C. is pretty quiet – almost like Trump’s inauguration or one of those over-hyped right-wing marches that draws more news cameras than people.
As we made our way on the last mile of the journey, we encountered a group of four young people on the sidewalk heading to a BLM protest (I’m 46 and just said ‘young people’ when referring to people who are adults). They held fresh BLM signs, masks and smiling eyes, hopeful for a better future. We politely slowed down, and I maneuvered so they’d have plenty of room to walk. Safe. Until it wasn’t.
Invisible to me, but apparent to the scooter, was a busted section of sidewalk with a very poor repair of black asphalt, softened by the blazing sun. I wasn’t going fast, but that thing brought me and my daughter down faster than a statue of Jefferson Davis. I’ve never fallen so hard in my life.
“Oooohhh!” the BLM people exclaimed. That hurt, I thought. I checked our daughter, who was stunned, but ok. She stood up, didn’t shed a single tear as a young woman asked us if we were okay. My girl was more concerned about social distancing than getting help. I, on the other hand, was in terrible pain. I’d attempted to catch myself and cushion her fall (heroic, I’m sure), suffering a nasty road rash on my right palm, and wrenching my left wrist so bad I wasn’t sure if it wasn’t broken. It hurt like hell, but it still moved.
Then I realized my watch was buzzing. I looked at the face and it was asking me if I’d taken a fall and if I needed to call 911. This was the reason I bought the new Apple Watch a year or two ago, although I thought it would be for an aneurysm, not a wipe out. Good to know the feature works. Extremely shaken, we thanked the group of people for their offer of help, and climbed back on the scooter. We covered the last half mile, gingerly.
That night we stayed at an RV resort a few miles away in College Park, MD. With a pool, mini golf, laundry facility, a running trail, and my busted wrist, we extended it to two nights. Guts were spilled, blood was shed, but by god we got to see Abraham Lincoln.
Cherry Hill Park was so good – spoiler alert – we’ll be back later. There are more pools than I got to see, but the splash pad was more fun for everyone – and we had the place to ourselves.
“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a leader of a local non-profit, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.