I know some of you who thought I had mooched my way to Taos courtesy of donations from my detractors will be profoundly disappointed to learn that I was just away on vacation. My offer to emigrate by invitation has produced not so much as a trickle of trading stamps, but I can assure you it still stands. I promise to do all I can to make the offer increasingly attractive.
The vacation started with a two-day ride on AMTRAK, where I learned that all the rumors about bad service and rude employees were spread by people who do not enjoy a good game of monopoly before being served their dinner, and who have the unreasonable expectation that their stupid request for another pillow will be met with a straight face.
My son’s nascent interest in American history and government found us in our nation’s capitOl (spelling corrected by Evan) enjoying such thrilling experiences as reading the Articles of Confederation and trekking from one monument to another, all the while wondering whatever the founding fathers were thinking when, ignoring the more obvious garden spots like Newark, they invested so much granite and marble in a sweltering, mosquito-infested swamp like Washington D.C.
We briefly considered a monument tour, only to learn that monument tours are sold out precisely one week before you arrive in Washington, so we did it the 18th century way, which is perfectly fine for people in excellent physical condition, a couple of whom we actually witnessed with our very own eyes.
There was something called Hop-A-Bus that you could get on and sit on its open-air top, thus providing a 12-foot advantage over the poor suckers on the ground looking up at the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, but it only stopped across the street from wherever we were at any given time, and as a result we craned our necks the extra 12 feet just like the other 18th century bozos.
Rochelle did get into a pamphlet throwing altercation with a trolley car tour driver when he complained that she was holding up his tour with her stupid questions about how one manages to actually secure a seat on the trolley. “See, folks,” he intoned into his (very loud) microphone as she huffed wearily away, “Look at the red-faced woman with the sweat-drenched tee shirt. This is what happens when you come to Washington unprepared and get all hot and sweaty walking instead of riding the trolley.”
Apparently, her elevated body temperature was due only in part to the giant magnifying glass that some sadist had cleverly slid between us and the sun, and the rest was due to some internal electrical malfunction, because she demagnetized everything she touched, including her subway tickets and the hotel room keys.
We looked at the outside of the Capitol building, but not the inside because you had to have tickets that the Capitol SWAT Captain said we could get by visiting the house office building and groveling before our representative. We were too embarrassed to ask who that might be so we blew it off, but we did see the inside of the Supreme Court building whose justices couldn’t care less who our congressman is, of for that matter, if we even have one.
Evan was uninterested in the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, which is odd considering that his hero is 322-year-old Alexander Hamilton, who, to Evan’s everlasting dismay, was relegated to a statue upon which pigeons performed stunts BEHIND the Treasury building, a travesty considering the magnificent monument enjoyed by Hamilton’s nemesis and notorious scene-stealer Thomas Jefferson.
I was able to coax him into the Air and Space Museum, due in part to the fact that it was air-conditioned, and only incidentally because they had rocket simulators you could ride for cheap.
The American History Museum was closed (of all things) until 2008, but the curators had set up a small display of their 150 most popular items, in the Air and Space Museum no less. And it was there that we learned a lesson about the present state of American priorities.
It quickly became apparent that you could not get close to such historic relics as George Washington’s actual military uniform, or the desk Thomas Jefferson made with his own hands and upon which he allegedly wrote the Declaration of Independence. The reason was an ever-present beehive of foreign visitors, buzzing in a cacophony of unintelligible dialects while snapping photographs over each others’ shoulders, of said august American treasures.
It became equally apparent that the photographic interest of the iPod-swinging, slang-spewing Americans was, in descending order: KIermit the frog; Dorothy’s magic red slippers; and Archie Bunker’s easy chair.
From there we rented a car in one of the most bizarre transactions ever. We were upgraded without asking and without any coupons to a new Volvo with GPS (I later refused to drive the family care until I got a GPS which I eventually secured at Costco) and learned after the fact that we had received a 10% discount for no reason at all, other than perhaps the fact that I have AARP written all over my face.
We then zigzagged across Virginia to the Fredericksburg Civil War battlefield, Jamestown (where these English idiots accustomed to cool English summers landed in May 1607 – undoubtedly remarking on the hospitable balmy weather – only to drop dead by the dozens of heat stroke in the middle of August) and Yorktown (magnificently displayed battlefield where our forefathers proved that being sneaky always trumps being arrogant), and then finally, back the other direction to Virginia Beach, because we had gone too far east for Rochelle not to put her bare feet in the Atlantic Ocean, which she did, along with the James and York Rivers, immediately after which we promptly departed.
We then zigged back northwest to pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway and zagged in some fashion that only the GPS knows in order to pick up every mountain road between Virginia and the redneck states between the Smoky Mountains and Texas. I say redneck because I’ve never seen so many perfectly good Confederate flags being abused by so many inbred cretins with shaved heads and full-body tattoos in all my life. That’s merely an assumption about the tattoos being full-body, I didn’t really check.
Somehow we wandered into North Carolina just long enough for Evan to realize we were passing through Murphy, a town in which the author of the summer reading book he was reading in the back seat (A Walk Across America) had sojourned a couple of weeks thirty years or so ago. We went to the library (luckily they didn’t recognize me, I guess my blacklisted library card hasn’t made it that far east) where we learned he had attended the Mount Zion Baptist Church, which the GPS found so we could take photos for show and tell next week.
The only other thing of note happened in Vicksburg, where, to Evan’s dismay, I parked downtown in front of an antique store. “Why did you have to park here, Dad? You know Mom will go in there and never come out.” She did go in and eventually came out, but as we were paying for our cheap silverplate trinkets, Evan noticed a sign that said “Scenes from Borat shot here.”
It was then that I recognized the owner as the poor sap in the movie whom Borat abused by careening from aisle to aisle smashing his alleged antiques. The antique store was supposedly in Dallas, but I already knew that wasn’t true because of all the Confederate accoutrements in the movie. In Granbury, yes. Dallas, no.
According to the owner, he was paid $500 to be interviewed by a foreign dignitary, which he thought was fair until he realized how much more money Sacha Baron Cohen, a documented imbecile, would earn, causing him to seriously reassess his own self-esteem. He was also paid for the busted antiques of course, and not in the Kazakh pubic hair that was Borat’s original offer. All-in all, he felt like he got off light, as the news director for Channel 16 who arranged a live on-air interview with Borat was promptly fired for her efforts. I took the guy’s picture just in case Pat H. accuses me of making this up, which in fact I probably would have done if it hadn’t actually happened, and that fact alone may satisfy Pat.
And other than the fact that our car was dead as a doornail when we got back to the AMTRAK station and I had to buy a jumper cable, having removed the existing one to make room for luggage prior to the trip, and then almost had to call a Volvo dealership before I finally found the battery disguised as a lunch box, to which I hooked the jumper cables, at which time the alarms in both cars went off and drew annoyed stares from the passengers and panhandlers at the train station before we were able to start the engine and slink away, nothing else happened.
You may have noticed that our daughter, Taylor, declined our invitation to join us. Said she, “Like the rest of Keller, my dream vacation is two weeks away from the three of you…”