Most people I tell this story to start to laugh about halfway through, and I can laugh now, but it wasn’t funny at the time!
I had quite an experience in Washington DC when I was there a few days before St. Pat’s. I was there to visit my daughter, who lives in Takoma Park, Maryland, and I spent most of my time with her, her husband, and their adorable dog Jasper, a French Bulldog. But on the last full day I was there, I decided to call an Uber to pick me up from their house, which is about 8 miles or so from DC and take me to the U.S. Capitol Building and drop me off for sunrise.
I had this vision in my mind of a colorful sunrise lighting up the sky as the Capitol Building is reflected in the pond below it. I wanted the water to be still and a perfect reflecting surface, and preferably, no people! For all intents and purposes, it should have worked out just as planned, but of course it didn’t. Things rarely do I’ve found. It’s important to be flexible!
Just as a reminder, I live out in the desert, in a smallish town a few miles from the border of Colorado and Utah. I moved here from Denver four years ago. So far, I’ve never had any reason to call an Uber. I have the app; I just never have used it. Well, my two daughters are much more proficient Uber users than I am, and we used it several times during this trip, both in Colorado and around the DC area, getting to and from the airport and so on. So, after several days of my daughters calling for an Uber, I decided I could undoubtedly do it myself. On Tuesday evening, the 15th of March, I checked sunrise time and scheduled for my car to arrive to pick me up at 5:30am the following morning, since sunrise was supposed to happen at something like 6:23am. I figured this would give me just enough time to get there, get set up, and wait for sunrise.
So far, so good. The driver showed up at 5:30am as arranged. I rode to the area of The Capitol Building and was dropped off right in front of it. It seemed to be darker though, than I had anticipated it would be! I checked sunrise again. Oh ya! Daylight Savings Time had changed over the weekend, and now sunrise wasn’t until close to 7:30am! It had snowed the day we arrived, a few days earlier, and it was still kind of chilly before sunrise.
I decided to walk up the capitol steps and to get a lay of the land. From where I was, I couldn’t even see the reflecting pool! I walked up the steps. I had my backpack on my back, with my camera equipment inside. I looked around and could see the reflecting pool. The next thing I know, I’m tumbling down the steps! I have no idea why this happened, I usually maintain my bearings well, but I fell mostly on my right arm and then down a couple more steps, hitting my right shin as well. This was scary, but I recovered quickly and went back to the reflecting pool to wait for sunrise. I quickly decided I hadn’t broken anything, which is what I was concerned about. Yes, I know it’s not a good idea to be out in the city before sunrise, and then to fall down the steps alone.
As I waited for sunrise beside the reflecting pond, my phone kept sending me messages. I had no idea why this was happening. It kept beeping me! I would check the messages briefly and then hit delete to have them go away. They were messages from Uber, apparently about leaving a tip, or leaving a review, or leaving something. I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with that right then, so I just ignored them. The sun rose as expected, but just an hour later than I had planned. I got a few decent shots, but it wasn’t anywhere near as beautiful as I had planned. I was a little let down about this, but of course, I have no control over the weather.
Now that the sun was up, The National Mall began to fill up with people. It was spring break time, and there were tons of school kids and their teachers, parents, and chaperones filling up every open space. I headed towards The Washington Monument, which was surrounded by the pink sky of dawn by this time, which was very lovely I thought. The marble was soaking in the color of sunrise as well.
I walked past the Smithsonian Administration building, with it’s Merry-Go-Round and brick façade, which reminded me of Hogwarts. I got several good pictures of this, but there were people and cars everywhere. Rather than getting photos that would be considered at all “artistic,” I’m now doing straight travel and street photography.
The Jefferson Memorial is probably my favorite memorial on the mall. I can’t so much explain why, but I just really like it. Maybe it’s the Neoclassical architecture, but I also like the statue of Jefferson and the way voices echo through the structure. I think I was last there in something like 2003.
I could hear them long before I could see them. A couple busloads of high schoolers inside the Jefferson Memorial. I climbed the steps of the memorial and sat on a bench inside and waited for them to leave, and they did in about 10 minutes. Once I was alone again, I admired the beauty of the memorial, and took a few pictures. Then I walked outside the memorial and over to the western side of it. I remembered getting a nice shot there in 2003 with a throw-away film camera I got at Walgreens and I thought maybe I could get another similar shot now. Unfortunately, they have placed chain link along the side of the memorial now, I suppose to keep it safe from homeless people and taggers. It’s sad that they’ve had to do this.
I headed back out to continue my walk around The Tidal Basin when after a short distance, I realized I was in an area that isn’t being maintained. I have no idea how I ended up here! The sidewalk I was on was the original sidewalk from a hundred years ago. It was broken and cracked. I thought it would be best for me to get on the newer, modern trail. As I looked over in the direction of this trail, I could see there was chains and chain link that has been placed there, once again, as a means of keeping people out. I could see a place where I could just dash under the chains and be on the maintained walkway. As I mentioned earlier, it had snowed there a few days previously, and I had to walk through a muddy, unmaintained area to get to the place where I thought I could slip under the chain and get to the official walkway. Well, it was very muddy. I began slipping around. I made it to the chain and the walkway, but because I was wearing a backpack, my backpack got stuck on the chain as I attempted to slip under it. I was crouched down in the mud and unable to move either forward or back!
Just then I looked to see a couple of lovely young women coming towards me and pushing a baby carriage. As they passed by, I looked up and asked if one of them could help me out by untangling my backpack from the chain. They looked at me a little skeptically but then decided I was worth taking a chance on and freed my backpack from the chain. When I emerged from the mud and the chain, the first thing I noticed was that they both had coffee mugs in their hands. Boy! Did that look good right about then! I thanked them and then asked right away where they got the coffee. There’s no place on The National Mall to get coffee, especially early in the morning! They said they got it at the hotel before they had set out. I’m sure my disappointment was palpable. By this time, I was getting even more tired.
I had no idea what time it was by then, but possibly around 9am. I tried to check my phone once, but the Uber app had syphoned all the power out of my phone by sending me messages about tips and reviews. I knew I was in trouble, and I didn’t want to push my luck any further.
I walked through the Roosevelt Memorial and got some pretty good shots from that location. Then, on to The WWII and Korean War Veterans Memorials and then on to The Lincoln Memorial. I managed to make it up the steps with great effort. People were everywhere! I’m guessing it was around 9:30am by this time. I decided to sit down on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial and rest briefly. Honestly, I was probably there for about 10 minutes. During that time, at least three little kids begged their parents to let them slide down the marble on the side of the steps where I was sitting. I was so glad their parents said no!
After catching my breath there and catching a few snaps of The Washington Memorial reflected in it’s reflecting pool, along with the other tourists, I ambled over to The Vietnam War Memorial. I have found there is no way to prepare myself for this emotionally ahead of time. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but I walked past slowly, looking at the flowers that had been laid there. There were people literally hunched over crying when they found the names of their loved ones there. The emotional impact cannot be overstated. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I was dog tired. My legs were killing me. I could barely walk. I didn't take any pictures here. It seemed inappropriate somehow.
When I reached the end of the wall, there was a group of tourists, men and women, standing there on the sidewalk trying to decide what to do next. One, a bit taller than the others, looked at a map, then looked at his watch and announced, “It’s a 25-minute walk back to the hotel.” I thought, “Hotel! If I can get to a hotel, there’s probably a coffee shop there. I can get something to eat or drink, and possibly charge my phone enough to be able to call someone. I don’t know where they’re going but I’m following them!” And that’s what I did.
I followed them from The Vietnam Memorial, down Pennsylvania Avenue, past The White House (I quickly got a picture of it as I tried to keep up with this group - nothing worth saving) and then up 15th Street for a couple of blocks. If they knew I was following them, they didn’t let on. I could overhear their conversation. They were clearly from Ireland, I could tell by their accents and manner of speech.
Sometimes they would get way ahead of me. I was so tired, and my legs didn’t want to carry me in a straight line anymore. I kept listing to the right. I was becoming concerned that I had done some major harm to my hip joints either when I fell down the Capitol steps or got caught under the chain at The Jefferson Memorial. I didn’t know what else to do except keep going.
If you’ve ever been to Washington DC, you know that the architecture is very traditional and understated. There are plenty of hotels there, but the ones in town don’t have big neon signs on them announcing their presence. You kind of just have to know where they are. We made our way up 15th Street, the Irishmen and I. I was slowing down considerably and having a harder time keeping up with them. I looked over to the right and saw an understated sign on a building that said something like Washington Hotel, or Hotel Washington. I decided that any hotel was better than none, so this one was as good as any.
I crossed the street with some trepidation. The door on my side of the building had a sign on it that said to go around the corner to find the main entrance. I made it to the main entrance, which was guarded by valets. They gave me permission to enter. It was dark in there. Dark and empty. I walked a little way down the hallway and a young lady eventually appeared behind a small podium. I asked if they had a coffee shop or a restaurant. She looked at her watch and announced the time as 10:30am, and therefore, no. The coffee shop closes at 10am, however, I could still order something and have it delivered to my room. Seriously? I told her that wouldn’t work for me.
She told me that there was a coffee shop another two blocks down the street and that she’d heard it was pretty good. I should go over there and try my luck. I trudged back out the door and up a slight hill until I found the coffee shop she had referred me to. By this time, I could seriously almost not walk. I was nearly in tears now, not because of The Vietnam Memorial, but because of the pain and sheer exhaustion.
I ordered a cup of coffee and made my way out to a table on the sidewalk where I had just enough juice in my phone to call my daughter to come pick me up.
PS: I learned later that the Irish contingent I followed was here for a US/Irish Gala held in DC for St. Patrick’s Day. The people I was following were undoubtedly a part of The Irish Government in some way, and one of them may even have been the Irish Prime Minister, which later that same day, was diagnosed with Covid. I’m fine.
PPS: I missed the Cherry Tree Bloom by about a week! Maybe next year ...