Day 3

Washington again—I feel closer to an epiphany of what America is after hearing a guy at H&M use the phrase “glebe”: someone who watches, but is not obsessed with Glee. We like to look down on people who don’t worship television.

Today, we found free parking as it is a Sunday and everything. We visited the Natural History Museum and American History Museum. I wasn’t disappointed. The exhibits were epic, except for the marsupial center where the wombat was not featured. And as the wombat is my favorite marsupial, I felt very offended.

Also, I couldn’t really see the Hope Diamond, since everyone insisted on pressing their faces to the glass. On the plus side, I saw a picture of the diamond on a middle schooler’s cell phone screen. Magnificent.

The evolution of man was an interesting exhibit except they didn’t show the whole “God created the world” part. Instead, it began with trilobites and one-celled organisms and whatnot. The caveman camp was disturbing, displaying an S&M-esque burial. The dead ancestor lay naked and bound in the bottom of a pit lined with a bear pelt. I mean, if you’re into that thing… not to mention the distasteful nudity. I never knew that cavewomen had bushy locks of nipple hair. Now, I know.

The most interesting exhibit in the American History museum was the pop-up book exhibit in my opinion. The history of pop-up books, and you’d be amazed over how many different kinds there are. Next to the pagan statue of George Washington sat on a throne and a reconstruction of a Vietnam-era helicopter, the pop-up books were pure art.

In the museums, my brother and I began a competition to see who could impose himself into more photos. While families took pictures of them holding the Washington Monument in their palms, we stood idly in the background with grinning faces and two thumbs up.

Nearing the end of the day, we saw the White House. Really White House? Try Off-White. The back lawn stretched green and lush toward them, snipers hunched on the roof with their sights passing over each of our foreheads. I feel sorry for the Obama’s really, because the lack of privacy probably prompts Michelle to pull the curtains a little tighter. If so many people congregated outside my house every day, I might hire some snipers too.

Afterwards, we walked back toward the car, making stops at H&M and at Hard Rock Café. A nice urban city once you get away from the monuments. Maybe the locals wanted to filter the tourists all into a single place. Like herding cattle. Every dome I saw, I imagined a missile must come out of it. The Washington Monument surely opens up to reveal a towering missile. Or the Capitol building. I don’t understand how military strategists could resist such cliché Hollywood-inspired missile launch sites.

We ride back now toward Fredericksburg to spent one final night. Last night we ordered fantastic pizza from a small restaurant near our hotel to which we’ll return tonight for wings or gyros or the like. Tomorrow we’re headed back to Aiken. 


The Great American Road Trip, Day 2

There are only 2 types of people really whom one sees in DC: sixth grade classes touring the monuments and resident maniacs. And you can’t ignore the maniacs considering most of them are Senators.

Today, we went to DC—the heart of America itself. Or at the very least, its liver. If memory from a sixth grade field trip serves me right, DC is a mainly historical rather than functional city. Does anyone other than Barack really live there?

                Last night, we arrived in Fredericksburg which at the time was under the siege of a tumulus thunderstorm. Nice city, though, with a lot of historical building and mom-and-pop stores. The first thing we did, though, after a nine hour drive was sit in the car for another hour until the rain passed.

                Washington is a peculiar place, especially to visit on Memorial Day weekend. All the crazies come out during the holidays—I guess they’re agitated by festivities.

                The parking garage we found led us five levels underneath the ground—I could nearly hear the clickety-clack of Pentagon computers not far away. The National Mall was expansive—did you know it’s actually just a grassy field? No American Eagle. No Hollister. No Bath and Body Works with those little pastry-scented candles.

                We walked up to the Capitol which was largely obscured by a grandiose stage. A chorus practiced for a Memorial Day celebration—marching and dancing across the stage. Afterwards, we explored the Botanical Garden. If I had the slightest interest in endangered flora species, this may have the place features a three-story jungle room where the trees towered high and the foliage puffed out thick.

                Modern art museum next—queue mind-bending sculptures and plain blue canvases. Every piece inspired a contemplative, perplexed sigh—what is the meaning of life? asks the green blotch on a field of jet black. After leaving, I was aesthetically flummoxed.

                We spent two hours in the Air and Space museum touring the Wrights brothers’ exhibits and space ships. It’s amazing that when man first flew it was on a cloth-wood contraption. Space ships are undoubtedly cool, but we spent a lot of time looking at the Pershing II missile which was the missile my dad helped build during the Cold War.

                After that, a Holocaust museum. Videos on repeat of Hitler shouting his speeches. And WWII propaganda posters. It reminds me of a propaganda center I went to with my German exchange group in Nurnberg. The only really odd thing is that sneaking suspicion that these propaganda techniques that Hitler implemented—I’ve seen these before used by modern politicians. Stereotyping? Playing on fear and emotion? Yes, it happens.

                Step outside onto the grass plains and there is the rising obelisk that is the Washington Monument. Maybe it’s an optical illusion, but that monument is much bigger than it looks. As we approached it, it grew larger, up, up, up toward the sky.

Surrounded by people snapping pictures. That may very well be not just the secret to the American spirit, but the spirit of humanity. The need to capture the moment. To somehow capture a feeling, a time, a person onto film. As if a person or an emotion could be made tangible. As if the niceties of life could be explained text book verbatim.

We trekked across the grass to where small children splashed in the pool at the WII memorial. Right behind the sign that read: RESPECT THE MEMORIAL, DON’T WADE IN THE WATER. And then to the Lincoln Memorial where thousands of people milled. Where the cacophony was deafening, shaking loose the signs that read: RESPECT THE MEMORIAL, PLEASE BE QUIET.

DC, overall, was a quite exciting place. Though these monuments were clustered into these single block, I’m sure there is a lot more to DC. Tomorrow, more museums and more DC.

Still no signs of Barack, but we’re going to the White House tomorrow. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

The Great American Road Trip, Day 1

We lit out for the territory at five in the morning. Not really the territory, b

ut certainly the thick of it where American dreams are meshed together with the bureaucratic


 messiness of politics. Our nation’s glorified capital: Washington, D.C.

                I wouldn’t be writing this blog about a road trip except I just finished Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which Hunter S. Thompson, champion of gonzo journalism, chronicles his drug-frenzied adventures in Las Vegas. Maybe I could recreate his magic sans narcotics and hallucinogens.

                I was given the opportunity to go yesterday and being of impulsive and less-than-responsible mind, I agreed immediately. My parents have been planning this trip to meet with my brother in Virginia. Soon, he will finish his internship with a hospital there—he’s staying for the meantime with his girlfriend’s family whom we will also meet.

                But this blog shan’t be about girlfriends or even simply our national monuments. But a deep and contemplative (naturally) study of what makes America tick. So armed with a truck packed with suitcases, a cooler, and a laptop, we (a quite modern, nuclear American family if you don’t count my mom whose British) left at five in the morning.

                At around 9:30, when I rose from a groggy half-consciousness, I began to see billboards of a singularly absurd variety. Looming signs with a small Mexican man flaunting fajitas and riding a mule—a great manifestation of our grand ability for stereotyping. Twenty miles later, I continued to see similar signs with increasingly desperate marketing: South of the Border, home of Pedro.

                Of course we stopped for a bathroom break at this world’s greatest tourist trap. The colors blinded me as we drove up upon this massive Mexican theme park in the midst of North Carolina. The first I saw of it was a water tower, easily visible in the distance, shaped like an immense sombrero. This place was both pathetic and fantastic, like a racist man’s dream vacation.

                This is cultural exploitation at its best.

                You get so blown away by the sights that you may miss the dilapidated motel, scoured with graffiti or the disused gas station, the pumps hanging limply across the ground like a family of dead snakes. Everywhere, an attraction: Pedro’s Diner, Pedro’s Mexico Shop, Pedro’s Picnic Area, Pedro’s Fun Park with roller coasters, arcades, and gaudy concrete statues everywhere.

                We parked between a hot dog stand (outside of which is a statue of a bright red wiener dog) and a statue of Pedro waving at us from above an ice cream parlor, the stucco walls screaming pastel green. Across the street was a huge fireworks stand called Rocket city. Outside a concrete rocket pointed towards the sky like a sacred totem pole worshipping gunpowder, a phallus-shaped monument to ka-boom.

                This is the sort of place that’s got six t-shirt shops, one simply selling shirts with MYRTLE BEACH written across them. This is the sort of place where you pay $140 dollars for a family of any size to spend a week—exactly what the brochure said.

                Outside the hot dog stand, a band of a hundred or so bikers performed a strange initiation ritual. A sign loomed above them: Buy discount tickets here for Disney World, Universal, and Sea World. Here in North Carolina, they sold discounts for amusement parks 250 miles away. The bikers, tattooed on their arms and faces, with big bushy beards and long braided pony tails, they danced ballet in unison. I swear—I even have a video to prove it.

                Here—the epitome of good American thinking. I think I’ve stumbled upon something great, this great Wally-World-esque tourist trap. On our way to Washington D.C., I’m glad I got a good look at America. We’re driving now through North Carolina and still here—more billboards. For the world’s largest wig store and the world’s largest cigar store. America, I congratulate you on your sheer audacity.

Next up: TOPLESS, TOPLESS, TOPLESS. Strip club and adult toys.

I hope Barack Obama will read my blog: if not, I’ll tell him to when I run into him.