I felt my flip-flops slide from underneath me more than once, whether it was due to the slick pavement, or simply the buzz I was riding from the bar beforehand. It was raining, no, pouring on Washington, DC and we were attempting to tour it.
En route to our nation’s capital
Growing up so close to Washington, DC, it never occurred to me just how quick of a journey it was by train. Amtrak can take you almost anywhere, yet I had never utilized it. My train experience was limited to quick, 2-hour Metro North jaunts to and from New York City, three days a week, for an unpaid internship. After 6 months of this, I preferred to be behind-the-wheel of my own destiny, aka car, I now had to move 3 times in a week in Bushwick. As I type this, I find the irony in the parallel to my thrice weekly, train-hopping days.
Yet, as my boyfriend and I sat in Friday afternoon, gridlock traffic, for an hour and a half on Broome street, all of my insides began to scream.
Sometimes we simply try to be penny smart with our travels. I figured gas would be cheaper than having to pay for a roundtrip train ticket, regardless if I was the one shelling out for it or not. The five-hour trek turned into eight hours and for once, I could finally admit to myself I had been dollar stupid.
Half of the car ride was spent draping towels and jackets over the passenger side window and boyfriend while I zipped along on the highway in the pouring rain. My brand new Kia had decided to give up altogether on keeping the passenger window on its tracks. As I handed the keys to my boyfriend during a gas station snack break, the glass decided to slowly descend into the door with no chance of stopping as his back was turned. It wasn’t just raining, it had to be car-stopping, maximum windshield-wiping, squinting to see the lines on the road, raining.
Finally, after several hours of this, we had arrived.
A tension headache crept over me as I heard laughter and beers opening in the other room as I sat on hold with Safelight repairs. No one was around on a Friday night, they told me, and they could take care of me Monday. Luckily, our Airbnb had a private garage I could stow my car in for the time-being. At least one thing has gone right this trip so far.
Joining the rest of our group, I quickly caught up to the madness and agreed to go out for drinks and board games, despite the rain. I grabbed my flip-flops, not wanting to get my only pair of shoes wet before our explorations the next day and partly due to rushing to our Uber on stand-by. After getting a nice buzz on, we were ready to take on the monuments. The Monument Walk at the National Mall was best done at night; the crowds were thinner and the lights that illuminated each display brought focus to craftsmanship and solemnity of the stones.
I held my camera underneath my rain jacket as we walked towards our first stop. Holding my camera up to my eye, I realized quickly I was going to struggle tonight as the autofocus went wild. Walking behind my boyfriend and his sister, I slipped along, almost eating pavement every few steps, before seeing if we could make an executive decision to call it off for tonight.
The Monuments in DC Walk
Our second attempt at touring the monuments the next night fared a lot better. The weather was cool as we left the National’s game and made our way to the National Mall to tour the monuments in DC. Each location was brightly lit up as we wove our way through the grounds. The flags surrounding the Washington Monument waved in the distance, a pointy pillar of marble and granite against the dark sky. There weren’t a ton of people around, though we did share the sidewalks with a few city rats. Brooklyn has its fair share of these oversized creatures, yet I had never seen so many in such a short period of time. Considering how clean I found most of the streets in DC to be, this was a mystery. New construction? Leftover food? Mystery.
One of our first stops was the WWII Memorial, one I felt drawn to immediately upon entering. The names of each state were engraved onto large slabs of rock circling the main fountain, a massive feature spraying water illuminated by lights below, into the night sky. At each quadrant of the ring were pillars holding a bronze wreath, indicating a different part of the US. Walking along the perimeter, a sort of quiet fell over our group, the nature of this stunning display weighed heavily in the air. I watched as other tourists took selfies in front of their home state pillars and wondered (not for the first time) if these monuments’ meanings lost in the wave of selfie-material for Instagram.
Along the way, we spotted rows and rows of gold stars mounted into the stone. The wall seemed to go on forever; the weight of how many lives were lost became heavier as we realized each of those 4,048 stars each represented 100 lives taken by the war. One star equated to a small town’s graduating class worth of lives. There were no names, only a small symbol to represent those of the past.
An Anti-Climatic Lincoln Memorial
Walking towards the Lincoln Memorial, the pitch black reflection pool painted a hazy outline of the building that encased the giant stone president, only interrupted by the occasional duck swimming past. The memorial itself was massive, a bright building that glowed in the distance. It felt almost cliché to have a full moon so low in the sky, it looked as it if were touching the building itself as we approached.
Even at night, the stairs were swarmed with people, lounging about the entire way up. Inside, we tried not to bump into others while looking up at the ornate, honest carved face. In all honesty, Abe was smaller than I anticipated. Though looking massive in the distance, it was a facade played upon in many movies, thus giving me the impression of something otherworldly. He was large enough to be impressive, yet small enough to not feel intimidating. One hand was clenched into a fist as the other rested on his chair, a nod to the Lincoln’s fair but just attitude.
On each wall to the left and right of the marble figure were Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address and the Gettysburg Address spanning the entire length of the wall. Some of the sentiments surprised me, seeing as how the United States is currently in a state of political unrest, it seems as though we may have forgotten the foundations this country was established on. We were not meant to be separate and work against one another, but use the parties as a sort of checks and balance system to build our nation up. There was talk of inclusion for all; something we have attempted to work at for over a century and still not manage to capture.
The final stop for our tired feet was the Vietnam Memorial; a long stretch of wall that slowly built up in the middle to a point. Right before we were close enough to get a better look, we spotted a large book in an open case illuminated by a single light. It contained all the information on the fallen soldiers from the war according to where they were stationed, the soldier’s unit, and their name’s location on the wall. It surprised me just how many pages there were of these names and dates, yet approaching the wall I began to understood why. Each name was a tiny speck on the black granite, stretching on for a good distance until they began to blend together.
At the base of some of the slab sections were dried flowers, still in their plastic casing, laminated photographs, and other various mementos left behind. We were virtually the only ones at the memorial, and once again, the air was thick as we walked past name after name. It was hard not to feel emotional. This was all that was left of many of these people. So many lives, so much destruction, all to end up as a name on a wall. The United States has never been great for remembering it’s fallen, and I’m not sure this really did them justice.
There is so much hate in this world.
And we are continuously ignoring our past mistakes in favor of repeating them again. Memorials like these are more than just backdrops for pictures, they serve as reminders of oftentimes unnecessary violence we all create.
It’s hard not to feel angry while walking among those that have been forgotten, all of these young lives that had been cut short. It’s so easy to take for granted that for the most part, we are free to do what we please, and become whoever we set out to be. We are able to travel to the ends of the earth, simply because we choose to, not because we are being pitted against one another. It all made me realize how fortunate I am for not spending my 20’s preparing for doom in a distant land. Instead, they’re spent planning my next trip to absorb other histories and cultures, and to hopefully learn from them.
If only we could do more remembering.