Monday, July 13, 2009

Day Fifteen - DC

When you think of a tank, you think of an army and when you think a strong army, you think of the US Army. With bases all over the world and a history that involved them in some sort of conflict every two or three years, this is the automatic choice. The spread of US culture and with it the image of the army as liberator also helps in this regard. So why am I saying all of this? Well where is the centre of this mammoth military machine?

The Pentagon.

Getting up late once more we set off on the metro to the Pentagon, that famous building, breached just once, on 9/11 and an example of architecture to come when it was built in the 1940s. It was condemned then as wasteful expenditure and not a real government building for it was located away from the other main ones, across the Potomac River. These concerns subdued however, the whole idea of a Russian mushroom cloud eradicating all government buildings in DC whether they be across a river or not, taking over in the minds of the media columnists who decided it was in the wrong place first day. We arrived at the stop, myself already thinking it pretty nifty that it was possible to get off at a stop called "Pentagon", but then DC surprises you in this subtle way. Now, all of the metro stations in DC have escalators to bring you to ground level for it was built in 1976 and so is pretty modern and up to date, but this wasn't an escalator that we faced as we scanned our cards to get out of the station (another peculiarity that wasn't present in the Boston or NYC systems). This was a mega-escalator that seemed to rise not to ground level but sky level for upon looking up that was all one could see. I was confident that I would have to call Dulles International Airports air traffic control centre to get permission to go this high and this steep. I discovered the steepness when looking over my shoulder. I should mention that in many stations there were ads with pictures showing what happened to the shoes of unattentive people coming off escalators. Torn, ripped and frayed. Well if you fell backwards before even approaching the getting off part on this giant then you're whole body would be ripped and frayed. And torn. To see people running down the opposite one as they talked on phones was like watching someone walk a tighrope. Amazing and dangerous and the evil side of you wants them to fall, or get a fright anyway. I decided that would be unfair though so I stopped thinking that as I gasped in amazement, the exit section coming up, the steel steps going under those teeth-like things at the top of every escalotor. The advert compares it to an alligator when disturbed (not that I've ever disturbed one) but I reckon it's a fair comparison.

You wouldn't actually realise you were at the Pentagon unless you were told for when we exited we had to confirm that this indeed was the building between ourselves. The view we all know is from the top so you can see the shape easily but not so on ground level. We read a little of its history outside in the view of cheerful guards with machine guns, always a comforting sight, before setting off to see the Pentagon Memorial dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the US military HQ. It was very well down, each soul commeortated in a very systemic way which photos do more justice to really. Or is this me crying to move on to the next blog post for I have so many to do? It is I will admit but basically the memorials are steel benches over a pool of reflecting water with the names engraved on to them and the area organised over a large space at the sight the plane hit with ages increasing along a wall system that borders the memorial. It was modern and effective for the benches really mshow that many lives were lost, some not even teens yet.

The humidity on this day was overwhelming and in the memorial area there was no shade. It was that heat that bakes you, it just slowly turns you on a giant spit better known as Earth until the Sun is ready to go to bed and you are soaked from sweat. Water fountains are readily found in DC though and we used them quite a lot, needing to of course.

Time had flown by as we had spent the hottest part of the day indoors, which made me wonder upon glancing at my watch, what it must have been like to be out in the sun in the midday heat. Actually this reminds me, when we were walking to the subway I saw a local black guy wearing a vest walking up in the opposite direction to Donal and I. He was sweating profusely. I knew at this point then that we were in for it. If the locals were sweating then we would be too, only worse. Much worse. The only cure was to literally shower in antipersperant but even with this your body would make sweat and you'd explode from not letting it out. There really was no way out.

There was a way out from the Pentagon though as we walked back to the subway looking across the massive Pentagon car park to buildings marked as Boeing, Lockheed Martin etc... I thought od Eisenhower and his warning of the impending dominance of the military-industrial complex in US politics. I thought also of the US need to have car parks surround everything. The saving grace in this case was that a good few Pentagon emplyees rode motorbikes.
My suggestion was to eat in the Dupont Circle area of town that night as that was supposed to have a concetration of nice restaurants in a laid back area. We didn't quite find a concentration but we did hit upon a nice Greek place that originated in Vienna. Peculiar I thought but I was hungry and didn't fancy another bowl of Muesli as a dinner substitute and so, in we went. The food was nice but portion sizes were small compared to what we were used to which, looking back, was a good thing as we can't eat whole farms every day now can we?

Still I figured dessert was in order to so I hopped into the South's answer to Dunkin Donuts, Krispie Kreme and grabbed a donut and a coffee. It should be Crispie Cream and it should be Doughnut but when in Rome...or in DC, what ever the case may be...

The rest of the ngith we spent talking in the park at Dupont Circle, so named after a Civil War hero I believe. The park was a circle funnily enough with benches all of the way around affording views of its centre but not ot the nice mix of architecture behind it. This was a good place to people-watch however with the background Victorian buildings provding a nice vista through the park trees. We talked and we talked until time hit us and we decided it was time to call it a day but not before I managed to ridicule someone under my breath.

In America, many traffic lights have a timer so you know how long you have to cross the road and sitting by a crossing we could see this. 50 seconds to cross a 12 foot wide stretch of road. A group came walking over and of course there was one imbecile who took 50 seconds to cross, just to show the rest that he could. Now if I were a psycologist I would say that what in effect was happening was him showing how slow he could be to the rest of the group but then I'm not a psycologist. I don't need to be one to see that indeed he was. If I was the car driver I probably would have knocked him down to teach him a lesson.

And so for today there I leave you, don't act the fool.

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