It's not easy to travel when stuck rigidly to a plan. Can it really be called a holiday then? Not that this is really a holiday anyway because there are things to constantly worry about, are the dates ok, when do we need to be at the train station for, do we have enough money until we get to an ATM. Is my bike at home still ok? This then, is better described as an adventure and so it was as our bus pulled into Philadelphia where I was going to meet up with Thomas Hine, the author of a book called Populuxe which pioneered the study of the designs of the 1950s in realtion to US identity and the Cold War of the time. I fund it fascinating and will probably do my MA thesis on this quirky subject and so talking to him was a no-brainer. We met up and went to a cafe, commenting on the weather which was suprisingly not humid and the layout of the city which reminded me of Boston. I'd go back, it was compact, had narrow streets, a mix of high rise and low rise and dated from a good bit back. On top of this with the industrial decay perhaps still taking its toll there, the city had been through what Marseille and to an extent what Cork also went through in the 1980s with heavy industry leaving in droves, the city had extra character. It had seen bad times and was enjoying the improving times all the more for it. I'm not going to be so arrogant as to pontificate on this for we were only there for about 3 hours before we had to end our interesting chat and make our way to Chinatown to catch a bus to DC.
Catching a bus here was interesting. Donal went first confronting an angry Chinese woman who clearly never had taken a class in customer-service before. She gave Donal the wrong ticket but this was expected as he had asked for a ticket to Phily when he was already there. It sorted itself out in the end but not before she raised her voice, spoke English faster than any Oriental person had ever done and tore tickets like a shredder. I learnt the lesson and got through it hassle free...not that you'd want to hassle her. The bus was supposed to leave at 4:30pm but didn't leave until after 5pm which was the prime reason we missed out on the fireworks later that evening. I was sitting on the bus, no air con on and was complaining, mainly to myself, about the bus driver who looked like the only thing he was interested in was smoking outside. The only drama was two black guys who had obviously had an argument and were on the street, not the bus thankfully, getting ready to square up to one another. The weaker looking guy ran away with a bag on his back though which ended that, allowing me to resume complaining. We finally left at about 5:15pm, too late to get to DC in time, not that we knew right then.
DC hit pretty hard when we got there. As the bus approcahed the city, we could see the Capitol Building in the distance and the Washington Memorial but the part of town we were going through looked pretty run down confirming what I had heard from a friend before that when you leave the centre of DC, it begins to look pretty mank. Mank sometimes means character though and after a few days we got the hang of it but as the X2 Metrobus dropped us to the hostel I had other thoughts...mank really was mank, or so it seemed. The hostel seemed pretty far out, in an area that didn;t look appealling and I suppose I judged the book by its cover a little quickly. The owner of the hostel wasn't there to check us in and the fireworks were going to start soon. When he did arrive, he complained we hadn't given hima check-in time. That was optional accoding to the website. He sorted us out thoguh and turned out to be a nice guy but he took his time showing us around the hostel which again added to the fact we couldn't see the fireworks and by the time we threw our stuff down and got onto the subway, hope was fading. I clung on to the hope that the fireworks would last a while for as we entered the subway station we heard big, and I mean big fireworks going off, as through the neighbourhood familes and kids set off their own little ones. People got on the subway on the way to a stop we would get off at and with this I thought we were ok, the locals were timing it as we were. It turned out they were going home The show was over when we came up to ground, a scuffed National Mall with people gathering their stuff to go home was all we saw.
Yes you read that correctly, they were going home. The timw was 10:15pm and they were going home even though the next day was a Sunday, they could afford to stay out and party. This was strange behaviour to say the least for back home...well you know how St Patricks Day is, it lasts about a week, employers wonder where workers have gone and the whole country is turned upside down in a pool of drink. DC was a massive contrast as people took their fold up chairs, lined for the subway, and went home. In Boston it was different, last year at least, but then this wasn't ever renowned as a party city and even finding food, never mind drink, if you wanted it, was difficult.
We walked, using our senses as we had no map and didn't feel in the mood to talk to a local as we were gutted at not seeing what we really had wanted to see. Eventully we came upon a part of town that seemed to have some places to eat but guess what, despite the bit of life that was still going in this section of town, food places were closing up. Imagine Abrakebabra closing at 10:30pm on a Saturday night? I honstely couldn't believe it and thought for a second about maybe opening a fast food place in this town myself and raking in the dosh. It was there for the taking really. Ultimatedly we ended up going to McDonalds, as much as we didn't want to, and ate our food on the steps of the Smithsonian Arts Museum near the Tresaury Department Building. It was unique at least.
As we sat there the police came by and informed the crowd sitting on the steps that if anyone was under 17 they'd to be home by midnight, fifteen minutes away. I couldn't believe it, they were so strict on this! There was even an ID check threat made which resulted in a few people leaving just to be sure. One girl had to make a show of throwing out her can of alcohol in front of the crowd as the police saw her drinking. It wasn't due to her being underage it seemed, it was just because she was drinking outside. "Don't spill it out on the steps, come down to the sidewalk, it'll stain the steps". So there we are, rules and regulations again.
We left to get the subway home to the hostel and I had a distinct impression that DC wasn't going to be a nice place to spend time. Book covers though can really mask what lies inside.