It's easy to get wrapped up in executing an itinerary as a tour guide, and forget to take advantage of the unique opportunities of experiencing all that Washington has to offer in person. After all, the information I give can be easily found in books, on the web, and in countless free pamphlets. Everything you will see on a trip to DC has been photographed several hundred times, probably in the last week alone. So why come in person?
Besides the thrill of seeing it on your own, the answer is simple: sometimes you're plans will go out the window and you will see something really cool. Maybe a Presidential motorcade. Maybe a really good protest (nothing beats seeing the anti-circumcision folks out with their "Don't Snip the Tip" signs). For a group of seventh graders and myself this Tuesday it was a wreath laying at Arlington Cemetery.
We had our own wreath laying scheduled for 10:15, when we got unceremoniously bumped. It would be the last unceremonial thing we would see for the next hour or so. We were fortunate enough to get to witness the full military honors associated with a wreath laying by a visiting Australian General.
It's an impressive ceremony, much more elaborate than the normal laying of a wreath which happens several times a day. We got to see the full honor guard marching up the steps; the band, Pershing's Own, playing both the Australian and American National Anthems; the presenting of the colors; and finally, the laying of the wreath by the Australian General. More pictures, and an amateurishly shot video are available on my flickr photostream.
It knocked us back an hour, which in tour guide time is several days, but fortunately, my blown schedule was helped by two things: it's fall and I was working with a particularly great set of seventh graders and their parents who appreciated the experience, even at the cost of missing out at a few things downstream. After all, as one parent told me, the Smithsonian will still be there next time they come back.
Which I think was a valuable lesson for me as well. A visit to DC isn't a checklist of items to see. Don't be afraid to sacrifice a few things off your list in order to focus a little more on the quality of the experience. And for those of you looking to visit, I'd suggest two things: develop a plan before you come and ignore it as necessary when you get here.