Discussion continues to swirl around the Constitutionality of Washington, DC's nearly 100 year old tour guide licenseing program. The Institute of Justice's Robert McNamara laid out their position againt licenses in last week's Washington Post's All Opinion's Are Local column, and the Guild of Professional Tour Guide's President Jim Heegeman rebutted in this week's (WaPo Tag Fail: listed under "crime"). Both gentlemen further discussed the issue in person on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. The Washington Post aparently clipped and pasted the Institute of Justice's press releases in writing this Op-Ed, which must have taken as much as thirty minutes to research and write. John Kelly calls the Institute's lawsuit "ridiculously apocalyptic in its descriptions of the dangers of D.C.'s regs, raising the specter of taxi drivers being thrown in jail for pointing out the Washington Monument."
Entries in Capitol Visitors Center (10)
Sections of this interview are crossposted on The Hill is Home
All to often my visitors will note bare spots on the Mall, or busted lights, or surly security at the Capitol, and accusingly turn towards me and ask "why doesn't somebody fix this?", as if I was the one standing in the way of progress. My standard response: "write your Congressman".
I had the opportunity to sit down with my Congresswoman this weekend, and ask her about several items that might effect your visit to Washington next time you come. While annoyingly, our feudal status means that my Congresswoman is technically a delegate and lacks many of the procedural tools of "real" Congresscritters, Eleanor Holmes Norton has made up for this in her ten years on the Hill with persistence and savvy. So, besides our perennial struggle for some sort of voting rights, what else did we talk about?
Greater Greater Washington and Georgetown Metropolitan share a great story of the Dumbarton Bridge, a fascinating bridge connecting Georgetown with the Dupont Circle/Kalorama area. Somehow they manage to discuss the history of the Bridge without once commenting on what color Roald Dahl painted the bison's testicles. Oh well.
Washington Post covers the latest must-see attraction in DC: Georgetown Cupcakes. I don't know what is the more annoying trend in DC right now: cupcakes stores or I-hate-cupcake-stores stories. Without comment, then.
Sizable chunks of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial arrived in Baltimore this week after a 47-day voyage from China. The Memorial is set to open next year.
Washington, DC's Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton took the Architect of the Capitol to task for numerous safety and managment problems at the new Capitol Visitor's Center. Politico reports failures in emergency communications and protocals, as well as some more mundane quality of work issues. Expect hearings on this matter come September.
Recently, I managed to squeeze a whole weeks of posts on urban legends of Washington, DC and, to be frank, we have not even started to scratch the surface of un-truths, partial truths, and mis-truths available to an enterprising tour guide. So let's continue this thread a bit and delve into some of the stories of one building alone: the U.S. Capitol. Five days is hardly enough to hit them all, but we'll skim over a few of my favorites.
Sadly for those of us who delight in the outrageous, the new Capitol Visitor Center and it's associated standardization of your Capitol tour has resulted in the demise of many tall tales told by delightfully young Hill staffers and interns. Nowadays, tours are conducted almost entirely by members of the Capitol Guide Service who are properly trained for the task, if perhaps with a little less of that wild-eyed flair I so enjoyed in the past. So if you want a historically accurate, well scripted, and thoughtful examination of the Capitol, you're in luck. But if you long for the days of yore, with a Capitol tour the wild west of guiding, and interns wielding stories like six shooters with little regard as to what they hit, then let's take a path down the urban legends of the Capitol Building.
We'll start with the story of King Kamehameha I, a recent addition to the Capitol Visitors Center, but a long-time favorite of the interns. The good King now welcomes us as we enterEmancipation Hall, just to the right as we descend the stairs. His right arm reaches out to us in a gesture of aloha, the spirit of friendly greeting. King Kamehameha is one of 19 state statues in the Capitol Visitors Center, which we can see without getting timed tickets or signing up for a tour. As Lauren discussed earlier, every state has the honor of selecting two of its citizens to grace the halls of Congress, and Hawaii has chosen King Kamehameha the First. The good King, of course, predates the state of Hawaii, and is remembered for unifying the islands and forming the Kingdom of Hawaii.
King Kamehameha is the largest in the collection, weighing in at around 15,000 pounds. While his weight did pose structural issues in his previous home at National Statuary Hall, our intern guides would never use such a pedantic reason explain the King's relatively obscure spot in the corner. No, it had to be because King Kamehameha was under-dressed in his native garb, requiring him to be hidden. Some versions even had the King entirely naked, with the gilded loincloth added later for the sake ofsomeone's sense of propriety. And a final, lesser-heard story was that an intern was once caught red handed telling the naked King story by Senator (fill in the blank) and dressed down for his presumption. Actually, the last one may very well be true, but I haven't documented it.
But, boringly enough, King Kamehameha's position in the corner was due to the immense weight of the sculpture, and there is no record of anyone incurring the wrath of the King (to say nothing of the Hawaii congressional delegation) by complaining of his attire. If you don't believe me, you're welcome to inspect the original casting of the statue, standing proudly near his birthplace on the island of Hawaii (after a brief sojourn underwater in a shipwreck off the Falklands). While slightly different, this 1878 version clearly has the same loincloth.
And finally, while I might note that spelling out Kamehameha repeatedly was a chore, I shouldn't complain. After all, we could be going by his full name:Kalani Pai ʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea. If you happen to be in DC on June 11th, or Kamehameha Day, swing by the Visitors Center where you will see the king adorned in a lei, watching the hula dancer who perform for him.
My conversations with new clients often fall into the same rut:
"What do you want to do in your time in DC?"
"I don't know, the Air and Space Museum, the Capitol, lunch with the Obama's, the rest of the Smithsonian, and then something to fill in the rest of the day".
It's my fault, because it's a dumb question (of course there are dumb questions, don't be silly). If you knew what you wanted to do in DC, you wouldn't be hiring a guide now, would you? So, what I'm going to do to help you in your vacation planning, and, more importantly, to help me with new clients, is to propose some sample itineraries for everyone to use as a tool to build a good, solid day in DC.
I'll roll these out over the next several weeks. My intent is to have each day to be a logical whole, with a pace that takes things in but doesn't overwhelm you, and allows plenty of flexibility to substitute items of more interest to you.
For starters, let's kick off with a day on Capitol Hill, the neighborhood I know best. This itinerary will combine a good mix of grand National sites and more relateable local color. Of course, this would be a full day of touring, so feel free to pick and choose what parts appeal to you.
View A Day in DC: Capitol Hill in a larger map
8:00 AM: Take the Blue/Orange Line to Capitol South. As you exit the Metro, take a right and head down C ST SE one block and turn left on 2nd. You have a couple of excellent options for breakfast here. I'd recommend Pete's Diner for a good solid breakfast or Le Bon Cafe next door for a French cafe type of experience.
8:30 AM: Don't rush, but if you're done we should at least walk by the Capitol Building. Now that we're properly fortified, and perhaps more importantly, caffeinated, let's head up Pennsylvania Ave to the main attraction. I've discussed before the ins and outs of visiting the Capitol, so I would certainly read that post if you are interested in getting in. Let's say you are. Head in, and get your tickets. For our purposes let's assume you've received 9:20 tickets. You can kill a little time by checking out the excellent museum in the Visitor Center. If the time is significantly later, take the tunnel over to the Library of Congress and come back at the appointed time. Astute readers of this blog know that "on time" varies subtly from place to place.
10:20 AM: Wowed by your trip to the Seat of Democracy, we have time for one more thing before lunch. I'd say you want to head through the ready made tunnel to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. While you're free to wander the building on your own (and you should), if you make it in time for the 10:30 tour, don't miss it. No kidding, I'd rather skip the Capitol tour and make this one. If you have teenagers with you, you can always bribe them with "this is where National Treasure II was filmed". The exhibit halls on the second floor are top notch as well.
If you've skipped the tour of the Capitol, or just have more time you might want to swing by the Supreme Court, assuming, of course, it's a weekday. There's a small exhibit space downstairs and they do a nice little presentation every hour on the half hour (assuming they're not in session). I wouldn't make a special trip for it, but if you happen to be there, you might want to sit in.
12:30 PM: Ok, you've been good. No whining, you've seen you're share of cultural sights, but it's lunch time. Pete's is a distant memory, and you're threatening a sit down strike if you don't get fed. If it's dire, and I wouldn't blame you if it is, there's many a good option in the immediate vicinity. But if you can hold out fifteen minutes, let's take a walk down East Capitol Street. One of the main avenues radiating away from the Capitol, you'll get a sense of what DC was like in the 1900s. Many of the original houses still exist and this is a gateway into the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. For now, we're leaving what you think of as Capitol Hill, the locus of Federal decision making and the seat of our government, and entering what I think of as the Hill, the neighborhood where I live, raise my kids, and generally enjoy life. While interconnected, they are very separate realities, and I hope you'll come away with the sense that Washington, DC is not just filled with faceless bureaucrats and greedy Congressmen, but also includes real people living life with much the same concerns and joys that you do. Often, people fall into both categories.
12:45: Ok, enough of that, I promised you lunch if you behaved, and you have, mostly (I'll ignore the grumbles under your breath). Take a right on Seventh St and you will see Eastern Market in all its glory. We can explore the Market later, for now, let's get some food. If you feel like sitting down, Tunnicliff's Tavern across Seventh from the Market is my go to place. Good food, and a staff that is perpetually helpful, make this a great place to hang out for a bit. And if you wish to linger for a few minutes over a beer or two, well it's vacation and you've earned it. I also mix it up with Prego, an Italian deli and sandwich shop (try the nr 4 on a hard roll), and Tortilla Cafe, a Salvadorean and Mexican place with excellent fish tacos and a weird cole slaw thingy that I don't like but wake up in the middle of the night craving. And, of course, for a authentic Eastern Market experience, try out Market Lunch, inside the Market itself. Known for their crab cakes and blueberry pancakes, the Market Lunch often has a line, but it moves quickly. I'd recommend knowing what you want before you hit the cash register and if you want to linger over your food, take it outside.
2:00 PM: Now that's we've had some lunch, and I hope you've taken a few minutes to relax, let's take some time to explore the Market. If it's a weekend, you might wish to plan an hour or two to explore the Flea Market, set up in the school parking lot down Seventh. A variety of crafts, artists, antiques, and others less definable sell their wares Saturday and Sunday at the Market. Of course, you'll want to duck into the Market proper to take in the sights and smells, and perhaps to grab a snack for later. There are also several good traditional bricks and mortar stores in the area. It is not impossible to spend an hour in Capitol Hill Books, to the point where your wife wonders if you've run off with someone else (which would probably be cheaper in the long run). I also recommend Hill's Kitchen, a new cooking store on the Hill. Even if you have everything a home chef could possibly want, stop by to get a cookie cutter of DC, and you're home state (unless you're from Hawaii).
3:00 PM: If you done shopping and exploring, and don't feel you have to be, perhaps a self-guided walking tour of the area is in order. Tour of Duty: Barracks Row, one of Cultural Tourism DC's many well laid out, clearly marked walking tours, starts off on the Eastern Market Metro plaza (up Seventh and across Pennsylvania). Look for the large sign near the Metro escalator. This 90 minute walking tour takes you down Barracks Row (8th St) by the Marine Barracks and Navy Yard, by John Phillip Sousa's home, and through the neighborhood before finishing back at Eastern Market.
4:30 PM: I imagine we're done now, and you need a break. This is one of the most dangerous times in tourdom. You might feel like you can still push through, don't want to miss a thing, and want to make your time in DC count. This is a mistake. Take an hour or so and rest. If you're staying nearby, go back, take you shoes off, and freshen up before dinner. If not, swing by the Sweet Shop in Eastern Market, where you can buy cookies by the 1/4 pound, and head to Lincoln Park for a break (take a right on North Carolina and walk four blocks). Take a minute to see the statues of Lincoln and Mary McCloud Bethune, but mostly just stop walking. This is where that visit to the book store comes into play.
6:00 PM: Dinner time: Many great options exist along Barracks Row. I tend to visit Matchbox, a great pizza place; Belga Cafe, Belgian, yes Belgian food; Trattoria Alberto, a quiet and intimate Italian place; and Banana Cafe, for Cuban food. Many other good options exist, and this list is not comprehensive. On Friday and Saturday nights, waits can be long at some places (i.e Matchbox) but feel free to just head down the street for a shorter line.
Evening: If you've still got energy, and if you do I'm clearly not doing my job, you might find a few options on the Hill. Generally, the Hill is not known as a wild night spot, but if you want to grab a drink you can find several decent bars along Barracks Row or Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. H Street is a nice walk/short bus/quick cab ride away. Or there are a few evening attractions:
Marine Barracks Evening Parade: We're almost done with this year's, but during the summer months, the Marine Barracks at 8th and I conducts a concert followed by a display of their silent drill platoon on Friday nights. It really is an impressive showing and if your schedule fits, you will be rewarded. I would recommend attempting to get reservations early in the year.
Folger Shakespeare Library: A great way to spend the evening on the Hill. Check their website for showings, but their next run is Taming of the Shrew October 21-November 29.
I hope you enjoyed our little jaunt. Now, before we go, a little discussion of when to do this. The Capitol and Library of Congress are closed Sundays, and Eastern Market is closed Mondays. The Flea Market at the EM only runs on the weekends. So if you want to see everything above, I'd recommend Saturday, but obviously your schedule will have to remain flexible. Any day of the week is fine, just make sure you do your research as to what is open then.