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Living history, from the beltway to the ball yard

By: Paul Cambra The Press-Tribune
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George Bush would be proud of me. I sunk my entire stimulus check right back into the local economy. His local economy, that is, not ours. I just returned from a 12-day trip to the Washington, D.C., area and boy is my patriotism tired. There is nothing like a dose of founding father fervor to turn even the most cynical of citizens (read: me) into a flag-waving, forebearer-lovin’ fool. With two kids fresh off of eighth-grade history and a 7-year-old Johnny Tremain in the family, it seemed like the perfect time to go. Now, this wasn’t one of those kick back and relax vacations. There was no sunbathing, chaise lounging or “Hey cabana boy bring me another rum and coke” to be found. This was a “hit the ground running” kind of trip. Well, maybe it was really fast walking, but with the amount of things to see and do, there is little time to waste. If only Congress could move as fast as we did. I’d like to see them try to return a rental car by 6 p.m. on a route that takes you past the convention center just when everyone’s getting off work in a town you’ve never driven in before that was designed by some 18th century Frenchman. But dropping off the rental car as soon as we hit town was smart. The D.C. Metro is great and for the price of a week’s pass you can get anywhere you need to be, and, as is usually the case, a few places you didn’t mean to be. But that is what is so cool about D.C. Even when you take a wrong turn, there’s a good chance you’ll run into a statue or a battlefield or something. We toured the Capitol and the Supreme Court, saw the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery (as well as the changing of the shifts in their gift shop), took in as many museums and galleries as humanly possible and sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at night. The two monuments built since my last time there, the Korean War and Second World War memorials, were both fantastic. A two-hour-deep drive into Virginia was a treat, through highways carved out of dense forests, with billboards relegated to the occasional clearing and set back 100-feet from the road. The historic triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown was, well, historic, and the country roads we took back were straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Visiting Monticello and Mount Vernon gives one pause for thought, as in, “am I really standing in the same room where George Washington ate his mutton chops and drank his Samuel Adams?” A not-nearly-as-pretty drive north gets you to the not-nearly-as-quaint city of Baltimore, where the aquarium is second only to Monterey Bay’s and the ball club is always in second-to-last place. But Camden Yards is still a must see, especially when you leave there with a foul ball and Boog Powell’s autograph. And like any good tourist, I sampled the local fare with gusto. Crab cakes in Baltimore, Welsh rarebit in Williamsburg, and Lebanese, Italian, Greek and Thai food in D.C.’s colorful Adams-Morgan neighborhood. Of course, in D.C. proper it was burgers at Bullfeathers and a “Langley Dog” at the Spy City Café. I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t go all the way across the country and not visit the Newseum, the 250,000-square-foot museum devoted to, among other things, newspapers? Well, though dedicated to the ideals of “free press, free speech and free spirit for all people,” it is hardly free to actual people. We saved the $113 admission and instead went across the street to the National Gallery of Art, which is funded by taxpayers like me and you and filled to the brim with Rembrandts, Monets and Van Goghs. Besides, I was on vacation away from a newspaper. And though I managed to escape the day-to-day drudgery of deadlines and doughnuts, I did stumble upon one connection to home. Tucked away in the furthest reaches of the Natural History Museum, past the Hope Diamond and beyond the meteorite from Anatarctica, was a shiny little nugget of Placer County gold. We are in the Smithsonian, folks. Grab a flag and wave it proudly.