Thursday, August 20, 2009

On the road

A little outdated. From Wednesday morning:

On the road again. We are currently in western Virginia, heading down interstate 81 towards Tennessee. This is most certainly Thomas Jefferson's America. Nothing but green pastures and corn fields, the type of place where people drive diesel trucks and go to church every Sunday. I'm surrounded by national battlefield parks and rolling hills concealing caverns.

I've been in the city so long that I feel like I barely know how to conduct myself in this situation any more. I find myself a lot less tolerant than I was on my last 2000 mile vacation through a handful of flyover states. I no longer understand why there is nothing open past 6 pm and why I can't find an iced Dunkin' coffee every 5 feet.

The first shock to my system came our first night. We set out for the D.C. area around 2 pm on Monday, putting us in the thick of city rush hour traffic by the time that we got there. After sitting in it for about 2 hours (I started throwing my water bottle around the car in frustration), we finally checked in, and found a restaurant to eat at, some 20 miles away. 45 minutes later, we come upon it to find it closed. With some quick GPS searching, we find another seafood place closeby. In a secluded little marina in the middle of nowhere we find something between a marina restaurant and a sports bar, with a menu to match. Walking outside to the deck, I was hit with a cloud of cigarette smoke. Virginia has not banned smoking in public buildings, apprently. And why would they when EVERYONE smokes?

The crowd was just a little trashy, and the only things not coated with butter on the menu were the house salad and the caesar salad. I have a feeling that I will be eating a lot of chicken caesar salad with the dressing on the side on this trip.

But I'm gradually easing into embracing the fat. Last night, in Winchester, Virginia, at a little place in the old town called Cook's Tavern, I had a really nice filet with blockberry sauce and barbecue baked beans. Disregarding the huge gobs of packaged cheddar cheese that came on my appetizer house salad, it was a really good meal. The sauce was a little spicy, a little fruity—kind of like a barbecue glaze. I was really impressed—and my steak was wonderfully rare. It could have been a little more tender, but that's just splitting hairs.

Both nights so far we have stayed at the Hampton Inn, in the grand tradition of mother. The beds are as nice as I rememeber, and always with cable and free wifi, but the continental breakfast has suffered a bit (economy?). Even so, life could get a lot worse.

As far as attractions go, we took the metro into DC yesterday to go to the Newseum. As a journalist, I have to say that I was slightly disappointed with the content. It was flashy, sure, and had some interesting exhibits, but it was definitely geared towards those without a great knowledge of the industry. The attention was definitely on the aesthetics rather than substance through most of the 6 floors of space. The two major exceptions to this were the Pulitzer Prize photography exhibit and the 9/11 corner. In those two places I was really challenged to think about what journalism is, and some of the major ethical and personal challenges that come with being a journalist.

There was a 10-15 minute loop video running about 9/11, a documentary of various journalists, mostly television and radio, that covered the story that day. It had particular significance for me, now thinking of myself as a New Yorker, to see the kind of destruction that wreaked havoc on a neighborhood that I now know and love, just 8 years ago. It became real for me, much more than it was real for me when it was happening when I was twelve years old and a continent away.

The Pulitzer's, too, were moving. There are so many photos of life just before death. To be that see those kinds of horrors, and then to relive it over and over every time you see your picture.

Anyway, we've just arrived in Staunton, VA, the site of President Woodrow Wilson's Presidential Library and Museum....

The museum was really a hit.

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