Saturday, April 05, 2008

Walt's Whitmart, Spring Break, and President Lincoln

Many ages ago, when I was a student (shut up) I took a road trip with my very good friend Lori on spring break. We drove to Washington, DC to visit friends. I got to do most of the driving; Lori had rented a massive Grand Marquis and I was the only one who could parallel park that boat!

I'd been to DC before-- no, scratch that-- I'd been through DC before. My father's family is from southwestern Virginia, and we visited them now and again. The trip featured a midnight blur that was our nation's capitol. I can vaguely remember my mother shrieking "wake up, kids, you can see the White House." There was a blurry white thing whizzing by as my father cursed about being stuck on the loop and mom lecturing him on the fascinating lay-out of the city, which was similar to Boston in that it resembled the spokes of a wheel.

Yeah, I don't know why he didn't leave her at a 7-11 somewhere, either.

Anyway, on THIS trip it was just us gals. Lori was, and I would imagine still is, a hoot. En route we flirted with truck drivers, missed a turn-off, and discovered a gigantic, illuminated cross on the side of the highway. It assured us that Jesus Saves, and we felt pretty good about that. Plus right after that, around Havre De Grass Maryland we spotted a bunch of signs for Walt Whitman stuff including a delightful curiosity called Walt's Whitmart. I have checked repeatedly and the place is no longer there. I'd give my right arm to see it if it were.

Where was I? Havre De Grass... oh yeah, en route to DC!

You might think this is going someplace salacious, and I do so hate to disappoint. We made it to DC, hung out with our two great friends, played Foosball, and toured only a few sites.

But I remember, very well, Ford's Theater. I remember looking at the balcony from which Booth jumped and fled across the stage. I remember, too, the house across the street where Lincoln was taken, and looking on the bed where he died. It seemed too small for a man known for his great stature.

Jokes about the spokes of the wheel aside, if you manage to find your way off the Beltway and get to see DC, do it. Cherry blossoms or not, you won't forget it. Even just rolling past in a Grand Marquis you get a sense of incredible power and promise from pristine white buildings around you. You stand on the Mall, or look into the Reflecting Pool, or gaze up at the Monument and find yourself unable to stifle the swell of pride.

It inspired me to become involved in political campaigns as a young person. I volunteered, stuck signs in yards, re-collected them after the elections, and yeah-- I stood there like an idiot waving at people who found me waving when all they really wanted to do was go home incredibly annoying. But I never regretted it. Campaigns are not only fun-- they are great places to learn, connect with others, and nurture a sense of responsibility for ones own community.

Anyone can pitch in, even those not old enough to vote. We seem, lately, to be stuck in CRITICISM mode in our current presidential campaign. I'm not against criticism, but I wish more people volunteered and saw, up close, how cool the process is. And once or twice I worked for somebody I genuinely, deeply believed in. I've screamed and cried when the numbers came in and an entire ballroom of workers exploded with the joy of victory. I've stood ankle-deep in paper and empty paper cups with my arms around another campaign-rat, limp and weeping when victory slipped away. In recent years I've even been lucky enough to write a few words for local, low-level hopefuls.

So often when we think of democracy, of patriotism, of great oratory in American politics Lincoln comes to mind. Most of us can quote some of his Gettysburg Address. He reunited a bleeding nation, and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

When you think about those who have died for their country it's hard to find the snarky jokes and stupid soundbites amusing. But there is, of course, a great deal of slapstick in politics and that's as it should be. It can be sombre and moving, but it can also be a great deal of fun.

Plus-- and this is a secret tip from my days of misspent youth-- all the really dorky campaign geek guys? They grow up to be incredibly smart, incredibly well-connected dudes who drive nice cars.

For serious. You should totally volunteer!


  1. I adore DC. I went there as a kid and loved watching the cherry blossom festival. Also loved just wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere. Good post--thanks for the memories!

  2. Well, I live here. LOL!

    And I guess I really take it for granted. I'm used to just kind of seeing the Washington Monument or Capitol Building when my plane is landing or when I'm driving across town. It's just part of the skyline.

    But the other day, we picked a friend up who was visiting from Arizona for a conference and drove her to her hotel. We cut across town and I was reminded that these sights aren't the everyday experience for most people. She's a total politics junkie, so she was loving driving past the Old Executive Office Building (where most of the West Wing staff have their, the real West Wing, not the TV show...damn, I miss that show) or the WWII Memorial or whatever.

    I love it, too, but sometimes I think I really take it for granted. My fave monument, though, is the Jefferson. Gorgeous, especially when the whole Tidal Basin is surrounded by the blossoms.

  3. Ooooh Amanda, I have the Complete West Wing in the cool navy boxed set with the Presidential Seal... and I re-watch them in the off season. It was my favorite show! Nobody writes dialogue that well.

    I think it's so cool you drive through the capitol every day. :)

  4. I've never been...but I plan to for Nationals in 09

  5. I agree, Chrissy. No other show even comes close on dialogue. It was sooooo good!

  6. I agree, Chrissy. No other show even comes close on dialogue. It was sooooo good!