Why would you spend all day in a cemetery?

Vacation 2016 08_ Arlington

Lucia said she never thought we’d spend the entire day at Arlington National Cemetery. And still not be able to take it in. The cemetery was her highlight. It was mine too. It’s hard to explain.

There was something about that place that caused you to linger and ponder. It’s been two months since visiting, and we still talk about it. It was the highlight of the D.C. trip.

Maybe it was similar to the Vietnam Memorial, as well as all the other memorials for death. Though the Vietnam Memorial was staggering in a condensed, succinct way, Arlington was staggering in a grand and immense way.

There were a lot of names that were recognizable. Presidents, old battle heroes, congressmen, judges, and people who found fame in other ways like inventors and movie stars. The Vietnam Memorial was profound through anonymity while Arlington had that but it also had notoriety.

You’re standing in a field of omnipresent crosses that represent souls who gave their lives for a cause that seems mostly forgotten in our day. North, south, east, and west were crosses. Row upon row. Thousands upon thousands. And for all those who died and were buried on foreign soil or whose names are lost to all but God, there is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It represents the branches of our military and is guarded night and day, every day of the year.

We happened to be at the Tomb of the Unknown for three events. It was a wonderful trifecta. Every thirty minutes during the summer the guards are changed. It’s about a ten-minute process. We saw that at least three times, I think.

The Prime Minister of India also showed up to lay a wreath on the tomb. That took over an hour from prep to finish. There were scores of photographers and videographers. Our military was there, about 150 men and women I suppose. Flags, brass, horns, and ceremony. It was good to see. Of course, it made international news, especially in India.

Later there was the exchanging of the “normal” wreath at the tomb, which they do five to six times a day during the summer. Your group could sign up to do this. There were four kids from a school that was part of the ceremony. That was really cool. They walked down with the guards to where the soldiers were marching and the wreath was located and replaced the old with a new one.

Vacation 2016 09_ Arlington

There was a huge amphitheater attached to the tomb area (on the backside) that holds about 5000 people. It was filled on Memorial Day, so said a gentleman I was talking to.

They are lots of directions and information that lets you see the graves of famous people. The most popular one is the grave of JFK where they have the “eternal flame”. Jackie’s body is there, as well as two infant children. His area was large with a flat, open space for gathering, resting or taking pics of D.C.

Down below, on the side of the hill, are the graves of Bobby and Teddy. Interestingly, their markers are super small, probably as small as any markers in the cemetery. Further up the hill is the mansion of the folks who owned the acreage of the current cemetery. There was a lot of history and a tour. We took the tour. Robert E. Lee was part of this family.

We were some of the last people to leave Arlington. By the time we walked to our van, they had closed. Lucia and I would like to have stayed longer. There was a lot to see and lot to think about. Sobering and impressive are the first two words that come to mind. There is something about the sacrifice of life that stirs the soul, and this is a soul-stirring place.

You can buy a trolley ticket and ride around the cemetery, getting off at popular points, staying as long as you want to, and getting on the next trolley that comes back to the designated spots. They cycle through the grounds throughout the day.

Though the walking was horrible for my sciatica, it was good for the exercise. There was one point where we took the most direct route to the Unknown and was rerouted because of the high security due to the Prime Minister. We got close to the Tomb area but had to go back around because of the heightened security. If we had arrived at that point two minutes earlier, we could have passed. Oh well. More walking. More exercise.

The weather was fine. It was hot but not unbearable. There were plenty of trees and water stops to refill our bottles.

A memorable day.

 

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Smithsonian

Vacation 2016 07_ Smithsonian

The Smithsonian museums were fabulous. You need a week (ten days for us) to take in them all. There is so much to see. We went to the American History, Natural History, and the Air and Space Museums.

We also saw the Holocaust Museum as well, though we did not stay there long. It was later in the day and there was a humongous load of children there. In fact, there were children everywhere.

I think the east coast schools decided to take field trips to D.C. the first week of June. That may also explain the global disrespect I spoke about in the earlier blogs. The kids weren’t a problem; there were just a lot of them.

There were some things we wanted to see like Dorothy’s slippers and the original flag from which the Star Spangled Banner was written. The Hope Diamond was also a must see, which we saw. Then there was Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, the one he wore the night he was shot, they said.

There were all kinds of things in the American History Museum. Lucia spent a lot of time in Julia Child’s original kitchen, which was moved to the museum. I saw Ray Charles’ sequined jacket, which was cool. There were thousands of memorabilia like that.

One of the ironic moments was a case dedicated to Muhammad Ali, which they put beside a case for the bigoted Archie Bunker and his wife Edith from the All in the Family ’70s TV show. I’m not sure anyone got the irony but it was humorous to me. We were there just a few days after Ali’s passing so he was on people’s minds. They’re going to give him his own room in a year or two.

The air-and-space was nice but the children were not as interested in that. They got to see Amelia Earhart’s plane, which was nice. I think there was so much to see and it was a tiring process that to take it all in required more stamina than any of us had.

If you stayed two weeks and went into the city every other day, you could probably absorb and enjoy it.

One of my highlights was talking to a security guard. She was an older lady, who had been at the museum since the Nixon administration, though she was vague on that. She said she had seen a lot of presidents and other public figures.

She said the president had a parking spaces at all the museums, and I’d never know where they were. He comes in after hours, but if he decided to come in during the day, they would run everyone out.

She said it’s not unusual for a famous person to pay to have a private party in one of the museums, or if they just wanted to see it, they could make a donation and have the museum of their choice all their own.

On one of the days we were there, the security came running through ordering everyone out. It was around 5PM. I think there was a famous person coming through. There were no heightened security measures. It all seemed normal except she was yelling pretty loud, asking us to leave.

The guard I was talking to did say the Obama girls like to come in during the day while the crowds were there. They put on sunglasses and come in with a host of security. She went on to say that the girls try to have some kind of normal life, which is impossible to do. Being with the crowd helps, though only a little bit. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be them. That has to be a hard life.

I hope to go back some day. I think next time, D.C. will have to be the only place we go. So much to take in.

The D.C. monuments

Vacation 2016 06_ The D.C. monuments

Washington turned out to be our most interesting and reflective visit. I did not anticipate this. We had our eye on NYC for many reasons and were not let down at all by NYC but D.C. was more interesting. We settled into an Extended Stay in Fairfax, which was about thirty minutes from The Washington Monument (the center of the tourist area).

We stayed at several Extended Stay facilities or Hawthrone Suites, which were less expensive than hotels. It also allowed us to buy and prepare our own food because of the in-room kitchen accommodations. There were few occasions where we ate out. This was intentional due to the cost of eating out. One of the rare exceptions was Lombardi’s Pizza in Little Italy in NYC. Lombardi’s is the oldest pizza place in the country. We had to do that.

We brought bins of food, Chex-mix, and powders for water and so forth. Lucia had ordered several boxes of Lenny and Larry’s protein cookies. I think I was chocolate-chipped-out by the end of the trip. We had a lot of Lenny and Larry. They are good and filling and a great travel idea.

After a grocery store visit, settling in, getting my make-shift studio up and running, we were set for the next four days.

On Sunday we surveyed the scene by visiting the White House (in front of it for a pic), the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. This was a great opportunity to teach the kids a few things about America History. They got to stand on the cemented footprints of MLK at the Lincoln Memorial.

I took them down to the Vietnam Memorial, which is off to the right of the Lincoln Memorial if you’re facing Lincoln. One of the cool things about the tourist district is you can walk to so much of it. We found an off-the-beaten-path all-day parking place that was $15 per day. We parked there three times.

There was a lady doing a Periscope Live event at the Vietnam Memorial where she was explaining it to folks who “follow” her. I talked to her for a while, trying to learn what she was doing. She is in the airline business, which allows her to travel all over America. When she is in a town, she will visit a place and let others peek in through her Periscope app. I really liked that idea, so I started doing it with Facebook Live.

The Vietnam Memorial was as sobering this time as it was twenty-four years ago when I first saw it. It is hard to take in. I visited it twice on this trip. The second time we stopped by after dark. We brought a watermelon and sat on the grass, without a knife, tearing into the melon. That was different but good. And, BTW, Haydn did an amazing job carrying that big melon from the van to the park area near the memorial.

I went down to the “Vietnam” wall and sat, staring at the names. I just wanted to take it in. I wanted to enter into the narrative as much as one can. I was only a child during this time in our history. That kind of sacrifice, which is at the heart of the Christian religion is a powerful display that is full of meaning, which is hard to articulate.

My family knew something was going on inside me so they did not interrupt. I was glad for that. I really did not want to talk. I just wanted to think about what I was looking at and talk to the LORD. That was the night we went to the Korean Was Memorial, which is on the opposite side of the Lincoln Memorial.

While we were sitting at the Lincoln Memorial waiting for the girls to find a restroom, I was telling Haydn that they have seen some of the most famous architectural designs in our country. Not knowing what the most popular ones are, I Googled it and we noticed that we had seen eight out of the top ten, and one of the remaining two was the St. Pete/Paul Cathedral in D.C.

We saw that one that night. The last remaining one is the Chrysler Building in Chicago. Maybe we’ll see it someday.

The Korean War Memorial is where I met the fellow who was talking about all the rude young people. That memorial was interesting, though there was hardly anyone at it. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was too late in the evening. Maybe it’s even more distant in our minds than the other wars.

(BTW, the restrooms underneath the Lincoln Memorial stunk to high heaven. I wrapped my face with a yowie to keep from gagging. The marble (or whatever they were made of) floors were sopping wet. I was not sure what kind of water it was. And the air was thicker than thick. Lucia and the girls decided a porta potty would be better, which is saying a lot. They rarely use those things.)

Welcome to Washington

Vacation 2016 05_ Washington

After a couple of days in Williamsburg, we headed a few hours further north to our nation’s capital. We landed first in Gaithersburg, MD so we could attend Covenant Life Church. This was the former “mother church” of the ministry of the church I pastored in Greenville, SC. So much has changed in the past few years.

Covenant Life has a new pastor who is due to arrive soon. The church and the people have changed, or maybe I have changed quite a bit. It was good to be there. We met some nice folks and also got to chat with Mike Hawkins’ daughter and son-in-law. We ended up having a meal with them a few days later. That was really nice.

After the church meeting, we made our way to the heart of D.C. It was not that busy and the parking was free on Sunday. (I made sure by asking a police officer about the parking rules. They were kind.) We did a lot of walking. Took some pics in front of the White House, the Washington Monument, and then walked to the Lincoln Memorial. It was all fantastic.

The Washington Monument is the centerpiece where you can see in four directions, each direction revealing a landmark: the White House, the Capital Building, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Walking to the Lincoln Memorial was a reminder of Forrest Gump and Martin Luther King’s speech, an interesting juxtaposition of memories.

There was something sobering and reflective about seeing all these places. I’m not sure what all that was about but it was surreal and reflective. Maybe it was the converging of reality about our freedom, current cultural strife, our slow progression into overt paganism, the fight for freedom, and the shrinking of our religious freedoms. My mind was flooded with all those thoughts.

It was also interesting to note the amount of disrespect the youngsters had around some of the monuments like the Vietnam Memorial. They were talkative, immature, joking around, and seemingly not sobered by what it all meant. At the Lincoln Memorial, there was a sign that read, “Quiet Please”.

Nice try.

Ironically, while touring the Freedom Tower in NYC and the two memorials placed where the Twin Towers were, the younger people were noticeably quieter. It was much different. I assumed it was because they either remembered that tragic day or they were one generation removed from that event.

It seemed as though WW1, WW2, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were facts from the history books but not something that was connected to the young person’s life. Not so with the Towers. I suppose a few generations from now the kids running around the Freedom Tower will be similarly disrespectful.

It’s like us walking around a monument of an Indian or an Indian tragedy, not realizing the cost for the Indian. We’re disconnected from their story and don’t give enough thought or time to enter into it. I must say, it was disheartening to hear and see their disrespect. It was obvious to other people too.

I was talking to a guy from KY who was at the Korean War Monument, and he brought up the rudeness he was observing in the young people. This has more ramifications than I want to fully consider like these same youngsters will not care about my passion or reverence for Christ. It’s not their story or their cause, and when my time comes to be disrespected (persecuted), there will be no sympathy because the Christian country we used to be will be so far in the past that few people will consider it worth their time to care about.

Historic Williamsburg

Vacation 2016 04_ Williamsburg 01

OBX ranks as one of those places I’d like to hang for a summer. It goes into my North Tahoe and Jackson Hole collection of places I could live. I decided Jackson Hole, WY would be my summer home while Prescott, AZ would be my winter home. I guess OBX would be my vacation spot.

Quiet, laid back, off the beaten path, and great climate. It would be the last place we would visit like this until we got to Maine.

We left OBX and headed to Colonial Williamsburg, VA. The pace was about to pick up and the crowds were going to be larger. We drove a few miles to get off the island, which took us north to Virginia. I had forgotten about the NC gas tax so I stopped about a mile short of VA to fill up, thinking the gas would be cheaper in NC. It wasn’t.

We drove across the border, saw the gas prices in VA, and remembered my home state (NC) has more expensive gas. It was a brain cramp. I have been buying gas in SC for three decades before we travel to NC, knowing I don’t want to buy any in NC. And then I forgot. Oh well.

Entering VA where we did was nice. Lots of water, bridges, ocean and cool scenes to take in. We were only a few hours from Williamsburg, which was a plus because we could hang to the last minute on the OBX, leave, and still be at our destination before dark. A far cry from last year where we would get up early knowing we had a long drive ahead of us.

We found a hotel in Williamsburg, which was about 10 minutes from the colonial part. We found nearly all of our hotels on the fly, typically an hour or less out from our destination. With PriceLine, we could place a bid and get a good three star without hassle. Technology is a perk when vacationing. It does take some of the pre-trip planning away.

I drove the whole trip and Lucia was my research assistant. She was running things from her seat, which made us a good team. She would also look for things to do in the areas we were going, find out about the prices, etc. and then we’d talk about it after we arrived at our lodging place.

Williamsburg, VA was a slow, mid-size town. Where we stayed was quite pleasant. No homeless or other tourist hassles. It was residential and nice. With that said, I did not find a lot of “I really want to be here” feel about the place. I know, I know. It’s historic Williamsburg but I was not feeling it. I could not get into the vibe.

There were actors roaming the old town streets. There was a lot of history and all that but I was not wowed like I expected to be. I suppose if I lived in VA and was reared on VA history, then I would have enjoyed it more. It was not like DC history or Philly history or Boston history, all of which I enjoyed more. Even though VA history went over the top with making it retro, I was challenged to get my head into the game.

Colonial Williamsburg was a street of 1800 stuff. It was about ¾ of a mile that you could walk. You could see the glass blower, candle maker, black smith, and listen to the speechifying. We’ve seen those things many times at Biltmore, Asheville, NC, Dollywood, TN, or Silver Dollar City, MO.

There were homes, mansions, and shops where historic people lived and did business, but I felt disconnected from them. I enjoyed going to the other end of the street where the modern things were. There I could engage people and learn their “current” story.

The one exception was the older black lady I met who was an actor. I sat with her and talked black history and her black experience. Not her as an actor but her as a real person. That was my highlight. I asked her to sing some negro spirituals for me. She obliged, and oh, my soul. I could have listened to her for days.

It reminded me of the black dude who sang at our wedding. I asked him to sing Jesus Loves Me but not like a white guy. He obliged too. His rendition was from head to toe, body, and soul, not some white dude singing from the diaphragm. This lady had that. It was more soul than body. So good.

I videoed her. What she did made the top ten of the one million things we did this trip.

The kids seemed to enjoy Williamsburg, which made it great for me. Lucia liked it too because she likes to know how things are made. That made it great too. For me, it would have been better if I could go and just talk to the people. I had some opps to do that, but most of the time was tending to other things.

I have no interest in going back unless I go with Lucia and we are not moving from one thing to the next, but taking our time, soaking in the moment with no timetable. Having a full learning experience at these places is one of the things about these summer trips that we have not figured out yet.

I know it sounds like a long time to travel but because of the number of things to do and see, you’re more or less hopping from one lily pad to the next while not fully absorbing the moment. It gives you a broad and wide experience of America but not an in-depth one.

Next year may be different if we do it again. Less stops with more time at a location. No matter how you cut it, our country is big and there is too much to see.

Outer Banks (OBX)

Vacation 2016 03_ OBX

We left Chapel Hill mid-afternoon, which put us on the Outer Banks (OBX) before dark. North Carolina is a long state, east to west. From Chapel Hill to the OBX was still about three hours away. It was an interesting drive in that we crossed three bridges, each one taking us further out into the Atlantic Ocean.

As I was watching Google Maps, it was somewhat weird knowing we were pushing farther and farther from land. It seemed to be a vulnerable position being basically on an island in the Atlantic. It was also cool. The OBX are completely disconnected from the contiguous states. Only by bridges can you access them. You can drive north and south for quite a ways, where at some points you see the omnipresent ocean bordering both sides.

We stayed in Nags Head, which is the place of Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers did their experimenting with flight. There are a museum and grounds that you can go to. We did that, which took a day to take it in. There was not a lot there. We are traveling plodders; you may be able to do it quicker.

We also visited a lighthouse, though not the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, which is the most famous one. It was about 50 miles south of where we were, down the skinny island. I did not care to drive down there to see it and then drive back. We could enjoy the beach in the Nags Head area, and a smaller (shorter) lighthouse.

The beaches were different from other beaches we’ve been too. They were isolated, great waves, and clean. It was probably the remoteness of the area that was most appealing. It was a true getaway. Interestingly, being an NC boy, I have never been to the OBX though I’ve always wanted to.

This is one of the places I’d like to return. I think I could spend a month there, even though I’m not a beach boy. I don’t care a lot for the beach but this was a nice one. (The wifi was good too.)

The Wright Brothers museum was interesting and worth the time. It is part of the National Park Service, which is a plus. The Rangers both years of summer travel have been wonderfully helpful and pleasant to deal with. They were that way in Kitty Hawk.

One of the funnier moments was when a Park Ranger was giving a speech about the Wright Brothers, and he asked about the four animals someone took up in a hot air balloon. While he was talking, I Googled it, and then said a duck. He was impressed. I then said I Googled it and everyone laughed.

From that point forward he made several references to Google Man. I had picked up a new name. I’m Google Man. Later at the monument there was a group of folks taking a picture at the monument, maybe ten people lined up, side by side. I joined the group, and some of the folks in the group were humored by it.

The lady taking the picture did not see me. I stood there for a while and finally broke from the group. I asked the lady if she saw me. She said that she did not. She then said, “It’s Google man. You’re funny.” The name stuck. I was talking to the children about this and how it would be good to create a “Where’s Waldo” idea, by calling it Google Man. I would randomly show up in pictures around the country.

From that point forward I began photo bombing groups throughout the trip. (I was called out at the Jefferson Memorial by a teacher trying to herd her students for a pic. She was humored, though directive, let’s say.)

The other memorable thing about this part of the trip is that I ran the longest of the four distances that were laid out as the four distances the Wright Brothers were in flight. I was trying to run the distance quicker than their airplane that covered the same distance.

Haydn was able to do it. He was literally faster than an airplane. I was about 10 seconds slower than a airplane. Oh, well. Being almost as fast as an airplane was good enough.

We also went out to some dunes. In a way, it reminded me of what it would be like standing in a desert. They were providing hang-gliding lessons too. You pay $100 or something like that for a handful of lessons where you can run down a hill while tethered by two folks running with you down the hill. They don’t let go of the rope.

If you want to go to the next level, there is another charge. I’m not sure how many levels there are to be certified. To do that would require a lot of money and dedicated time. That would be a trip in itself.

Next stop Colonial Williamsburg.

Chapel Hill, home of the Heels

Vacation 2016 02_ First stop_ Chapel Hill, home of the Heels

Looking in the Dean Dome and hanging at the Old Well

Our first stop and overnight stay was Chapel Hill, NC. I wanted to do this for two reasons:

  1. Some of my best childhood memories were of UNC Tar Heel basketball, which is probably not saying a lot about the blessedness of my childhood.
  2. It split up our trip by keeping the distances between destinations short.

I wanted to play for Dean Smith (coach of the Tar Heels back in the day). I knew it would never happen and was okay with that, though it was escape-like to dream. Even going back to the campus a few years after his death and many years after caring about Tar Heel basketball, was still somewhat emotional.

It’s interesting at how things that happen to you as a child can linger to such an extent that as an older person memories of those things can bring back emotions. For example, I drove by Carmichael Auditorium where the Tar Heels played before building the Dean Dome. It was amazing at the flood of memories that place stirred up.

My family was clueless since they had no memory of the place. I don’t even think I mentioned why I was stopping at the facility. I got out and walked up to the building while my family occupied themselves in the van. The importance of the venue could not resonate with them. It was where my hopes and dreams were perpetuated or dashed, depending on the outcome of the game.

Interesting, Duke University still plays in their little gymnasium. Carolina basketball has never been the same since they moved to the Dean Dome.

We headed over to the Dean Dome, took a few pictures, and walked around the building. We peeked inside at a couple of spots. There was nobody there. Being that it was summer, everyone was somewhere else.

I drove around and around the campus. It was good to be there. I noticed on campus how the traffic lights stayed green (or red) for an inordinate length of time. I asked a lady at Panera, on Franklin Street, about this. She agreed that it was unusual though she did not know why they took so long to change. It just was.

We hung at Panera a bit, went up and down Franklin Street a few times, picked up our free coffee, and later made our way to the Outer Banks. We stayed at a hotel just a few miles from Chapel Hill.

(During the month of May Panera was giving away one free coffee (if you had the app) every day. We each picked up one per day, though the last day, which was the 31st of May, we were on the Outer Banks where they did not have a Panera Bread. We got 60 quarts of free coffee during the month of May. Thanks, Panera.)

While on campus, one of the must see “attractions” is the old well. It took a bit of navigating to find it but eventually we did. I parked in the Chancellor’s parking space since it was across the street from the Old Well. We took quite a few pictures.

While there, two older ladies came by looking to snap some shots of the well. We were hogging the area, though I did not realize we were taking too much time. Really. Then one of the ladies asked something about the fountain, which I thought she was talking about another place since where we were was the Old Well.

I told her that I did not know where the fountain was, to which she angrily replied that I was standing on it. Well, there is a fountain on the Old Well but I never connected the fountain and the “Well” as being the same thing. We had been on our vacation for two days and I’m already ticking someone off.

They went away mumbling, deciding to take a picture while I was standing at the Old Well. Lucia clued me into what was going on, and after I left the spot, the old ladies got their pictures.

Off to the Outer Banks (OBX)