Raymond L. Atkins 0000-00-00 00:00:00
ROAD TRIP: A CAPITAL IDEA The current political season puts me in mind of that fine day back in 1997 when my wife and I decided to buff up our children’s culture quotient by taking them to the nation’s capital. We figured it would be a good way to teach them the principles that made this country great. We thought that exposing them to that symbol of freedom and liberty known as Washington would properly orient them in the concepts of justice, equality, and the American way. When I told them our plans, they were overwhelmed. “Pretty lame, Dad,” chimed one. “We want to go to the beach,” said another. “I’d rather stay here and go to school,” complained a third. The fourth rolled her eyes, making it unanimous. “This is not a democracy,” I replied. “Get in the van.” I was going to teach them whether they liked it or not. Many years ago, my wife and I took a solemn vow to never learn from previous errors in child rearing, which explains why we decided to take the Washington trip during spring break. We always felt compelled to take our young ones on long trips during the spring intermission from school. It was like we forgot every year that fifty million other families had that same idea. I had booked a room at an establishment in downtown Washington called The Swiss Inn, a studio hotel listed in a brochure I secured from Washington’s visitors and convention bureau. I had no earthly idea what a studio hotel was, but it sounded pretty classy to me. I should have researched the place on the internet, I suppose, but in those days my dial-up connection was so slow that the mail was actually quicker. Besides, the travel booklet promised that The Swiss Inn was within walking distance of major attractions and was a cozy home away from home tucked in a quaint neighborhood. You can’t print something like that unless it is true. I will never forget the appreciative comments that filtered from the back seat area as we neared our lodgings. “Dad, that van is up on blocks,” said the oldest boy, pointing to the Swiss Inn’s courtesy shuttle, which occupied a spot on the sidewalk. I am not a forensics expert, but it appeared to have been shot, stabbed, and put to the torch. “Why are those men standing around that barrel?” asked the youngest daughter, gesturing towards a group sharing the warmth and camaraderie of a burning litter receptacle — and a bottle of Thunderbird. “Look, I can see the FBI Building!” exclaimed a third child. Presumably this was the major attraction within walking distance because the others were miles away. “Good,” said my wife, who seemed to have concerns about the lodgings and the neighborhood. “We might need them.” In my defense, the brochure had not mentioned these things. Nor had it touched on the fact that Washington was at that time the murder capital of the country and that snow in April was not uncommon. Or that most tourists stayed in clean, safe hotels out in Alexandria and rode subways into the city to avoid the traffic jams, as well as to minimize the chances of being stripped, shot, stabbed, and burned like the courtesy shuttle. After parking, my wife and I went inside to reconnoiter. Actually, parking is not quite the right word because the hotel did not appear to have a parking lot. But because our vehicle was mired in a traffic jam that extended from Richmond to Baltimore and had not moved at all in about an hour, we figured it would be okay to leave the car right where it was until we got back. We entered and stood at the counter for a few minutes while waiting for the clerk to finish his nap, a process that was helped along by my wife when she smacked the counter with a handy ashtray. Our host seemed genuinely amazed that he had patrons. Apparently, the boys around the barrel weren’t paying customers. “Can I help you?” he asked in a voice that could only be described as confused. He was wearing a T-shirt and needed a shave. There was a sign on the wall that said NO REFUNDS and another that advertised HOURLY RATES. A senior member of the insect family crawled across the floor at our feet. My wife and I exchanged a glance. We apologized for disturbing his nap and headed back out to the street. “Pretty lame, Dad,” my wife said as we walked toward the traffic snarl. “We should have gone to the beach,” I replied. The cacophony of horns blowing up and down the street changed pitch slightly, and the car in front moved about five feet before stopping once again. I inched up as well. It felt like progress. At this rate, we’d be checking into a clean, safe room in Alexandria by morning.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
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