Chesapeake-a-boo; or Taking the Scenic Route to D.C.

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Random dinosaur head I found outside the Smithsonian, which I could not enter because I had forgotten my wallet.

“This is the only road to Chinctoteague… and Jesus is the only road to Heaven.”

So read a sign poking out of the marshy waters of Chincoteague Road. They were right, at least as far as the road is concerned. There was just one narrow road to Chincoteague Island, just as there was one long sea bridge highway that led me to this remote corner of the planet; Virginia’s fabled and windswept Eastern Shore.

I’d started my day by crossing the Chesapeake Bridge-Tunnel; a 23-mile stretch of Highway 13 that takes you over (and for two brief moments, under) the ocean from mainland Virginia into Northampton County. It’s quite the feeling to be driving, driving, on top of the ocean for that long. What a marvelous triumph of engineering. Think of the toil, the sweat, the inspiration and frustration required to bring humanity to a point where people could cross the bay so casually. What have I done in life that I deserve to benefit from such genius? I am a decadent fool with zero practicable skills.

Oh well. Best not to think about it.

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Assateague Lighthouse, first lit 1867.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is an isolated, misty-grey stretch of land that reminds me a bit of California’s Lost Coast; quiet, humble, vaguely forlorn. Wind-eroded shingles and worn-out paint. Signs for fresh crabs and boat rentals and little else in the way of industry. Dilapidated barns look out across the highway at newly-developed retirement cottages. At the Grand Canyon there are various signs and plaques that point out the ages of various layers of exposed rock. I wish someone would do the same for the grungy houses of Eastern Virginia; some of them look like they were made last year, others could have been thrown up by the original Pilgrims.

I stopped to visit the Assateague Lighthouse in the Wildlife Refuge near Chincoteague island. It’s 141 feet tall and painted in adorable peppermint stripes. I was surprised by the huge line to get into the lighthouse and had to remind myself that it was Labor Day weekend. How annoying. Who were all these plebeians interrupting my self-indulgent journey? Truth be told I never much liked Labor Day, but that’s mostly because I worked retail jobs and always had to work that weekend. Labor Day is a holiday for the upper and middle classes; it falls on the backs of those who actually labor.

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View from the top of Assateague Lighthouse.

It was fun to climb the steps of the Assateague Lighthouse and get the view from the top, although I do wish it had more historical information about the site. While I was still in the area I did a little bit of hiking, enjoying the music of the waves and the birds. I even managed to spot a bit of wildlife during my  brief visit:

After Chincoteague I headed West to Washington, D.C., where I was staying for the night. The very first thing I saw when I pulled into the city was a fucked up scene taking place in the car ahead of me. I noticed the back passenger door open, as if the person back there was going to spit out onto the street. But instead the door remained open for several minutes as traffic kept moving.

I kept staring. The car was being driven by a man and there was a woman in the back right seat who kept yelling and thrashing her body back and forth, all the while keeping the side door open. I turned off my music, rolled down the windows. I wanted to hear what this argument was about but I couldn’t discern anything beyond agitated shrieks. We passed by a police officer who was standing on the side of the road with her cruiser parked. She simply stared at the scene as it passed by, marveling with the same befuddled expression I had. The woman in the car bounced up and down in her seat, thrashing her arms like a toddler, her right hand clutching the side door.

I desperately wanted to know what was happening. Was this woman on drugs? Was she withdrawing from drugs? Was this a kidnapping? A pimp-prostitute conflict? A boilerplate domestic dispute? The possibilities were seemingly endless. Eventually I had to turn off the road, although part of me wanted to follow this strange couple to whatever unholy scene they were headed.

This is one of the things I relish about big cities; there’s always something interesting to see. When you pack enough people together the range of potential human behavior is limitless. So many stories, so much drama, and yes a lot of it is tragic and ugly and painful but I feel that the process of learning these truths makes us more complete.

I didn’t have nearly enough time to properly enjoy D.C. I arrived too late in the evening to do much besides blog and bar hop and the next morning I had to leave by mid-day. This was okay; I’d been to the city before and done a lot of the touristy things. D.C. is a terrific town to visit; it’s easily walkable, has good public transportation and there’s something in it for everyone.

With little time to actually devour a museum or a big Federal building I decided to simply walk around the city and take a bunch of selfies for your delight:

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It was not exactly an ideal day for a walk; the air was cold and the rain pouring. Moreover I was half a mile away from the parking garage when I realized I’d left my wallet in the car, so I couldn’t even warm myself up with a cup of coffee. Nevertheless, I tooled about for as long as I felt I could before I began to feel like a 5’11” wet rag.

One place that was ideally suited for my situation was the sculpture garden outside the National Gallery of Art. This provided a good 15-20 minutes of free entertainment, and the works of art were genuinely cool:

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After that I headed back to the parking garage. My clothes were completely soaked and so, I realized, was my parking ticket. The machine wouldn’t take it. I had to call over the poor attendant who struggled for 10 minutes to figure out a way to charge me my fee. Luckily after this goofy little episode it was only a short drive to Baltimore where my friends Jess and Paul were waiting for me. There’s nothing like being able to relax and dry off around people you can trust.

You’ll read all about my adventures in B-more tomorrow.

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I leave you with this statue of Lincoln. Not THE statue of Lincoln, obviously; this one is outside of a district court. But in some way I like this one better. Look at the burning intensity in his eyes, the resolution of his countenance. It’s as if he’s saying, “Come on, America! I know you can do better!”

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