Washimore Wander: Part 1

In my second day in Hagerstown, MD, the local paper's headline proudly announced "WE'RE PART OF WASHIMORE". Apparently, some group had determined that the Washington, DC metropolitan area and the Baltimore metropolitan area had, in fact, merged. Perhaps this was a group of government statisticians or something. One gets the impression that it must have been some respected body for everyone in Hagerstown to get so excited. I guess I can understand their excitement. I don't know that I've ever spent any length of time in a place that seemed so apart as does Hagerstown.

My travels took place in Hagerstown, MD, and Washington, D.C. This was a vacation I took April 7-13, 1995 with my parents. We visited some friends of the family in Hagerstown and checked out some galleries in Washington. I think I learned a lot about the appeal of taking road trips to see this great nation of America. On the other hand, I missed strong coffee and people of different skin color who would look me in the eye. The south is weird.


San Francisco... Dulles Airport... Alexandria...

Friday night I'd headed over to my parents' place in San Francisco. We'd gone out for Japanese food. I think the implicit thought was that it would be a while before we'd next get ahold of good Asian food. I practiced saying, "Why yes, I would love some pie," doing my best to sound properly Southern: "Whah yay-us, I wood love some pah."

So Saturday morning we were up and packed. The taxi ride to the airport was uneventful. This was amazing to me. I think my last three taxi rides have been uneventful. I should stop pointing them out. It's just that up until then, my taxi rides have been so full of trauma. Racist harangues, lost wanderings, attempts to be friendly in a foreign language--these are what I think of when I think of a typical taxi ride. The taxi driver didn't really talk at all, but that was fine with me, considering past experiences.

The plane was a widebody. We were sitting in the middle. It was a DC-10. Some time in recent history, during a period of my life when I was very impressionable, a lot of DC-10s crashed. Perhaps due to plane quality. I don't know. I was young. Anyhow, I got pretty nervous during the landing when this hiss of inrushing air started coming from the nearby emergency door. The stewardess nervously asked the people sitting next to the door if it had been making that noise during the whole flight. Perhaps I should have just relaxed. I mean, it was letting in cold air, which I greeted thankfully, as the plane cabin had got rather hot. Of course, it was fine.

Dulles airport was pleasant. Lots of foreign people wandering around. I felt sophisticated just being in the presence of so many cultures. The young travellers were interesting, too. I saw some fake grunge, but I saw a lot of real grunge, too--not what I expected in an airport. Like, if these kids are in an airport, that implies that they probably aren't poor. So they could afford to go to Macy*s and order up some fake grunge. So for a lot of these kids, getting real grunge must have been something of a conscious decision. So perhaps there's hope for today's youth.

My dad drove the car while I held the map and made helpful suggestions. We were so tired. We took the last exit before a bridge over the Potomac, navigated the streets of Alexandria, and soon found our lodgings at the Alexandria Ramada, no thanks to their misleading map.

I do not recommend the Alexandria Old Town Ramada. The shower's hot water cut out every so often. They had cable, but no MTV, thus betraying a bad attitude. I was sooo tired. Before going to bed, I had flipped through the HBO schedule. I noticed that A Better Tomorrow was playing at 3am. But when 3am rolled around, I looked at the clock and went back to sleep. I was so tired.


Alexandria... Hagerstown...

I took my notes for the first part of this vacation using an AST GridPad 2390 "Zoomer" palmtop computer. Thus, I titled my notes for this day "Palm Sunday (Get It?)". (That was an inside joke, folks.)

My first couple of hours of the day was spent waiting for my parents to wake up. I took notes and listened to some Jazz tapes on my mom's walkman.

Next we wandered down to Alexandria's Historic District to find breakfast. This place is a sort of yuppie tourist trap/shopping district. There was a place called the Torpedo factory, a bunch of shops in what I guess was the building or site of an old torpedo factory--sort of like the idea behind the Cannery, I guess. My best way to characterize the area is to put the Cannery next to Union St., and then turn all of the Union St. shops into historic brick buildings.

There were lots of little old buildings that now held spicy seafood restaurants, knick-knack shops, and darling boutiques. However, most of the restaurants were either closed, served only snacks, or were serving special Sunday brunches. I was hungry to the point of grumpiness. Meanwhile, my parents were poking from restaurant to restaurant in search of a place with good food where they would be able to sit down. I got grumpier and grumpier.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I arranged to meet up with my parents in an hour. I hustled back to a coffee shop we'd passed, the Firehook Bakery. I later found out it was part of a chain. I got some okay coffee and a large piece of what turned out to be a really good lemon-poppy seed pound cake. I think it was really good. Maybe I was just starving.

I ate the food in some plaza. There was a big fountain, beds of tulips, shaded benches, and crowds of dopey-looking tourists. All of this made little impression on me--I was busy wolfing down the cake and guzzling the much-needed coffee.

Suddenly, I was in a great mood and there was still the better part of an hour left before I was to hook up with my parents again. I started walking South, with no particular destination in mind--it just looked like there was less in the way of crowds to the South. In the time that we had been wandering the neighborhood looking for a place to eat, there had been a constant trickle of tour busses coming in, and the main historic area was getting pretty crowded.

I saw old buildings, bootscrapers, brick sidewalks, and all that stuff which I suppose is typical of historic districts in all those places that have been around since the 1700s. I also saw a park which had a sand volleyball court, some pansies, a cat, and a tunnel under a hill. Planes flew overhead almost constantly, making loud roars that didn't fit in so well with the old buildings.

I stopped by a Safeway store. In Berkeley and S.F., Safeway workers were striking, but this did not appear to be the case in Alexandria. Lucky for me. I bought some carrots and bread to serve as snacks in the days to come. While I was waiting in line to check out, the lady behind me in line teasingly said to the cashier, "I didn't see you in church today. When are you going to pick up your palm?" It was Palm Sunday. Apparently you get a palm frond when you go to church. I didn't know this at the time, but I would get to see a lot of palm fronds by the time the day was done. I get the impression that there are a lot of practicing Christians in the area. The cashier mumbled something to the effect that he didn't know when he would get his palm. The lady in front of me in line piped up with, "I haven't seen the inside of a church or eight... no, ten years now." I smiled at her, but didn't say anything. From some of the looks I'd been getting, I got the impression that a long-haired boy's endorsement wouldn't help any causes in this neighborhood.

I was glad the cashier hadn't gone to church that morning. Who would have let me pay for my groceries, otherwise? Jeez. Think it through, lady. You want to shop on Sunday morning, someone's going to be working Sunday morning. Grrr.

Having purchased snacks, I wandered back to the intersection where I had arranged to meet up with my parents. Along the way, I saw a policeman writing a ticket for a panhandler. Apparently panhandling is illegal in Alexandria, and this law is enforced. Meanwhile, the whole area was filling up with rich, fat, old, white tourists.Also, a church had just let out, disgorging a horde of dopey-looking white people clutching palm fronds.

My mom waved to me from across the street. She then took me into the restaurant where she and my dad were even then having breakfast. They were at Le Madelaine (sp?), a chain of restaurants from Texas. They had been able to order big breakfasts cheaply, and were able to sit down. I might have liked the place better than Firehook. It never helps to be impatient.

Soon they were done with breakfast and we set out in search of the "Friendship Firehouse", which I guess was some historic firehouse. I was unclear on the details. My dad led the way, and unfortunately misread some street signs, and we eventually figured out that we'd set off to the South instead of to the desired West. So we had some more walking to do. Under other circumstances, this would have been no big deal, but my mom had unfortunately injured her foot before the vacation had started, and was still limping. So we had to walk kind of slow. My dad would often forget to go slow and would start walking way ahead. I would occasionally forget, and then get rather mad at myself.

When we reached the Friendship Firehouse, we found it closed. It would have opened in an hour, but looking in through the window, it didn't look like there was that much to see. Some old fire engines.

We walked back to the car, drove back to the Ramada, checked out, and drove back to the Historical district to look at the oldest building in all of Alexandria. The building was now a visitor's center. There were many brochures there, but nothing to see at the building itself. Whoops. We headed back to the car and drove to the George Washington Masonic Memorial.


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