Departures: WashDC 2004

"You think about life differently after you've seen a stop sign go by at 75 miles per hour," Bob said.

[Photo: Almost-Unhonored Coupon]

We were sitting in a mall at Tyson's Corner, an edge city near Washington DC. Twenty-four hours earlier, none of us had been near here. My parents and I had flown in the evening before, coming to town to watch my cousin Dan get married. Bob and Kelly Wilhelm had been in Assisi, Italy, where they had been guiding a tour. They almost hadn't made it out.

They got along well with Rino, a taxi driver in Assisi. He'd helped them out while they been led their tour group. They'd asked him to drive them to the airport. However, at the appointed time, Rino had not materialized. Next had come a frantic series of phone calls. Rino was not answering his phone. Somehow, this ended up with some relative of Rino running over to his residence and banging on his door until he woke up.

So Rino drove up and they piled into his taxi, and there was no way that they were getting to the airport in time. But Rino did it. He drove very fast, he did not stop at stop signs, it seemed impossible that they would reach the airport intact (let alone on time).

Bob and Kelly knew better than to put on seat belts in Marino's cab. This would have been an insult to him as a professional driver. They had put their faith in him, and must demonstrate that faith.

There was one faux pas: one of them said a prayer to St. Francis. Rino glared at them. You might think that he was upset that they felt a need to pray with him at the wheel, but that was not the problem. The problem was that in Assisi, one prays to St Francesco of Assisi, not to some out-of-towner saint.

And so Bob and Kelly had sat in a barreling taxi, not wearing seat belts, watching a stop sign go by at 75 miles per hour, not in control of their fate, surrounded by peril. But Rino had got them to the airport in time, and they had made their flight.

Not Just Bricks and Cement

I told them about my trip to Paris, how I'd hoped to be overwhelmed by Roman ruins, and had been disappointed at the nondescript brick-and-cement construction. They told me about the Roman ruins which lurk in Assisi. Originally, there had been a series of temples built up the hill. Subsequent buildings had grown up around and on top of the temples. But still the temples emerge. (Later, they sent me photos of a plaza--it mostly looks like old Italian construction, but a pale Roman column hovers like a ghost.)

A Bachelor Party

That evening, I participated in my first bachelor party. Unfortunately, my notes from this are pretty vague. I remember being pleasantly surprised that a crowd consisting mostly of economists had such interesting conversations. (Then again, I mostly hang out with computer programmers, so I arguably have low standards.)

Probably the most complicated part of this party was the drive to the metro station. Here I first met Yana, my cousin Eric's wife. She was driving several revelers to the metro station, then she was going to pick up some pizzas, and then she was going to bring those pizzas back to the hotel. This section of Tyson's Corner didn't have any simple intersections: it had a system of bizarre half-cloverleafs and overpasses that seemed to pass through the fourth dimension. Cousin Eric got on the phone with Dan to figure out how we could reach the metro station. He also got instructions how to get from the pizza parlor to the hotel. These two places were across the road from each other, but the route from one to the other involved about 720 degrees of turns and all too many opportunities to find oneself in Iowa. I was impressed that Yana was able to absorb this long string of directions long past the point where my brain had filled up. (And later on, we heard that she had indeed found her way back to the hotel.)

And so the hotel-staying menfolk exited the car at the metro station, where we met cousin Dan and headed into Washing DC and its District Steak House.

Cousin Dan was an economist with the FTC. Dave was another. Another Dave was on some other council of economists (maybe something called the CEC). They kvetched about politicians who blustered around making decisions without knowing anything about economics. Barbara Boxer, from my own state of California, had repeatedly asked the FTC to look for signs of collusion amongst the oil companies: was a cabal raising California's gasoline prices? It was pretty clear that the reason California's gas prices were so high was California's love/hate relationship with gas. Californians voted to require special additives; it was almost impossible to build an oil refinery in California. At the same time, Californians bought a lot of gasoline. Various agencies did various studies, each one determining that There Is No Cabal. Yet Boxer kept pushing for more studies.

Dan mentioned that he'd been at some party and had seen an aide of Boxer's. He'd asked: what does she think we're missing? We keep pointing out why we think the gasoline prices are so high, and she keeps demanding further studies. The aide had responded: Boxer doesn't care about the reasons.

I thought about the many fake environmentalists in my state, people who voted for "cleaner gas" but were surprised and dismayed when prices rose. Probably a fair number of these jerks complained to Boxer. Probably it was easier for Boxer to say "I am pressing for more investigations into the existence of an Oil Cabal," rather than "Suck it up, loudmouth." And there'd probably been more interest in this after that evidence of the electricity cabal had turned up.

After dinner, we wandered the streets of downtown Washington DC in search of a bar which was not too loud for some conversation. Chris pointed out a man who was drumming on a plastic bucket. "That is the 'go-go beat', the sound of Washington DC." Washington DC was sounding pretty good right then. There was a hockey game going on at a nearby stadium, and flurries of people wandering around.

Eventually, we made our way to a Gordeon Biersch. I was not the only non-economist in this crowd. Mark was a movie reviewer for IMDB, and so there was some talk of movies. asked if anyone had seen Midnight Madness, an 80s movie which I'd heard was the inspiration behind an activity which was my latest obsession. No-one had heard of it, but Dave had heard of some huge scavenger hunt in Detroit. (Subsequent Googling revealed nothing about this. Either Dave was hep to some Detroit puzzle hunts, or maybe he was thinking of the University of Chicago Scavenger hunt.)

Eventually we had partied enough. The five of us staying in Tyson's Corner piled into a cab in a close fashion that reminded me of a can of sardines or my college days.

The Next Day

The next day, my parents and I played tourist in Washington DC.

Our first stop upon emerging from the Metro was a large building in which one of us hoped to use the restroom. They wouldn't let us in. As this building turned out to be the EPA, I wondered--if they couldn't handle what we... I am going to stop writing about this now.

We eventually found a public restroom.

More Photos Than You Can Stand

And then we went to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Specifically, we went to the history of electronics section. Maybe it was called "Information Age". Maybe not. Anyhow, I took many photos, most of which didn't turn out. But there were still many, many that sort-of turned out. Click on thumbnails for my insightful commentary or else fun facts plagiarized from the museum's interpretive text.

[Photo: Scheutz Difference Engine] [Photo: Scheutz Difference Engine] [Photo: Marchant Calculating Machine] [Photo: Dictaphone] [Photo: Punchcard Office display] [Photo: I Don't Know] [Photo: Actuarial Tables] [Photo: ] [Photo: ] [Photo: Slide Rules!] [Photo: Frank Baldwin's Story] [Photo: De Forest Tube] [Photo: Wire] [Photo: Edison Variable Resistance Carbon Transmitter] [Photo: Reducing Capacitance] [Photo: Amplifying Signals] [Photo: Maybe Phelps Telegraph Machine] [Photo: Maybe Telegraph Printer] [Photo: Adding Machine] [Photo: Hebern Electric Super Code Machine] [Photo: Kryha Cipher Machine] [Photo: Early RADAR from the UK] [Photo: ] [Photo: Proximity Fuse] [Photo: Mk I Interpolator] [Photo: ] [Photo: Eniac Function Table] [Photo: ] [Photo: Univac Front Panel] [Photo: Univac Desktop System] [Photo: Pretty Tubes] [Photo: Whirlwind Memory] [Photo: Selectron Tube from Johnniac] [Photo: Dad and Mom] [Photo: Bendix G15] [Photo: Bendix Pogo Compiler] [Photo: System 360 BRS] [Photo: Alto] [Photo: ] [Photo: Apple 1 (Assembled)] [Photo: Pretty Poster] [Photo: Factor Stencil] [Photo: Stencil]

More Tourism

After that, we grabbed some lunch in a food court and then caught a taxi to the United States Botanic Garden, which Bob and Kelly had recommended. It was pretty awesome, though I wish it had been a few more years since I'd seen Kew Gardens so that I wouldn't have wasted so much time making unfavorable mental comparisons.

[Photo: Capitol] [Photo: Conservatory Crowd] [Photo: Mom and Dad] [Photo: Yucca!] [Photo: Conservatory Display] [Photo: Tourists]

A Seemingly Safe Promise

That evening, we met up with aunt Jean and Frank, cousin Steve and Amy.

While Jean and Frank had flown to Washington from Tennessee, their luggage had gone somewhere else. The airline was still trying to get their luggage to them. Meanwhile, they'd done some clothes shopping at the local mall.

Meanwhile, I'd figured out that I hadn't packed any dress socks. I'd only packed sweat socks. Jean and Frank were worried that their luggage wouldn't show up in time for tomorrow's wedding. Too many clothes worries. I promised Jean and Frank that if their luggage never showed up, I'd wear socks on my ears.

Steven and Amy had been at the History Museum during the day, just like my parents and I, but they hadn't restricted themselves to the electronics exhibits. I did my best not to think about how much more of the museum we could have covered if I hadn't wasted so much time taking photos that didn't turn out well anyhow.

Back at the hotel, as we walked past the front desk, there was good news for Jean and Frank: the airline had dropped off some luggage for them!


[Photo: Socks on Ears]

The next morning, my parents and I headed down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. There we ran into Jean and Frank and Steven and Amy. Were Jean and Frank glad to have their luggage back?

No, they weren't. The airline had brought them someone else's luggage, someone who'd flown to Florida. The flown-to-Florida person had received their luggage. Jean and Frank had talked to the Florida person. Now they were waiting for the luggage to reach the right people.

So my mom and I went to the mall and I picked up some dress socks and wore them on my ears.

But by the time the ceremony rolled around, Jean and Frank's luggage had shown up. Whew!

Missing the Whole Point

I didn't get any photos of the wedding, and my photos of the wedding reception all turned out far too dark. So here are some photos that I took along the way from the hotel to the mall that morning:

[Photo: Tyson's Corner: Tower Club Duoliths] [Photo: The Way to the Sock Store] [Photo: Mysterious Rods] [Photo: Geese!] At dinner before the reception, I talked with cousin Dan. I mentioned that I'd skimmed one of Laura's papers up until the point when it had launched into abstruse math and statistics. It had been interesting. She'd looked at patterns in the auctions at eBay. Specifically, she'd looked at telescope auctions, figuring out which telescopes from different manufacturers were equivalent in the minds of purchasers. When the FTC decides that a company has monopoly power, the company might point out that there are other companies making equivalent products. But consumers might not think that those products are equivalent at all. How can the FTC, which might not have much in-house knowledge of telescopes/whatever, decide whether those "competing" products really do compete? Laura used eBay. She looked at telescopes as an example. Did the same people bid on the Deluxomatic 5100 that bid on the Lenstronix X-300? If so, those telescopes probably were in the same market niche. Danny said that she hoped to use the same approach to look at automobile trading. (I guess the FTC worries more about the effects of an automobile monopoly than a telescope monopoly.)

Few Family Photos

OK, I did get some photos of some of my relatives. The next morning, some relatives gathered at Danny and Laura's excellent house for brunch and a chance to see what Laura looked like with her hair down.

[Photo: Amy and Steve] [Photo: Judy and Dad] [Photo: Dan and Jean and Tony and Frank]


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