Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Nine states in nine days. I've been traveling for the past week and a half, and had some great experiences along the way. Two Saturdays ago, I flew down to California for my dad's 65th birthday party, which was a lot of fun. Then on Sunday, and every day since, I traveled with coworkers across the country - via Colorado to Omaha, Nebraska; Toledo, Ohio and Reston, Virginia (just outside of Washington DC). Then I took a couple days for myself and visited friends and family. During that portion of my trip I hit Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, DC and New York state. It's been an interesting week.

I discovered a few things - First of all, Omaha and Toledo are quite nice cities, each with their own unique character. I especially liked the huge old houses in Omaha, and the steaks were awfully darn good, to be certain. Their old downtown area is terrific. In Toledo, the waterfront down on the river is great, and there's some old and interesting architecture to be seen. The people in both places were very nice.

TheLincolnMemorial1aReston is a suburb of Washington DC, and what struck me about this area are the huge old trees and the attention paid to aesthetics of the architecture - it just looks nice. The people there were terrific, too.

But the most awesome part of the trip from a personal experience perspective had to be Washington DC itself. I went with three coworkers into the city one night to see the memorials at night. It's been several years since I was last there, and the only chance I ever had to spent any meaningful time in the city was when I was a small child (we used to live on the Maryland side in a town called Greenbelt). I have vague recollections of being a small child looking up at the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln in the memorial, as well as the Washington Monument. I guess I didn't fully realize the sheer enormity and power of the Lincoln Memorial and the others. I'd assumed that since I was a very small child the last time I did more than just drive by it, my memory was skewed by my then-limited height and overactive imagination. Boy, was I ever wrong.

TheLincolnMemorial2aWalking into the Lincoln Memorial -  which would be a huge, amazing building even without the statue inside - one is filled with a sense of awe. The stone steps leading up to the entrance are worn, with indentations visible up the center where millions of people have walked to see what is, I think, the most life-like statue I've ever seen.

The Gettysburg Address is inscribed on the side wall to the left of the statue. Those famous and inspirational words are all the more amazing to read in the presence of the oversized likeness of Lincoln, which looks like it could step right off its pedestal and start speaking any moment.

From the Lincoln Memorial, it's a short walk to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial - the famous sheer, reflective wall that bears the names of 58,249 American soldiers who died in that war.

TheWall4aWhen people say the experience at the Wall is overwhelming and overpowering, they're not exaggerating. It was dusky dark when I walked there, and in the dark light the endless sea of names stood out in the dim light cast by the lights in the walkway. It felt big until I reached about the middle of the memorial - and then it suddenly felt huge. Standing near the center, looking ahead at the ocean of names still remaining to be walked by, then back at the thousands upon thousands of names already passed, the feeling was powerful.

The names on the wall appear in the order the people commemorated died in battle. I don't personally know who Harold TheWall5aGraves, John Neto Rodrigues or John E. Cantlon Jr. were, but I do know they died on or about the same day, sometime in the middle of the Vietnam conflict, fighting a war on behalf of their country. And I know and see that their names are three among so many more, each one representative of a person who went to Vietnam but did not come back. As I stood closer and looked at the names, I thought about sons and their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, hopes and dreams and aspirations.

To say the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is powerful is an understatement.

You can't help but reach out and touch the wall, almost as if to see for yourself that it's actually there, that what you're looking at could possibly be real. The reflection people experience when they visit this memorial is more than just their own faces in TheWall2athe glossy surface. One can't help but reflect on the people whose names cover the vast wall, and the families and loved ones of each and every one.

If you ever have a chance to visit Washington DC, don't skip it. It's worth every mile, every penny, every second of time - and then some.



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