In The District
February 4th, 2008

I had never visited the nation’s capital before, and was surprised to find how compact it is. From Annie’s apartment on Fifth Street I could easily walk to the White House, or to the Supreme Court, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument. Instead, I walked in circles, passing my wife’s workplace three times without even recognizing it. She works at the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library, where on MLK Day President Bush George Bush delivered a speech to a hand-picked audience. No one who works at the library, let alone the regular patrons, knew of George’s impending visit. I was not invited, nor permitted to get within two blocks of the event. The entire neighborhood was crawling with cop cars and festooned with police tape. So even though our troops won’t coming home from Iraq any time soon, yellow ribbons are everywhere in the District of Columbia.

So are reinforced concrete bollards, steel plate barriers, surveillance cameras, guard huts and security personnel. The Homeland Security Act has opened up a wealth of employment opportunities for just about anyone who can squeeze into a uniform and muster a menacing stare.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most attractions in our nation’s capital are open to the public and free of admission charge. For a tourist on a budget, or a foraging squirrel, the National Mall is hard to beat.

I made straight for the Lincoln Memorial because Abraham Lincoln is my idea of a great man. He penned some of the finest sentences ever put to paper—speeches and policy positions that have echoed down through the ages unto the very day I climbed the steps to pay my respects, only to find a mass of boisterous teens huddled at the Emancipator’s marbled feet. The enclosed Memorial makes for an excellent echo chamber, and thus Abe’s Gettysburg Address serves merely as a background for a cacophony of mindless cell phone chatter.

“Would you be-lieve I just spent two frickin’ hours at the Holocaust Museum?” a young woman cried out in despair.

“You poor baby!” But my words of condolence fell on deaf ears, much as Abraham Lincoln’s words fell on deaf ears at Gettysburg. Happily, he wrote them down on a piece of paper, and now they are inscribed on white marble walls inside a stately columned hall. Not than anyone has the time read nowadays—not even the sign that reads: QUIET: RESPECT PLEASE.


In the 1951 movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, Martian visitor Klaatu, played by Michael Rennie, was so impressed with the Lincoln Memorial that he briefly reconsidered his plan to exterminate us pesky earthlings before we could build more weapons and invent the cell phone—and thus disrupt the peace and quiet of the entire solar system. But then he got shot dead by some trigger happy goon with a gun, and that changed everything.

-Richard Menzies