The Reunion Tour, Day 11: Fun presidential facts and the definition of a "dive bar"


I woke up at Carolyn's place fairly early, as I needed to catch a bus from Philly to DC mid-morning today. After petting Sadie one last time, I was off to catch the Megabus.

I originally had booked a train, but the Megabus option was $20 cheaper and allowed me to wake up a touch later in the morning since the departure times were a little better. The difference in duration was that of a mere hour, which was totally fine. As long as I arrived in DC for my four hour walking tour, I was happy!

The ride to the Megabus stop was uneventful, other than the part where I got trapped in an outdoor parking lot that had one exit on the complete opposite end of where I emerged from the subway station, which frustrated me like the city of Beijing frustrated Calvin.

Soon, I was on my bus, and soon, I had arrived in DC. I messaged June, whom I'd met on the Transsiberian trip, and let her know that my bus was running a little late since it was having issues making a left turn on a popular street to get into the train station. Shortly after, we met up in the DC subway, where she handed me a pre-loaded transit card for me to use during my trip. She was kind enough to allow me to stay at her place while I was in town, and she even acted as my own personal tour guide!

It is now around lunch time, so I drop off my bags at June's apartment, which is conveniently just across the street from one of her favorite sandwich places, Sundevich. We walk there next, and I order something that has Jamaican jerk chicken and onions and peppers and spices (my mouth is watering again just typing this out) that was far better than any sandwich that I'd ever eaten before. The sandwiches were a little pricey (around $13) but for something the size of my forearm, I didn't mind. I ate half of it and wrapped the remainder to give to June to keep at her place, as I needed to head off to my tour while she finished up a conference call and some other work.

It's been almost 20 years since I was last in DC, when I went with my parents and brother for a family vacation. A family vacation always will have different sights than a solo trip as an adult, and with that many years between trips, I didn't remember much. I do remember going in the White House, and I do remember seeing statues of some people somewhere. I also remember doing an FBI tour of some sort. Because of this, I signed up for a free tour on Free Tours By Foot's website. The tour is free, but the guides do live off of their tips. This is the same company I used for the Harlem tour in NYC and for a couple tours in other cities, and I've enjoyed them every time.

The tour I signed up for was to be four hours, as it was a combination of the National Mall and the Tidal Basin. The group was so large that two guides showed up and split us up. On the tour, our group saw all of the war monuments, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. As it was the peak of cherry blossom season, we saw the beautiful blooms along the basin. I could have spent a couple hours roaming these areas alone, but the interesting facts made it worthwhile, as I later told June some things that she didn't know. Here are some fun facts:
  • While constructing the Washington Monument, they ran out of money about a third of the way, which you can see in the different color of the materials used from the first third to the top. It stayed partially constructed for 25 years, a stump of a monument, until the funds were raised and it was completed.
  • Every president can make modifications to the White House as they wish. It was the 1930s when the Oval Office was added, per request by FDR.
  • The first White House was burned to the ground by the British when they invaded. The day they invaded, the president was having a massive feast, and once the British drove all the guests out, they sat and enjoyed the feast that lay before them, *then* they burned the White House to the ground.
  • The most recently constructed monument on the National Mall is the WWII monument, constructed in 2004.
  • At the WWII memorial, the designers wanted to pay tribute to the "Kilroy was here" phrase and doodle. This symbol was from a man who inspected the steel used on the ships and planes and other transport used during the war. He'd sign the phrase and doodle on steel if it was inspected and approved. Soldiers saw it on everything and it took on a deeper symbolism of the American troops. Soldiers, when saving villages, would draw it on a wall or in the ground. It became widely recognized. The WWII memorial is classic in design but the designers etched this little symbol and phrase in an inconspicuous spot in the southwest corner of the memorial, slightly hidden from view, so that visitors wouldn't assume it was graffiti and add their own to the monument.
  • As this is a city with lots of political players roaming around, there are often motorcades and street blockages. How do you know when it's the president's motorcade? It's the one that has an ambulance following behind. The other motorcades don't get that luxury.
  • The Vietnam Veteran's memorial was designed by a 21-year-old female Chinese-American architecture student, per a national competition that was held to find a designer. As this was a controversial war, her vision was not to glorify or demonize the war, but simply display all the names of all the lives lost during the war.
  • People often leave gifts or flowers in front of names of friends and family at the Vietnam Veteran's memorial. The National Parks Service catalogs and keeps all the gifts that are left behind, and sometimes they have a special exhibit displaying such gifts at the Smithsonian. The largest gift was a custom Harley Davidson motorcycle that a group of veterans rode across the USA in honor of their fallen friend, and left it in front of the memorial.
  • There's a typo in the Lincoln Memorial on a quote that reads "I hope for the EUTURE"
  • Lincoln's pose at his memorial is a hand in a fist and a foot right up against the chair, and the other side shows a relaxed hand and a foot resting away from the chair. This was to portray how he had two be two presidents at once, one for the north and one for the south.
  • North and South Korea are divided by the 38th parallel, a number which is reflected in the Korean War Memorial in several ways. There are 19 soldier statues, which are reflected in the shiny black wall beside them, making a total of 38.
  • Our guide informed us that once, there was a math teacher on her tour, who said the triangle of grass that the Korean War Memorial was situated on appeared to be 38 degrees. He pulled out a protracter (yes, that he happened to have in his pocket), and measured the angle. It was indeed 38 degrees.
  • The Korean War Memorial was designed so the statues of the soldiers on patrol are looking in every single direction. If you walk around the memorial and look towards the soldiers from any angle, there are at least two staring back at you.
  • The empire of Japan sent cherry blossoms to DC in 1911 and when they arrived, they were infested with bugs or dead. We burned them and Japan re-sent the blossoms in 1912, which arrived safely. The USA, in return, sent Dogwood trees to Japan.
  • During his entire presidency, it was not known to the general public that FDR was in a wheelchair.
  • Because FDR had special needs, the monument dedicated to him is wheelchair accessible. Also, to be inclusive of other needs, there are some braille translations of his quotes that are carved into the rock.

During a break, I went to one of the NPS stands and grabbed a map of the area. It was a map labeled as the official route for the Inauguration of Trump's presidency. I found it humorous that these were the maps they were using for the area, as I assume they overprinted them and they weren't exactly gobbled up on Inauguration Day. Here we are two months later, and the NPS still has bountiful stacks of them.

I finished the tour at 6pm and took the train back towards June's place. I really like the subway system in DC, as it reminded me of a Soviet-era train, but in the best way possible. It's dark and moody, with the curved walls lit from underneath, casting shadows on the detailed design of the arches. The arches and tunnels are massive in size, presumably to act as a bunker in case of emergency. It didn't remind me of any specific trains that I'd seen in Russia or any ex-Soviet nation, but it did give me that vibe. It was very cool.

Once we freshened up, we headed out to Columbia Heights to head to a bar where June's friend was celebrating her birthday. According to June, this was a "dive bar" but when I think of a dive bar, I think of Rossi's in Chicago, where every surface (tables, chairs, floors) is sticky, there is a single light bulb attempting to illuminate the entire establishment while the neon Budweiser signs on the walls attempt to illuminate the other dark corners. It's a place that solely exists to have a beer. Not to see people or be seen. Not to hear good music. Not to see conscious decor that gives the place "a vibe." It is just where you drink. That, by definition, is a dive bar.

No, Red Derby was not a dive bar. This was a hip little joint hopping with young people. The back room, where June's friend had taken over with a private party, had a cool graffiti wall, and the bathrooms were plastered with retro magazine ads. The upstairs was a smoking patio with a plastic roof that folded away in the warmer months. This was not a dive bar. No dive bar has private rooms! At dive bars you just SHOW UP.

After saying some quick hellos, June and I walked a few blocks down to a filipino restaurant called Bad Saint. This was a Fancy place, with a capital F. They don't take reservations, which is the first thing you see when you visit the website for the restaurant. It's first come, first serve, and to get a seat, you must wait in line so that when they open at 5:30pm, you can put your name in. June got in line for us at 4:30pm and put us on the list for 8:30pm, so here we were after her time and labor and efforts to get us a seat. Because they only have 20 seats. Because it's one of those types of restaurants. They sat us along a bar facing a mirrored wall which made it hard to not stare at yourself and check your makeup and hair every time you looked up.

The food was excellent. They try to oversell you on the food, as it's all shareable portions and they want you to order lots, but between the two of us, three was enough. We got some sort of crunchy rice dish, and then a large beef empanada about half the size of my face, and some sort of sizzling skillet that comes with a fried egg on top that you mix into everything while it's still hot, to scramble it. The skillet dish was spicy and my mouth was still burnt from my arepa issues the previous night, so I needed lots of water to wash it down. Thankfully we were seated right next to the waiters' station, and as we were at bar seating, I had easy access to just reach around and grab the pitcher to refill my water every 45 seconds.

After dinner, we hopped into an Uber to go to H street, where June took me to Little Miss Whiskey's Golden Dollar. It's a New Orleans-themed bar, so it's dark and slightly gothic and voodoo-esque. I liked it. The upstairs had a small dance floor where a handful of people of all ages were dancing, and we stayed on the first floor, surrounded by psychedelic retro concert posters of blues-rock bands.
Unfortunately, I was exhausted and the jet lag was creeping up on me several days after my return from Europe, and I needed to get some sleep. We hopped into an Uber and went back to June's and crashed. Tomorrow was a big day, and I was excited to meet up with all the Transsiberian crew!